It’s this time of year again! In the previous years my web trends lists were very successful, both as predictions and by traffic or number of shares.
People working in the web industries want to know what’s ahead.
So for 2012 I want to tell you again what’s coming up. Basically I’m not predicting anything here; instead I just list trends you can already see and measure, but which will be obvious next year.
Good bye PageRank and links – links and PageRank matter less and less. In 2012 more ranking factors will probably be about other signals than conventional a href links. Google will use all kinds of other data including feedback human quality raters to overcome the big decade long link buying spree.
Freshness – the latest Google update is perhaps more important than the high quality update dubbed Panda. Nobody cries about it because it wasn’t about penalties for sites but about improvements for searchers this time. This is good news for big news sites and bad news for brands with questionable business practices. The bad news will show up on top.
Quality – the Panda update wasn’t really about pandas, as I hope you know: it was about ”high quality” sites. Thus focusing on quality metrics that entail usability, readability and overall usefulness is key in 2012. Underpaid quality raters are out there to get you, sometimes even without a look on your actual site.
SEO is just a part – SEO isn’t dead in 2012, but it’s more and more part of bigger ideas and concepts. This year it seems it’s not SEO 2.0 or findability anymore. The new en vogue terms are content marketing, inbound marketing, digital marketing or Internet/online marketing (again). SEO practitioners do just stuff meta tags, but their tasks now encompass much more.
SEO marries CRO – The two disciplines, SEO and CRO or conversion optimisation are just two sides of one coin. While SEO focused on getting traffic, CRO concentrates on making this traffic work for you. I’ve watched these two disciplines converge more and more. In 2012 you will rarely have one without the other. I know I predicted this for 2011, but many people still tried to divide the two sides of the same coin.
Google does it again – Google has quickly reacted to competition from small contenders like Blekko, Ixquick and DuckDuckGo. It has appropriated all improvements and features by these faster competitors – be it the removal of content farms by Blekko or the introduction of SSL search by Ixquick or referral blocking by DuckDuckGo, Google offers it all now as well.
Even more confusion – last year I predicted more clutter in Google results and was nevertheless unprepared for the wide range of changes leading to portal-like search results. In particular, many changes on local searches lead to even more information stuffed in the SERPs. Furthermore, the manifold social enhancements such as who +1′ed, shared or authored a post make the SERPs look like a collection of gif clip art. I’m afraid this won’t be the end of this trend of more confusion.
Search without clicking – in 2011 several small moves by Google showed a tendency to show search results as content directly on Google, thus making a click to the actual page not necessary anymore. We will see more of it until people start suing Google for stealing their content.
Google does it already on Google News, Google Places and Google Images. It also owns YouTube, where most video searches end up. They want the same thing for text search as well. They don’t want people to leave Google properties at all. Google+ brand pages just add to it.
Google reads your mind – we already got used to the sometimes annoying instant search results that appear even before you type something meaningful. Google works on more ways to find out what you need and give it to you even before you ask. Just consider the multiple data sources Google now has about you: Google toolbar, Chrome, Profiles, Plus, search history…
Speech recognition – Siri, the speech recognition ”assistant” on the latest iPhone, makes people talk with their phones and it’s extremely popular already. In 2012 we will see Apple’s competitors come up with similar tools so that we don’t need to talk to people or type in search queries anymore. Is this the end of SEO as some journalists assume (just like some suggest after every other major change in the search industry)?
No, it just means different kinds of queries, maybe more colloquial or clumsy ones. Maybe more dialogue with your search engine, for example ”I want something to eat”. I can’t imagine people just saying one, two or three word queries in public without looking silly. So they will talk as they do with other people.
Mobile grows – no surprise here. Mobile search will grow in 2012 again. How big it will become? Some pundits suggest that more than 1/5 of all searches will be conducted via mobile devices.
Google+ stays tiny – Google+ is being heralded and pushed by Google in search results because it’s still tiny – it hasn’t even reached a social networking market share of 0.5%, while Facebook owns approximately 65% of it.
Facebook losing ground – despite its almost monopolistic position, Facebook is already losing ground. In 2011 Facebook lost 6 million users in the US. The various privacy scandals and annoyances, along with alternatives like Diaspora, Google+ or Tumblr, will accelerate this process in 2012.
Oversaturation – it has been evident for a while already, but in 2011 most people noticed it: people can’t join more social media sites and spend even more time there without spending 24h on social networking and creating user generated content. We witnessed this when Quora appeared and demanded constant attention and production of high quality content.
Also, the emergence of Google+ has shown that most average people already have enough to do with Facebook and the likes. In 2012 it will finally become obvious that the social networking and UGC market is saturated and that creating another site that demands time and effort is not a valid business model anymore.
Social bookmarking vs social saving – last time I predicted the death of social bookmarking. In a way I was right, though luckily Delicious, the original social bookmarking site, has survived. Nonetheless it moved on to a different model of sharing links. Other social bookmarking sites or their competitors have created something that has no name but that I’d like to call social saving.
People are saving snippets or whole webpages using tools like Diigo, Evernote or bo.lt to collect, edit and share them. The future is bright for these type of tools in 2012 as webpages, articles or blog posts you want to bookmark vanish faster than you can look.
Curation – Curation is the collection of resources by an editor or a user who acts as an ad-hoc editor. Search engines like Blekko or Rollyo use curation but also third party services that create “Twitter newspapers”. With the relaunch of Delicious as a curation site for compiling small lists (aka stacks of links), the idea has been given another push. Adding +1 votes to search results is another kind of curation.
Social CRM goes prime time – customer relationship management (CRM) and social media converged for a few years now but there was no perfect solution to merge those two. In 2011 Nimble CRM appeared. This tool is so simple to use and flawlessly combines CRM, email and social media sites Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in one place, so that you can save lots of time and effort when trying to generate leads right on there on social media sites.
Quantity vs quality – in 2011 people blogged less often, but when they blogged they wrote long articles. With the new freshness algorithm Google just introduced, the process might get reversed, as now the latest articles are more likely to show up on top in the top 10.
Tumblr – miniblogging is still growing, at least the market leader Tumblr. Why is Tumblr such a success? It’s a bit like Facebook, a bit like blogging and a bit like Twitter, but it combines the best of all of them. You can like or “heart” postings, you can reblog them and you can use a pseudonym like on Twitter. In 2011 many high level bloggers even moved their blogs from WordPress to Tumblr for the sake of simplicity and ease of use. Also, never underestimate the huge Tumblr audience.
Corporate blogging fails – businesses dump blogging in order to invest in Facebook marketing some statistics suggest. This is like giving up your office and doing business from Starbucks. Despite logic, this seems to be an appealing business model both in real life and online. Why host your own website and practice SEO, networking and advertising to get people to visit it when you can rent a “table” at Facebook. This is quite a short-sighted and risky move but business people tend to follow this trend.
Line breaks – for the sake of readability bloggers use more text-decoration, lists and breaks. Some overdo it though it seems. Not every line needs a break after it, not every post has to be a list and every second word has to be bold.
No more Flash – there will be no Flash on Android and RIM tablets and smartphones anymore. Thus the original Flash will die finally. Adobe is already working on a HTML5 implementation instead. So Flash will be probably resurrected based on Web Standards.
UX surpasses usability – if you believe Google Insights for search is a reliable statistic, you can see that in 2011 the interest in UX or user experience design has outgrown the dwindling popularity of the keyword usability. Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with usability because it’s too limited. The overall user experience, which includes emotional states of the user in its ideas, is the more important discipline of both.
@font-face usage - I remember it as if it was yesterday, when I first heard about the @font-face CSS method to embedding web-safe fonts to websites around 2004; I couldn’t wait until web browsers started supporting them. It took almost a decade and half a dozen font replacement techniques to make this CSS3 method work in most modern browsers. Now most browsers support it and we already see an abundance of websites using beautiful and readable typography. In 2012 we will probably see this going mainstream.
HTML5 innovation – when HTML5 came up, the hype was huge but I rarely ever noticed some HTML5 that wowed me. Most websites still seemed to look boring. Yes they were readable, usable, maybe even findable but what about the 21st century design I’d expect in 2011? Well, now the sites that really use HTML5 to create a design beyond a few boxes start appearing in larger numbers.
Referral keywords - Google proprietary SSL search kills the Google keyword referrer. You can’t even see it on an SSL site, as Google removes the keyword using a script. Thus people will finally look at conversions not keywords.
Klout – no other metric has been so obsessed about both in a positive and a negative way recently. People love and hate Klout as if it was a nation or a religion. Whether you like Klout or not, it’s the elephant in the room. The social media influence measurement may be flawed at the moment, but it’s still the best there is. Also, Google has similar metrics for authors or might acquire Klout in the near future, maybe even in 2012. What’s safe to say is that in 2012 you won’t just measure websites but also people.
Rankings, traffic – simple SEO metrics such as rankings and traffic die a slow death. The search referrer blocking by Google may be only the last nail in the coffin of simplistic SEO metrics. When you can’t even see what keywords people use and thus can’t segment your search traffic properly, this metrics becomes useless.
Real time analytics – Google finally caught up with the competition this year, adding real time features to Google Analytics. At least a dozen of other vendors have been offering real time data for a while, and even better than Google Analytics if you ask me.
ROI – business people finally seem to overcome the ROI frenzy. ROI is important for both SEO and social media campaigns, but you can’t quantify everything by chasing after Return On Investment. It seems that in 2011 this simple truth has dawned on marketers and analysts all over the place so that we can sit back and watch other metrics in the coming year.
Feel free to add more trends you want to get noticed in the comment section or on social media.
* Creative Commons image by Express Monorail.