2010 was quite a busy year in regards to internet marketing. We saw local search become the top focus of SEO experts at the beginning of the year and we watched those same experts scramble back to basics when Google blended the local and organic results. We witnessed social marketing become the bees knees to online marketers only for them to learn that creating a Facebook and a Twitter account was not a panacea for an already weak marketing campaign. We saw Bing power Yahoo results and the emergence of Google Instant which caused a mild panic when certain naysayers prematurely declared it to be the “death of SEO”. And those are just the highlights, but as we pause to look back at 2010 it’s prudent to look to the future as well. So what can we expect from 2011?
According to Hitwise in March Facebook surpassed Google as the most popular web destination in the US and as of November Facebook accounted for 1 out of every four page views. That’s an insane amount of eyes on the Facebook network which means a ton of views on their advertising platform. Facebook is now pushing out their new email platform with the intent of blending their user’s mail with IM and SMS messages; to borrow a phrase from Tolkien 1 inbox to rule them all. I remember thinking something very similar when Gmail first launched.
Borrowing from Google’s playbook Facebook is trying to become the solution to everything, to become so useful that we can’t imagine doing without it. In 2011 I expect Facebook to add more new features and perhaps even take a run at Google with search. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but Facebook is already dominating in page views so if Facebook can even take a small percentage of Google’s existing searches away from them they would become the undisputed king of the internet hill.
Some PPC (Pay Per Click) pundits already claim better success with their Facebook Ad campaigns than they have had with AdWords, mostly because through Facebook Ads they have a better ability to narrow the target demographics. Now if Facebook makes the move to search and adds purchase intent alongside that demographic targeting Facebook Ads could easily dominate the PPC landscape.
For years we have been claiming that mobile will be the next big thing, but as the number of smart phones increase exponentially each year we still are not seeing mobile web traffic driving revenue as we have expected. According to Cisco’s estimates mobile traffic will increase 39-fold by 2014, so the traffic is there or soon will be but the real question is where are the sales?
Many experts in the mobile market predict that mobile driven revenue will be derived from location based services like Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places, but while the number of competitors in this realm increases (e.g. Google Places, Yelp, Twitter) the usage by mobile users is still quite low. Pew Research Center found that only 4% of online adults use location based services and it only accounts for 1% of daily internet traffic.
I think in 2011 we will see companies better integrate location based services by driving users to local check-ins with deep discounts & incentives and then somehow integrate these location based services with social media platforms. While it is useful to know that someone has checked into one of their business locations, it is even more useful if you can track those check-ins alongside their social demographics. Understanding the age, sex & interests of those customers that are visiting a location, what times they are visiting these locations and how often they are visiting these locations will allow marketers to drive more sales through time-specific incentives advertised specifically to the captured demographic audience.
Now, what company is in the best position to leverage the mix of check-ins and demographics tracking? Facebook is, because not only are they the largest social network on the planet, but they already have the Facebook Places location-based check-in service in place. While Facebook Places is not currently very popular – mostly because of growing pains and a rush to market – I predict that in 2011 more users & businesses will begin to use the service. Based on what I’ve already seen of Facebook’s tactics in other segments I believe that Facebook Places will allow for integration with Foursquare and maybe even Yelp’s new check-in service allowing marketers to track check-ins across the multiple networks and appropriately target the demographic sweet spot through Facebook Ads delivered to these mobile devices.
Just recently Google’s “everything” search blended together their original organic style of results with their somewhat new Google Places’ results and placed those blends on the very top of their search results. These results replaced what SEO experts had previously termed the 1-box, the 3-pack & the 7-pack which used to display a group of relevant local results with a map of those locations above the original organic results based on the searchers location. While I believe the blended format of search results will stay throughout 2011 what I do believe will change is the way those results are laid out.
When Google first launched the blended results there was much talk about the new layout as they pushed the map of the blended results into the right-hand sidebar which forced the sidebar placed AdWords advertisements down below the map. Not only does the map now dominate the searchers attention rather than our AdWords advertisements, but it also seems out of place in its’ current location. The blended results are generally bigger than purely organic results which means that with several AdWords listings above the blended results only a few of the blended results will be seen above the fold of the page which means less clicks for everything below the 3rd ranked website (see above image).
In 2011, Google will address these issues by changing their results layout. How do I know this? Because Google is already experimenting with different result layouts. One of the experimental layouts drops the AdWords in the main results column from the top of the page to the very bottom of the page. While this is good news for those with blended results, this is bad news for advertisers as now both AdWords areas are pushed down below the fold. In another experiment Google has dropped a 1-box display of a local result that includes a map to that location below the blended & organic results. My feeling on this is that the Google team still sees value in the 1-box – and perhaps even the 3-pack – and they are looking for ways to integrate them back into the results page while still giving precedence to the blended results.
The problem is that Google has too much information to pass out in their search results and too many good ways to deliver it. So what do I think the results display will look like in the next 12 months? My guess is that by default blended results will be streamlined and made thinner, the map will disappear from the main search and there will be less advertising at the top of the page. That being said I also believe that Google will allow searchers to instantly switch between different styles of search result displays with the simple click of the button. Perhaps there will be three thumbnails of each result style at the top of the page. Hovering over each will produce a pop-up preview of the result’s format similar to what the magnifying glasses do to a result in the existing search. Clicking on the thumbnail will change the results display style without needing to refresh the page. This is all speculation of course, but it’s a pretty good option that would allow Google to maintain a quick & streamlined results display and yet give users the options to see more information that they have to display within the results like maps and Google Places information without having to leave the results page.
As far as online marketing goes, I expect 2011 to be a very interesting year with a lot of changes – many of which I will fail to predict – very similar to how 2010 played out. That being said there will still be things online marketing will entail in 2011: best practice SEO, local review harvesting & citation generation, engaging social media campaigns, progressive thinking in regards to mobile campaigns, and good old fashioned hard work. Some things never change.