I asked some of my SEO colleagues at The Search Agency to cast their predictions for the biggest developments and newest opportunities we can expect to see impact organic search in 2011. Here are our thoughts:
Rick Egan, Sr. Group Account Director
The great Google land grab will continue. We saw it begin in 2010, beginning with Real Time Search and the inclusion of Tweets in SERP, then expand mid-year with changes to Google Image search, which further stole pageviews from sites, and then at the end of 2011 with introduction of Google Places, which again will continue to steal pageviews from site owners. 2010 also brought a lot of innovation with the algorithmic improvements, Google Caffeine and Google Instant, which both made speed a priority. These changes all point to the same place: Google’s continued need to push the user towards a paid ad.
Cregan Montague, Manager SEO
Mobile! Business owners must have a mobile version of their website. 2011 will be the year when mobile use accelerates beyond our expectations, and websites that show up in the SERPs need to be able to deliver user-friendly sites to all searchers.
Rich Scaglione, SEO Specialist Architecture
Bing will step up their game in overall search and become a bigger competitor to Google. They will fine tune their algorithm and produce more relevant results. I also think that Google will move their ads to the left side of the SERP’s. Now that Google provides Instant Previews, their “flyouts” cover their ads on the right, giving them a valid excuse to shift their ads to the left. This will directly affect SEO click thru’s, because ads will be more visible and will probably generate a higher click-thru rate. I personally believe that Google has had this in mind all along, but rather than just do it without explanation, the Instant Previews gives them a great excuse to do it in 2011. This year we saw Google get heavily involved in the comparison shopping verticals and really hurt companies in that space, I think Google will continue to take over different verticals as they see fit.
As far as the Basics of SEO, I think that most on-page variables will stay the same, as well as architecture (which is usually pretty constant), but I think Google will get better at spotting paid links and the linking game will be evaluated differently than it is today.
Waleed Rashid, Senior Manager SEO
SEO in 2011 will continue to see the lines blurred between SEO and “other traffic sources.” As we have seen the social media space overlapping significantly in 2010 (something the popular media has emphasized), I believe in 2011 we’ll see SEO merge more closely with SEM & Display at a rate much faster than we have anticipated.
The major players have already been discussing advertising attribution modeling and a collective tracking system for advertisers to understand their true and accurate ROI from online ad expenditures. We can expect this pace to increase and effectively blur the lines, which we have so explicitly attempted to draw in the sand for some years now.
Advertisers will continue to ask for more accurate and targeted solutions, which will find its avenue in the multitude of web destinations that have been 1) launched by Google and 2) launched by everyone else to compete and carve out their own niche away from Google. Everything from location based targeting, to mobile, tablet-advertising, in media-advertising (i.e. youtube, hulu, Netflix, etc) will come to the foreground in 2011 and allow advertisers more opportunities to interact with the consumers.
Grant Simmons, Group Account Director
2011 promises more passive search (where people aren’t searching directly), in more locations (beyond the browser) and with more personalization (think Minority Report). This is also going to be a year where ranking algorithms are driven more by user interactions, connections and social graph behavior than traditional link authority. And yes… It’s the year of mobile ecommerce, where both in-store and in-home comparison shopping will empower users and drive a massive increase in purchases directly from mobile devices. Finally… It’s (another) great year for Apple and Apple products, driving tablet-based search innovations through Apps, mobile Google and traditional applications running on the iPad II.
Chris Stout, Manager SEO
Overcoming Clutter: With integrated results (photo, video, shopping, local, etc.), there’s just way more clutter, so achieving top position is more important than ever, Top 3 is now the new Page 1
Google Instant and site previews make meta data and web design more important: Searchers have low attention spans and tons of opportunities to drift (more results, instant search, quick site previews). Compelling title tags and meta descriptions are more important than ever (you have less than a few seconds to capture the attention of a user, so your SERP snippet better be relevant). If you’re site looks horrible, users will look elsewhere (that’s always been true, but the quick site preview option makes it even more important)
Increased pressure to show ROI: SEO ROI has always been difficult to measure. Online ad spending has been reaching historically high levels, companies want more insight into what their ad dollars are doing, with SEM, display and social media advertising, there’s just more visibility into the numbers. SEOs have to find more ways to link their activities to conversions and revenue otherwise we’re going to lose out on all those ad dollars.
SEO tied to Social, It’s going to get harder and harder for sites to perform well in organic search without a strong social presence, backlinks, likes, followers, mentions – the bigger the social footprint, the easier it will be for a site to win in the organic rankings (especially on News and other freshness items).
Linking Challenges: With the influx of social love, traditional link building tactics are going to become much less effective, spammy, anchor-text heavy, unnatural linking activities just won’t carry the same weight as organic, social, word-of-mouth type hype.
Bloggers will be more important to marketers: They’re the conduits to networks of social networks. Blogs will have a leg up on freshness and increased ranking ability due to their leveraging of social media, think of bloggers as tastemakers, offering products and giveaways to promote products and increase social presence.
More Data, Deeper Analytical Insight: Rankings aren’t enough, traffic’s not enough, as marketers become more comfortable navigating through the online marketing space, they will demand more sophisticated reporting. The more they understand, the more they’ll wanna know (which goes back to my ROI point).
More Bing: Google and Bing
will go head to toe. Bing won’t win, but it’ll incorporate enough social media elements (you’re friend likes/visits/purchases this, etc) to serve as a viable Google alternative.
Want more online marketing trends to watch? Check out The Search Agents’ Predictions for Online Marketing in 2011. 
- Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Update – The Search Agency POV  - March 2, 2011
- Prognostication for SEO in 2011 by a Bunch of Search Agents Wandering the Wild Frontier  - January 13, 2011
- The Secrets of Real-Time Search Success  - February 11, 2010
- Google Caffeine, Are you Ready?  - January 6, 2010
- PageRank Sculpting: Am I a Believer?  - July 29, 2009
- SEO Results Can be Achieved More Quickly Than You Think  - July 7, 2009