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From all of us at Blue Corona, Happy New Year! The Times They Are A-Changin’. As we look back at the state of Internet marketing in 2012, think ahead to what we might expect to see in 2013, and consider the current state of affairs in Washington, we can’t help but start to whistle this Bob Dylan classic. Politics aside, 2012 was a year of change. Not a single web marketing discipline—from email to content creation and inbound to SEO—made it through the year without undergoing some sort of radical transformation.
Here are some of the most significant changes—the things that got my mind racing—and a few thoughts on how they influence your 2013 Internet marketing strategy:
Online Advertising Spend Surpasses Print
According to a report created by eMarketer, in 2012, for the first time in U.S. history, businesses were projected to spend more money on online advertising than on print ads (magazine and newspaper). As consumers drop magazines and newspapers and turn to the web, businesses are shifting their ad dollars accordingly.
Other things fueling the rapid shift in ad dollars from traditional advertising to the web include the inexpensive nature of online advertising and the ease of tracking return on investment (ROI). Direct response campaigns (think: PPC, SEO, Email Marketing) currently dominate the web, but as online marketing budgets increase, so will the dollars allocated toward web-centric branding campaigns.
The Takeaway for 2013
If you’re still investing in print advertising (magazines, newspaper, yellow pages, etc.), you must accurately track each ad so that you can see exactly what’s working and what should be eliminated. Your savviest competitors are already doing this, and as a result, many are abandoning print and other forms of traditional advertising and going “all-in” with the web.
Google Gets Serious About Organic Quality
In 2011, with an algorithm update dubbed “Panda”, Google started what appeared to be a crusade to eliminate low-quality content from its organic search results. In 2012 the journey continued—and at a pace few SEOs were expecting. Ironically, in January 2012 Google was outted for using blackhat (spam) SEO tactics (sponsored blog posts / paid links) to promote one of its own products, Google Chrome! (They ended up penalizing themselves, if you can believe that)
Here are some of the more significant updates Google made in 2012:
Ad Heavy Layouts
In late January 2012, Google announced that websites with too many ads “above the fold” and not much content might see their organic rankings drop. The “above the fold” concept is demonstrated in the screenshot (photo credit: bloggingpro.com). Google has been preaching that business owners and webmasters design their websites for users and not search engines, but it wasn’t until this update that webmasters felt the impact of a poorly conceived page layout in their organic ranking reports.
This update appeared to be an effort to better integrate local search data into the organic results. Before the Venice update, someone searching “plumbing company” might not have seen a single local company in the organic search results. To get local results, they’d have to add their city + “plumbing company”. The Venice update changed this by using other forms of visitor location recognition to integrate local results into broad search queries.
Prior to April 2012, a penguin was nothing more than a cute little aquatic, flightless bird living in Antarctica. But sometime in early 2012, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, mentioned the coming release of an “over-optimization” penalty, and on April 24, 2012, penguins came to represent a nightmare for blackhat SEOs and web spammers. If Google’s Panda update targeted low-quality content, the Penguin update was all about (arguably) more malicious forms of webspam such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, and link schemes. Sites not in strict compliance with Google’s quality guidelines quickly and abrubtly saw their websites tank in the organic rankings.
Other Search Quality Updates
In addition to the changes above, Google made a number of other changes designed to reward quality websites and punish those not playing by the rules. Somewhat related to their Penguin update, they started sending webmasters “unnatural link warning” notices via Google Webmaster Tools. They began to penalize websites with repeated DMCA / copyright violations, and they created an update to lower the authority of exact-match domains.
The Takeaway for 2013
SEO, as many know it and/or practice it, is going to cease to exist in 2013 and beyond. As Google adapts its algorithm to better understand the relevance and authority of various websites, the sites that rank are going to be increasingly THE authorities in their category/industry/area. Ask yourself—do you really deserve to rank for a particular search query? If your business were to not show up, would someone within your target audience think Google is broken? If you can answer “yes”, you’re heading in the right direction.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again—your long-term SEO strategy is simple: Establish and promote your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it. There are no (longterm/lasting) “tricks.” Becoming an authority—being a true leader in your field—is HARD work. Nevertheless, this is going to be the way the SEO game is played in 2013 and beyond. Google’s newly created and recently promoted Author Tag is another indication that the days of anonymous web content being seen as authoritative and valuable are numbered.
Google Searches for More Paid Clicks
While much of the online marketing world was busy trying to figure out if they’d been affected by Penguin, and if so, how to recover from it, Google wasn’t limiting their updates to the organic side of the equation—nor were they slowing down in their quest to improve their products.
In 2012, they made a number of changes to AdWords, their pay per click platform. Some of the changes—like zip code targeting and the new labels feature—were clearly designed with advertisers in mind. Other updates appeared to be Google grasping for ways to generate more paid clicks.
For example, Google always allowed itself to show your ads for synonyms when you bid on keywords using the broad match option. They did not do this for phrase and exact keyword match types. Sometime in the middle of the year, Google adjusted things allowing it to show your ads for keywords that closely resemble yours—even when you’re using phrase and exact match types. Of course, this change can benefit advertisers, but it still makes us worry about the types of irrelevant queries that might slip through as exceptions—making Google a few extra bucks while costing us clicks, and lowering our ROI.
Another change that might have been perceived (even if misconstrued) as an attempt by Google to generate more paid clicks, while treating advertiser ROI as an afterthought, was the switch to auto-optimize ads for clicks—even after advertisers changed their campaign settings to rotate their ads evenly (to test the effectiveness of different ad copy). Google initially defended this action, but eventually reversed it amid a virtual sh*t storm of advertiser complaints.
Google Replaces Product Search with Google Shopping
In May, Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, wrote a comprehensive piece on the change. Basically, if you run an e-commerce website and you want your products to be featured in the dedicated shopping engine portion of Google, you’ve got to pay-to-play. According to Sullivan, when Google was just getting started, it fought paid inclusion pretty hard—even mentioning it as part of its “don’t be evil” creed.
The Takeaway for 2013
Right now, the vast majority of clicks go to the organic listings (depending on which study you reference, the number could be as high as 90 percent of clicks go to one of the organic listings). With its shift to paid inclusion and Google Shopping, Google has already shown that it is willing to do away with organic results. Once again, we are reminded of the dangers of relying on organic search and SEO as your only source of website traffic and leads. In 2013, smart marketers will diversify their efforts—continuing to invest in SEO, but also testing other lead generation strategies as a hedge for the day Google decides to change the game once again.
Google Places Becomes Google+ Local
Just when you thought you finally figured out how to get your business listed correctly in Google’s local (map) listings (Google Places), the game changes. Sometime around May 2012, Google replaced Google Places with Google+ Local. Integrated with Google+, Google+ Local offered business owners something more like a Facebook page (vs. the stagnat Places page they once knew). Of course, the move wasn’t without (tons of) problems. At Blue Corona, we lost our ~30 business reviews (a bit ironic given that we wrote a blog post that specifically told people they would NOT lose their reviews in the transfer process — which is what we were told!).
The Takeaway for 2013
Google+ Local is significant for local businesses that generate leads and sales from being listed in the “map” section of Google. Businesses that fall into this category—flooring, hvac, plumbing, remodeling, roofing, etc.—would be wise to stay on top of the changes (or hire someone to stay on top of it for them). As we head into 2013 and beyond, there’s bound to be some blurring of lines between Google+ and Google+ Local. New features and the integration of these pages into the local organic results is going to require local business owners to pay close attention to changes in this area.
Social Media Evolves & Matures
In 2012, it felt like social media—the sites and the way people use them—matured a little bit (or maybe I just matured a little bit, who knows?). For B2B marketers, LinkedIn became a viable alternative to AdWords. Unlike Google AdWords, ads placed on LinkedIn’s PPC platform, DirectAds, can be laser targeted to a specific industry, position within a company, or even to an individual. Normally, when ad targeting becomes more specific, the cost of the ads goes up. So far, this hasn’t been the case on LinkedIn. The cost per click on Linkedin is often 10 percent of what you might pay per click on Google or Bing. Additionally, the targeting on LinkedIn allows business to business advertisers to avoid two big AdWords frustrations—consumers and competitors clicking your ads.
It wasn’t just LinkedIn that evolved in 2012, business owners seemed to adjust their Facebook and Twitter behavior in a way that is more in-line with how consumers use these sites. In 2011 and prior, virtually every business update on Facebook or Twitter was a one-way communication. If you “liked” a business on Facebook or followed them on Twitter, it didn’t take long before you felt like you were being “yelled” at by some old guy. Now, the percentage of businesses that do this is down from 99 percent to 80 percent – wink. Of the 20 percent of businesses that intuitively understand how to utilize a site like Facebook, an even smaller fraction are really using it the way it should be used—as a customer portal first, advertising channel second.
There were some other interesting social media changes. The world was introduced to Pinterest, and for two or three months it was all anyone could seem to talk about. Big brands, remodelers, and other “photo-centric” businesses raced to figure out how they could use and benefit from it (insert Gary V quote about how marketers love to ruin stuff). More and more businesses started to invest in decent web-centric videos—posting them on sites like YouTube and Vimeo—to create the equivalent of their own web TV channel.
The Takeaway for 2013
My bet is that most business owners and marketers will continue to treat social media as an afterthought in 2013 (why everyone was so quick to plaster social media icons/links all over their homepage, but then do nothing to build up their social communities is beyond me, but I digress). This gives businesses that “get it” an easy point of differentiation—as well as an enormous advantage and head start. Like content marketing, playing catch up on social media can be virtually impossible. Where and how social media websites fit into your 2013 Internet marketing strategy depends on a number of factors.
At a minimum, they might fit in like this:
- Analytics – Every advertising and marketing campaign is tracked and continually tested (including all websites and microsites)
- Primary Website – This is the foundation and hub of your online marketing strategy—the primary funnel for your business
- Profitable Lead Generation Strategies – ongoing investments in SEO, email marketing, and PPC
- Community – Social media sites used to build an engaged community around your business (a two-way dialog with clients and prospects)
Mobile Gains Attention
Pretty much every year since 2007 has been “the year of mobile.” Everything around us—from the chart below to people walking around malls bumping into each other because they’re glued to their phones—suggests that the time people spend surfing the web from their smartphones and tablets is going to eclipse the time they spend surfing from traditional computers.
And yet despite all signs pointing to the importance of mobile, businesses have been slow to invest in mobile.
2012 was the first year I noticed a significant push from business owners to become more mobile-centric. We built dozens of smartphone-friendly websites, started building more websites using responsive design, and even have a few tablet-friendly sites in the works.
The Takeaway for 2013
At SES Chicago, Avinash Kaushik made a comment about how, as marketers, we’ve gone from interrupting people (traditional marketing), to interupting people at a time of need (search), to mobile where our goal is to deliver something of value at a time of need and become part of our prospects’ lives.
This is a key point and I think a hint at where savvy mobile marketers will take things in 2013 and beyond. Take a look at Beneful’s mobile site on the right (m.beneful.com). This is the example Avinash used during his SES keynote presentation. Beneful wants to sell you dog food, but they know that you’re unlikely to be randomly shopping for dog food from your mobile phone. However, if you have a dog, you probably have your phone with you when you go for a walk. This gives Beneful a great opportunity to deliver something of value, earn your trust, and become a regular part of your life (and your pet’s life).
In 2011 and 2012, being savvy with mobile meant having a smartphone-friendly website that addressed the basics of why someone would be visting your website from their phone. If you had a “click-to-call” button or a directions feature that used the phone’s GPS, you were far ahead of 85 percent of the rest of the marketing world.
In 2013 and beyond, the game is going to change again. The companies that find the most success with mobile will be those that integrate their mobile website with their prospect/customer’s life.
For example, the local HVAC or plumbing company might create some sort of diagnostic tool to allow homeowners to get some idea of what their problem might be. It’s awful hard to listen to the strange noise coming from your basement toilet while balancing your laptop on the sink searching for what it might be on Google!
Analytics and Remarketing Get Hitched
Some people think of marketing as marketing and analytics as analytics—that the two should always be separated (church and state). In 2012, the lines between analytics and marketing were blurred with Google’s addition of Remarketing to Google Analytics. In 2013, the lines will continue to blur (and advertisers will benefit).
What is Remarketing?
Remarketing allows business owners, marketers, and webmasters to use Google Analytics data to identify prospects—who have already show interest in your business/website—and create custom ads just for them. Remarketing can help move prospects further into the funnel and cost-effectively increase your conversion rates. It can also totally creep people out, but that’s another blog post.
The Takeaway for 2013
Right now, much of the money spent on digital marketing—especially by small business owners—is focused on web development (building an updated/improved website), SEO, and PPC. In 2013 and beyond, I predict that businesses of all sizes will become increasingly trusting of the data detailing the results of various types of online marketing. With this trust will come the comfort and confidence required to test new forms of online marketing and I suspect remarketing and retargeted display advertising will be very high on the list. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of remarketing and retargeting in terms of producing an increase in branded search and driving traffic to the marketer’s website.
Take a look at this graphic from comScore study called, “When Money Moves to Digital, Where Should It Go?“
I hope you enjoyed this little walk down web marketing memory lane. No one knows for sure what 2013 holds for inbound and Internet marketing, but one thing is for sure—it’s going to be a wild and exciting ride.
To maximize your chances for success, you need a good guide—a partner. We’d love to join your team and help you create and execute an intelligent 2013 Internet marketing strategy.
Contact me directly and tell me more about your business. I’ll give you my candid perspective on things and tell you what I would to if your business were my business.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers