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What's Next In SEO For SMBs: 6 Predictions

The rules of the search engine optimization game will continue to change. If you haven't added Google+ to your social circle, you're not prepared.

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
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So you're a modern master of search engine optimization (SEO). Will you still be one tomorrow?

Only if you're paying attention. The nature of SEO and the broader Web makes change inevitable, and SMBs that anticipate new trends will have the upper hand. In an interview, SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin made his calls for what's coming next in SEO.

[ Not yet ready to declare yourself the Da Vinci of SEO? Check out these 7 Timely Tips For SMBs. ]

1. Social SEO

The rapidly growing impact of social sites on SEO is already well underway. Expect that to extend well beyond just links and sharing. Fishkin notes a recent evolution of Microsoft's Bing, for example, that shows trending Twitter posts and popular Facebook content in results. Users who link their accounts with Bing will get even more personalized social results.

"That's pretty cool. I actually think if Bing had a little bit more market share and a better brand, that might be a game-changer for them over Google," Fishkin said. He pointed out that Google isn't too keen on showing many Facebook and Twitter links in its results. "They're really biasing to Google+."

2. Ignore Google+ at Your Own Risk

In fact, SMBs that have ignored Google's social platform may want to reconsider--otherwise, it could eventually impact their search results in negative fashion. Fishkin points out the recent makeover of Google Places--a critical local SEO tool for for many small businesses--into Google+ Local.

"I would not be surprised if in the next year or two Google does that universally," Fishkin said. "That's weird, but Google is clearly putting all their bets on Google+ and I think they're going to do everything they can to force everyone on the Web, as much as possible, to use that service." He added that a potential Google tactic to that end would be to essentially force website owners to use Google+ to appear in organic search results, or at least to receive preferential rankings.

Bottom line: "If I were advising SMBs today, I would say: Get on Google+," Fishkin said. "Start using that network, even in small ways. It will probably be a long-term win for your marketing because Google will bias to early adopters."

3. Content Still Wears the Crown

The big winners will be content marketing mavens--those website owners that create compelling, free content that people actually enjoy and return to. "We're becoming a nation of consumers of content on the Web, and we expect content from the brands that we like. Brands can earn our trust through content creation." Fishkin said, adding that that expectation holds just as true for SMBs as it does for large companies. The ubiquity of social media creates a seismic effect beneath that content.

"That's going to have a huge impact on the SEO world as more and more of the Web's links and more and more of the sharing activities go towards brands that produce content, and leave behind those that don't," Fishkin said. "A few years from now, I wouldn't be surprised if people are prognosticating the end of the portfolio website--the website that's merely a brochure."

4. The Downside of Keywords

Keywords are one of the primary currencies of SEO. But Fishkin said SMBs should expect keywords to become decreasingly important in actual website domain names, in part because Google's not a fan of that variable. He offered an example: Today, if you're hoping to sell Cadillacs in Boston, you might register BostonCadillacsForSale.com--and perhaps a host of similar domains that you can link together. "That probably helps you more than it should today, and helped even more [a few] years ago," Fishkin said. "I think that signal is going away, and it will probably be more useful to use [Brand Name]Cadillac.com or [Brand Name].com and build up your brand's equity and value."

Another reason this change is likely: Consumers have begun to associate keyword-driven domain names with spam, making them less likely to trust those URLs or click on them when they appear in search results.

5. Dropping Anchor Text

Anchor text--the words and phrases that are included in links to other pages on the Web--has long been another major building block for SEO. In fact, it was at one time so powerful that crafty operators could create "Google bombs," or a critical mass of links that manipulated the search results for certain keywords or phrases. Perhaps the most infamous example was when Google's top result for "miserable failure" linked to the George W. Bush White House website. (Google has since diffused such bombs with a change to its algorithm.) Anchor text isn't going away, but Fishkin thinks it will continue to lose steam as a SEO influencer.

"Those best practices may change to say: 'Just point to the page,'" Fishkin said. "If the content surrounding the link is relevant and coming from a good source, Google will understand it. But the importance of anchor text will diminish."

6. Long Live Google?

As for Google's search dominance to date? Don't expect that to change any time soon, but there are perhaps the first cracks in the armor. "I liked what Danny Sullivan said: Google's not going to be defeated by anyone but Google," Fishkin said. In other words, only if Google starts slipping in the public eye will it perhaps no longer be synonymous with searching for stuff online. "We're seeing some of those early signs that a competitor could gain traction, and that competitor could be Bing, a startup, or a new way of using the Web."

New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)

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