4 January 2013
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SEO
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10 Predictions for Inbound Marketing in 2013

As is tradition here at Moz, I’m conducting my annual analysis of my predictions from 2012, and if I score high enough, predicting what will happen in 2013. I like to use this process because it keeps me honest – if I suck at predicting what will happen in a 12-month span, should you really listen to me for the next 12 months?

This year, I’m also broadening my focus beyond just SEO to all of inbound marketing – search, social, content, PR, CRO, and email. Hence, if my predictions from last year do well, I’ll be making a few more guesses about the year to come than usual.

Here’s how scoring works:

  • Spot On (+2) - when a prediction hits the nail on the head and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) - predictions that are in the area, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) - those that landed near the truth, but couldn’t be called “correct” in any real sense
  • Off the Mark (-2) - guesses which didn’t come close

The rules state that if the score is lower than +1, I’m not allowed to make predictions for the coming year. Here’s to hoping!

In 2012, I made 8 predictions:

  1. Bing will have a slight increase in US marketshare, but remain 20% to Google’s 80%+: This one is spot on if you use real numbers like those from Statcounter (which makes way more sense than using Comscore). Here’s the graph for 2012:
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    Statcounter US Search Market Share
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    It’s showing almost exactly what I predicted. Bing has gained very slightly in the US (while Yahoo! shrunk a tiny bit), but the two combined remains at 18.2% while Google hovers at 80.68% (GG+AOL). That’s worthy of +2 points.
  2. SEO without social media will become a relic of the past: I’m struggling with exactly how to rate this one. One the one hand, there are certainly forms of SEO that can exist independent of social media, and some practitioners still don’t combine the two. On the other hand, that number has drifted to a very small percent of the SEO world, and the use of social, especially in link building, outreach, PR, research, and networking is nearly universal. This one comes down to opinion, but I think few would say it’s off the mark, so I’ll give a +1.
  3. Google will finally take stronger, Panda-style action against manipulative link spam: This one was a slam dunk. The “Penguin Update” is not only focused specifically on link spam, but it’s also similar to Panda’s style of updating and, many suspect, uses much of the frameworks that Google’s Search Quality team built with Panda. +2 points on this prediction.
  4. Pinterest will break into the mainstream: To be fair, this was one of the easiest predictions to make for 2012, given how Pinterest was exploding at the end of 2011. And while growth the first half of the year was exceptional, it slowed in the 2nd half (as seen below in this chart from Nielsen’s excellent Social Media Report 2012):
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    Spotlight on Pinterest via Nielsen
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    I’ll only give myself a +1 despite the fact that Pinterest was the web’s fastest growing social network in 2012, due to that slowing second-half growth, and the fact that from a media, investor, and market standpoint, Pinterest still isn’t mentioned alongside Twitter Facebook.
  5. Overly aggressive search ads will result in mainstream backlash against Google: Given how Google ads and Google properties are appearing in verticals like travel, autos, mortgages, and credit cards, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of a backlash.
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    Compare Credit Cards
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    Certainly, we’ve seen some activity like EU regulators cracking down on some potentially monopolistic practices, but the outrage for Google’s ad practices are miniscule compared to, say, the TOS changes by Instagram. I suspect the search giant is still benefiting from the positive reputation it’s built over the past decade. We’ll see if they can maintain that long term. All in all, I’m giving myself a -1 on this prediction. There’s been some backlash and we may see some legal consequences, but they’re pretty small.
  6. Keyword (not provided) will rise to 25%+ of web searches: I’m sad to be right on this one. I believe Google is destroying value on the web and hurting the ability of site owners and content creators to better serve searchers, and doing so only in the interests of protecting their own revenue opportunities (since keyword data is still provided to any paying AdWords customers).
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    NotProvidedCount Project
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    The above chart comes from the excellent (Not Provided) Count project which tracks referral data across a large number of sites in a variety of verticals to show the average impact. Given that this number hit just over 25% at the end of the year, I’m giving myself a +2. Predictions that accurate don’t come along often – I only wish it was a less negative one. 
  7. We’ll see the rise of a serious certification program: Tragically, this still hasn’t happened. Distilled U is certainly a great resource, and Market Motive, Search Engine College and free programs like Hubspot’s Inbound University continue to do well, but there’s no true standard (or even a combination of standards). I’m giving this one a -2 as the trend just hasn’t materialized in a mainstream enough way to deserve more.
  8. Google will make it very hard to do great SEO without using Google+: this one’s tough. It’s mostly true for local business SEO, where Google Local Pages now require a Google+ account. And certainly Google’s authorship program, which leverages Plus, is a powerful tool for content publishers (and has some hidden benefits, too). However, Google+ signals like shares and +1s don’t appear to be a big part of the ranking algorithm. Thus, I’m giving myself a -1.

Taken together, the total score is a surprisingly good +4. That means it’s time for another set of annual predictions!

#1: None of the potential threats to Google’s domination of search will make even a tiny dent

I’ve heard all the theories – Apple is getting into search, Facebook is getting into search, DuckDuckGo will take market share, Amazon will restart their old A9 project and take share, Bing will take share as Google loses consumer trust, Yandex Baidu will expand to other markets and slowly peel away users, and all the rest. I don’t buy any of them. Google is a “default behavior” for the world’s Internet users, and it’s going to take massive, repeated failures on their part or a complete shift in the way the web is used before Google will feel even a sliver of pain.

My prediction is that Google’s market share at the end of 2013 will remain at least steady, and possibly gain in the US, and its global domination will continue unabated.

BTW – If I had to place a bet on which of these would have the best chance, it would probably be Amazon (mostly because search is a behavior we’re used to on Amazon and their brand already serves as a destination in lots of commerce-focused verticals). But, I still think it wouldn’t work.

#2: “Inbound marketing” will be in more titles job profiles as “SEO” becomes too limiting for many professionals

Searching LinkedIn today, I can see that “SEO” far, far outnumbers “inbound marketing” on job profiles.

LinkedIn Searches

The same holds true for job postings on aggregator sites like SimplyHired:

Inbound Marketing, Seo trends

But, I think there’s already a trend among early adopters to expand their job descriptions and earn more responsibility and influence in areas that have a significant impact on SEO – social media, PR, content, etc.

The only term I’ve seen that potentially rivals “inbound marketing” is “growth hacker,” but that’s confined to only the most hardcore Silicon Valley cultures and companies, and the definition seems far less clear. Still, it”s my guess that either or both of these terms will make a more serious showing in job profiles and listings in 2013.

#3: More websites will move away from Google Analytics as the only provider of web visitor tracking

I read Russ Jones’ post on Dropping Google Analytics for Piwik and it struck a chord. I think we’re going to see more of this as marketers grow more suspicious of Google and less happy with relying on what the search giant does or doesn’t grant. I do expect this trend to be small, but measurable, in 2013.

Benefcators will include folks like Piwik, but also potentially Omniture and Webtrends on the enterprise side (though both have UX and usability work to do to catch u with GA), and Clicky, Statcounter, Mint, Mixpanel, KISSMetrics, Hubspot, and others on the SMB end.

#4: Google+ will continue to grow in 2013, but much more slowly than in 2012

At last report (Dec. 6th via TNW), Google+ had 135mm active users viewing their streams on the service in a 30-day period, and 500mm total users. The total users number was only 90mm according to Google in January of 2012, meaning the service grew nearly 5X (unfortunately, we don’t have earlier numbers on monthly actives).

In 2013, I’m predicting both numbers to grow 1.5-2X at maximum, and I’ll be shocked if Google can reach more than 300mm active monthly users.

#5: App store search will remain largely ignored by marketers (for lots of defensible reasons)

Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store attracted a lot of attention over the last 2 years, but not much serious effort from marketers (with some notable exceptions), particularly on the SEO side. The reason’s fairly clear – search on the app store isn’t anything like web search. Brand searches are probably 80%+ of that market (I’d actually guess they’re well over 90%), and the algorithm used to rank apps is based on basic keyword use and metrics like downloads and ratings, hence the rich get richer.

I thought Vibhu Norby’s post Why We’re Pivoting from Mobile-First to Web-First made a tremendous amount of sense, and while I respect and admire those who disagree (like USV’s Fred Wilson), I think marketers as a whole and certainly a lot of startups, too, are going to come back to the web as the way to build a brand and mobile as a way to extend it when and where a device-specific format makes sense.

#6: Facebook (and maybe Twitter, too) will make substantive efforts to expose new, meaningful data to brands that let them better track the ROI of both advertising and organic participation

Both social media services are woefully underserving their advertisers and marketers today, and I predict that for paying customers as well as account administrators, more substantial and robust options will be available on the data side. A great match for marketers would be tracking via the Facebook share / Twitter tweet buttons that maps to account info in the platform’s dashboard, e.g. 7,514 logged-in Twitter users visited this blog post of which 72 tweeted it. More data like sources of shares and click-tracking could add even more utility.

A good example might be what FourSquare’s doing with their dashboards for businesses (though I think both need to go further on the data they provide):

FourSquare Dashboard

Twitter in particular could benefit hugely from this, while Facebook is already close(ish) with their admin portal. That said, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see Facebook fo as FourSquare has and share full names of users who visit.

#7: Google will introduce more protocols like the meta keywords for Google News, rel author for publishers, etc.

Google continues to keep SEO for their engine a complex, nuanced, and fast-changing practice through the launch of dramatic numbers of updates and introduction of new optimization protocols and opportunities. I don’t see this slowing down anytime soon. 2012 saw the launch of the Google News Meta Keywords tag, the expansion of the Rel=Author/AuthorRank program, and the new Google+ for Local Business pages, among others.

In 2013, expect a few more of these to keep SEOs, publishers, and web businesses of all kinds on their toes. There’s no rest for the optimization weary.

#8: The social media tool market will continue a trend of consolidation and shrinkage

I haven’t seen this trend widely reported, but as we studied the social media tools market in 2011 and 2012 from a potential acquisitions perspective, we observed a surprising amount of tools and services shuttering (many of which, to be fair, were “features” not fully-baked products that could support and justify companies). We also noticed that 2012 in particular had far fewer wholly new social media monitoring/management/reporting/scheduling/analytics tools that the three prior years.

I’m guessing that 2013 will be the year this comes to a head, and the few dozen social tool companies who have substantive, loyal users will gobble up or copy the key features of their smaller, less-well-suited-for-long-term-survival competitors. 

#9: Co-occurrence of brands/websites and keyword terms/phrases will be proven to have an impact on search engine rankings through correlation data, specific experiments, and/or both

The idea of co-occurrence as a ranking factor is by no means new, but it got a lot more attention in 2012 thanks to a number of SEO industry folks discussing it on blogs, forums, and at conferences. One of Moz’s most popular WB Fridays this year was on the subject: Anchor Text is Weakening… And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurrence. Bill Slawski wrote an excellent follow-on: Not All Anchor Text is Equal And Other Co-Citation Observations, and Joshua Giardino followed him with another good piece: It’s Not Co-Citation, But It’s Still Awesome.

#10: We’ll witness a major transaction (or two) in the inbound marketing field, potentially rivaling the iCrossing acquisition in size and scope

Acquisitions and IPOs make headlines and they make the market’s movers shakers (and investors) stand up and take note. In 2010, iCrossing’s $325mm acquisition by Hearst Media dominated headlines and got a lot of organic search-focused agencies (and big advertising/publishing brands) taking note. That acquisition marked one of the few massive exits in the SEO/inbound space and remains the largest transaction I’m aware of outside the email world (e.g. ConstantContact, iContact, etc). Eloqua’s public offering in 2012 was a bright spot, too, and I think we’re in for one or two more of those in 2013.

My money would be on the tools/software market (companies like Marketo, Hubspot, SearchMetrics, Conductor, Brightedge, Covario, Raven, Act-On, SproutSocial, Hootsuite, Ginza Metrics, etc) but I’m not confident enough to limit my prediction to the software space exclusively. Agencies may still be in the picture, and the big four advertising firms still have opportunity in the inbound realm, IMO.




2013 is going to move fast in our space. The relentless pace of innovation, change, and opportunity have little chance of slowing down, and that’s a wonderful thing for all us in the marketing world. Hopefully, these predictions will provide some value to you – whether they do or not, I’d love to hear some of the expectations you have for what the world has in store for us in 2013.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a fantastic 2013!

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