Everything changes. Yesterday I was sitting in a meeting with a client and the subject of SEO came up. We talked about some of the black hat issues and the importance of organic growth over time: The quality vs. quantity of 'likes' and 'follows'. In the course of the discussion I pulled up a keyword from another client who had gone to a completely digital market program 8 years ago and really knows and understand the digital space. My other client OWNS the entire first page for this keyword in Google when I have searched it in the past. Yesterday though, they didn't. At least, they didn't at the location I was at. I have been observing some worrisome trends like this for a while. When I checked later from a different IP address the search results where different and they once again dominated the first page. This was the FIRST time that the change was this dramatic. Anecdotal, but noteworthy.
I suspect what I am about to suggest is not going to be easy for many agencies to tell clients or marketing people to pass on to their boss but here's what that means: Just because your keyword(s) show up on your computer in your office that does NOT mean it is going to show up on your prospects, customers or clients computers the same way.
Google is not alone in how it filters what you receive. Many studies have indicated that only about 3-7% of company Facebook Page walls postings appear on your fans wall feed: "Shocker: 3% to 7.5% of Fans See Your Page Posts" "If a fan hasn’t clicked on one of your posts for a year, there may be almost no chance they’ll ever see your posts again."
1st takeaway: For me this really cemented the entire false concept being promoted by some agencies about guarantees of SEO performance: You can't.
Eli Pariser talked about this problem at TED Talks on May 2, 2011 "Beware online "Filter Bubbles". There are 57 criteria that determine what YOU see on YOUR screen vs. what the person next to you may see in the same search. This video is worth watching.
Jeffrey Cohen recently wrote an article that exemplifies this very problem of search. Even when searching for some very specific (long tail) information for his article "31% of Companies Block Employees From Using Social Media" he kept getting the same statistics from an OLD 2009 article. It appears that if the article is NOT in a blog, or tagged properly, you may have a difficult time getting the information you need. You may need alternative search methods, but more about that below...
So what does this all mean? What do the tea leaves reveal? There is no simple answer to give you without knowing some more of the backstory and a bit of an understanding of the players in social media game. Remember, Google and Facebook view each other as rivals. If you understand that each of these giants are responding to each other as competitors you can better understand what a potential future holds. Let's start here: Dan Rowinski just wrote a wonderful piece entitled "First Stages of a Feature War: Facebook for business Unveiled" that talks about the feature war going on between Facebook and Google+ which, if you read between the lines, is going to further enhance your personal experience as Eli Pariser described in the video above. What it is going to do for your company's promotion could be quite different.
Understanding where the revenue is generated for these guys is also important. Here's a link to some details on that: "The New Ad Enviroment: Facebook and Google Plus"
It's not just Google and Facebook either. Apple is in this game. Maybe not yet, but keep an eye out for something. Jay Yarrow just wrote "The Company that makes Apple Most Nervous is... The article ends with this thought: "Whatever the case may be, we're guessing something happened when Apple was negotiating with Facebook over Ping that opened its eyes and now it's keeping its eyes on Mark Zuckerberg."
What to look for
Both Facebook and Google have recognized that after the consumer market the next big bushel of cash is in the SMB market. (Small and medium size business) The largest corporations only make up a few percentage points of total business. Both Google and Facebook recognize the 80/20 rule in big business and are taking steps to have a larger base of smaller companies so they don't end up fighting over the same piece of pie like SAP, Oracle, etc. Watch for them to keep enhancing the SMB experience, in the LONGER TERM. Eventually, they each will have to balance the needs of personalization of wall and search with a more enhancements for SMB's as that market expands.
As with any rampant expansion of any new product or innovation there are smaller competitors waiting in the wings. We saw this at the advent of the Personal Computer era and the advent of the internet era. If more and more people start to find alternative methods of search to find things (not that Facebook search can be considered a functional model right now) look for growth in those niche applications.
As an example, each of the articles above appeared in different reports and feeds. These included Zite, Flipboard, News alerts, and the video from a friends Facebook wall posting. It's good to remember that as a tech companies grows to a Goliath somewhere David has just been born.
Oh, and keep an eye on Apple: watch for those little unexplained empty spaces in new hardware or dangling functions for an indicator of what may be on the Horizon.
After reading through some of these articles, you may be asking "How can I trust the analytics?" from these sites. Who's to say that there aren't a few lines of code that are slipped in by one or two people that inflate the clicks ever so slightly? Look for someone like BPA Worldwide to jump in as an independent audit agency at the first sign of a problem.
What to do NOW
It goes without saying the Social Media has reached critical mass. Google Profiles/Maps, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube are all going to be critical to your business moving forward. You should balance your social media portfolio offering
It's all going to sort out over time. We're in the first few minutes of the first quarter of this game.