If you’re even the slightest bit aware of what’s been going on in organic search marketing, you couldn’t help but know that Google made a number of changes during 2007 which impacted the natural search marketing programs for many webmasters. So here’s my little post predicting where I see the trends pointing and what we can expect in 2008 and beyond…
One really cool blog post I saw recently was by Brett Borders, covering the “7 SEO Techniques That Google Smashed in 2007 “. While at least one of the items he listed wasn’t a technique (Universal Search was undoubtedly a major paradigm shift in Google SERP layouts, though not an optimization technique), the list overall covered most of the big changes we know of in the past year which impacted how experts modify their programs to get found more easily.
The one trend we can consistently see driving change at the Google end is a desire to render SEO experts irrelevant to some degree. In an ideal world from Google’s viewpoint, webmasters would build sites for their endusers, and search engines would spider and rank their pages equally well in all cases and there would be no need for the SEO “middlemen”. Google further desires to somewhat devalue some of the signals or methods that optimization experts have used to artificially influence rankings — Google’s moves to negate the value of link purchasing and other linking schemes is direct evidence.
While Google has worked in an increasingly friendly manner with many SEOs, they have simultaneously been providing tutorial-like training and assistance to universities and government agencies to improve the indexation and availability of the content provided by those organizations. In some cases, they’re apparently also specifically adapting their spidering rules to overcome traditional barriers found in those types of sites as well — moves which render the need for SEO expertise fairly unnecessary.
Just as I earlier predicted  back in 2006, Googleâ€™s aggressive moves to reduce the ability of people to artificially influence rankings is continuing to make inroads against classic SEO methods. Usability really is beginning to eclipse SEO in some ways.
If you’ve kept up with developments at the Google end, you’re aware of how they’ve been building a very hybridized approach for incorporating human signals into their ranking methods along with the “purely algorithmic” methods they’ve been using. (See Matt Cutt’s post on The role of humans in Google search .)
Google’s small armies of human quality evaluators are trained in deciding which pages are more relevant for various example searches, but there are other factors that are starting to influence rankings more than before, such as â€œengaging-nessâ€ â€” if a human evaluator is browsing rapidly through the first few pages of results in Google for a keyword search, theyâ€™re rating which pages they think are the best/worst in the set. Simple designs which are attractive and appealing are going to win out more and more.
“Popularity” is also a quantitative factor which appears to be poised as a major signal that search engines could be expected to use more and more considering how easy it would be to use data from social media sites as a contributive ranking value. The number of votes or bookmarks for a site or page through social media sites are the sorts of things which the search engines could be reasonably expected to use, which is one of the reasons why more search marketers are recommending social media as a component to a healthy internet program.
There are some pieces of classic SEO which continue to work well and which I think we can continue to expect to leverage effectively during 2008 — items like Titles, H1s, and on-page text content. Jill Whalen just did a great retrospective look  comparing the factors that she recommends currently with what she used to recommend from seven years back, and the parallels were reassuring. Jill sums up with just what I’m getting at too, though: design a great website, and that really helps to propel your search marketing success.
So, for 2008 and beyond, look for these trends to continue:
- Usability may grow to be an even more major component of search marketing. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with usability considerations by reading blogs and articles by such experts as Jakob Nielsen  (did you realize he used to be a member of Google’s advisory board?).
- Attractiveness may increasingly become a subtle factor in your rankings, so familiarize yourself with the basic concepts of good interface design by reading the classic manifestos of web design such as Lynda Weinman ‘s book on Creative HTML Design 2 and others. (Note: “coolness” is not necessarily the same as good, simple and attractive design. “Coolness” can often be a barrier to usability and when user interfaces are designed away from easiness, such features often annoy endusers.)
- Simplicity coupled with good, UNIQUE content frequently will win out over time.
- Social Media’s impact on search marketing may continue to grow over time. Integrate as possible with the Web 2.0 properties which have high usage numbers coupled with good policing against spam. Like del.icio.us, more of these seem likely to get eventually absorbed into the major search engines.
Continue using white-hat, squeaky-clean SEO methods, and also incorporate concepts of user-centered design, attractiveness, simplicity, while leveraging popularity drivers in social media and you can’t go wrong in 2008! May your search marketing result in increasing traffic and conversions!