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Staying Ahead of the Curve: 5 Online Marketing Trends to Watch in 2013

Submitted on 12/27/2012 by Max Thomas

After a very successful year on the Thunder Blog, we wanted to take some time to think about trends for 2013. With the help of Monique and Shawn, we pulled together some predictions for the new year, and we think you’ll agree that the best is yet to come. Have your own online marketing trend to look out for? Please drop us a line in the comments!

Local Search Finally Gets the Spotlight

Local search has come a long way in 2012. While Google confirmed as early as December 2011 that it was taking social mentions into account, the merge of Google+ Pages with Google Places (effectively removing Places from search rankings) in May 2012 solidified that social (specifically Google+) would now be part and parcel of rankings for local searches. And when we see the word social we all know what that means…interactions, engagement, shares, reviews, +1’s, etc. The days of “just ranking” are gone. Now a business needs social activity to stay relevant AND be found in search. Preamble over, here’s what I recommend looking out for in 2013:

Local Search Meets Social

With Google+ Pages (both local and social), user reviews and the impact of reviews on Google rankings, businesses are being pushed to (i) claim their Google+ Local and Social Pages and (ii) start sharing content and building community on Google+. In case you haven’t noticed, Google Maps is now pulling in thumbnails of people in your Google+ Circles that have reviewed local businesses nearby. With this new integration, asking your friend for a local recommendation only requires a few clicks.

TL;DR – Starting now, local businesses will need to ramp up messaging and outreach as part of their local search presence.

Google Local Rankings

Along with 7-pack map search results on Google, ratings, stars and descriptive titles are gone. It’s early to give exact numbers, but as Linda Buguet mentions in BrightLocal’s Predictions for Local in 2013 some users click-through less on the current local search results than the old map results. This puts added emphasis on organic search rankings of a business’ website which, in turn, encourages businesses to diversify their local search presence more than ever. (Take into account the impact of Google+’s new review filter and the need to diversify is even more important – see below.) Furthermore, Google is now blending Google+ Local Pages with organic search website rankings, decreasing the likelihood of having both local and organic search rankings. Combined with the diminishing number of local listings on Google (some geo searches return only 3 Google+ Pages on Google), it’s looking like local listing (e.g., Google+ Pages) search results on Google might disappear completely from the listings, or reside only as a side-bar map. (I know that sounds drastic but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possible feature push in 2013.) Local business should revisit their websites to confirm they are well-structured, feature accurate contact information (business name, address and phone number) and have trackable conversion (e.g., online form or phone) that can rank in both Google+ and organic rankings.

TL;DR - In 2013, businesses that have a well structured website will have a leg-up when it comes to local search.

Reviews

Starting with Google+, the new review filter wiped out scores of reviews for many businesses that spent a lot of time and money to accumulate them. At present, claiming and verifying Google+ Local and Social Pages is an imperfect process at best. While we all hope 2013 brings major improvements to Google+ and Google’s local products, it’s imperative to stay on top of Google Places [official] quality guidelines to know what’s ever changing (Tip: Having issues with missing reviews or removed listings, get help on Google and Your Business Forum; Also, here’s review-specific guidelines ). Since users overwhelmingly look for reviews when making local buying decisions (5th Annual 15miles/Localeze/comScore 2012 study indicates 61% of consumers use ratings and reviews), it’s possible prospects might skip a review-less listing in Google altogether and look elsewhere for businesses with reviews (folks – this is purely observational here). This reality of online consumer behavior makes reviews more important than ever, not only for ranking in search but also for getting users to take action. Check out my post to learn everything you need to know about Google+ reviews.

TL;DR - With the integration of social into local search and multiple local search platforms, reviews are (once again) more important than ever.

Mobile Searches Give Desktop Searches a Run for Their Money

It’s predicted that mobile searches will surpass desktop searches by 2015 (BIA Kelsey study). Likewise, this past spring the Localeze/15miles/comScore local search study showed that 49% of local mobile searches are on an app. With the rise of app-based local searches, the race is on to be the best local search app. While it’s still early, Google’s recent iOS release might just be the ticket (personal note: so far it’s a fantastic app!). However, Facebook’s recent announcement of its Nearby local search feature for iOS and Android kicks everything up a notch. It’s a potentially brilliant play by Facebook and one to watch closely in 2013. While the competition among local search apps heats up, there’s sure to be new enhancements from established players (don’t forgot about Foursquare) and even new entrants from industry-specific content aggregators such as TripAdvisor, ApartmentRatings, etc.

TL; DR - local businesses will need to diversify to reach desktop and mobile local channels. 


Infographics Fall By the Wayside and Real Content Strategy Shines Through

In 2012, content finally became an imperative part of every online marketing strategy. We saw big brands embracing it, smaller brands breaking through the clutter with it, and content that made “boring” industries compelling. Of course, with all good things, there are those that try to take advantage of a trend, and such was the case with infographics. Data visualization is nothing new, but creating graphics just to attract tons of inbound links was a relatively unfamiliar concept at the start of this year. In a short period of time, everyone and their mother (no, I’m not being facetious) was pulling together shitty infographics for links. Well, Matt Cutts has already hinted at it, and I’m predicting 2013 will be the year infographics (as a link building tactic) die. (PLEASE?!)

In 2013, there will be no shortcuts when it comes to exceptional content. “Content marketing” may have been the biggest buzzword of 2012, but I have a feeling the focus will shift to strategy in the new year. Instead of relying on one-off graphics or guides, brands will need to start investing in content strategies that tap into a bigger story. Gone are the days of “sell, sell, sell”, and we’ll have to get more creative to catch and keep a reader’s allegiance. In other words, we should stop looking for one-night stands and start investing in long term relationships.

I also think 2013 will be the year for writers and journalists with marketing experience. As mentioned in some of Shawn and Max’s predictions (and everywhere on the web), Google is showing favoritism for compelling content that gets shared by people you’re connected with, and author rank will continue to give writers the authority they’ve deserved all along. And guess what? Many businesses don’t have the time it takes to research, develop, optimize, or promote their own content, so they’ll need to enlist the best writers and marketers to help tell their stories for them.

Content has always been important, but 2013 will be the year content strategy becomes crucial.

TL;DR – Businesses that invest in a content strategy that both tells a story and connects with their audience will reap the rewards.

Conversions Become Just As Important As Rankings

Historically, the major focus for most businesses has been their ranking for target keywords in Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs). The thought has been that if you’re in the top 3 then you have a better chance of being clicked than results 4-10 on the same page. Well that’s changed with the introduction of author tags through Google+, schema markup, reviews and more. Google is now allowing a variety of ways to deck out your search results, and this has been immensely helpful for those who don’t necessarily make the top 3. Click-through-rate (CTR) is now affected by how your listing looks beyond the title and description tags, and CTR is one major step on the route to optimizing your website for conversions.

First off, you may ask: “How is improving the look of my listing related to conversion optimization”? Well, when businesses start with optimizing their SERP result with the aforementioned methods, they will attract visitors who already know what to expect. This means fewer bounces off the site and a higher conversion rate. A higher CTR also means more traffic, and just as if you jumped to the #1 spot on a SERP, you should be prepared for a spike in visits. Your next step should be to follow basic conversion guidelines we’ve outlined in a past blog post during our Design month.

If you’re ready to improve your listing now, then adding Google’s rel=author tags to your blog posts or web pages that you have written should be the first step. By connecting your personal Google+ profile to your site, you can have a small thumbnail of your face next to the SERP listing. Studies on authorship have shown that simply having this author tag can increase CTR on listings anywhere from 30% to 150%! Couple that with local addresses, star ratings and business products being added below the title tag with the help of schema markup and you have one attractive listing begging to be clicked. Raven Tools has a great schema resource if you’re looking to learn more.

TL;DR – The businesses that improve their search listings with schema markup will yield better results in terms of qualified traffic and conversions.

Businesses Start Pulling Away from Third Party Networks and Start Investing in their Own Websites

Sometimes it’s easy and even makes sense to focus a lot of your marketing efforts on Facebook, Twitter or any other third party site. A lot of people frequent these sites and it’s usually free to participate. In 2012 and even years before, we kept hearing how big social media was and that it was the place for businesses to extend their reach. Well the ground that businesses have built their lives on is beginning to shake. 

With Facebook’s promoted posts for business pages, Google’s merging of Google+ and Google Places and Yelp filtering reviews, the social landscape is changing. Just as Max has said, it’s time to diversify. I’ve seen businesses lose hundreds of reviews on Google that they’ve spent years working on when Google decided business names and reviews didn’t match up. I’ve seen businesses struggle when Facebook posts all of a sudden didn’t reach all of their fans.

Our advice? Don’t rely on any third party site alone. Please remember that your information is owned by the third party site when you agree to create an account. Facebook, Instagram and Yelp own your photos. Google owns your reviews. You are not entitled to anything with these services, but the one place you can own 100% is YOUR site. Start bringing marketing efforts back to your site and direct traffic from Facebook to your site. We’re not saying you shouldn’t use these social tools but we’re warning you of relying solely on sites you don’t own.

TL;DR: Don’t put all of your eggs in one social basket. The businesses that focus on their own websites will win in the long run.

Shots in the Dark

Here are a few fun predictions based on nothing but sheer intuition and fortune cookies.

Max: In (another) effort to get get people to use Google+ AND to increase Google’s local app presence, Google buys FourSquare and requires users to have a Google+ account to check-in, furthermore renaming it FourSquare+.

Monique: MySpace surprises us all and becomes the social network of choice for businesses and brands.

Shawn: Authors through Google’s Authorship program will have their own rank, and search results will be based off how many shared or popular posts you’ve written in the past.

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