As part of its look ahead to 2013, Experian recently launched its Digital Trends report, which gives us an indication of how the digital landscape is likely to shape up over the course of the year. One of the central themes emerging is the continued importance of quality website content in driving user traffic.
As we see search behaviour among users evolve alongside Google's algorithm and interface, search marketing evolves with it. During last year, Google focused its attention more on search engine optimisation (SEO) tactics that fail to benefit user experience.
The major change caused by this shift in focus was that the practice of link building and the general promotion of sites came under intense scrutiny. This has led to agencies employing practices designed to engage readers to a degree that has not been seen before. Though as an industry we were already aware 'content is king', these latest changes have led to the realisation that the king also needs to be popular with the people.
There are other resources that can help too. Social media for example, with its lightning-fast sharing options, offers an opportunity to provide excellent client results , if it is employed correctly.
Key to the whole thing is engaging and genuinely useful content that people will want to share. This is especially true now that Google's understanding of quality has become more sophisticated, as it is able to make a judgment on what it sees as poor content. If, in the great game of snakes and ladders that is Google website rankings, it thinks this of you, prepare to fall significantly.
This is where PR activity can help. On its own a well run website can maintain its search position but will ultimately struggle to grow without the help of prominent backlinks. Quality PR content that people find useful drives engagement that can bring a marked improvement in search rankings This trend and the coming together of the two disciplines is one that is set to gather pace during 2013.
The other eye-catching development for 2013 is Google making moves to try and maximise the revenues from its marketplaces. Previously, it has been happy to offer search facilities and monitor how companies successfully do business. However, now that it has a number of its own products in the mix, its attitude has changed.
Google's drive to increase profits has led it to see the advantages of keeping search queries within its own products and services and as such, it is showing users much more information within its results than before in the hope of a conversion.
Google Play is a good example, it is extremely prominent in searches for things like books and music, so much so that many companies are beginning to view Google as a competitor as well as a platform to market their business. Indeed we have seen Joaquin Almunia, the European Commission member responsible for competition, recently speak out against what he feels is an 'abuse' of Google's strong market position.
It will be interesting to see what direction this takes, especially as a similar investigation in the US found no wrongdoing on Google's part. The rules that govern the SEO environment is always changing so it's vital to take time to review the criteria on an ongoing basis - as always, survival of the fittest is key!
Alex Wares is managing director at leading search marketing agency Mediarun