Do you think if you've got Google, you've got search down? Uh uh. A look ahead shows changes in the search landscape that you need to navigate. If you've been coasting along on your search marketing, these changes provide new opportunities to muscle your way to the top of the search heap.
Here are four of the most important trends for 2011:
1. Rise of Bing
Yes, the name Google has become synonymous with search, but it's a mistake to ignore Bing. Thanks to Microsoft's partnership with Yahoo, Bing-powered search received more than 25 percent of all searches in November 2010, according to traffic tracker Experian Hitwise. What's even more important is that the success rate for Bing searches -- the percentage of searchers who click through to a website -- was 81 percent, as opposed to 65 percent for Google.
Your best search engine optimization strategies for Google won't necessarily work for Bing, says Louis Gagnon, chief product and marketing officer for Yodle, a company that helps local businesses connect with consumers online. You need to optimize and test separately.
2. Bing + Facebook = Social Search
Bing, Microsoft's search engine, now includes results from people's Facebook friends. These results are in a special section toward the bottom that says, "Liked by your Facebook friends."
For many folks, these will be seen as higher-quality results (unless you love your friends, hate their taste).
Dr. Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics, a provider of analytics for search marketing campaigns, says this provides an excellent opportunity for small businesses, which often get crowded out of natural search results and priced out of Google AdWords.
"Here, there's new web real estate that's not overcrowded yet. A small business owner with limited resources can actually occupy some of that real estate if it's early in the game," he says.
You now need to do Facebook optimization, as well as search engine optimization, or SEO. Luckily, it's not as mysterious as Google rankings.
The key is building a strong community on Facebook of people who have "liked" your page. For example, an attorney in Memphis whose website doesn't show up in the first page of search results for "attorney Memphis" could get onto that coveted first page if some of the searcher's Facebook friends had liked the page.
"It's who has the largest network and who has the most likes, subjects and topics," according to Joepen. "Picture titles help, too. And have cool stuff that other bloggers repost."
Joepen thinks that the Bing/Facebook integration could go even further. It's possible (although nothing has been announced) that on Facebook, queries in its search box might someday also return results from Bing.
"This could change searching for information online as we know it," Joepen says.
3. Mobile Search: On the Rise
Performics expects more than 16 percent of all Google search clicks in 2011 will be from mobile devices. At the same time, the cost-per-click for mobile search ads averages 59 percent less than those delivered to regular computers.
Mobile search is inherently different from the desktop flavor, experts say. Mobile users may use different tools, and they are often looking for local businesses.
Just as the web and search marketing leveled the playing field, letting the tiniest one-person shop compete with national advertisers, SMBs who provide a good experience to people searching via mobile devices can successfully compete with big brands, says Eric Papczun, vice president of SEO and feeds for the performance-marketing agency.
The bounce rate in mobile is often higher, according to Papczun, because people using smartphones or other mobiles can't find what they looking for. This lowers the cost per click at the same time that it favors the companies whose websites work with mobile. Let that be you.
"This is a tremendous op for local bus to claim that territory and get out in front of their national competition and claim that real estate," Papczun says. You also need to understand changes in what potential customers are searching for.
"They're using their phones not just to cheek email but to get a better deal. When they're in your store, they may be looking at a deal from a rival," says Simms Jenkins, CEO of Brightwave, a digital marketing agency.
Because of this behavior, you should look at mobile marketing as both a defense mechanism and an acquisition tool, he says. He suggests SMS marketing as a great way to grab potential customers' attention, because text messages are typically read within 10 seconds of receipt.
If it's raining, or Tuesday afternoon is always your slowest period, you can text customers with special, limited-time offers to drive traffic to your business. "Your biggest challenge is getting people to opt in," Jenkins says.
So make it easy and attractive to do so. Place signage in your location offering customers who text to opt in on the spot a freebie or immediate discount.
4. Google Shopping and Product Feeds
Google Shopper, installed on many smartphones, can tell people where in their area they can buy a bathrobe or birdseed. Search results may include a shot of a specific product, the name, the price, and local retailers. Along with many other apps, it also allows users to scan a product barcode to locate better deals on an item.
The hitch is, you have to provide your product information to Google, says Janet Driscoll Miller, CEO of Search Mojo, a search marketing agency.
"Right now, local retailers are not taking advantage of this program," she says.
To profit from Google Shopper, you must send the search provider a data feed from your inventory. How difficult this is to do depends on the sophistication of your inventory system -- and your own technical sophistication, as well.
"If you keep your inventory on a spreadsheet, this won't work," says Driscoll Miller. "But if you already have a backend database, it's not too difficult to set it up to automatically send it to Google every day."
If this is beyond you, an independent database programmer should be able to handle the job.
Getting in synch with Google Shopper is especially important for retailers who handle very popular or rare items, she says. "If you're the bookseller with the last copy of Henry Potter, it could be very helpful for you."