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What we’ve learnt in 2010 (and what we look forward to in 2011)

With contributions from various members of the Leapfrogg team, we take a look back at what we’ve learnt this year in digital marketing and online retail.  We also look forward to 2011; what we’ll be keeping an eye on and how we expect 2010’s developments to evolve.

Google continues to innovate but at what cost?

Leapfrogg’s natural search team, Suzanne and Ben Adam, comment on the significant changes Google has made to both its back end architecture and search experience:

“2010 saw Google roll out its new indexing system, ‘caffeine’, which updates their search index on a continuous basis and therefore should provide more up to date results to users. The Mayday update, placed more emphasis on authority sites for long tail searches. Sites that create fresh, useful, original content, in a range of formats (i.e. images, video) and optimise for long tail searches will benefit most from these updates. These are good practices that we’ve been advocating for many years so from our point of view the changes have had little impact on the recommendations we make to clients.

The typical Google searcher would probably understand little of ‘caffeine’ and ‘Mayday’ but 2010 has seen an unprecedented number of changes to Google’s search engine results page (SERP) that certainly would not have gone unnoticed, most notably Instant Search, Previews, the somewhat pointless blue arrows, and Google Places.

In 2011, it will be interesting to see if the increasingly cluttered Google results page turns users off OR will the changes to back end architecture counter this by reducing the amount of spam and therefore making search results more relevant and fresh? With Bing increasingly offering a viable alternative to Google, will we see users jump ship? Or is ‘Googling’ just too synonymous with the act of searching in the mindset of most search engine users? 2011 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in the search engine wars, not to mention the threat posed by the big social networks, such as Facebook”.

The growing influence of social signals on search engine rankings

Social Media and Content Executive, James Mortimer, comments on the continued convergence of search and social:

“2010 has seen Google and Bing confirm that tweets and Facebook ‘likes’ have an influence on search rankings. In 2011, I expect to see the continued convergence of search and social. This will demand that companies take a much more holistic view of SEO; an approach where traditional activities, such as keyword optimisation and link building are combined with more contemporary tactics in social media marketing, an approach we’ve been advocating for a long time. I am sure more and more companies will adopt this more holistic approach now that the major search engines have confirmed a direct relationship between search engine rankings and social media activity, particularly on Twitter.

If, as suspected, one of the factors the search engines focus on is the number of followers on Twitter, will we see an increase in the use of auto-following tools to artificially inflate followers? Personally, I refuse to follow anybody who has an unnatural looking Twitter profile (i.e. following 23,984 people with almost the same number following them back!) but will the search engines be able to spot this kind of activity?

The importance of having a local ‘footprint’

Analyst, Andy, and Client Services Director, Greg, have been paying particular attention to the growing importance of local search:

“In October, Google updated how it displays local search results; they are no longer restricted to a specific section at the top of the SERP. Instead, local results on Google are now integrated into the main ‘natural’ listings. With Google placing more and more emphasis on local listings, we expect 2011 will see an increase in online shoppers entering phrases such as “designer dresses” and being served results that includes listings for nearby retail stores (regardless of whether they use a location term within their search query).

What we find most interesting about this change is the potential impact it has on retailers without physical stores, for example ASOS. Herein lies a somewhat ironic dilemma for online retailers in 2011 – an online brand could start to suffer in the search results because it DOESN’T have a physical store(s)”. Do not be suprised to see brands that have traditionally traded online, for example ASOS and Amazon, develop some form of high street presence in 2011 (note; this will not be necessarily be purely as a result of Google’s change to local listings).

Joining the dots

Paid search manager, Amelia, saw huge benefits in the use of software and advanced tracking tools to measure the success of multi-channel marketing campaigns:

The growth in mobile highlights the key challenge faced by brands; ¾ of consumers use two or more channels to browse, research & purchase products. Not only does this demand that brands have a presence where consumers expect them to be (online, mobile, the high street and so on) but it makes analysis and optimisation of the path to sale absolutely essential. We’ve really seen the value of investing in software to better understand the user journey. The ability to measure the first click to the final sale visit (whether this is online or in-store) is crucial when evaluating the returns from digital marketing activity. We have been amazed with some of the insights we have found when looking at sale journeys, particularly for retailers where the path to sale is more likely to involve a number of channels over a period of time. Seeing the overall sale path journey enables us to quantify the success of specific keywords which contribute to sales via brand terms or via different traffic sources”.

The year mobile finally took off

MD, Rosie, comments on how the year when brands finally saw some measurable returns from mobile commerce:

“It seems that every year, for as long as I can remember, analysts have claimed that ‘this will be the year mobile commerce’ takes off. Well 2010 might just be the year that this claim was finally justified.  Smart phone adoption still represents a relatively small percentage of the overall market, however, the number of people subscribing to smart phones this year has been significant enough for a number of brands to finally see tangible benefits of investing in mobile enabled websites and applications.

2011 will see this trend continue as more and more brands learn from the early adopters and invest in mobile commerce. However, it is vital that marketers understand the difference between the conventional browser and mobile experience. With mobile, there is an even greater emphasis to give people exactly what they want as smaller screens make it difficult for functionality, such as dynamic merchandising, to work effectively. Keeping things simple will be key to success for mobile websites and applications”.

Don’t run before you can walk

Head of Social Media and Content, Lucy comments on the need to ensure tactical execution is linked back to commercial objectives:

“Everyone seems to have embraced Twitter and Facebook this year, but we’ve sometimes pushed back on briefs because we didn’t believe social media was really going to deliver to a brands commercial objectives. It’s all too easy to jump on the social media bandwagon. However, when a marketing team has limited budget, often the more tried and tested direct marketing or more quantifiable and measurable link building and online PR activity can be proven to deliver more.

Although we love it when our brands want to experiment, we always need to ensure campaigns deliver to the bottom line. If you’re selling to a target audience that isn’t highly active in social media, then sometimes it is not the right medium to use. But even if it is, we very much advocate that clients get the basics right before they start investing in social media, for example. Very much a case of learning to walk before you run”.

Agencies need to evolve

Sales and Marketing Director, Ben, comments on how the role digital agencies need to take with their clients:

“In 2010, I’ve seen a noticeable shift in what clients expect from their agency partners. Clients are looking for much more than tactical delivery…and so they should. We’ve really seen the value of more closely aligning digital strategies to a client’s commercial objectives and completely changed the language we use to communicate with prospects and clients as a result.

It highlights to me how the SEO industry needs to evolve in 2011 beginning with a rebrand. SEO is a dated term that fails to represent the remit of the job undertaken by forward thinking agencies. The convergence of search and social, the need to be creating useful and unique content, and the strategic and analytical value added by an agency is much more than SEO. In 2011, I’d like to see less emphasis on somewhat dated language such as ‘rankings’, and especially those agencies still making ‘guarantees’, to instead focus on messaging that more closely reflects the landscape and the expectations of clients”.

What were you key lessons from 2010? What are you going to be keeping a close on in 2011? We’d love to hear from you?

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