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So the year 2013 draws to a close and we look into the crystal balls again. As search scene has been changing faster than ever for the last few years with Google’s continuous animal-named releases such as Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, the change is imminent for all of us. That includes businesses (small, medium, and large), marketing executives, and SEO professionals.

According to an infographic from Salesforce’s Pardot, ComScore data reveals that there were just fewer than 20.4 billion searches originating from desktops alone in March 2013. Over 113.1 million searches, however, originated from mobile phones in the U.S.

So, search is alive. SEO seems to have an uncertain future, though.

How does the future of SEO look like? What’s in it for us? Is there hope at all?

Let’s try to explore:

#1 – Everything Goes Inbound

Rand Fishkin – CEO and co-founder of Moz – believes that SEO will no longer be an exclusive marketing opportunity. It could be that there would be no such profession as SEO consultant.

In fact, SEO will surely be a part of inbound marketing practices as a whole. For businesses, all of those digital marketing channels such as organic search optimization, pay per click campaigns; email marketing, content marketing, and social media will all work as one.

Tomorrow, you’ll only be able to do great SEO when you can plug into the rush of digital marketing as a whole. That, we’ll admit, isn’t too hard.

For small business websites, for ecommerce stores, and for any web property, which will do well with some marketing, the combined presence of technology, small business tools, and the information are already making the Internet a better place for marketing.

The days of standalone SEO practices are over. Leverage information, tools, and technology and weave into a bigger opportunity to prepare for the future.

#2 – Mobile is big. It’ll get bigger

The solid data presented this year at SMX East, clearly shows that Mobile is going to be the most critical factor in search. Computers will no longer be as important as they were. The delight we used to get from 1024 x 768 screens is fading away as we take those screens for granted.

It’s the mobile or tablet screen which will be the prime real estate. Search will inevitably flow into the mobile arena. Google’s Hummingbird update is already a harbinger for us marketers to gauge the direction Google is taking.

If you’ve been caught napping, here’s how big mobile is: Google’s research studies point out that over 61% of mobile searchers who land on a non mobile-optimized site will immediately leave the site.

In another Pure Oxygen Report, more than 33% of Fortune 100 companies stand the risk of ranking downgrades if they didn’t do anything about optimizing their pages for mobile.

Google believes in mobile. The data is here to prove the point. SEO will go mobile, and so will everything else.

#3 – Social will go mainstream

Most of the years 2012 and 2013 were like “guessing periods” which left everyone wondering what exactly the role of social media was, in terms of pure business. As we write, social selling is already reality.

Further, Google+ is quickly gaining ground as not only a standalone social network but also with a large influence on search listing results for brands.

Apart from the usual benefits of social media for businesses, social media enables a core framework for brands and businesses to earn inbound links. According to Nielsen Research, more than 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family. Social media is getting close to translate that reality into clicks, links, and cash.

Google offers an explanation on how search results will be influenced by recommendations, which are based on your own search key terms, recommendations, network influence, and a host of other parameters.

Get social. Now.

#4 – Content is now premium

The days of chasing after $5 to $10 dollar worth content are gone. Not only is content just a premium asset, but it’s also an asset actually drives profits and engagement up the wall.

You no longer create content for SEO. You don’t even create content if you lack the will, passion, and capability to do so. You’d only create content to provide value. Create content so that your readers can walk away with something tangible. That’s the only kind of content businesses will be forced to produce if they want to be seen, heard, and taken seriously.

There was a time when all businesses would have to be publishers. The call for the future is not just a publisher but also a trendsetter, value-added information provider, and a priceless resource for customers.

Riding on the premium content wave is another important aspect of search: links. You could buy your way into the Internet using links, once upon a time.

Today, all links are earned and not purchased. Premium content would generate links organically. If businesses want to take control of the links they generate and proliferate, there are only a few avenues left such as to launch guest blogging programs (with valuable content still at the forefront), widgets, mobile apps, contests, buzz, branding, and social media.

With or without the help of content, earning links takes a whole lot of marketing activity. Marketers and businesses with any vested interest in digital marketing will have to work hard to earn their place. No one can bully his or her way to digital marketing stardom. Take it or leave it.

#6 – Everything about the website will now matter

Earlier, you could put up an ugly looking site, stuff keywords in, and then hope to rank on search listings. Today, even if you did everything right, you might still not make it. It just got that hard.

Here’s what will matter today: responsive design, the technology behind the website (at its core), the speed with which pages load, the copy, the colors and schema used, and the ability of the website to match the intent of the user.

SEO was always been an important way to get users to a website. The set of actions that users take after reaching a website (through search or otherwise) was mostly left to chance. Today (and more so tomorrow), you’d have user testing, user optimization, design changes, conversion experiments, A/B testing for website optimization, and a whole lot of recurring work just to keep up with the marketing activity.

In the future, it’ll be aspects such as UX/UI, design, colors, copy, content, engagement, social bridges, and recurring work on conversion optimization that’ll take up bulk of the work.

SEO professionals – and all businesses – have a lot of catching up to do.

#7 – Data will save your life

Andy Betts, of Search Engine Watch, writes about securing the future of SEO and among all the insights listed in the post, he mentions a point that we’d like to specifically point out: the importance of data (yes, even for SEO and marketing work).

He recommends getting back to basics such as to link your Adwords and Webmaster tools. Set up automated, daily reports. Gather organic search data and continue with your keyword analysis. Align SEO with content metrics and also work to utilize non-Google search assets.

In another post on Search Engine Watch, Andy also writes about Change, Convergence, and Collaboration. Everything we know as marketers and business owners will fall into place, together. That includes landing pages, social media, SEO, content marketing, and the works.

In short, he insists that the world should take to data-driven marketing. It’s called smart marketing. We concur.

#8 – Search isn’t dead; it just changed

To answer the question on everyone’s mind now: Is SEO dead? No, it isn’t.

Remember the recent times when most people cried that email marketing was dead now that social media has taken up the space on digital marketing equivalent of Page 3 paparazzi? It turned out that email marketing is very much alive and kicking. This applies to SEO too.

Search optimizing is still a very important part of digital marketing. It’s just that all the fanciness, jargon, and overt-technicality of on-page or off-page optimization techniques won’t stand a chance against Google’s relentless policing of the web.

For SEO professionals and businesses, obsessing over page ranks, purchased links, keyword densities, and all the time spent of Keyword research isn’t going to do much without a solid digital marketing plan that spreads tentacles over all the other opportunities available to them.

SEO, clearly, is evolving as it always has been. It’ll only continue to do so.

You thought this is the end of a list? It isn’t. By the end of 2014, there’ll be another list with changes for 2015. This goes on. Nothing stops. Nothing remains constant.

SEO, for all practical purposes, changed. How do we know? We are not the only people in the know. You know it too. Most of you could be reading this post on a mobile phone or a tablet. You could have landed here through a mobile search. If we weren’t charming enough, you’d leave in an instant.

SEO or no SEO, this is how it’s going to be.

What are you going to do about it?

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

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