At the beginning of the month, eConsultancy published a blog post in which they asked various search experts to give their predictions for what was going to happen in 2012 . Less than a month later, Google's pretty much done everything people had foreseen for the whole year.
With the twin moves of the launch of Search Plus Your World and the changes in the privacy agreements for its services, Google has changed the marketplace with startling speed, and looks to be the driving factor in the pace of change in 2012.
While some were heralding Facebook, and the rolling out of the Timeline as being what would lead social search to a prominent position in 2012, the relatively modest success of Google+ had disguised the power of what it would allow Google to do. Google has now fully integrated social search results, and effectively (even if temporarily) locked Twitter and Facebook out of the system.
A group of Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace engineers sat down to create the Don't Be Evil tool. That shows just how worried they are. And how unconcerned Google are about appearing evil.
The standardisation of Google's privacy policies clearly has the potential to significantly change how they do business, but the effects aren't yet clear. It's a bold move which risks an enormous amount of customer resentment, it's going to change the game in huge ways, and nobody predicted it. Or, at least, if they did, they kept very quiet about it.
Google's abilities to create a social graph across all of its services, when combined with Search Plus Your World, represent a seismic shift in the search landscape. And we're not even out of January yet.
However, with all the moves happening in the social space, and the knock-on impact that will have on SEO, let's not neglect one very important point brought up by one of eConsultancy's experts, Rishi Lakhani: all of this reasserts the importance of paid search.
As Google's search pages become stuffed with results from social search and Google's own products like Hotel Finder, paid search remains one of the ways of remaining above the fold on a page. Whilst Panda has made SEO harder for now, PPC is as prominent as it ever was.
The real importance of social search, however, is that it reinforces the Google concept of the Zero Moment Of Truth. As marketers realise that a customer can have lots of little interactions with a brand (seeing something liked on a friend's Facebook page, a search result, a display ad) before making a decision to buy, anything Google can do to highlight those by using social search to increase their impact is good for them, and for brands.
The ways in which customers interact with brands are complicated and nuanced. As we move into 2012, it's clear that Google are taking this very seriously. So, when it comes to tracking customers, the more detailed and nuanced our conversion attribution is, the better it can reflect the reality of the customer journey.
Social, brand building with display, retention strategies, a lot of the themes for the coming year boil down to the same thing: understanding your customers.
2012. The year of the customer. And that's something no one saw coming.
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