Another New Years has come and gone and over the past few weeks search industry professionals have been releasing their search market predictions for 2007. I have steered clear of reading them because it is time for me to write down StepForth’s predictions and the last thing I want to worry about is duplication. Without further adieu, here are the predictions my staff and I put together for 2007.

Section 1: The Movers and Shakers

  • Windows Live: will continue the uphill battle of branding their relatively new search platform; the confusion over whether Windows Live is a replacement for MSN contributed to their forbidding decline in market share in 2006. My staff and I firmly agree, however, that MSN/Windows Live will rebound and increase its market share slightly over pre-2006 statistics.
  • Yahoo!: We expect Yahoo to improve in 2007 due to the fresh perspectives of new staff (from the 2006 executive restructuring) and the incredible potential of this massive search network. Unfortunately, I read that Yahoo is comfortable with its current market share and has no illusions about ever being a market leader; hardly the kind of intentional goal setting that leads to results. Their unfortunate vision statement aside, I anticipate Yahoo will increase its global market share from the current 19% to 24%. Frankly, I am still dumbfounded that Yahoo has anything less than a 30% stake. I realize Google is the clear victor in the search engine wars but Yahoo definitely has the necessary weight to grab a better than 19% share.
  • Ask: 2006 was a good year for Ask because they stuck to their guns and focused on what they were good at; answering questions. Ask has gained quite a loyal following over the past couple of years and I expect it will continue to do so as long as it maintains its focus; Ask’s push into local and mobile answers search was particularly well timed. I expect Ask will not lose any market share over 2007; in fact I would be surprised if they didn’t take a few more percentage points over the year.
  • Google: Google’s insatiable appetite for growth will have it pushing for more market share in Asia and Europe where new Google outposts have recently opened. In addition, I expect that its algorithms will be improved sometime in the 3rd quarter to further devalue the benefit of reciprocal links (see more in Section 2 under “Link Building”). Google will continue to improve its mobile services which will culminate in more aggressive promotion of searching “on the go” wherever you are in the world.
  • Baidu: I don’t consider this engine to be one of the major 4 search engines (yet) but it has grown so much over the past 2 years that it just felt right to add it. Who is Baidu? is China’s leading search engine and since its conception in 2000 by two young entrepreneurs, this company has experienced massive growth (i.e. their IPO in 2005 started at $27/share and is now sitting at $122/share); sound reminiscent of Google? In my opinion Baidu is not going to be another Google but it has potential to grab a noteworthy piece of the search market when it finally premieres in North America; still no word yet when this premiere might happen but I expect the first steps to begin late this year. Part of Baidu’s success stems from its simple and effective methods of searching for multimedia such as mp3’s and videos online in addition to standard searchable content.

Section 2: Search Engine Marketing Strategies

For added reading on this topic please see Scott Van Achte’s insightful article written in November 2006 titled “Future Evolution of Search.”

  • Link Building: The industry of link building will take quite a hit this year as Google (among other SE’s) continues the process of weeding out unscrupulous linking techniques such as haphazard reciprocal link building and advanced link building directories (previously missed in other weedings). By no means will Google get a handle on all of the less desirable links but an onward push to cleansing rigged results based on false popularity will be noticed throughout the industry.The future of link building will be more difficult but definitely more effective because one-way links (someone linking to you without need for reciprocation), be it through carefully researched paid links or from premiere link building companies, will finally be known as the only way to provide a lasting ranking advantage. For more information visit the home of the guru of link building, Eric Ward or read “Thinking (a lot) About Link Building” by Jim Hedger.
  • Search Engine Optimization: As the most complex search engine Google tends to set the bar for best optimization practices so focusing on attaining results on Google usually nets favourable results on the other major engines. With that information in mind I do not see any reason that ethical optimization tactics will be revised to any significant level in 2007. If you would like a refresher on what it takes to optimize a web page see “The Ten Minute Optimization REDUX” white paper.
  • SPAMMERS Beware: This year Google will begin a more focused campaign of eradication for websites using keyword stuffing to attain search engine results. It amazes me to this day that I still find top ranking sites with keyword-stuffed footer navigations designed to fortify competitive rankings and attain dozens of long-tail results. At any rate, it has been a long time since I have seen a significant cleansing of Google’s SERPS and I would be blown away if we don’t see at least one significant cleanse this year. For more information on what is considered SPAM please see “15 Shades of SEO SPAM.”
  • PPC: This year Google will crank up the volume and remove 99% of the Adsense-driven leader pages that repeatedly clog the top ten rankings under many queries. Unfortunately, Google’s “don’t be evil” catchphrase may clash with their interest in the bottom line since these SPAM sites effectively add to Google’s pocketbook.
  • Mobile Search: I cannot stress enough the importance of this emerging industry and I expect that the increase in R&D from Google and some effort from Yahoo and Microsoft in this area will produce an undeniable need for separate, mobile-friendly websites (i.e. .mobi sites designed entirely for mobile use). This market place will see significant growth this year as Internet marketing companies jump into the fray and begin offering mobile site creation, promotion and optimization. For more information on the emerging mobile market place see “Stake Your Claim on the Mobile Web.”

Section 3: The Path to Success Will Require More Planning and Technical Expertise

As top search engine rankings become more entrenched the average website owner will need to be more calculating when planning their pending web presence in order to join the ranks of the top 10. As a result, I see the following areas of intentional research and planning becoming critical requirements for online success:

  • Web Site Analytics: Understanding and managing the behaviour of web site visitors is crucial to repeated online success and I expect this fact will finally become common knowledge throughout 2007. Consequently, enterprising new technologies like ClickTale will emerge and ClickTracks (an analytics leader) will see record sales beyond their expectations. For some introductory information on analytics see “Did You Know You Had Stats?
  • Competitor Analysis: In an effort to shorten the path to online success, it is important to start any online marketing with a clear understanding of what it takes to attain rankings and deconstructing the tactics that led to a competitor’s success is an important first step. StepForth has been performing advanced competitor analysis services for over 3 years now and every year we see the demand for such intelligence mounting. I expect the need to grow significantly over 2007 and it will become an accepted first step for all online campaigns within the next 2 years. For more information see our SEO Research page.
  • Search Engine Friendly Web Design: The importance of search engine visibility to online success is now common knowledge and this year more and more informed design clients will be demanding their web designers create search engine friendly web sites vs. websites that pose significant, if not fundamental barriers to rankings. “Is Your Website Search Engine Friendly?
  • Professional Copy Writing: Does your content sell your site? In other words, are you converting your visitors? Professional copy writing is a must because it allows you, the site owner, to make more money from the traffic that you attain. Consequently, a higher conversion ratio means you have more money to reinvest in your online success and it is entirely reasonable to expect you may be making more money in the #10 position in rankings than a website in the #1 position that has poorly written sales copy. There is absolutely no question in my mind that professional copy writing services is going to be a growth market in 2007. If you haven’t had your sales copy professionally written then drop me a note because I know of an excellent copywriting company that may radically increase your bottom line.

Section 4: StepForth’s Dreams for the Search World of 2007

  • Google will finally show they care about their neighbours to the North and allow Canadian companies to become Adwords Certified; this will ultimately extend Canadians the benefit of participating in all beta programs.
  • A lesser search engine such as Baidu or a newcomer will take a significant (10% +) of the global search market share; we really need a new presence in the list of major search engines to keep life interesting.
  • Search engines will work together on an unprecedented scale to eradicate the majority of pay-per-click fraud.
  • StepForth will be sent loads of cool bling from search engines from around the world. We particularly want banners from the major search engines that we can hang on our wall – bling call!