Just how much change Google has gone though in the past 12 months is astounding. The Farmer and Panda updates from last year tore into the algorithm Google had been using virtually since scratch. Now the recent social layer completes the picture. In short, forget Facebook’s fiddling around with timelines,  or Twitter airbrushing profile screens – Google is completing probably the largest company engineering project ever undertaken in the online world.

So, why?

So that it’s core business of selling clicks and ad impressions continues to benefit from both healthy user numbers, and for the high pricing it can command when advertisers can access desirable targeting methods.

So where does that leave SEO?

Google know that the internet will always need searching. Lets face it, it would be an awful waste if instead of humanity finally connecting globally without barriers, all we did was read what Doug listened to on spotify and lol’d at Kim’s cat.

So, social may be there in the results, but it will not stand in the way when you go searching for something interesting. Google know this. It activates whole different SERP layouts depending on the type of query you use. Looking for a hotel? Here’s a map with pins on, some Trip Adviser results, and last minute bargains in the ads. Looking for a link between flu epidemics and population growth? See research papers, Wikipedia entries and no commercial distractions at all. As an advertiser, choosing PPC or SEO is no longer relevant.

But, with everyone seeing different results, on different SERPS pages in different areas of the world at different times, intermixed with recommendations from different friends, how can the SEO set out a plan to optimise and measure results? And what exactly are the metrics of success?

1. Click path data analysis

Facebook and Twitter may moan about Google’s assault on ‘their’ social territory, but I think they will benefit. With seeing what freinds and family are up to in the search results, Google is essentially prepping everyone to become a conversion that is more likely to be a follow, subscription or like.

So, for the SEO, understanding where the real transactional conversions are coming from is essential. If they are coming from a pool of social users, how is that pool getting replenished? Click path analysis will show you if good old fashioned organic results are driving people into your many social company profiles, ready to become customers, and how this relates to the end conversion.

2. On-site Optimisation

It’s amazing to me that many high profile websites are still not addressing the issue of how they render in social profiles, or measuring placements and effectiveness of the on-page social sharing buttons. With most web devs still taking the money and running, it’s back to the SEO as the right person to ensure a site is optimised for search AND social. People only share and click if it looks right on their wall.

Also, precious few websites are addressing issues like duplicate content, and still thinking that ‘More is better’ rather than ‘relevancy is better’. The above mentioned algorithm updates should by now have re-shaped the way SEO’s think. Modern SEO needs to present a website to the search engines that makes every page count, and ensures that importance is given over to the core subject. I still see a lot of sites that dilute themselves and offer both visitor and search engine a confused picture of priorities, so the 2012 SEO engineer has plenty to get busy with in this respect.

3. Relevancy and Interests Research

No matter which way we go in online, it all comes back to the keyword. Obviously for search, but also the right keyword helps you find the right interests, trending topics, location etc. The keywords also create content, match expectations, and can shape entire products and services into something that is in-demand. Each needs different ways of evaluation as to worthiness and use in a digital campaign, and without it, even the best campaigns can sail off in the wrong direction.

A good SEO does not just have a good background in finding popular keywords, they should also be able to evaluate why people are using the keywords, and access the part of the ‘tail’ where commerce takes place. This same lateral thinking works as well on interests, hash tags and so on.

4. Multi-channel conversion analysis

All of these channels – search, social, ‘socialsearch’ even – boil down to a conversion point that happens at at the end. Good SEO’s that have been involved with conversion analysis (rather than just shifting in traffic) will be able to identify, action, protect and grow conversion sources. With social in the mix, SEO’s can evaluate ongoing business.

Also, offline will feature more as a measurable target on the SEO’s radar. Injecting call data into analytics will become the norm, and early indications are that socially sourced traffic may be inclined to follow up in person. If so, evaluating the complex paths leading to call-based conversions will be essential.

Sounds like 2012 will be a busy year for the SEO, and I hope the above has given you some goals for the year. If you think you need some attention in the areas above, we’d be delighted to help. Happy new year!