As 2013 draws to a close, the Internet is awash with year-in-review blog posts. It may seem as though bloggers and columnists everywhere are getting a pass on creating original content, and that’s kind of right, but year-end roundups synthesize a lot of valuable information into one easy-to-reference location. Also, for whatever reason, none of us can resist them.
Beyond taking stock in what has happened, reviewing the major developments of the past year provides us a better sense for where we are now and where we are headed. With that in mind, I compiled a roundup of blog posts and columns on the big Internet Marketing stories of 2013.
1. SEO (Google)
The biggest SEO development in 2013, was Google’s most comprehensive re-think of their search algorithm — Hummingbird.
As a starting point, Danny Sullivan’s Google Hummingbird FAQ is an invaluable resource. A founding editor of Search Engine Land, Sullivan’s FAQ column was actually published the day Hummingbird was released. How’s that for authority?
Sullivan’s post drew heavily from Google’s own press release in describing the change, which he summarized as a “better focus on the meaning behind the words.” So, rather than returning pages that merely match keywords in a query, Google looks at the “whole sentence or conversation or meaning,” as well other factors including location, to better interpret the searcher’s intention.
To understand the impact of Hummingbird, you have to fast-forward a few months. This column by Jenny Helasz describes 5 long-held SEO principals that were “absolutely torched in 2013” by the Hummingbird algo.
The first of the major changes in Jenny’s column is how Google handles keywords, and she offers a great example, backed with data, to demonstrate how Google has gotten smarter about interpreting the meaning behind queries. You no longer need to use the word “buy” for Google to know your shopping. Google just knows.
New Means of Optimization
The change is still very recent and the consequences are not fully understood yet, but this piece on Hummingbird-friendly content does a great job suggesting actionable tips for content creation, with the big takeaway being an emphasis on “educational content”.
For the more visually-inclined, like me, Search Engine Journal published an Infographic on How to Thrill Google Hummingbird.
2. Email Marketing
Unlike SEO, email marketing was not rocked by a single development as game-changing as the Hummingbird algorithm. But that doesn’t mean there were not major stories — the biggest of which being the rise of mobile and Gmail.
48% of Opens on Mobile
First, the data cited by Litmus shows that 48% of all emails are opened on mobile devices — a 10% year-over-year increase that jibes with the increased role mobile devices play in our lives.
This has a huge bearing on email marketers because, for one thing, design requirements for mobile devices are radically different from designing for email clients on desktop/laptop computers. And, according to one study, as many as 70% of consumers immediately delete email messages that do not render correctly.
Consequently, there is a new push to create emails with responsive HTML designs. For more on how responsive email designs work and impact engagement on mobile devices, you can checkout these case studies and an infographic by Econsultancy.
Gmail was the other big story in email marketing because they made 2 big changes. The first was adding tabs to separate “promotional” emails into a sub inbox. As always, the team at MailChimp provided a trove of hard data on the effect of Gmail’s promotional tab had on open rates. While it’s not clear how to avoid having your emails relegated to a sub inbox, the MailChimp found that emails in the promotional inbox were still be opened.
Gmail Image Caching
The other was a new process of image caching, which means images now render automatically in gmail without the user having to click to display images; a development that impacts how email opens are tracked.
3. Customer Reviews
As was the case with Email Marketing, there wasn’t a single, earth-shattering development in the review space. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t big developments, and again, a Google innovation was the big story.
Google Review Monitoring System
As reported by Mike Blumenthal, Google released a review monitoring system, referred to by Mike as the “mother of all SMB review monitoring systems.”
Built into the Google Places for Business Dashboard, the reviews monitoring system includes analytics reporting for customer reviews on Google Places and across third-party reviews sites, such as Customer Lobby.
As with all Beta products, there are a few wrinkles to iron out, but it is free. Google clearly regards customer reviews as the most important source of user-generated content, especially for local businesses, and they are now giving small businesses a great tool monitor this content.
That Google relies on customer review data to determine search rankings for local businesses is not new news, but it was further reinforced in David Mihm’s annual survey of local SEO ranking factors.
Flying somewhat under the radar is Facebook’s revamped reviews product for local business pages. That’s right, Facebook reviews are back. Doesn’t it feels good to not talk about Google for a change?
If you have a Facebook page, and Pew Research says you probably do, you may already seen star ratings atop a local business page. It turns out, there is also a full reviews sectionon the right side of the business page.
Local businesses should care about Facebook reviews for 2 reasons: First, Facebook is actually gaining in local search. And second, reviews increase conversion on all web properties.