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The way it looks initially, searches will be experiencing a paradigm shift in the way they search. Sounds pretty dramatic, but between changes coming in Universal Search and the SearchWiki functionality rolling out right now, searchers will (hopefully) be able to get the information they need more easily without having to use multiple attempts at different keywords to get what they want.
Before, typing a search for "Toyota Dealers" would yield mostly national searches in the organic section. The sponsored section was normally geo-targeted results, but unless you happened to be close to dealership whose website was very well optimized, you probably had to do the search again. If localized, universal, and personalized search make good on their promises and meet their goals of relevancy, that could all change.
The real question should be, "Is your website provider or marketing firm ready for what's coming down?"
Bruce Clay is saying that "ranking is dead." Behavior based search is expanding, regardless of whether someone is logged into Google or not. He predicts that in the first quarter of 2009, there will be a major shift to localized, personal search that will make the once-simple job of optimizing a website much more difficult. The factors that determine the rankings delivered to the target audience will change and we will see a shift towards other indicators for success.
Matt Cutts says "ranking won't be as important as it used to be in 2009."
This is a scary proposition for the ill-prepared SEO firm. It isn't a matter of making websites linkable and large. What will be necessary is for them to be directly relevant to the search terms that they are wanting to rank for. This is a subtle distinction, but in the whole scheme of things, it's a huge difference from the way websites are optimized today.
Personalization and localization are coming. They're here, to some extent. If you haven't seen it already, don't worry. Your data center will update soon.
Universal search is changing. It is apparently in a constant state of flux. We've had a taste of it for a year, now. SEO's must embrace the fact that they are having to become more like marketers. There is a distinction, and anyone who doesn't make that distinction and adjust will be lost in 2008.
Other key points:
It always makes me laugh when I hear SEO firms and website providers who are touting their skills that are still using techniques that have been outdated for a while. Now that we are learning more about the changes that Google is making in their algorithm, strong, search-focused marketing firms are having to make dramatic adjustments to their styles.
For those ready to cry foul, here is a video from Pubcon of Matt Cutts from Google discussing these trends. Are you ready for the changes?
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Read more about automotive SEO on this blog.