For four years in a row I have been compiling lists of Web trends for a British SEO blog. It was pretty unknown at the beginning but became the the “best” UK SEO blog according to the UK Search Awards. So this is my fifth such post already. I know that it gets published a bit late.
It’s already 2013 and some may argue that predicting the present isn’t that hard. They are right. It was never really about predicting.
It was always about looking closely at what already happens around us that might be a trends not just sheer coincidence.
Also Mass Media Design has been relaunching and you know how long that can take. I started compiling this list in November of 2012 so some things may be outdated by now but I hope not many of course.
These trends posts have always been hugely popular despite the niche publication they were published on. The last one at the end of 2011 garnered more than 800 retweets for example. Ten thousands of people would visit them. I think this one will be helpful in 2013 as well.
General Web Trends
People embrace digital detox
Digital Detox has been a counter-cultural initiative extending the TV turnoff week campaign. In late 2012 even an Internet enthusiastic publication like ReadWrite Web joined the back to the real life movement with their own “Pause” series. We will see more of that in 2013 as people can’t cope with the digital media overload encroaching their lives. Internet addiction is btw. a real medical problem for many.
Internet use becomes mobile use
In 2013 most Internet use will most probably be mobile. What is mobile anyways? A smartphone is mobile of course, a tablet also is, but isn’t a laptop/notebook mobile too? There are many lightweight netbooks, ultrabooks and even notebooks that are easier to carry around than ever.
Most personal computers are not huge stationery boxes anymore. People are sitting around in cafes using their laptops so that’s mobile too IMHO.
The Web, TV etc. merge
Do you own a TV set? Today it’s called Smart TV. You can talk to it in some cases, it’s huge like a wall and in fact it resides on the wall if you prefer it. Also you can access the Internet using it along with numerous other media services without even opening the browser.
What does this mean? Well, it’s not difficult to figure it out, coach potatoes prefer entertaining instead of work-related content. Text only websites will have to add more rich media files.
Single-author blogs get overwhelmed
By now it’s obvious, the old prototype blogger is a thing of the past. Most successful blogs are either run by corporations like AOL with whole teams writing for them or at least group blogs with several or more writers involved. Old media has embraced blogging as well and is often better at blogging now than those who did it as the pioneers.
Low maintenance hosted blogging is on the rise
Tumblr, Squarespace (Best Website of 2012) and even good old Blogger are by now or again the better alternative for hobbyist bloggers. WordPress has become too bloated, complex and vulnerable to hacking over the years. Additionally you need the latest technology to be able to run a WordPress at all. Without MySQL 5 or higher you can’t even update.
Thus many people who do not earn money and are not Web-savvy enough to design their blogs choose easily customized and beautifully designer blogs on the above mentioned platforms. Even blogger has improved it’s designs and functionality after years of negligence during many real bloggers fled the service.
Some paid blogs succeed
There are few widely published examples of highly successful blogs earning lots of money with small teams. One such business model that gets flaunted on the Web these days is the paid by the readers blog of Andrew Sullivan called The Dish (not to mix up with Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land).
Is this way of earning money with blogging applicable to other blogs as well? Many people will try to find out. Some will succeed as well, most probably won’t. We’ll see this year.
Evergreen content replaces 15 minutes of fame news
The Wirecutter is another example of a successful blogging venture. They do not let readers pay though. They rely on Amazon affiliate ads and evergreen content to get enough visitors to monetize the publications. It’s probably not even a blog anymore as it doesn’t publish the latest news in chronological order.
Instead it focuses on select topics where one item, ideally the best, gets recommended per category by the writers. It’s lucrative enough for a team of part-timers to write it and the New York Times to feature it.
Old content gets re-purposed
In recent months I have spotted several articles dealing with old blog postings. People usually treat blogs like daily newspapers. Yesterday’s news rarely get read let alone shared. You may have evergreen content on your blog but in case your dates are clearly visible on top of your blog most people will skip them.
Also even in case your blog post gets the attention it deserves shortly after publication it rarely will later on. There are many ways to deal with that. You can republish old articles in an ebook for example.
Analytics, Search & SEO
Link baiting turns 2.0
You may have noticed that the term link baiting does not get used very often these days. There are at least two reasons for that, one is that almost all links get earned not build these days and getting or earning links sounds better than the bit fishy linkbaiting.
The other reason is that we have linkbaiting 2.0 by now in different facets. There is egobaiting where influencers get motivated to link back or share an article or support a website. Also there is community baiting which attracts a whole community for a cause.
Search becomes a black box
In 2012 the ghost of (not provided) has spread far and wide among the analytics community. By now more than a half of all search referrers are hidden from webmasters. There are no signs that it will get better. The contrary is the case, more and more software and hardware vendors obfuscate the referral data by using SSL and other “secure” methods of transmitting websites.
To protect users’ privacy we won’t know whether people are searching for weapons or child porn on our sites anymore. On the other hand Google may sell this data to get more revenue as some industry experts expect.
After peak SEO optimization turns to new heigths
The interest for SEO has risen as long as we can remember and Google Trends tracks it. Then it peaked in 2011 and remained stagnant in 2012. At the end of the year the interest fell in favour of other more zeitgeisty trades related to SEO but with less of a reputation problem: content marketing and inbound marketing for example.
What will happen after peak SEO? In early 2012 inbound marketing grew significantly, then content marketing and strategy became the latest hype. Expect new heights in 2013, maybe even new terms and industries coming up.
Guest blogging morphs into blogging relations
Guest blogging has been hailed as the one-size-fits-all solution to your link building problems. It ended up annoying and low quality. Google already noticed and gets more and more vocal about guest posting quality issues. Some people even equate blogger outreach to guest blogging.
There are manifold reasons to reach out to bloggers and guest posting as it was once was called is just one of them. There is an obvious shift away from guest blogging to other more nuanced blogger outreach and relations techniques. Some people even express the conviction that relationship building is the new blogging but this is not true. Relationships can lead to links but are not build with the purpose of solely building links.
The Google heydays are over
Has anybody noticed? Google is not the cool start-up with the clean search interface anymore and the best search results. There are barely any search results left on the Google search result pages (SERPs) and the competition is better at privacy (DuckDuckGo) and spam-filtering (Blekko).
Even Bing tends to have higher quality results by now. Most people stay with Google by habit. The Google monopoly is continuously struggling to keep up with the social media revolution and mainly annoys its users by pushing Google+ wherever they go.
Sadly Google won’t have to bow to lawmakers and stop manipulating its search results in favour of their own services. Hiding ads by forcing all publishers to pay for inclusion in Google shopping search results can become a precedent in the short run but ostracise more users in the long run.
Usability, UX and Web Design
Responsive design beats mobile only
The presidential campaign is over and we now who has one, the one who used a resposnive website. Mobile only sites using a second URL, most likely something like m.example.com have many usability and findability issues.
You are basically building two websites with roughly the same content which is a lot of wasted money and resources.
Responsive websites in contrast adapt to the browser windows you use. So the site resizes, the images do, site element flow below the content or to the side. This is the new standard especially as there are to many screen sizes and situations you have to care about. Which website will you show to tablet users, the mobile one or the full sizes one?
HTML5 becomes mainstream
HTML5 was about to reach the mainstream in 2012 already according to surveys but in 2013 you can’t ignore it anymore. It’s not only Web developers who will embrace it, in 2013 the rest of us has or our sites will have a look and feel like the now defunct Geocities homepages from 10+ years ago compared to the HTML5 competition.
Typography and white space rule
Typography is not just about good looking fonts. It’s also not solely about readability. Studies show that it impacts overall user psychology and sales. White space gains more and more credibility too as simplicity in web design takes over gradually. People prefer sites with a lot of white space for their strained eyes to rest, especially as the Internet population gets older.
Findability and “Web Design for ROI” get rediscovered
Now that even the SEO industry struggles with the old acronym SEO and its meaning or lack of it other less popular approaches may gain momentum again. We’re not all marketers whether it’s inbound or content marketing so years old concepts like findability and Web Design for ROI get rediscovered by some and covered again by others.
For many a cryptic acronym like SEO is puzzling. Thus sooner or later an old or new term and approach will go prime time.
CRO and Sales
Psychology elevates the optimization process
Using psychology for sales has been practised in the real world for decades if not centuries. lately it has been even used in a sleazy way by manipulating children to buy more sugar and the likes.
Online the situation is different, website elements like Calls to Action have been at least optimized to encourage clicking by the colour but most other website elements are lagging behind. A holistic approach using psychology to improve websites will take over soon.
Checkout process optimization gets serious
It’s amazing how broken many check out processes are even on very known ecommerce websites. It goes so far that the Google Analytics team even post videos ridiculing the average online shopping experience.
The checkout process is complex and there is much potential for improvement in it while most sites still get it wrong. Finally at least the Web industry notices the problem and step up its checkout process optimization efforts.
Attention to detail beyond the CTA arrives
The perhaps most optimized element on sites is the so called CTA or Call to Action. It’s usually a button saying something like “order now”. Beyond that many sites neglect conversion optimization potentials. In 2013 as most business people use proper CTAs by now there will be more attention to detail apparent.
Lifetime customer value becomes centre stage
One of the main issues with the typical online marketing strategy is that it focuses on more traffic, more customers etc. that is getting new people to find you and buy your product or service.
It’s very apparent in both SEO and Web design, business people seek more search traffic and greet most visitors with the same popping up message to subscribe even if they already do.
As SEO gets harder and more expensive and people get increasingly annoyed with layers hiding content the focus will change to making existing clients or repeat visitors happy. Ultimately the point is to increase the lifetime customer value. A happy customer will buy again and again.
Growth hacking movement grows
It’s deals with ways to to streamline businesses in an unorthodox way similar to “hacking” programmers do. Apparently the idea spreads like wildfire recently so we can expect the movement to grow next year.
Content and Curation
Crappy content and trashy content becomes the new great content
Now that everybody listens to search engines and other corporations whose business model is earning money on third party content and create that great content “that you need” and “is king” to come through and get noticed you need the exact opposite, crappy or trashy content.
It’s not a joke, it works in real life as well, just think tabloids. Do you really think the latest scientific magazine is more popular than the gossip daily? Well also see it when looking at the most popular blogs: BuzzFeed and the likes hail the fail, the LOL and the cute.
The good old days of the early Internet are over. Like in real life the most common denominator rules. Remember though, crappy content is not low quality, it’s just different. Crappy content is just more popular because it is crappy. Celebrity magazines are thriving beacuse of this.
Storytelling gets into the limelight
Another way to deal with the seer amount of great content nobody can really read let alone identify with is storytelling. Storytelling is a powerful human tool that is far older than the written word itself. We love stories, they have been part of our civilization even before it was really one you might call that.
People want to known about other people’s emotions, they want to relate and connect with them. In the ideal case you can even evoke empathy with a moving personal story.
While trying to stand out by telling gripping stories is a technique you can use as a writer you can still make large amounts of information digestible by resorting to curation techniques I’d like to call advanced.
On the Web curation often ends as large lists compiled by someone who wanted to collect as many resources as possible. Many Internet users are overwhelmed by such resources lists. There are other ways of pre-selecting content for a better overview.
Content Strategy becomes a must
Until lately content was often an afterthought. Copywriters had to write keyword rich copy and quality was often neglected. Google updates cracking down on low quality content and books like Content Strategy for the Web have changed that dire situation. It’s not enough to blog these days and to react to daily news.
You have to make news or at least prepare for long term content projects like surveys, case studies, infographics to rise above the noise level and get noticed.
Social Media and Networking
Inline Tweet embedding complements buttons
While almost every post on the Web seems to be surrounded by several buttons with numbers the usefulness of those is questionable. Some people click them of course but many or rather most do not. Also letting everybody just send the same tweet with usually the same headline is just adding to redundancy of the Web today.
Embedded tweets where writers can make predefined quotes in a post tweetable or shareable are pretty neat solution. You take the gems of your post, make sure they aren’t longer than Twitter allows an then make the clickable with ClicktoTweet or one of the WordPress addons that facilitate it.
Men discover Pinterest
While the social sites of the early Web 2.0, e.g. Digg, Delicious or even Flickr were dominated by male audiences Pinterest has taken the exact opposite route. In the beginning it was largely used by women and to this day the frontpage and the categories show a distinct female touch about the site.
Men are arriving late at Pinterest but find their own ways of using the site. That’s why the Pinterest crowd will keep on growing for some time.
Tumblr reaches a plateau
Before Pinterest has appeared out of nowhere as the new social media darling Tumblr was the site with the most impressive growth. In 2012 the growth wasn’t that impressive anymore. I already notice the first signs of Tumblr fatigue though. It seems Tumblr won’t keep growing in 2013 anymore. Why do I think so?
I have seen a completely legit Tumblr blog banned for weeks apparently for copyright violation.
The irony of it was that this blogger was one of the very few who cared at all for proper credits.
Tumblr has a huge content theft problem but unlike Pinterest that reacted quickly and introduced the nopin meta tag Tumblr has no such option for publishers. Most content on Tumblr is just republished from elsewhere or downright stolen. Also Tumblr has a porn problem.
While that’s great to get all the cool people it’s no wonder that parents and children will not be active users on Tumblr as there are not enough safeguards. On Pinterest in contrast there is almost no nudity etc.
Google+ will become obligatory
You joined Facebook to meet old friends, Twitter to tell the world what you’ve eaten for breakfast and Pinterest to plan a wedding but with Google+ it’s different. You maybe knew that Google needs Google+ to survive so it will sooner or later count +1 votes as a ranking signal.
Maybe you logged in to Gmail and noticed that Google+ is there right in front of you. As a local business owner “you have been joined” to Google+.
In 2013 Google will use all of its power to make you join and use Google+. For Google it’s a matter of life and death, as people do not spend much time online searching but increasingly they do socializing on the Web.
All these trends have been spotted with my subjective point of view. I may err of course. In some cases I’ve been extrapolating a little. It’s 2013 already so we witness the changes right now.
Tell me in the comments which Web trends I missed and which ones haven’t really materialized.
* Creative Common image by Trey Ratcliff