For the past four years, an annual early-June pilgrimage to Seattle for SMX Advanced has become synonymous with the start of my summer. At SMX, search marketers from across the globe convene for two days to discuss the state of the industry, predict future trends, and network, with announcements that should dictate how the search elite will spend their summers.
I'm in the thick of this year's show as I write this. Day 1 wrapped yesterday and already there are several clear themes emerging that should keep search marketers busy for a long time to come.
Social Search is everywhere you look. In both PPC and SEO conversations, search marketers are scrambling to understand how social is impacting search and what actions should be taken to stay current. Google's +1 roll-out has dominated much of the conversation, given its newness. But it's become very clear that social search is here to stay.
Google +1 appears to offer some enticements to early adopters. Embedding the +1 button within website content will send clear social signals to Google, enabling thoughtful and engaging content to appear more prominently across the organic SERPs. On the paid side, the +1 button represents an opportunity for the advertiser to stand out across cluttered auctions. Not only does the +1 button (which is only displayed when the search engine user is logged in to his/her Google Account) add a noticeable visual element to the ad, but it includes the number of "+1s" the advertiser has received.
It's logical then that early movers who accrue +1s will secure a near-term competitive advantage because their ads will have more +1s than competitors.
A less sexy, but equally important development in SEO is schema.org's HTML markup vocabulary for HTML5, which is now officially supported by Google, Bing and Yahoo. Only Microdata formats are supported with this initial release, but more will be supported soon. Essentially, by adding Microdata tags to the HTML markup of a web page, clearer semantic instructions can be provided to the search engines. This will allow for a richer set of search results for general queries which can have multiple meanings.
What will be interesting here is the pace of adoption for these new tags. Webmasters behind enterprise-size sites aren't likely to move quickly to update their code simply because of this change. Some more tangible motivators (i.e. loss of search rank) will be needed in order to compel site-wide code modifications.
Arguably the biggest news of the show was Google's announcement that it will begin recognizing the 'rel=author' markup attribute. This attribute allows authors to claim pieces of content as their own, so that Google can begin to identify and accrue additional social signals. This support is initially limited to a single domain, but will eventually allow guest bloggers/columnists to claim their work across multiple domains.
This is significant for a few reasons. The first is that this signals Google's desire to further understand influential voices online. Many attendees referred to rel=author as "personal PageRank," a nod to Google's PageRank algorithm which identifies authority web pages based on backlink profiles. It appears that online authority will no longer be housed at the domain or page level; specific authors will now send relevancy and credibility signals that will be accounted for.
A possible longer-term outcome may be that organizations need to employ and/or groom the online personas of their most talented employees. For corporate blogs, videos or other pieces of thought leadership to be viewed as authoritatively as possible, the author(s) must have clout in Google's eyes.
The adage that a company is only as good as the people behind it seems truer today than it ever has.
No Summer Vacation
It's always a bittersweet moment when this show draws to a close, and this year's show will be no exception. Great content and conversation paired with a beautiful backdrop make for a compelling event.
But as soon as this event is over, the real work begins. Between the major announcements, heated debates and reflections on best practices, the search elite have plenty to digest.
You can forget the summer vacation; the summer of search is upon us.