According to Bruce Clay, a legend in the field of SEO, during the first quarter of 2009 Google plans on releasing a number of new variables that will determine where your site ranks. Currently Google uses 128 different variables to determine where web pages should rank for particular keywords. That number will expand to 200. That change alone means that many of the long-standing site standards like link building will have less meaning. It is important to note that with each change, where your site ranks in Google could change.

In addition to the new variables, Google is also planning to introduce behavior-based, intent-based and universal searches. For instance, if you search Google today for bottle, you will receive search results from Wikipedia regarding the definition of bottle, and the (Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors) site. However, with behavior-based additions, if you visited the FOHBC website and later search Google again for bottles, you will receive search results related to bottle collectors. Also, behavior-based search takes your location into consideration. That means local providers can be ranked higher on your results than national ones, which could provide a more level playing field for small businesses to compete with major suppliers.

Intent-based search will edit the way pages rank. For instance, if you search for bottle and are seeking research materials on the history of bottles and click on the link to Wikipedia’s definition of bottle, Google will then assume that future searches for bottles will be research related. Then, based on your location (or IP address), they will attempt to geo-target the content that you are seeking. Similarly, if you clicked on a link regarding the purchase of bottles, Google would assume that searches for bottles may be shopping related and provide you future search results for bottles for shopping.

The most significant introduction will be that of universal search. As I’m sure you have noticed, Google now provides video results along with its typical search results. New variables in Google’s search algorithm will allow the search engine to determine a site’s content based on video, sound and even flash animation. These so called “engagement objects” will now help determine where your website’s pages rank based on your ability to “engage” the visitor. While there are a wide variety of variables in universal search, sites that do not incorporate interactive or engaging content through Flash animation, video, etc., may see a detrimental impact to their rankings. For instance, if your competitor’s site ranks for the same terms you do, and they have flash animation and video on their site relevant to the keyword, they may receive higher rankings than you simply because they offer interactive content.

Of course, as with all things that Google delves into, no one knows the extent of how these new criteria will work. And we won’t know until Google begins to implement these changes.

Many of our clients have already begun to venture into these interactive opportunities like video and should not see much impact from these changes. In addition to these interactive opportunities, a site’s value no longer can be measured in site rankings alone. Site traffic, bounce rate, conversion rate and return on investment based on traffic source will become even more important.

At Red Clay, we are excited about the changes as we work very hard to make sure every site we develop is engaging and provides relevant content to the site visitor. We also believe that both our current and future clients will benefit as less reputable SEO developers and programmers will be weeded out through this process.

If you currently utilize SEO in your marketing, or are considering doing so, we recommend a site review with SEO professionals to make sure you are prepared for any upcoming changes. At Red Clay, we offer a comprehensive website audit that looks at not only your site’s SEO strategy, but also usability and the level of engagement you offer to the end user.

One final note, while these changes will not be immediate, it is important to note that this is the direction Google is setting for its future search results. Bruce Clay states these changes will begin during the first quarter of 2009, others believe it may be sometime over the next 2-3 years.

Either way, the game is changing.

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