Just in case the world isn’t going to end in 2012 , let’s do some futurecasting! A new year means a new opportunity for making outlandish predictions (and/or predictions so safe they can’t not come true), not to mention resolutions and recommendations for changing times. We’ve seen a lot of that around the blogosphere this week – let’s take a look, shall we?
Erik Qualman of Socialnomics made 21 social media predictions for 2011 , including that Facebook will go public, the FTC will adopt privacy rules that will stifle innovation, Twitter will be acquired by a media company like CNN, and “Google becomes the next Microsoft and Facebook becomes the next Google.” 2010 was a year of big changes for both Google and Facebook, especially in terms of their public perception. I expect these reputation and trust issues to further escalate in 2011. The question is, if Facebook is turning into Google, will Facebook eventually become Microsoft? Is that the inevitable path for powerful, consumer-focused tech companies?
Mashable’s writers made a crapload of predictions  about social media, digital advertising, web design and development, mobile technology and much more. A few highlights: Google’s social efforts will “flop spectacularly”; Facebook will not have an IPO and Twitter’s coming year will be very boring (in contrast to Qualman’s predictions above); the mobile web will go mainstream; data management will become “a real industry” (Pinocchio style); and browsers will get faster thanks to hardware acceleration as in IE9 (which I’m using right now – it’s a massive improvement over previous versions).
According to the ReadWriteWeb staff , Groupon will buy Foursquare; Flickr will die (no!); fewer people will blog as micro-content continues to take over; “curation will become as artform” (uh, isn’t it already?); IE9 will trigger a “renaissance for web designers”; and tablet adoption will explode.
On Search Engine Land, Debra Mastaler, Julie Joyce and Eric Ward provided 15 link building recommendations and predictions . Joyce predicts that Toolbar PageRank will matter less and Bing and Blekko will matter more. Ward predicts that real-time linking signals will be “analyzed, scrutinized, and studied to death.” Mastaler focused on recommendations, like “contract exclusively with your copywriters” to build a unique voice, and, if you haven’t already, incorporate “social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace in your link marketing efforts.” SEL also made five social marketing predictions  (Facebook will hit the 1 billion mark; Groupon will be the new Twitter) and identified some digital marketing trends (rising costs per click will create “an automation arms race,” Google will get more social, and remarketing will come of age).
Rand Fishkin revisited his predictions from last year and made a new list of SEO predictions . He believes we’ll get confirmation that clicks influence rankings; social search will rise (duh); we’ll move away from the term “SEO” to something more inclusive (interesting idea; I wonder what terms will arise?); and SEO software will become standard.
Also on SEOMoz, Kate Morris offers five SEO tactics to explore in 2011 , including HTML5, microformats and conversion rate optimization. On SEJ, she provides a PPC counterpart post, recommending five things to test  including ad extensions and automatic bidding.
John Lee made his own set of predictions for PPC  on Seach Engine Watch. He predicts growth in display advertising, more actionable attribution, and maturing of Facebook PPC.
Matt Cutts pulled a switcheroo and published his predictions for 2009 , which he never made public. He had few hits (“Apple will weather the recession … as people continue to buy with their heart, not always with their head”; market share for IE fell below 50% in some countries; Chrome became one of Google’s most successful products), as well as several misses (he predicted Cuil would be purchased by Baidu, Twitter would move to a premium business model, and people would fully digitize their lives, including photos, documents, and movies – not true for the mainstream).
Over on Search Engine Journal, Alan Bleiweiss also did something a little different, agreeing or disagreeing with others’ predictions . For example, Ian Williams predicted the death of keyword anchor text as a ranking factor; Bleiweiss said “there’s just no way anchor text  is going to be completely eliminated in 2011 as a factor.” I tend to agree it will continue to be a factor, but I certainly think anchor text is too easily manipulated.
Not everyone is looking forward; some are looking back. Tamar Weinberg did her annual huge list of the best Internet marketing posts of 2010 on Techipedia ; as always this is worth a browse. And Brad Geddes pointed out 10 paid search features you may have missed  during the past year.
So what did people predict last year , and did those predictions bear out? Pretty much everyone said the social aspect of linking and SEO would get huger. John Battelle’s predictions were especially on the money: “Google will reimagine itself as a software company a la Microsoft (‘a massive cultural shift’), the quality of search results will deteriorate, Bing's market share will grow, and a ‘major privacy brouhaha’ will go down”).
And finally, we’re making a few predictions and recs of our own. Here are mine:
- I think there will be a reckoning of sorts around the Google–Facebook question. One or the other will make a major move that redefines how we think of them. They’ll probably both get more evil.
- Google will acquire companies that provide AdWords software and solutions, with the goal of making people even more Google-dependent.
- People will get more and more critical of the quality of Google search results; however, much of the blame will be on content providers publishing rapid-fire crap in an effort to chase the long tail. If crap is all there is, crap is what Google will serve.
WordStream founder Larry Kim 's predictions:
- In general, I think it will be a big year for search as the economy picks up. I would guess around 15% growth in spending overall in paid search engine marketing.
- This implies that search becomes even more competitive as more dollars flow in, and that people will be looking for alternative areas to spend marketing dollars, the biggest will likely be Facebook and SEO.
A few from Tom :
- Google will lose search share and grow revenues - The sky isn't falling at the GooglePlex or anything but one of the things that helped Google get traction initially was that engineers and tech folks used it, and there's a bit of early-adopter blowback around spam in G's results. Meanwhile the privacy issue resonates with some of the later adopters, which I think will lead to a trickle of people switching to Blekko, DuckDuckGo, and even Bing. Despite that Google will actually grow revenue - there is still a tremendous amount of untapped potential on the content network/Adsense, and I think that in 2011 Google's focus on local/SMBs will help them move more advertising money from offline to online.
- The Q and A space will be even more important for SEOs - The flood of Q and A sites and glorified content mills will have a major impact on the SERPs, and at some point in 2011 Google will be forced to respond because it's all starting to make them look bad. This will cause a major shake-up in the SERPs. Also I really think Quora will grow leaps and bounds in importance re: relationship building and even content promotion, particularly in more tech-oriented/early-adopter types of spaces.
And finally from our intrepid CEO Ralph J. Folz :
- The recession is over, companies of all sizes will make a shift from cost cutting and efficiency to growing their top-line revenue and battling their competitors for market share. This means significant increased focus on paid and organic search as it continues to be the most dominant piece of the digital marketing pie.
- More and more search practitioners will make keyword research a key part of their tool arsenal. Given the economic up-tick, and more money entering the search ecosystem, search terms will become even more competitive (costly) making fine-tuned targeting and exceptional Quality Scores  that much more important.
- The Fortune 500 CMO’s love affair with the pay-for-performance aspect of paid search dribbles down to companies of all shapes and sizes. Tools and platforms will continue to evolve (including ours!) to empower small and medium-sized businesses to leverage search engine marketing to acquire customers.
More Web Marketing Highlights
Anil Dash notices that bashing the quality of Google search results  has become quite the trend. Dash writes, "half a decade after so many people began unquestioningly modifying their sites to serve Google's needs better, there may start to be enough critical mass for the pendulum to swing back to earlier days, when Google modified its workings to suit the web's existing behaviors."
On Forbes, Andy Beal writes the 11 unwritten laws of reputation management .
Starbucks has changed its logo . Yipes! Change scary!
Have a great weekend/year!
Photo credit: Michael Hicks