The next 10 online trends
It's never been harder to keep up with the latest web trends - with the expansion onto mobile platforms, the growth of social media and the need for start ups to be aware of new SEO techniques.
As a result, we've assembled a team of web experts to help you and your business keep on top of the most important trends on the web. Constructing a mobile website, creating social media campaigns and selling online are just some of the challenges businesses will face during 2010.
Here are top online trends for the next 12 months.
Every web-savvy business knows smartphone use is on the rise. But few are actively developing for mobiles by creating websites specifically used for handheld devices.
As more and more mobile users flock to gadgets with larger touchscreens and internet browsers, such as the iPhone or Google Nexus One, the mobile space will become bigger and SMEs need to get on board. If your website isn't accessible through a smartphone or app, users will give up and go somewhere else - losing you traffic and potential sales.
Ovum analyst Nathan Burley says the number of people taking up smartphones instead of traditional handsets will require businesses to develop mobile websites.
"In our view there are two big trends that will occur in 2010. That is mobile broadband and the adoption of smartphones, and the impact of those two things on the industry. This is changing the way people access the internet, and that is in mobile."
"The big change is that these smartphones are allowing people to use tools in the same way a laptop did in the past, which is opening more users to the internet on the go."
Chris Thomas, chief executive of SEO firm Reseo, says 2010 will be "the year of the mobile".
"I think mobile search is definitely here. Google is throwing a lot of money at mobile, and it's going to be really interesting to see how businesses leverage that."
Using search engine algorithms in order to get your site on "page one" has been a tactic used by online businesses for years. But SEO experts say the process of getting a website known will become even harder in 2010 with the rise of personalised and real-time search.
Social network Twitter sparked a trend when it designed the first popular real-time search engine. When users search for a term, the site would update that search with new "tweets" as they were being made.
Google has recently introduced a real-time search function of its own, complete with indexed tweets, while Microsoft Bing has made a deal to show tweets in search results. But Thomas says while 2010 will see a rise in real-time search traffic, businesses shouldn't be too keen to pursue a dedicated real-time search strategy.
"I think people are still trying to figure out what to do with it. Perhaps if there's a trending topic, such as Copenhagen or climate change, that's where we could see real-time do some work because there's an opportunity for someone selling solar panels to come in, using a message like "stop climate change" via solar panels or something. There is some real potential there."
"This is where it could go, but it's such an active industry, with optimisation and SEO changing. But I always say to our clients, stick to your knitting and don't do anything silly."
Jim Stewart, chief executive of Stewart Media, says real-time search will continue to grow but businesses need to be aware of the more subtle changes Google is making to its search algorithms.
"All of the normal SEO things still apply, even though Google is going forward with things like personalised search. That will surely play a part, but you still have to get on the front page at all before you get into someone's personal search results."
Stewart warns Google will be updating its speed-check feature, through which the engine checks how fast it takes for a user to connect to a website. If a business has any downtime, it could affect search rankings.
But Stewart also says Google could potentially lose its place as the top search engine, as users could migrate to other offerings or be wary of the company's search power.
"I don't believe the search engine is providing as relevant results as it did this time last year. I'm sure they know it, but it doesn't seem to be working as well. I'd also love to think that people will begin to start using Bing more and more, but it has to become a better search engine before that happens."
"The other thing is privacy. A lot of people already are pretty wary of Google and privacy issues, even to the point where Eric Schmidt said if you're doing something on the web you don't want people to know, then maybe you shouldn't be doing it."
Facebook and Twitter were the standout social networks from 2009, and their popularity will surge in 2010 with both introducing new features, including paid accounts for business.
But businesses need to pay attention to the trends on these sites. Creating a social media strategy is no longer optional, it is vital to the health of a company and its ability to tap into an online user-base.
Some experts say if you aren't engaging online, you're missing out on a huge opportunity to gain new customers and fans who will effectively market for you if given enough reason.
Thomas says 2010 will be the year in which businesses must jump on social media or risk being left behind by the competition.
"If you don't have a Facebook fan page you should get in, and if you're in a community-minded space, where you can offer things like competitions and such, then you're set."
James Griffin, founder and chief executive of online reputation management company SR7, says this year will see the rise of analysts who will begin to convince businesses to study, track and move operations into social media.
"Analysts will be versed in understanding and using social media, the quantitative and qualitative reports will empower businesses to implement researched social media strategies and gather market intelligence."
More and more Australian businesses are selling online, but compared to the US we have a lot of catching up to do. Online spending has grown from 1% to 3% of overall spending over the last 10 years, compared to the American equivalent of 7%.
Hal Pritchard, founder and chief executive of online kitchenware retailer Everton Online, says 2010 should be the year in which businesses start to realise they cannot operate without an eCommerce offering.
"The whole market in general is maturing. I think some of the people who didn't want to do it originally are now deciding they have to do it, because if I count the number of competitors I have now compared to last year, there's certainly a lot more out there."
Pritchard says the biggest trend emerging in Australia is the growth of free shipping, which has allowed retailers in the US to stand out from the crowd.
"Freight is getting lower and is free in some places, which I suspect is going to be a general trend as competition hots up. Margins will get even tighter, and affording these things will be difficult, but I think it's one of the things that are happening."
"We seem to be following the US as we progress, and we're less far behind and I think that free freight is the next thing. But it's not just about that, it's about pushing the boundaries and staying on the edge, not just having a good website. The people who can innovate and stay ahead will do well."
The internet advertising industry continued to grow in 2009 and will do the same in 2010, but the next 12 months is expected to see the ongoing development of mobile advertising.
Last year the Interactive Advertising Bureau forecast the online ad market to pass $2 billion by next month, representing a 27% increase from 2008. While the downturn forced spending down in 2009, it's safe to assume that figure will rise in 2010.
The mobile advertising scene is fairly new, so naturally few SMEs are actually investing in the sector. But Apple's recent acquisitions of Quattro, along with Google's purchase of AdMob, shows the big players are serious about the mobile space.
But Thomas says businesses should think about advertising on prominent sites such as social networks, in order to keep up with the market.
"In the last 12 months we have started various campaigns using Facebook ads with quite good success, and it's getting better. Businesses should be taking advantage of the solid targeting available through sites like Facebook."
"We're certainly seeing more advertising on Twitter. You have sites now which are allowing companies to hire someone with a million followers to tweet their messages. I mean, it'll cost you, but the return on investment of that tweet could be huge."
YouTube senior product manager David King says the growth of viral content, pieces of media published online which gain popularity in a short amount of time, are opening businesses up to new advertising models.
He says if a business finds a piece of content it created on a YouTube video, it can choose to place an in-video or AdWords advertisements rather than claim a copyright violation.
"These advertising structures are really geared towards taking control of what users upload. It's only relevant if you're uploading content, but if you are a small business and are doing that, this could be relevant for you."
Most businesses are at least operating a website, but even those rejecting the online space need to be aware of how fast rumours and allegations can fly in the digital age. Several companies have had their reputations tarnished within hours from the activities of either rogue employees, or a botched advertising campaign.
Griffin says businesses need to control their reputation by monitoring what people are saying about them.
"The answer is, companies have been pushed into conducting a social media marketing campaigns without research and without adequately addressing the risk factors associated with social media."
"2010 will see companies embracing the need to address the inherent risks of social media, with enterprises moving towards a scientific and empirically based approach to managing risk."
Last year, Domino's Pizza landed itself into trouble when two employees posted a video of themselves handling food unhygienically on the internet. Cotton On experienced backlash on Facebook when it continued to sell baby clothes with slogans such as "They Shake Me".
Griffin says businesses can avoid such catastrophes by carefully monitoring who is talking about their brand, and being ready to address any situation as quickly as it appeared.
"The many and varied social media 'fails' of 2008-2009 will see companies and institutions take a measured, risk-based approach to these platforms."
"Auditing, monitoring and analysing social media platforms along with risk mitigation strategies will become standard fare for those companies looking to protect and enhance their brand on social media platforms."
While mobile advertising may be taking awhile to heat up, many businesses are developing new and interesting mobile marketing campaigns to draw people into their stores.
Google has developed a system whereby users take a picture of a barcode with their mobile phone and use the search engine to find information. Closer to home, Hoyts Cinemas currently runs a promotion where movie goers with Bluetooth activated on their handsets sometimes receive discount offers via text messages when they walk into a lobby.
But it isn't just big companies which are using mobiles for marketing. Peter Shipman, who owns a casual Mexican restaurant in the US, bought ads in university newspapers to advertise a barcode sent through text messages used to claim discounts.
US company Jagtag is now developing a technology used to identify barcodes through camera phones, when it is then sent via text message in order for the user to receive a discount code.
Thomas says this year will see a number of companies bring mobile marketing strategies to the forefront of their campaigns.
"There are going to be some really good creative ways people will start to get customers in store, and sending messages out like that... providing they don't break any spam laws."
"We're going to see these companies start to realise how much activity is occurring through mobiles, and then we're going to see them respond by commissioning campaigns of their own."
Thomas also says a number of companies will begin to commission mobile apps, especially on the iPhone, purely for marketing purposes. Whether this will gain them revenue or purely open their brand to a new audience, the mobile apps market will become part of an online business's marketing strategy in 2010.
The growth of the internet has allowed businesses to publish content of their own, including blogs, pictures and even videos. King says SMEs should think about creating some sort of content on YouTube or similar sites such as a tutorial, and see a fan base grow.
"There are a lot of smaller to medium sized businesses which have really operated with a focus of specifically gearing themselves towards publishing on YouTube, and they really make a go of it - and we give them a global audience to do so."
But King warns businesses they must be generating useful content, without the appearance of a blatant marketing pitch, and not be scared of entering a new area where they might not have experience.
"As these things become more commonplace, consumers love them, but unfortunately businesses which have been relying on older business models do not. I really think they need to get over that a little bit. Ultimately the consumer is right, and they are going to spend their time the way they spend it."
"Businesses need to really stay focused on that consumer experience and not get hung up on the comfort of the way things used to be. The more businesses can try and anticipate where things can go as opposed to stopping it, I think that's the best place to be for them."
Once upon a time, businesses wouldn't trust open-source programs in favour of branded, more trustworthy software solutions. But now open-source has given SMEs a way of operating high-end programs without substantial costs.
With popular programs such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Open Office, WordPress and Joomla now gaining notoriety, organisations are beginning to realise open-source programs aren't just technically inferior rip-offs, but legitimate alternatives.
A number of organisations, including the British Government and the French police force, have openly supported open-source, while Gartner research from late-2008 indicates the majority of businesses in the Asia/Pacific region took up open-source in 2009.
And with the development and popularity of open-source Android operating system continuing to grow, open-source is likely to play a major part in a business's IT strategy in 2010.
Two years ago "cloud computing" was viewed by many businesses as a buzzword with no particular meaning, used by tech-heads who didn't quite know what they were talking about.
Now, using cloud services has become an essential for businesses. Whether they are backing up their data or using a piece of software hosted on external servers, cloud computing is now a part of everyday operations for many SMEs.
Cloud services have branched out into three main categories: applications, also known as software-as-a-service, infrastructure, used for data backups, and internal service providers for businesses with customised apps and programs.
Analyst firm Gartner recently named cloud computing as one of the top strategic technologies for 2010, saying it could be exploited in a number of different ways to customise programs and apps to a particular company's needs.
"Using cloud resources does not eliminate the costs of IT solutions, but does rearrange some and reduce others. In addition, consuming cloud services enterprises will increasingly act as cloud providers and deliver application, information or business process services to customers and business partners."