As we enter the last week of the month I sit here and look back at what I’ve learned this year in the world of internet marketing. From the Panda update to Twitter rolling out changes to their platform, our industry has seen quite a few changes this year. Many things stand out in my mind but at the core are eleven that I thought I’d share.

Lesson #1 – I never realized I could hate link farms more than I already did. 

Ever since I first started working in this industry I was taught that link farms are bad news. Anyone who would link out to another site without any qualms or cares for whom they are linking to isn’t a site that we want our clients affiliated with. This year the point was hammered home even more after Panda. After you’ve been on an hour long conference call with a client whose previous SEO only built content farm links you’ll understand why I hate link farms.

Who you link to is certainly important and who links to you even more so. Avoid link farms like the plague and conduct a bit of link reclamation for any links in your backlink profile that shouldn’t be there. 

Lesson #2 – How much I really love (good) content. 

I’ve dealt with a few clients this year that suffered from Panda and others that didn’t. The difference? Great backlinks and great onsite content. Last year our focus at Vertical Measures switched from mostly link building to an equal distribution of link building and content marketing. Being ahead of the curve and focusing on content has helped not only our own rankings avoid hits from Panda but also ranking hits for clients. I can’t stress enough how important good content is. 

Lesson #3 – The industry certainly has its ups and downs…but it’s all about the long haul.

If you want to succeed online you really have to be in it for the long haul. Half-assed attempts at improving your website conversion rates, developing social media presence, building links, writing on a blog, or promoting your website online aren’t going to cut it. Year after year this proves to be true and for me 2011 cemented in my mind that I was meant to work in the field. I just plain love it!

Lesson #4 – Don’t put all your eggs in Google’s basket. 

The inbound traffic you receive should not all be from one place. Sure, this seems obvious but for many the sole focus is Google as an inbound traffic source. This year I learned that referral traffic from Bing and Yahoo is important. When conducting keyword research or looking to improve website SEO don’t forget about Bing/Yahoo.

Even traffic from a site like Yahoo Answers can make a huge difference to your bottom line. Forums, social sites, guest blog posts and comments are all great ways to diversify your efforts so you aren’t 100% dependent on Google. After some websites took huge hits due to Panda they had to close their doors or inject massive sums of money to other efforts. One solution is to expand your efforts and diversify your inbound traffic sources so you aren’t so reliant on one exclusively.

Lesson #5 – The more data the better.

Any opportunity you have to collect data do it. You’ll have the opportunity to segment that data and analyze when using a web analytics program like Google Analytics. Set up filters using regular expressions, use event tracking, examine social analytics such as Facebook Insights, anything that has data. Facebook rolled out their advanced insights; Twitter rumored at doing something similar soon. Then there’s Google – taking data away with keywords showing ‘not provided’ when visitors to your site are signed into their Google profiles and/or using encrypted search. You don’t miss it until it’s gone so take advantage of data as much as possible – a good lesson for 2011.  

Lesson #6 – Long tail keywords can turn a bad year into a good one.

Focusing on single keywords or short tail phrases is certainly more competitive in some industries. Long tail phrases can prove to bring in just as much traffic cumulatively and in some instances convert at higher percentages.

Lesson #7 – Domain Authority > Page Rank

I’ve never given Page Rank much credence – it can be fairly simple to artificially inflate Page Rank. But more so this year than ever I’ve found that domain authority is the best metric to utilize when trying to establish a sites authority ‘score’ (as measured by SEOMoz).

Lesson #8 – Social links matter more than we know.

Bing admitted it, Google eluded to it – social links may influence search engine rankings. This year we’ve seen that social links matter and in my opinion I think they  matter more than we know. This makes participating on social platforms and having something to share all the more important for brands in 2012.

Lesson #9 – Weak content = Weak rankings

Post-Panda website content must provide value which means: links, social mentions, comments, and traffic. If most of the content on your site provides no use, receives very little traffic, has very few links and has never been mentioned on social sites then you need a revamp. Weak content can directly correlate to weak rankings.

Lesson #10 – Exact match anchor text is the kiss of death.

Seen a dramatic decrease in rankings for a keyword? Look at the distribution of anchor text to the site. This is one of the most common reasons for ranking decreases I’ve seen in 2011. Natural anchor text is the way to go – vary it up with these 12 ways to vary your anchor text (a post I wrote last year).

Lesson #11 – Editorial links can change lives – or maybe just bottom lines.  

Link building can be harder to do year after year. This year guest blogging and editorial link building was brought to the forefront. Links in the content of an article, blog, or content piece on a site that doesn’t just link out to anyone and everyone can be the best links out there. Also they’re sometimes the only way to get a link on certain sites (think a guest blog post on your competitors website…).

What are the internet marketing lessons you learned this year?