As we begin 2014, it’s the perfect time for SEOs and marketers to reflect on the successes and failures of the previous year, and to make SEO predictions for the year ahead. As shown by the Mayans though, it can be difficult to accurately predict future events. Google is notoriously unpredictable as they are at the forefront of technological innovation, and there is usually no warning prior to algorithm updates. However, those who have been involved in the SEO industry for long enough should already have a fair idea of what to expect from Google, and below are my predictions on what we might expect this year.
1. Fewer announced updates from Google
Google already warned us earlier in the year that updates like the Penguin and Panda are more likely to be included as part of the general algorithm refreshes, and if you visit webmaster forums like Webmaster World, then it’s common to read about site owners reporting huge fluctuations without any official word on algorithm updates. Last year saw the birth of the all-encompassing Hummingbird update, so it seems less likely that minor algorithm updates will be officially announced (although it’s likely that notifications of major updates will continue to occur).
I imagine that Google is tired of having to constantly remind webmasters of the issues with black hat link building tactics and low quality content, and with all the updates that they have made regarding both Penguin and Panda over the last couple of years, it’s more likely that they will make small unannounced amendments and regular algorithm refreshes.
Tip: Don’t toe the line with Google: make sure your link-building does not contradict their webmaster guidelines and try to keep up to date on search changes by following key profiles like @rustybrick on Twitter.
2. Bigger, more in-depth content
‘Big Content’ is a term seemingly coined by Dr Peter J Meyers of Moz fame, and although he described it as a ‘vague… useless term’, my personal opinion is that it is the perfect way to describe top-notch online posts. My second prediction therefore, is that marketers will look for increasingly inventive ways to break content moulds and improve upon ‘big content’ with even bigger content. Having good content simply isn’t enough to rank anymore, so it seems plausible that we could witness types of content not previously seen, or perhaps done in more innovative ways in order to gain widespread visibility (like the rise of infographics as a marketing tool, for example).
It’s not uncommon to see high quality, well-ranking posts which are merely 500 words in length, but moving forward I think it’s likely that longer posts of 2000+ words may gain more value in search due to the increased amount of information they provide (and perhaps even an increased importance of content relative to links). What I’m expecting to see is more instances of content not just as newsworthy pieces of information, but as universal industry resources that others will keep referring and linking back to i.e. more linkable assets, as opposed to link-bait.
Tip: Put a great deal of time, effort and research into content where possible, and perhaps bounce ideas off colleagues to get a more in-depth, collaborative article. Try to pursue an angle not covered elsewhere online, and if big content isn’t an option, try to create a series of small articles covering one topic in detail to pique users’ interest.
3. Social Authority influencing rankings
It has been debated to death by SEOs whether or not social shares are good for anything other than traffic and visibility. Data collected by MOZ earlier in the year though confirmed that the general consensus among the top search marketers is that social interaction is a huge ranking factor, particularly with Google +1s.
However, traditionally search engines have not respected social media as much as links, because likes/shares are much simpler to attain. Evidently though, more shares leads to more traffic and greater visibility, so if a high volume of people are visiting a page then Google will have to take notice of its relevance for that particular topic. With that in mind, high profile Twitter profiles like Piers Morgan, Justin Bieber etc. will surely improve the rankings of any site that they decide to share on their feed.
Google+ used to be used primarily by marketers who wanted to utilise the rel=author tag, but it is now attracting a much wider, non-professional audience. Although the official numbers of Google+ users is very high, I imagine that most of the accounts lie dormant as anyone with a Gmail/Youtube account will automatically own a Google + account, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they use it. So I imagine there will be more +1s of non-marketing related content moving forward too.
Tip: Interact with and follow relevant accounts in your industry, and regularly tweet about interesting industry-specific news and articles to gauge users’ interest in your niche.
4. The end of SEOs using a high volume of exact match keywords
It seems that Google can’t make their message any clearer – the harder you try to rank for specific keywords through this style of linking, the more likely you are to fail, or worse get penalised. There are some articles online which suggest it shouldn’t be completely forgotten about, but I can’t think of too many ways in which this could appear to be natural.
Content links you will now see online tend to be part of longer sentence structures and not specific keywords only, which in turn should make articles appear to be more natural for both the reader and search engine.
Tip: Focus on your onsite relevancy for keywords first and foremost, use predominantly branded/URL anchor text links in your strategy, and encompass other words in the sentence surrounding your keywords when creating non-branded anchor text links.
5. Increased reliance on mobile optimisation
This is something that often gets predicted for SEO, but my personal feeling is that this year will be THE year that we see mobile optimisation techniques start to dominate the industry. The way that people interact with the internet has changed dramatically over the last 5 years in line with a surge in the smartphone market and mobile data speeds. As a result, many people now spend more time browsing the internet via their mobile device compared to their desktop, so it’s become increasingly important for sites to optimise for all devices. Google has always focused on design and usability, so having a site which can be appealing across multiple platforms is likely to put you in their good books.
Tip: Check Google Analytics to see if much traffic comes to your site via mobile devices to determine if your site needs to be optimised for mobile or not. If you are a local business, ensure your business is set up on Google+ local to get listed on Google Maps – often people will search for specific local services when they’re out and about. Make sure your site design is responsive and has easily accessible contact details/online order forms.
Regardless of what the future holds for SEO, one thing that’s certain is that Google is constantly evolving, improving, and innovating, and it’s paramount that any online marketing strategy has the ability to adapt in line with search industry updates.
Jonny Lis is a Digital Marketing Manager for Smart Traffic. He manages the outreach department, blogs both professionally and personally, and is an expert in link removal for Penguin-affected sites. Outside of the office he has a keen interest in football, live music, traveling and is a self-confessed fitness fanatic. Catch him on Twitter and check out his blog.