The SEO industry in 2014 is virtually unrecognizable from that of 2011 and earlier, and this coming year we’ll see even more changes in best practices for the industry and how we execute SEO campaigns.
Earlier this year I wrote about The Top 7 SEO Trends Dominating 2014, but as we quickly approach 2015, I wanted to take a look at what’s changed in recent months and what we can expect over the next year.
1. SEO will become focused on technical elements while content marketing will drive search rankings
In the not-so-distant past, the terms content marketing and SEO were often used interchangeably. This isn’t surprising given the enormous overlap between the two. However, throughout 2015, SEO will increasingly be seen as encompassing the technical components of online marketing, whereas content marketing will be the key driver of search engine rankings.
SEO will remain an invaluable subset of content marketing, dealing with keyword research, meta tags, indexing issues and penalty recovery, while content marketing will become the primary influencer of search visibility. Businesses that continue to focus on SEO without having a strong content plan in place will fail, and will need to shift their focus to the creation and distribution of high-quality content in order to achieve significant search engine visibility.
2. Sites that aren’t optimized for user intent and mobile SEO will fail
In 2014, it has become increasingly obvious that Google is placing a great deal of importance on mobile usability. We’ve seen Google testing mobile-friendly icons next to search results, as well as adding a mobile usability section in Google Webmaster accounts so users can see how their site performs on mobile devices. We also know that for over a year now, Google has been penalizing sites that generate errors for mobile users. For more on this, see my article, Is Mobile Usability Now a Search Ranking Factor?
Technical aspects aside, we’ve also seen a shift toward long-tail keyword searches, and optimizing for searches based on user intent and mobile habits. For instance, we know that mobile users consume content differently that desktop users: they’re more likely to use voice search, access content at different times or in different locations than desktop users, and are looking for information to accomplish specific tasks while ‘on the go.’
Businesses that fail to tailor their website and content to these users will see their conversions plummet, and will experience a significant drop in search engine rankings. For a complete checklist for optimizing your content for mobile, see my post 10 Steps to Creating a Mobile-Optimized Content Strategy.
3. Brand mentions and citations will become as powerful as links
In a recently discovered patent submission, we see that Google is differentiating between “express links” and “implied links”. Express links, what we traditionally and currently think of as links, are URLs that lead back to a webpage (for instance, http://www.google.com). Implied links, however, can include referencing or mentioning a brand or website without actually linking to the site.
Due to the widespread misuse and abuse of link building (think link building schemes and negative SEO), Google appears to placing more emphasis on brand mentions and citations, which are less likely and less easy to be manipulated for the purpose of achieving higher search rankings. Over the course of 2015, we’ll see more businesses measuring and tracking brand mentions and nofollowed links, and we’ll discover that these are becoming just as important as “dofollow” links for search rankings.
For a detailed analysis of this, see my article, Implied Links, Brand Mentions and the Future of SEO Link Building.
4. Following the failed Google+ Authorship experiment, Google will place more value on social signals from Twitter and Facebook
Over the past couple years, SEO and social media experts have been pushing businesses to have a strong presence on Google+; they’ve promoted Google Authorship in particular, as it was believed to be important for achieving not only high search rankings, but also improving the click-through rate of content in search engine results pages. In August, however, Google announced that they had ended their Authorship program due to low adoption rates and the fact that, as John Mueller put it, it wasn’t “as useful to our users as we’d hoped.”
Given the failure of the Authorship experiment, I believe businesses will be even less likely to build their presence on Google+, given the apparent lack of SEO benefits that can be derived from it. Instead, I believe Google will begin putting more emphasis on social signals from Facebook and Twitter, despite their hesitancy to do so in the past.
For years, there’s been plenty of speculation about whether Google already uses social signals in its ranking algorithm, and a healthy debate has arisen. Correlation studies show strong correlations between social signals and rankings, yet Google has continually denied that social signals are part of its ranking algorithm.
Despite these claims, many believe that social signals are already part of the ranking algorithm, and strong evidence has been presented to support this belief. Whether or not social signals really are currently part of the ranking algorithm, in 2015 I believe we’ll see all doubt removed – social signals will become a significant factor in the ranking algorithm.
5. Search rankings will increasingly become more about building relationships and less about technical strategies
With the vast amount of content produced and published every day, businesses are realizing that focusing on merely creating content and optimizing its technical components for SEO just aren’t enough to achieve their goals. Marketers are already realizing that businesses that are able to humanize their brand are the ones who are standing out; and I believe this will only increase in importance in 2015.
High search rankings can no longer be achieved by isolated webmasters who focus on technical compliance; rather, there must be a shift toward relational strategies such as blogger outreach campaigns, building relationships with brand advocates, reaching out to influencers and engaging on social media.
6. Negative SEO will be a bigger threat than ever
Earlier this year, I wrote about the impact of negative SEO on search engine rankings. In short, negative SEO is when dubious people build thousands of spammy links pointed at a competitors’ website with the intent of causing their search rankings to plummet. This has been a serious problem for webmasters over the past couple years, and in 2015 negative SEO will become an even bigger threat to business owners.
In a recent Google Webmaster Office Hours, Google’s John Mueller stated that it can take up to 9 months for disavow files to be completely “taken into account.” Since disavowing links is the only method Google has given webmasters for distancing themselves from spammy links pointing to their website, this means that a negative SEO attack could have catastrophic consequences for businesses, erasing their search visibility for large chunks of a year.
While small sites will likely never have to deal with it, larger sites in competitive niches are prime targets for Negative SEO. Negative SEO will also need to be taken more seriously by Google, as these types of attacks undermine the very foundation of search quality. Rather than putting the onus on webmasters to disavow spammy links, Google will need to find ways to recognize manipulative links built to compromise websites, and penalize the perpetrators. And all this without the involvement of webmasters, in order to maintain the integrity of search results.
7. SEO will no longer be an isolated department, but become fully integrated with other aspects of marketing
Traditionally, many businesses have or have had dedicated SEO departments or hired SEO companies or consultants. However, as SEO, social media and content marketing all converge to achieve the same goals, the three will need to be fully integrated in order to succeed.
Dedicated SEO consultants and departments will begin to phase out as SEO comes to be seen not as a siloed discipline, but rather a foundational component that integrates with and is affected by all aspects of the marketing mix – both online and offline. We’ve already seen the shift from ‘SEO consultant’ to ‘content marketing strategist’, and this trend is only going to become amplified in 2015.
Don’t misunderstand me: SEO is not dead or dying. It’s just changing; content marketing and social media specialists will need specialized SEO knowledge and skills in order to be successful. However, these SEO strategies will be need to be fully integrated with the creation and promotion of content, rather than kept as a separate, isolated task.