SEO is a particularly dynamic field, and those of us working in these trenches like to share our thoughts about this ever-changing environment. I’ve taken the opportunity to interview a dozen well-regarded experts in the industry, and ask the two biggest SEO questions on marketers’ minds for 2014. Their answers may help you prepare and ramp up for the coming year. We’re interested in what you think, so please add your own predictions to the comments at the end of this piece.
- What big changes to the SEO industry do you predict will take place this year?
- How are your own SEO priorities changing?
Our experts, in alphabetical order:
Alan Bleiweiss (AlanBleiweiss.com ) is a noteworthy SEO consultant who’s spoken at various industry conferences and is a well-respected professional in the industry. Alan has been providing internet marketing solutions to clients since 1995.
2014 will be the year of the Google “Tiger” update – a new algorithm update that Google will claim impacts 5% of sites and is designed to improve overall search quality. Shortly after Tiger comes out, 0.0001% of webmasters worldwide will scream bloody murder, and at least three case studies will come out claiming Tiger actually affected 47% of the web.
Within a week or two, the “How to recover from Tiger” articles will have been written, in which authors just recommend things that the rest of us already know have been best practices recommendations for several years anyhow.
Within 90 days of those articles coming out, an industry tool provider will come out with an “Eye of the Tiger” t-shirt, depicting Rocky Balboa all bloodied and mangled, standing victorious over a dead tiger named Google.
More seriously though….
My SEO priorities never change. Well, they haven’t in a long time. I live in a world consisting of best practices that have, oddly, always been best practices for SEO. Go figure.
Ruth Burr is the inbound marketing lead at Moz.com. She has expertise in SEO, SEM, pay-per-click management, content marketing, and relationship building for links, and strongly believes in data-driven decision making and in scalable, long-term SEO decisions within a larger inbound marketing program.
I think the big changes that are coming to the SEO industry are already starting. With the advent of 100% (not provided) from Google, SEOs are moving away from optimizing pages for queries and toward creating content for audiences, built on topics. I think we’ll see a renewed focus on building topical authority in 2014. We’ll also see search engines’ positions on semantic markup continue to evolve, both with new formats being supported and new measures being taken to keep semantic markup from being abused.
My SEO priorities are changing to become more about good old-fashioned technical SEO in 2014 – but that’s due in large part to our having a really great content marketing team, with whom I’m working to create a stellar content creation and promotion schedule in 2014. Having that team in place to help us promote our content allows me to focus more on making the vehicle for that content (i.e. our website) as fast, crawlable, shareable, and error-free as possible.
Michael Cottam (MichaelCottam.com) is a Portland SEO consultant who has worked for companies such as IBM and ProCom. He is also an associate at Moz, helping answer questions in their Q&A forum and contributing content. He’s on the board of SEMpdx as well, a non-profit industry association.
My #1 prediction: AuthorRank will start to heavily influence rankings in Google, as Google starts to be able to map a significant percentage of documents on the web to a known author. Google+ authorship will help Google to recognize both the credibility of authors, but also be able to “grade” a website based on who the authors are who contribute to that site. AuthorRank will behave much like PageRank, but it will be tougher for spammers to manipulate.
- Tie as much site content as possible to specific authors
- Enrich content with big images, videos, embedded maps, etc.
- Watch Google local search results like a hawk, to see if the long-awaited merge of their three local business databases really works this time
Amanda DiSilvestro is an online content editor and writer at HigherVisibility. Amanda writes for a variety of publications regularly including Search Engine Watch and Social Media Today. She’s well versed in the SEO industry, content marketing, and link building.
I predict that 2014 is going to put a big emphasis on reviews. We saw Google introduce Shared Endorsements this year (where advertisers can put a little 67 character snippet under an ad on a SERP), but I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. Google might consider putting reviews of people in your Google+ circles right there on the SERP or having a small button where you can click to see reviews from people you know. They might even try to make it easier for people to leave reviews by prompting you to leave a review after you make a purchase (some companies do this already, but I’m wondering if in the future this will be more common if Google takes control). I’m not saying I necessarily agree that this is a good idea, and I certainly am not sure what Google has up its sleeves for next year, but the idea of reviews becoming more common and important makes sense to me.
From an SEO content writer standpoint, I think my strategy is going to need to be all about semantic search and SEO. We saw Google come out with the Hummingbird update this year, which revamped the algorithm to improve upon conversational type queries, etc., so I think Google is taking note of the fact that things need to be operated in a way that thinks like a searcher – and searches don’t think in keywords. Semantic search is a huge part of this. Instead of optimizing my content for one or two keywords, I’m going to need to think outside of the box and really start to think about what other ways (aside from keywords) users might search for the topic of my piece. After all, I want my article on as many SERPs as possible, and Google is making that more and more possible as they continue to evolve.
SEO is going see several major shifts in 2014. To me the biggest change will be that the real impact of Hummingbird will be felt. This will be multidimensional, and you will see some of what this will entail here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJZIg3WlL74 (short video extracted from a live interview I did with Danny Sullivan). Here is a summary:
1. Much more capability to detect and act on bad link patterns.
2. Social media (in particular G+) will begin to impact NON-personalized search.
3. AuthorRank will become real.
4. And yes, more natural language capabilities will come along for the ride too!
In addition to all this, if that wasn’t enough, we will see shifts in mobile implementation. While many businesses do have mobile presences, the reality is that far more have not invested in this enough. That will change and Google may begin to make some real ranking adjustments for organizations that do not have a mobile presence.
So how to change with all of this? I see SEO having a very strong technical component for dealing with things like mobile, schema, authorship, crawlability, etc. This will continue to be important, simply because the search engines need help from the webmaster.
But, for the link-building side, this will increasingly get viewed as modern age digital PR. Adept SEO firms will start to behave a lot like PR firms, BUT they will leverage the latest digital media opportunities to get their clients a major advantage. This is, of course, content marketing. This is going to become a bigger and bigger area of focus and a great opportunity for SEO companies that used to do “link building.”
Art Enke is the Director of SEO at Vertical Measures, a Phoenix- based search, social, and content marketing company. He helps clients address SEO needs onsite and offsite, including helping clients after a Google penalty. The new “Complete Google Penalty Recovery Kit” is available online.
Sophisticated Link Analysis
Earlier this year, Matt Cutts said Google was in the early stages of developing a “completely different system that does more sophisticated link analysis.” Apparently, this new system would do more to deny value to link spammers, and Cutts alluded that this new system will be empowered by additional data they’ve been able to collect (undoubtedly from all the link lists we’ve been adding through the disavow links tool).
If this new system works and is rolled out successfully in 2014, it will be the most impactful move I believe for Google in 2014. The reason is, there are many quality sites still affected by unintentional bad link-building of the past and even malicious negative SEO campaigns (frankly, it’s silly negative SEO even works at all). If sophisticated link analysis works well, we can expect better search results for users and webmasters that are working hard to earn natural links and aggressively prune skeletons/bad links still lingering in the closet.
Better Webmaster Tools Communication
I predict more communication from Google’s search quality team through WMT. Google rolled out specific manual action notices in 2013, but in 2014 I think they are going to open up communication to a whole new level including adding a live chat option, customer service number, and dedicated organic search account managers (I’m being totally facetious here). All kidding aside, we can only hope for more link data and more customized responses to our reconsideration requests, but it’s not likely going to be anything that will satisfy the general SEO community, and questions like the one posed to Cutts on 12-9-2013 will still be forthcoming.
The focus in 2013 was to look exclusively at potentially “bad” links when working with a site affected negatively by Penguin. However, in 2014 the new priority is to document and thoroughly account for ALL links, including the “healthy” ones, when submitting a reconsideration request to Google. This may be considered overkill by some, but if you’ve been through a site penalty, you’ll understand the sense of frustration that occurs after if you’ve taken countless hours to remove, disavow, and submit a reconsideration only to have your request denied. We should all adopt a “no-stone-left-unturned” approach in the new year and communicate a clear story to the Google Search Quality team (even though this communication may be unreciprocated).
More negative connotation will be associated with the term ‘SEO’ simply because a good SEO is a non-SEO. In other words, over-optimizing links, URLs, titles, or doing anything else to a site’s on or off-page content in a manipulative way that doesn’t add additional value should be done away with. For example, a well-written page title in 2014 will be one that includes one or two keywords (only because they are relevant and useful to users) in addition to including a subtle but effective call to action.
Picture this page title displaying in search results for the keyword term ‘Winter Boots’: “Ultra Soft Winter Boots You’ll Love to Wear this Season – Store.com.” This is far better than this: “Winter Boots, Soft Boots, Warm Boots, Comfortable Boots – Store.com.” Don’t you agree?
Casie Gillette is the Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing, where she leads digital marketing strategy for clients. With over 8 years of industry experience, Casie regularly speaks about SEO and link building.
With the number of changes that happened in 2013, I’m almost scared to guess! I definitely think Google will continue to penalize link networks they come across and I’m all for that! I also I think both Google and Bing are going to keep making it easier for us to give them information about ourselves and our websites. This past year there was a big push for setting up authorship, adding Schema markup, and creating/linking Google+ profiles. We also saw Bing start connecting social networks to WMT profiles. While it’s not a huge change, it does present an opportunity for SEOs to get sites tagged and give the search engines the information they want.
As of right now our priorities aren’t changing too much. One thing we really focused on at the beginning of 2013 was shifting from shorter, keyword-focused content to more in-depth content, highly targeted to the client’s audience and buying cycle. It certainly requires more time and knowledge, but it’s much more valuable to our clients. We also started working to get Schema implemented on client sites. That will definitely continue.
Kyle Golembiewski As an Online Marketing Specialist at Phoenix-based marketing agency LaneTerralever, Kyle works with clients to build, optimize, and manage various online media engagements. He’s well versed in SEO, PPC, and marketing ROI.
I predict a much needed increase in client/provider transparency, more mindful collaboration between SEO/PPC/Social/Content teams, and a higher demand for technical, code-savvy marketers. Understanding site analytics and being able to mine data will be more important than ever, too!
- I have 100% stopped focusing on keyword rankings. This metric says nothing about traffic, sales, or engaging your audience. Google’s “not provided” strike down should speak for itself.
- Knowing how Paid Media effects Organic efforts (and vice versa) is more important than ever. If I had to guess, most search results pages are split nearly 50/50 with screen real estate. This can’t be ignored!
- Educating clients more efficiently is something I will prioritize more in 2014. I think this helps with the flow of work, instills trust, and makes for a more collaborative experience.
I think 2014 may be the year that Google tries to sort of “regulate” our industry under their widening “trusted” umbrella. We’ve already seen Google Trusted Photographers and Google Trusted Stores, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before there are Trusted SEO Service providers too. I think Google will continue to take more away from “normal” non-trusted people as they have with [Not Provided], but I think they may offer some of that data back to “trusted providers” in the future.
I expect to be forced to prioritize backlink cleanup even more than we already do now. I’ll also continue to prioritize relationships for content strategies with industry experts, because that’s where I believe SEO is headed. Just like having trusted authors as contributors will continue to be more and more important. That was sort of my prediction last year, http://www.pdxtc.com/wpblog/seo/buying-links-in-2013/ and the trend is growing.
Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and ghostwriter, with years of industry experience in SEO. You’ve probably read her articles on KISSmetrics, Social Media Examiner, Search Engine Journal, or her own blog, Kikolani.com .
I predict that SEO companies will be sending more link removal requests than link requests in 2014. Companies that sell bulk / low quality link building packages (think the 1,000 directory submissions for $100) will steadily lose business and will need to reshape their offerings or close their doors.
As a freelance writer, my priority is to try to educate as many small businesses as possible about why they need to focus on quality over quantity in their online marketing strategy, especially with regards to content production, link building, and social media engagement. If they wouldn’t want their customers or CEO to see it, it shouldn’t be done.
Greg Shuey is the co-founder of Stryde, a digital marketing company focused on creating high-performing customer acquisition campaigns. He has extensive experience in SEO and affiliate marketing.
I think marketers will go back to content spinning… just kidding! We’re already starting to see author rank become important, and I think it will become even more important this year. I also think we will start to see more businesses adopt schema markup and I would hope that the search engines will award these businesses, as long as their legit, with more visibility.
Google will continue to roll out updates to the Penguin algo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to refine Hummingbird as well. There are still a lot of guest posting services and networks out there that produce generic content and place them on high authority domains full of posts just for link building purposes. I think many of these will go down in 2014 as Penguin is refined further.
Not SEO Related: I think we will see more companies embrace email to nurture leads and remarket to their current clients and customers. A lot of businesses are turned off by email because they believe it’s a “spam tactic,” but they will soon come around and learn that it can be a powerful tool to build relationships and dramatically grow their revenue.
How Are We Changing
Our SEO efforts going into 2014 are twofold:
First, ensuring that site optimizations are as tight as possible. When I mean site optimizations, I mean everything… including site speed, content hierarchy, ensuring crawlabiliy, standard page optimizations, etc. Our clients’ sites have to be squeaky clean out of the gate.
Second, building content assets that are actually valuable to our clients’ target audiences, along with amplifying each piece with paid ads. These usually come in the form of Facebook Sponsored Posts, Sponsored Tweets, LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, +Post Ads, Reddit Ads, StumbleUpon Paid Discovery, Retargeting via Google’s Display Network, and Outbrain promotion. We’ve found that with less than $100 per post, you collect a good number of organic social signals and links. It’s not even worth the time or energy to manually build links anymore. I’m not saying we don’t manually build links, because some industries are just tough, but paid organic is the future!
Dustin Woodard is a long-time web professional with experience in on and offline marketing, including SEO, social media, and video marketing; he’s also an official judge for the Webby Awards. With his SEO agency, SEO Naturale, he helps clients achieve more web traffic and revenue.
Change always seems to take longer then we expect. A great example is personalization of search results. It took about 5-7 years for it to make a big impact, and it still hasn’t reached its true potential. I expect 2014 will feature many discussions we’ve already had, particularly on mobile search and video. I also expect SEOs to put a spotlight on the ever-shrinking organic placements in search results. Frankly, I’m surprised the search community isn’t complaining more about Google’s shift towards 100% ads above the fold (something they punish other websites for).
Despite the seemingly massive changes to algorithms each year, my SEO focus doesn’t change much. Much of what worked the past five, ten, even fifteen years still works today. The one thing I’m starting to notice is that the value of my non-traditional SEO skills are becoming just as important as the technical SEO skills. In particular, my video, community, usability, and attention-getting skills are becoming an increasingly important part of my holistic SEO services.
Thank you to all our experts who weighed in! A variety of changes are in store for 2014 – will you be ready?
Share in the comments below your 2014 SEO plans, predictions, and priorities!
Kaila Strong is the Director of Client Strategy at Vertical Measures, a Phoenix-based search, social, and content marketing company. She oversees the link building department and develops core strategies for clients to improve their internet marketing campaigns. Find her online @cliquekaila on Twitter.