2014 is drawing to a close. As always, this is the time of year when important decisions are made—decisions that will largely dictate your wins and/or losses in 2015. Among the decisions you’ll have to make are those that involve your online marketing strategies, particularly those that have to do with SEO. SEO being a constantly-changing landscape, you will need to be ready for the trends that are expected to dominate the coming year.
Here are 5 SEO trends you’d do well to plan for as 2015 draws near:
1. SEO goes technical as content drives rankings.
There was a time when the terms “SEO” and “content marketing” were used interchangeably and it was fine because there were indeed a lot of points where these two marketing components overlapped. These days, people have come to understand that they aren’t really interchangeable; rather, they are two separate components that deliver the best results when made to work together. In 2015, though, it is expected that the relationship between content and SEO will once again go through a slight change.
SEO is expected to evolve by mostly covering the technical aspects of Internet marketing – keyword research, indexing, Meta tags, penalty avoidance/recovery, etc. Content, on the other hand, is seen to be the main component driving search rankings. You’ll have to fill your website with relevant, high-quality content if you want to achieve high search rankings. Even in 2015, content will still be king.
The days of quick SEO fixes are long gone and they’re not coming back anytime soon. Search algorithms have been updated so search engines can make sense of the content available on the web. This helps them provide only the most relevant results to users. It therefore makes sense for you to draw up a strong content marketing plan and publish nothing but high-quality content on your website as well as your social media pages come 2015.
2. Mobile SEO and user intent will be even more important.
2014 saw the increasing importance of going mobile. For one thing, Google has started penalizing websites that generate errors when accessed on mobile gadgets. They have, in fact, been doing this for a little over a year. There has also been a recent shift towards optimizing based on users’ mobile habits. It has been observed that mobile users are likelier to conduct voice searches and tend to access online information at different times compared to desktop users.
Other than the changes implemented by search engines that make mobile accessibility more important, you should also note that mobile Internet use has now surpassed desktop use. More and more people are now getting smart phones and tablet computers for themselves, so failing to design your website for mobile accessibility is tantamount to marketing suicide. If you haven’t done so already, you should take the necessary steps to make your website easily accessible on both desktop and mobile devices.
Another recent shift is the increasing focus on search results based on user intent. Search engines are becoming more adept at understanding the intent behind online searches, so you should also start optimizing for key phrases instead of individual keywords. Note as well that your ability to offer excellent site experience both on desktop and mobile is now taken into consideration by Google and other search engines. So be sure to make your site as responsive as possible.
3. Brand mentions will become more important.
You may have heard some people say that link building is dead, but the truth is that it has only evolved. Inbound links are still among the most important factors for search rankings, but the manner in which Google and other search engines interpret links has changed. It has been recently discovered that Google is now recognizing the difference between express links and implied links. Express links are what we now know as links – URLs leading to or from your web pages. Implied links include references to or mentions of your brand, even without actual links.
Search engines have caught on to black-hat SEO practices such as link-buying. It is because of these abusive practices that search algorithms have been adjusted to take implied links such as brand mentions into consideration. Citations and brand mentions are more difficult to manipulate, which is why more emphasis is placed on these factors. If you want to become more competitive in 2015, therefore, you need to measure and track your brand mentions more and work harder at getting your brand mentioned as many times as possible across the web.
This isn’t to say you should ditch your link building efforts completely. It only means you should make sure your links all appear natural and come from a wide range of high-authority sources. Quality should always come before quantity. You should also strive to establish your own brand’s authority, as this can also contribute much to your rankings.
4. Social integration will be key.
You may have noticed SEO experts encouraging businesses to establish a strong presence on Google+ and adopt Google Authorship in recent years, believing this is important for achieving high rankings and improving click-through rates. Despite their efforts, however, only a few businesses actually adopted Google’s Authorship program. This low turnout has led Google to announce the end of the program just this August.
It is expected that the failure of the Authorship program will lead Google to pay more attention to social signals in 2015. In fact, they may already have started taking social signals into consideration in their updated ranking algorithms. Even as Google has continued to deny considering social signals, a number of studies have shown a strong correlation between search rankings and social signals. Whether Google is indeed already taking social signals into consideration or not, there is enough evidence to prove that social will indeed become a significant ranking factor in 2015.
Consider as well that search algorithms are becoming increasingly “intelligent”, now having the ability to recognize the intent behind online searches. This makes it only logical for human signals to play an increasingly important role in search rankings. If you still lack a strategy that enables people to find and share your site content, then you’re taking the wrong approach to SEO. You need to start reaching out to your target market and engaging them in productive online conversations.
5. Building relationships will be more important to search rankings.
By now you should have realized that it isn’t enough to simply create and post high-quality content. It isn’t even enough to make sure you target the right keywords in your content and ensure all the technical components are in place. These steps may result in some improvement on your online performance, but they aren’t likely to help you reach your online marketing goals. There is also a need for you to humanize your brand and make your target market feel that you sincerely want to address their needs.
In 2015, the importance of humanizing your brand is expected to increase. It will no longer be enough to focus on technical compliance; you will need to start building relationships. Part of building relationships is engaging your target market on social channels and taking a more personalized approach to content marketing. Every single piece of content you publish should directly address a specific need or answer a specific question posed by your audience. You should be ready to answer questions and address concerns at any time.
Remember that building strong relationships with your audience is the key to earning their trust and loyalty. And gaining the trust and loyalty of your audience is the key to gaining more web traffic and even to achieving better rankings overall.
A Note on Negative SEO
You may or may not have heard of negative SEO. This refers to the practice of pointing a boatload of spammy links at a competitor’s website, the purpose of which is to cause said competitor’s search rankings to suffer. Webmasters have had to deal with this problem for years and it is expected to become an even more serious threat in 2015. If you are a relatively small business, then you may not have to deal with this problem just yet, but if you have a large operation and you belong to a competitive niche, then you should beware.
Myths, Realities, and Precautions of Negative SEO
The biggest problem about negative SEO is that it can be very difficult to recover. Right now, the only way to cut your connection to spammy links that point to your website is to disavow them. However, it can take months for Google to completely take into account disavow files. This means it can take almost a year for you to recover from the effects of negative SEO. Until Google and other search engines find a way to recognize such attacks and penalize those who practice negative SEO, you will have to be vigilant and work hard at implementing SEO best practices to minimize the impact of negative SEO in case you’re unfortunate enough to get targeted.
SEO isn’t dead, and for as long as people are still conducting online searches, it will never be. But it is constantly evolving, and you will need to learn to evolve with it in order to succeed.