SEO Trends: 45 Experts On The Future Of Search
How can brands gain more search visibility and grow revenue, traffic?
Here is the full list of SEO experts who contributed to this post:
- Jonathan Allen, President at L&T Co.
- Loren Baker, Co-Founder, VP at Foundation Digital
- Daniel Bianchini, Director of Services at White
- Chris Boggs, Founder of Webtrafficadvisors
- Will Critchlow, Founder & CEO at Distilled
- Brent Csutoras, Social Media Strategist at Kairay Media
- Dave Davies, CEO at Beanstalk Internet Marketing
- Stoney deGeyter, President of Pole Position Marketing
- Eric Enge, CEO at Stone Temple Consulting
- Erin Everhart, SEO Manager at Home Depot
- Glenn Gabe, President of G-Squared Interactive
- Ashutosh Garg, Co-Founder & CTO of BloomReach
- Casie Gillette, Director of Online Marketing at Komarketing Associates
- Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director at Acronym Media
- Chris Hart, Head of Client Development, U.S., at Linkdex
- Bill Hartzer, Senior SEO Strategist at Globe Runner SEO
- Kristjan Hauksson, COO at SMFB Engine
- Jim Hedger, Partner and Co-Founder, Digital Always Media
- Jon Henshaw, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of Raven Internet Marketing Tools
- Simon Heseltine, Senior Director at AOL
- Rae Hoffman, AKA Sugarrae, CEO of PushFire
- Bill Hunt, President of Back Azimuth Consulting
- Mark Jackson, CEO at Vizion Interactive
- Ammon Johns, Internet Marketing Consultant
- Dixon Jones, Marketing Director at Majestic
- Ryan Jones, Manager Search Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro
- Julie Joyce, Owner of Str0ud LLC and Link Fish Media
- Krista LaRiviere, Cofounder & CEO at gShift
- Matt McGee, Editor-In-Chief at Search Engine Land & Marketing Land
- James Murray, Search Advertising Lead, Microsoft
- Chuck Price, Founder of Measurable SEO
- Matt Roberts, Chief Strategy Officer at Linkdex
- Dave Rohrer, Domestic SEO Lead at Covario
- Kristine Schachinger, CEO & Founder of The Vetters
- Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing at Dominion Enterprises
- Aleyda Solis, Founder at Orainti
- Charity Stebbins, Senior Content Strategist at Conductor
- Nichola Stott, Founder & Managing Director at theMediaFlow
- Kaila Strong, Senior Director of SEO Services at Vertical Measures
- Brett Tabke, CEO at Pubcon
- Marcus Tandler, Partner at Tandler.Doerje.Partner
- Purna Virji, Director of Communications at Petplan
- Fili Wiese & Kaspar Szymanski of Search Brothers
- Martin Woods, SEO Consultant at SALT.agency
Note: You can see an overview of the trends in our SlideShare presentation at the bottom of the post.
Jonathan Allen, President at L&T Co.
I can’t help thinking back to something the Wall Street Journal’s Jack Marshall once said to me: It’s “better to own an audience than rent one.”
Google showed who is really in control of marketing data with “keyword not provided” and Facebook has followed suit by implementing social algorithms that diminish brand page exposure. In short, both companies have made it harder to compete for organic visitors than ever before. That means brands have to step up their efforts and adopt the aggressive mindset necessary to compete for traffic every single day.
To succeed in SEO, companies and brands need to start building digital assets that they — and only they — truly own. Static sites can no longer reliably grow your audience, yet brands can take the many successful strategies that search engines and social media have taught them and execute them on their own dynamic portals.
While search engine and social giants used to provide a clear channel between companies and consumers, they are now essentially demanding that we create very specific content, or worse, join the near break-even PPC marketplace, in order to retain their favor. This creates the false notion that the only solution is for companies to become ideal producers on the platforms they want to succeed on. More specifically, some have disseminated the belief that on social media our brands need to “be more human” and on search engines our brands need to “be more open.”
That advice might be relevant in principle, but it comes at a hefty cost of adapting your business operations. Furthermore, this strategy may end up only consolidating a weaker market position if you can’t pivot effectively.
Finally, following that path will only hold you back from developing your own unique voice to communicate with your audience. And should you fall behind as a result, your problems will only be compounded by the opportunity cost of missing out on building an audience that you really own.
Brands need to cultivate and represent a persistent, consistent, and intellectually expansive presence online now, rather than simply finding new ways to shout through a broken megaphone. If you’ve not built a brand voice for your business yet, now’s the time to do it. And there’s no better place to start than on your own web properties.
PR and traditional publishers have roles to play in this climate, as they can really amplify a company’s voice — regardless of industry or topic. Their challenge — to compete for organic audiences on search engines and social media — essentially parallel those a brand faces on a day-to-day basis. As independent, ad-supported web publishing products can’t support the circulation-based business models of yesteryear, brands have a real opportunity to rethink those old-school content products without the pressure of generating ad revenue.
Loren Baker, Co-Founder, VP at Foundation Digital
My prediction for search and digital marketing for is on the mobile and localization side of things, which will be an expansion of trends we’ve been following and consulting our clients on for the past 2 years. We have some clients who’s mobile device traffic has increased by 400 percent alone, in some cases becoming the majority of their traffic and referrals.
The two largest changes we’re expecting will start with Google serving different rankings based on the device that the user is searching with. We’ve seen this with localization over the past 3 years, as Google serves different results based on the city or ZIP code a user is searching from.
Google also recently rolled out Mobile Friendly testing and labeling within mobile SERPs, I do not expect to see sites that are not mobile friendly in Google’s iPhone or Android device results next year. Google Now, and human behavior on Google Now, will drive the differences in SERPs, along with geo parameters and personalization.
From an SEO perspective, this will continue to diminish the value of traditional rankings reports, as visibility metric changes will more or less become infinite based on geo, device, and personalization. If companies are still using “Google USA” to track rankings, they will be a decade behind in success metrics.
The second factor that must be considered with mobile growth is the enhanced call to action options on the mobile device. With Google currently serving CTA’s to call a location, get directions to a location and lastly visit the website of a location in mobile listings, the command to ‘call’ becomes the top action amongst mobile searchers. If proper call tracking numbers are not set up, proper lead and click channel attribution back to these mobile listings can be lost; offsetting SEO or Google driven leads.
Mobile usage is growing faster than a lot of sites and businesses can keep up with, so preplanning to address this behavioral change by Google mobile users will become critical in early.
Daniel Bianchini, Director of Services at White
will be another year of change in the SEO industry, with more of a shift towards user-focused campaigns. Understanding the target audience of a business is a key element to any marketing discipline, and search is no different.
With the recent algorithmic changes, content has become an important focus for many businesses, with increased budgets for areas such as content marketing. Moving into, this will continue to grow, but there will be greater focus on the user. Understanding who they are, how they behave online, what type of content they consume, how they consume it, and on which device, will be the difference between good and great SEO campaigns.
With the main aim of marketing generally to promote products, services and generating revenue, utilizing data that is focused on your core audience will enable you to generate qualified traffic, leading to an improved ROI.
To ensure that your SEO campaign will be a success, ensure that your decisions are based on user data.
Chris Boggs, Founder of Webtrafficadvisors
One of the biggest trends we will see is a continued retrospective and possible obliteration of past SEO implementations, especially for sites that have been at it for 8-10 years and longer. Although I am no philosophy expert, I would say most brands don’t need to go as far as anarchy, but that many executives overseeing the SEO function (and also the broader community) could certainly benefit from some healthy deconstruction.
Every unique industry and competitive situation demands deconstruction of the true primary vs. secondary nature of user experience to content, and buzz/links to tacit authority, in order to grow performance at all levels of the funnel. This means, in my opinion, not everyone needs to be sexy! Be like those that perform around you, where you want to perform.
SEO means being there throughout the cycle. Each business model needs to look carefully at the unique environment’s granular regional level as well as where they can be relevant broadly across regions and throughout the user’s path to conversion.
Will Critchlow, Founder & CEO at Distilled
As we move into, we are obviously going to see key trends continue, such as Google’s bias to “mobile first” thinking as well as the ongoing evolution of the search UX to include more knowledge graph and “answer graph” information.
In my opinion, the biggest difference this coming year is going to be the increasing prominence of Google’s machine learning capabilities. This will manifest itself in two key areas:
- Increasing deployment of machine learning algorithms in the ranking factors - leading to both more granular “topic-specific” algorithmic effects and the whole thing generally appearing from the outside to be more and more of a black box. My most concrete prediction in this area is that will see the first clear example of a ranking bug caused by unintended side effects of a machine learning deployment where even Google engineers themselves aren’t quite sure what dials to turn to remedy the situation
- Greater coverage of natural language processing-based answers and query refinements. We will start seeing measurable fall-out as the community identifies winners and losers from the ensuing shake-up of the search results.
My best actionable tip is to consider CRO as a search technique. The closer Google approximates users’ preferences, the greater the reward to experiments used to discover how users would prefer to interact with your site.
Brent Csutoras, Social Media Strategist at Kairay Media
Here are three key trends for brands to consider building into their strategies:
1. Quality Over Quantity
We have preached the whole “content is king” concept for years, but and going into, quality over quantity has become a reality every person and company is going to have to embrace… and rightfully so. Consumers are no longer impressed by simple availability of content, but rather are starting to require better higher quality content, of which they feel it is worth the dedicating their time to consuming.
The platforms themselves, like Facebook for instance, have shifted much of their focus to the quality of the experience and the content people are viewing through their site. So if you do nothing else going into, you should be focused on making sure the quality of what you are creating demands the respect of your readers.
Reddit is one of, if not the last, successful social aggregation sites around today and has continued to grow in size, exposure, and brand every single year. Reddit boasts the largest Secret Santa program, has some of the biggest celebrities, politicians, and businessmen as users, branded and made famous the concept of AMA and Memes, recently raised $50 million on a $500 million valuation, and has become one of the largest channels for direct to consumer marketing on the entire web.
Unfortunately, Reddit also takes the most work, understanding, patience, and dedication of any other social site today. Companies have really started to pay attention to Reddit, but I think will be the year that a wider audience will realize Reddit’s value and start making stronger efforts to have a meaningful presence within the site.
Reddit is my number 1 most recommended social site for clients who are dedicated to succeeding in social media.
Infographics are not new, but they will continue to grow in value and popularity through and beyond. Infographics are extremely effective in allowing readers to easily digest and retain information, resulting in a number of marketing benefits. Companies should continue to look at creating both regular and interactive Infographics, but really make sure they fit their brand and goals, have a story and path they take their reader through, and stand out above the competition.
Dave Davies, CEO at Beanstalk Internet Marketing
There are going to be two major areas of change in regards to organic search: mobile and Google updates and their broadening of scope.
Without a doubt, we’re going to see a big push in how mobile sites are expected to be optimized. With the addition of Mobile Usability in Google Webmaster Tools, it’s presence in Google’s PageSpeed Insights and the addition of the “Mobile Friendly” mention directly in Google’s search results when searching on mobile devices it’s clear that Google is putting a lot of effort into insuring that the message that “mobile is critical.”
Taking general mobile usage stats out of the equation, one can assume that the fine folks at Google are monitoring trends to a degree that virtually no other entity can. The efforts Google is putting into mobile is a clear indication that having a good mobile marketing strategy is critical, rather than being just a good idea.
2. Google Broadens The Scope Of Algorithm Updates
I expect to see further updates and manual actions targeting spam aggressively and likely surpassing anything we’ve seen thus far. Google’s focus is likely to be on a continuation of the Panda and Penguin flavors. That said, they will be expanded to consider aspects of onsite experience much more strongly than they do currently.
In addition, their understanding of link manipulation will improve, making link building increasingly difficult. This will give a benefit to brands with large sites but likely only to those sites that contain a large amount of solid informative content and not just large brands in-and-of themselves.
I see Google pursuing their advances into home automation and management and personal information gathering. This will include the development of devices similar to Amazon Echo as well as the push into wearable devices such as contact lenses with digital displays. If you think that’s far-fetched you should read their recent patents. The purpose here will be to collect more and more data from users and on their behavior allowing for the more sophisticated targeting of advertising and a broader scope of where people can be advertised to.
Stoney deGeyter, President of Pole Position Marketing
The biggest trend for will be the continued emergence of mobile marketing and the need to fully integrate that into our web marketing arsenal. With more people using mobile devices to search, shop, and interact, and the seamless way many move from device to desktop and back to device, a fully integrated mobile marketing strategy is necessary to not just compete, but to stay ahead of our target audience.
Anyone not fully invested in mobile marketing today will begin to see their marketshare erode. All other areas of web marketing will begin to suffer, even as all the key elements are in place. There will be little opportunities for businesses to remain strong without that mobile component in place.
Eric Enge, CEO at Stone Temple Consulting
I think one big trend will be the expansion of direct answers and the Knowledge Graph by Google. I expect that a lot will happen in this area, and there is some chance that it will be quite dramatic. Certainly, we will see more direct answers, and more step by step instructions and other ways of getting answers from 3rd party web sites.
One observation is that Google currently easily renders quite a bit of information about relatively famous places, such as the Empire State building or the Eiffel tower, but they do not offer much up for a lot of other really well known places such as the Prudential Center here in Boston. This just one example of an area where there is a lot of room for expansion.
Another big area will be the continuing impact of mobile. For one thing, I bet that the mobile rankings boost, which is currently an “experiment” will become permanent, and its impact may get increased. But, we should not overlook the other impacts of mobile as well., Google began to let the needs of the mobile UI dictate the overall search UI. We saw that in the form of removing authorship photos and reducing video snippets. We will probably see more.
Erin Everhart, SEO Manager at Home Depot
I think (well, I hope) the biggest SEO trend of will be better management and reporting of our data. As digital marketers, we are so fortunate to have so much data available to us, but we need to be more responsible in how we report on it.
What KPIs really matter to our stakeholders? How do you tell the difference between junk data and real actionable metrics? What do those numbers mean? What are we going to do because of it?
SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and frankly no digital marketing channel does. Users interact with so many different types because a purchase – from finding a link on Twitter, visiting the site, leaving to check Facebook, seeing an ad for that product, using Google to find said product the next day – and the only way to get a clear picture of how digital marketing is really impacting your purchasing funnel, we need to get smarter at first and last-touch attribution modeling.
We’re close, and we have made tremendous strides in the last year alone, which gives me reason enough to believe that is going to be key.
Glenn Gabe, President of G-Squared Interactive
I think one of the biggest trends we’ll see in SEO relates to how brands identify and fix problems on their websites (in an effort to improve overall site quality). It’s what I’ve called “the nuclear option”.
In the past, major algorithm updates were launched on specific dates and often confirmed by Google. For example, Panda might have rolled out on a certain date and Google would give us a heads-up that it actually rolled out. But certain algorithms have matured and roll out more frequently now. That can lead to a lot of confusion, especially when multiple major algorithms roll out around the same time (and can overlap).
When that happens, it becomes harder to identify which algorithm update actually impacted a website. Was it related to content quality, links, or some other factor? And now that Penguin 3.0 has been rolling out for more than seven weeks, and Panda updates frequently, we are quickly approaching a time when major algorithms roam the web in near-real time. Talk about confusing.
This confusion, with the potential of extended rankings demotions, has led some business owners to push the giant red button and choose the nuclear option. That’s when you tackle all problems riddling a website, and not just issues that might be causing a specific algo to target your website. Those changes could include both on-site and off-site refinements (content, links, becoming mobile-friendly, etc.)
For example, I was helping an ecommerce company that had been hit by Panda and Penguin multiple times. Their trending from Google organic looked like a roller coaster ride from hell. After performing a deep audit, I recommended a boatload of changes. The business owner looked at me, and then at the remediation plan, and chose to revamp everything. It was a bold move, but a smart one. The site absolutely surged back during Panda 4.0 and has seen even more improvement during subsequent algorithm updates (including Panda tremors and Penguin 3.0).
So, as we move into, with more major algorithms maturing, rolling out more frequently, and with new signals added targeting more factors, I think we’ll see more people choose the nuclear option. And that’s a good thing. Brands can Panda-proof their websites, but they can also tackle Penguin and other algorithms while they’re at it. In addition, they won’t have to worry about manual actions either, as other serious problems will be identified and fixed along the way.
Ashutosh Garg, Co-Founder & CTO of BloomReach
The past few years have rapidly changed the way SEO professionals operate in their day-to-day job functions. The most important thing to note is that SEO should be a byproduct of user experience. Everything that they do should revolve around the central question, “Do my site visitors receive a relevant experience.”
However, the most notable trend is that searchers have gone mobile significantly more, which changes what you should expect out of organic search. Many site managers have seen mobile traffic increase, but haven’t attracted the same volume of mobile traffic from organic search that they’ve lost from the desktop.
The problem is that consumers are moving quicker than sites can change, which leads to poor mobile experiences. It’s a double whammy, because more people are coming through organic search on mobile devices only to receive poor mobile experiences, and that leads to declining traffic and overall site quality.
Casie Gillette, Director of Online Marketing at Komarketing Associates
First and foremost, brands should make sure they have a content promotion strategy in place. We are at the point now where people are actually creating content but they may not necessarily be thinking about what they are going to do with that content.
A Content Marketing Institute report noted 93 percent of online marketers are using content marketing but only 44 percent have a strategy. Yikes! If you are going to take the time to do the research and craft the content, make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
The second thing brands need to do more of is integrating their search and social teams. More often than not, I see the communications team running the social accounts and the SEO team doing their own thing. There is just so much benefit to the teams working together! The search team knows which keywords people are searching for and the social team knows what people are asking about. Those are two really important concepts that everyone on the marketing team should know. Get them working together.
Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director at Acronym Media
Two words: Mobile/Video
Predictions: Mobile will handle the largest number of search queries (beating desktop) and google will become the number two search engine after youtube (marginally – not a huge gap).
The biggest tip for anyone in SEO for is to ensure that content is optimized perfectly for mobile devices. And you need to think everything from smartphone, to phablet and tablet. Google will reward mobile friendly sites. So be sure to send a clear signal to Google to get that little extra boost in ranking for mobile searches.
One little tip I can give is to give a “hint” to Googlebot. When serving dynamically (serving different code from the same URL depending on the device) the mobile content is actually hidden from Googlebot when crawled as a desktop user agent. By using the Vary HTTP header, you can send a “hint” to Google to be sure that Googlebot for smartphones crawls the page too. In fact, Google developers have an excellent mobile guide that explains a ton about how to optimize for mobile.
In thousands of cases a video result is often better content (as long as you understand the user intent). For instance, for many queries it’s better to show-and-tell than tell-and-tell. That means, a video showing somebody how to do something is often more useful than a text page telling somebody how to do something.
Google is very, very smart at understanding intent behind a query and therefore will want to choose the most relevant type of content to return. Be sure to have enough options by transforming the content on pages that already rank for certain queries and make it available in video format too. In fact, do an inventory check on all of your content and try and evaluate which of it could be better served in a video format.
– for SEO – think video to go!
Chris Hart, Head of Client Development, U.S., at Linkdex
Look for personalization to increase. Design and UI/UX will continue to grow in importance to the user’s overall experience and their conversion rates. An executive will convert differently than a housewife, so why do they get the same experience?
Your users and potential customers want to receive content (text, images, video, etc.) that they feel is personalized and tailored to their needs. It is not just about content is king or more content is more of a king. It is about the right content at the right moment for the right users.
Big data is only going to keep getting bigger. Digital marketers will need to look at more data and make significantly more decisions on a daily basis. Platforms and tools that collect big data and enable digital marketers to analyze that information will grow in necessity. Automation will grow in value to a point, but those who are looking for a “set it and forget it” solution will fail.
The user journey will continue to grow into being channel agnostic. Users will move between organic, paid, social, etc., at their own pace and make choices as they collect information, engage with brands, and finally make some form of decision.
We are well within the Age Of The Customer. Brands and agencies that can quickly tie together multiple data points from different marketing channels, and focus on the good of the customer, are going to win.
Finally, mobile “click to call” tracking will be an important engagement metric, as customers and potential customers are increasing more interested in speaking to someone before making a purchase decision.
Bill Hartzer, Senior SEO Strategist at Globe Runner SEO
There are a few things brands should focus on during:
- Mobile will continue to be a big issue – so making sure all of your brand assets are mobile-friendly is going to be imperative. When I say “mobile”, I’m referring to not just cell phones/smart phones but also tablets, as well. will be the year that we see more and more websites finally move to responsive designs.
- Making plans to move more online assets to HTTPS from HTTP should be built into your brand strategy. Not only is HTTPS a search engine ranking factor now, users tend to trust secure websites more. Making sure your website’s visitors feel secure when they are on your website is key. That should include moving to HTTPS and having all of the appropriate privacy measures in place, as well.
- Focusing on link earning rather than link building as a strategy. Focus on creating content and working in a public relations strategy as part of your link earning efforts. The old link building techniques of the past are now outdated.
Kristjan Hauksson, COO at SMFB Engine
You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict this one: further rise of mobile as a driving force of SEO traffic.
I am still waiting for Facebook’s search engine 100 percent based on social media signals, and I suspect we might see something like that in the latter half.
Some have said that SEO is dead, I don’t agree it just has been stigmatized by those with heavy interest in paid search I am hoping that this will correct itself and that mainstream marketers will finally understand that simple things like title tags of a website matter and that there is actually an ROI of creating good content.
Jim Hedger, Partner and Co-Founder, Digital Always Media
Google has recently made a lot of changes favouring websites designed for mobile browsers. While they say they don’t give added weight to responsive design sites, it is clear Google very much wants webmasters to think about how a website or page acts in the mobile environment.
New features found in Google Analytics (or Universal), and in Google Webmaster Tools make working toward mobile friendly design much easier. If you’re successful, Google will display a “mobile friendly” notice in search results generated on mobile devices thus increasing your likelihood of earning the user’s click.
Sometime in mid-April the number of searches conducted on mobile devices exceeded the number of searches conducted from a desktop computer. For retail and service businesses, mobile and local search are amazing opportunities that should be highly beneficial moving forward into and past.
Jon Henshaw, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of Raven Internet Marketing Tools
The overall trend for SEO has been to expand into other marketing practices with the intention of providing a more integrated approach. For example, SEO has crossed over into content marketing, PR and even social. However, the most recent addition to SEOs’ tool kit is user experience (UX). I think we’ll continue to see more and more SEOs focus on UX.
The key area of UX they will insert themselves into is content presentation.
How users interact with content directly affects its search engine visibility, traffic and conversions., expect to see SEO focus more on the following:
- Increasing dwell time to signal relevance to search engines.
- Improving page delivery and rendering speeds.
- Implementing responsive, mobile-friendly designs.
- Testing and optimizing calls to action (CTAs) and conversions.
Simon Heseltine, Senior Director at AOL
In we’re going to see more of the same from Google as we’ve seen. There’ll be refinements to Panda and Penguin (which they’ve said may now be a continually rolling update), and other tweaks that will, as far as they’re concerned, continue to provide relevance to users, and therefore keep them coming back. There’ll be updates that will leave some smiling and others cursing, and Google will continue to take some of your basic data and provide it to the searchers within their SERPs, rather than directing them to your site.
As mobile continues to grow, I can see there being more of a focus on rewarding those sites that have optimized for mobile, so make sure that your mobile page speed is as close to that sub 1 second ideal as possible.
All of this means SEO practitioners are going to have to continue to adapt, to be ready for change, to look at the next thing when it’s announced, determine what makes sense for them to actually implement, to keep on top of what’s being talked about in the industry, to keep an eye on what’s working for competitors, and to test and try out scenarios on their own sites.
Rae Hoffman, AKA Sugarrae, CEO of PushFire
Mobile was huge, but it’s only going to get bigger. Google speculated that mobile searches will outnumber desktop searches before the end. Smartphone conversions experienced a 26 percent increase in Q3 over Q1 this year – and that’s a trend that ecommerce retailers can’t afford to ignore.
Internet Retailer reports that less than 25 percent of the top 500 mobile retailers have responsive websites. That’s a huge window of opportunity for retailers willing to make mobile a priority in the coming year. Positioning your site for mobile search should be the number one generic priority for companies who value their online presence.
Additionally, despite the predictions year after year, link building still isn’t dead. But the days of uncreative, lazy, cheap, and “SEO value only” loopholes are gone.
I think one of the biggest trends we will see start is that companies will begin abandoning the outsourcing of link building to agencies and instead begin to bring the process in house. Hiring the wrong firm can bring about disastrous results in the post-Penguin era. And, the links that rank you defensibly come from creative campaigns, amazing content initiatives and trying to serve the user – and those campaigns are hard to outsource and hard to scale.
I’m not saying “just build great content and you’ll get links.” That’s propaganda Google likes to pitch. The “new” link building still requires that acquiring links be a part of the strategy behind – and how you work, create and promote – each campaign.
The new link building is simply a byproduct of business building. And most companies will get the best, long-term results on that end from investing in hiring and training internal resources.
Bill Hunt, President of Back Azimuth Consulting
I believe, well, at least hope, that companies will better integrate SEO into their existing web and content workflows. At the last few conferences there have been more questions about scaling the web content workflow and how to identify and hire people to strategically approach the complexities of modern SEO.
We will see more internal centers of excellence created to educate across teams to ensure sites and new content is optimized at the time of creation rather than being fixed later. Digital agencies need to wake up and see this change. I have talked to a couple of multi-brand companies that have put their agencies in notice that non-optimized content will not be accepted. They have added this not only to the brief but in contracts an in acceptance testing checklists.
Mark Jackson, CEO at Vizion Interactive
Something that I believe is the bigger picture element of SEO that will be addressed in the coming year is a more sophisticated, strategic approach to content marketing and usability.
SEO practitioners will become more valued members of the wider “marketing team,” and hence brought into projects involving the development of target audiences and/or “personas.” From this research, more time (budget) will be pushed toward the curation of content relevant to each core audience, and more research will be done to ensure that the right content is reaching the right people at the right time and place. Part of this “SEO” effort will involve paid means to promote content (Facebook promotion/ads, etc.), so that content is amplified to the appropriate audiences, and so that content can build upon a company’s brand, citations and – yes – links.
While Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, and any other “P” animal may be important to understand/track and monitor, the biggest update that Google has pushed in recent years has been Vince. Google sees “brands” as the solution, and not the problem. Building a brand online requires reach/frequency, just as it does in the traditional marketing world.
As has always been the case for reach/frequency marketing to build brand, it’s not enough to simply “buy eyeballs” (impressions). You must reach the right eyeballs, hence why identification of the target audience/personas is so vital to the process.
Creating the right content for the right people is a very important element of usability.
With many tools that are now widely available, we can identify these demographics/target audiences/personas and understand the influencers for each of these targets. By curating content that “speaks to” these groups, and promoting it (PR/social media/outreach), you will be building the signals that the search engines will be looking for, and – my guess – well beyond.
Ammon Johns, Internet Marketing Consultant
There are the three big trends, lacking in the cool buzzwords of the moment, but the ones that will actually drive the most results on the bottom line:
1. Integration of multi-channel, multi-touch strategies with appropriate structure internally.
More and more, both semantic search and people use a wider variety of sources, data streams, and awareness than was previously targeted. This means that integrated marketing, making all of your diverse channels work together, holistically and reinforcing each other, is a core trend for actual results.
Naturally, this is a lot easier to talk about than to actually achieve. Larger companies struggle with issues of ownership, inter-departmental communication, and multiple inputs, including from outsource services.
Integrating multi-touch, multi-channel strategies is complex and almost impossible until the shift in mindset needed is accomplished. Much of the shift is in analytics and crediting a single source with success. We have to move away from worrying about getting the credit, and move toward empowering other departments to get the result. Teamwork above glory, and bonuses that understand the multi-touch, many hands strategies.
2. Brand-building as a core focus where your most important keywords are your brand terms and creating more search on them.
Semantic search is not a trend, it is a reality. The trend you need to focus on is the trend toward brand awareness and branding as core strategies. Brand is not just a strategy for larger businesses, and branding is not just about your color scheme and logo. Brand is a small word for the big concept of “how people think about you and your products”.
As we have less and less free or reliable data about the keywords each visitor actually uses, we have to rely a lot less on mirroring their language, and a lot more on making a deeper connection – that is brand. Ideally, your entire online strategy today should be about driving people to not just see your product or offer, but more importantly, to make them search directly for your brand the next time they are looking.
Make searches for your brand names and brand terms a top priority not to win, but to increase period on period.
3. Improving CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) through better retention and engagement and evangelization of customers already attracted.
Finally, accept that customer loyalty is a fickle thing. If we were inherently loyal creatures there would not be any ecommerce, as people would still be loyally using the stores they had before. Working on your customer lifetime values, on creating loyalty programs that work and incentivize loyalty, and increasing engagement are all core trends that have been talked about for years but still have a long, long way to go.
Dixon Jones, Marketing Director at Majestic
is going to see a shift in how digital marketers see and measure their world.
Until now, marketers have had to rely on analyzing who and how people come to their company’s websites, and starting to measure their return on marketing spend in terms of conversions on the website. The alternative until now has been to accept that the conversation in the wider world is harder to track. But two things have changed:
- The entire funnel from brand awareness, through customer transaction and onto customer retention and finally advocacy is now hardly ever tracked on the website, except, perhaps, at the moment of purchase. All the other aspects of building a loyal customer base take place elsewhere – from social networks, to bars and events, to third party Facebook apps. Website analytics are struggling to provide any coherent picture.
- The rise of Data Exchange technology and vast improvements in the ability to interrogate terabytes and petabytes of information, makes it possible to start seeing needles in haystacks. Already, inexpensive technologies exist to interrogate single sources: Twitter feeds, Links to websites, Facebook conversations for example. Applications are springing up that are trying to harness multiple big data sources and create not just a view of the business in that ecosystem, but store complete ecosystems, recording every tweet, every mention, ever search engine listing, every link, every TV advert, every product purchase, every mobile app download and the social influence of every person involved in the chain. Once the data is all laid down, new ways to analyze a brand’s world will be available to people in new and exciting cloud based dashboards.
The amount of money being piled into this area is vast. Some companies are building the dashboard interfaces, others are working on the storage solutions and others are working on owning their part of the big data sources.
What’s clear is that the moment of Momentology will arrive only when these companies make the deals needed to share each other’s expertise. I think will be the year.
Ryan Jones, Manager Search Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro
As we move into and beyond there’s a couple of trends we need to keep at the forefront of our marketing strategies.
The paradigm of search is shifting. Search is no longer about typing keywords into a computer. We speak to our phones and watches and we search by taking photos. As wearable computing grows it will become more dependent on search and continue to change the paradigm of how we search.
Bill Gates said it best years ago when he said “the future of search is verbs.” We’re searching less for factoids and more for help accomplishing some sort of task. We use search to help us solve problems. We don’t just type in keywords anymore, we ask the search engine a question – literally, using voice search.
We need to shift our focus to one that puts mobile-first, remain cognizant of how the user experience across all kinds of devices affects search, and most importantly train ourselves to think less about keywords and more about entities.
Julie Joyce, Owner of Str0ud LLC and Link Fish Media
The biggest trend for will involve mobile everything. If your site doesn’t do well on mobile devices, you’re going to get left behind. With more and more people using mobile instead of desktop search, rankings are not going to save you if your site takes a full minute to load or certain functionality isn’t available on an iPhone.
Usability is not something any of us can ignore. Much of the time, when we think about online marketing, we don’t pay nearly enough attention to mobile.
From a link perspective, if you get a great link on a high authority site but that site doesn’t load properly on an iPad, you’ve just lost your chance for some great mobile traffic. That link might help you rank higher but if no one sees it when they’re searching on mobile, you’re out of luck.
Krista LaRiviere, Cofounder & CEO at gShift
The primary trend in SEO will be content marketing and the discoverability of that content in search and social. There are two related secondary trends that smart marketers will recognize that will set their strategies and outcomes apart from competitors. Those secondary trends are:
- Keyword-driven content for the sales funnel.
- Content distribution.
Smart digital marketers are already using data to inform their content marketing workflow process. Oftentimes content creation is unknowingly focused on only the awareness stage of the sales funnel. There is an opportunity for brands to more deeply understand, through keyword research, how their prospects’ search terms change as they progress through the sales funnel and where their content gaps are.
Creating content for each stage of the sales funnel based on keyword progression and understanding conversion of content through the funnel will become key.
Strategic and thoughtful distribution of content is one of the most overlooked aspects of the content marketing workflow process and marketers will start to pay more attention to it. Many resources are spent creating content but not enough on distributing it at the right time in the right channels to the right audience.
Content, even a blog post, that is only distributed/published to a website and minimally socialized through an organization’s social channel, is really only scratching the surface. Brands need to seek out social influencers and think of each influencer as a distribution point for their content.
With content marketing continuing to be at the core of owned and earned digital strategies, the acronym SEO deserves to evolve from Search Engine Optimization to Strategies for Earned and Owned.
Matt McGee, Editor-In-Chief at Search Engine Land & Marketing Land
Mobile, mobile, mobile. I think it would be a huge mistake for brands to ignore mobile SEO.
Google has been hinting for a while now that your site’s mobile friendliness will become a ranking factor soon, and that seems likely to happen. They’re already testing it, in fact. And aside from changing how sites rank, Google is already telling mobile users when a site is mobile friendly and when it’s not, and that’s bound to impact click-through rates from the mobile search results.
Beyond the Google factor, mobile matters for consumers across the board. I’ve been fascinated to see how much traffic is shifting to mobile devices even in industries where you don’t expect it.
Obviously, industries like travel and entertainment and restaurants are seeing big increases in mobile traffic in the last couple years. But I’ve seen the same in industries like real estate and insurance and others.
Brands don’t have the excuse anymore where they can say, “Our customers aren’t really doing much searching on mobile devices.” Mobile search is a trend that’s here and not going away.
James Murray, Search Advertising Lead, Microsoft
One of the trends we’re expecting to see is a greater adoption of voice search, particularly with the rise of mobile personal assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now. For SEO practitioners, this means thinking about how voice search will impact the type of queries that are being made and therefore what they need to optimize for.
The important thing to remember is that people are generally less concise when they’re talking than when they’re typing – so we could see a return of long query searches that were prominent ten years ago like “nice family holidays for 4 in the Bahamas” rather than “cheap Bahamas holiday”.
Voice also means that semantic search is going to become a lot more powerful. Try typing “I’m hungry” into a search engine right now and the results you will get will be dreadful because they’re driven by keyword rather than semantic search. As search engines start to understand what we mean by these natural language queries suddenly “I’m hungry” could be best converting query for any restaurant or takeaway service, because the intent behind that search couldn’t be clearer – I need food, show me somewhere to satisfy my hunger.
Personal assistants have the greatest potential to leverage the strengths of both voice and semantic search, as they can understand the context of the query and match that with the information they know about the user, such as their likes, location, habits, etc. This combination of voice and semantic search will ultimately deliver a more personalized and relevant search experience which will enable people to be more productive.
Chuck Price, Founder of Measurable SEO
Smart marketers will need to follow a dual track to ensure success while simultaneously planning for the future. There may be 200+ signals incorporated into the Google algorithm, but right now, two components carry more weight than all others combined: content and backlinks.
That’s not conjecture – just look where Google has invested their resources. In addition to perpetual refreshes and updates, Google has developed two standalone algorithms, Panda and Penguin. One measures quality of content and the other measures quality of links. (Not to mention execution of manual link penalties)
A comprehensive content marketing plan supported by an effective link building program should be the cornerstone of any enterprise level digital marketing plan. A well thought out social media plan for messaging and brand building should also be woven into these activities. Being mobile friendly is a given. Done properly, these activities alone, will keep you ahead of the pack, today.
Looking forward, searcher intent and the contextual meaning of searched phrases will play a larger role in search results. Semantic search will likely be accelerated by the explosion of mobile devices and the accompanying jump in conversational search.
Everyone should be utilizing schema for adding structures data and rich snippets to their sites. Getting events into the Knowledge Graph should become a priority item, if it isn’t already.
Matt Roberts, Chief Strategy Officer at Linkdex
SEO. A Business Intelligence Team.
I predict that intelligence gathered about the organic search ecosystem will be requested, adopted, and valued by other stakeholder teams inside businesses.
This will include insights on the content that needs to be written, the wider media and influencer ecosystem that needs to be managed, the affiliate deals should be created, and commercial partnerships need to be prioritized.
The importance of these insights is not being driven by SEO practitioners wanting to carve out a new more influential role, it’s being driven by consumers. Consumer turn to organic search all the way through the purchase funnel. Much more than social and paid media. Managing this channel in a much smarter way is the only way forward.
Our clients are there now and exploiting their competitors blind spot. The rest will edge towards this model.
Dave Rohrer, Domestic SEO Lead at Covario
I know that this will be wishful thinking, but I see more companies listening to their SEO team when it comes to content creation. I think we will see more companies move from generating content for the sake of having content to target a keyword, and will instead think through the process of creating that video, image, or text piece of content.
For years SEO practitioners have asked for content on a page and for a long time we were told no. Then we moved to also wanting to create articles, blogs, video, images and even tell stories with interactive content. When we did get content produced it often was in the voice of the brand or very salesy, and rarely was it educational.
Fast forward a bit and you see many brands get that they need content, some to the point where they have become almost content mills. The content that is churned out is thin, unimaginative content because – “Well, you said we needed content!”
SEO practitioners have long past the premise of content for the sake of content and now are focused on quality over quantity. those that want to succeed need to continue focusing on trying to align content creation with intent and solving a problem for the user.
Content needs to be great and not filler. Content needs to answer a question and not just target a keyword/phrase. I already see some brands starting to think this way and I think more will continue to think of content as not just something that their SEO says they need to do.
Kristine Schachinger, CEO & Founder of The Vetters
In we will see the continued maturing of the mobile and social in terms of methods, measurement, and ROI. However, I think it is possible we will also see major shifts at Google and in the search market.
I think the focus on mobile has been over-hyped as the types of searches are primarily contextual and limited to ecommerce and what I call “infonuggets”. Infonuggets are real time information or knowledge bits (like the Movies, Product Reviews or Google Knowledge graph) that are specific to certain verticals and occur because your mobile device is with you many hours, even all hours of the day, making it convenient. This does not make it unimportant or something to be overlooked, but it does not make it a reason to shift all focus to mobile unless your market specifically benefits from mobile search.
User intent, context of search and proximity are all key metrics in driving mobile, this means there are many verticals where mobile should not dominate site design, marketing or strategy. Know your market. That being said, your website better be mobile friendly. Google has made it clear that is not a choice anymore.
I think Google will pull back from the severity of the Penguin update (whether it is rolling or not). It is a resource intensive process for Google to keep up with disavow forms and link lists.
On a personal note, I believe Google will eventually kill the Penguin process in the next year or so. While a spam algorithm may exist called Penguin, it will make no sense to continue this process of killing sites and reviewing disavow lists indefinitely. They got the data they needed (link sellers), now they need to find a way to gracefully exit as the data given in the link lists has often become meaningless as site owners disavow everything.
In addition on the algorithm front, I think they will continue in their addition of algorithms that have nothing to do with webspam, but site quality. We have seen this change of focus and, there is no reason to think it will lessen.
Finally, I think there will be a push back from not just the EU countries on Google privacy issues, but with consumers. Consumers are becoming more aware of the potential costs of tracking and personalization as more and more data is consumed.
This awareness will open avenues for new methods of search delivery and I think Amazon with Echo and its extensions will be going after Google’s “we do it before you ask for it” search from the pull, not push perspective as they perfect voice.
Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing at Dominion Enterprises
There still way too many brands that don’t understand their customers enough to target them with the right message at the right time.
I spoke recently at a conference for the Multifamily industry (apartment managers), and presented “The Renter’s Decision Journey” – demonstrating the triggers, touch-points and influencers in finding an apartment – and it was quite obvious that even the larger of the Property Management companies still weren’t basing their marketing strategy on their customer’s path to “purchase” and the contextual differences of each touch-point.
And therein lies the magic phrase for “context content marketing.”
Context necessitates a micro granular way of selecting and segmenting audiences whereby one focuses on the understanding of their needs at one particular point in time. It moves digital marketing from keywords, channels, and devices toward realtime solutions.
Context is device agnostic, location-aware, and behaviorally adept, deriving insights from large data sets powered by connected devices.
Context will help define and refine content strategies based on non-desktop search experiences where SEO becomes about hyper relevance, hyper focus, and hyper value.
Advice? Build out key customer profiles, define and track metrics that matter, look for more connected products to inform search strategy (big, deep, and wide data), and then produce relevant content, in the most appropriate media, that will serve perfectly on whichever device is contextually relevant.
Aleyda Solis, Founder at Orainti
I believe will be a year when we will see the growth of semantic search and optimization, as well as mobile and multidevice SEO, which is finally a reality and will become key.
With mobile search predicted to overcome desktop and Google experimenting with mobile optimization as an SEO ranking factor now, companies have been more and more looking during this year to tackle this opportunity by investing on providing the best mobile web experience to their users, customers, and search engines.
This will become a standard SEO plans for brands, which should also start taking their app optimization into consideration with app indexing now possible with Google.
Charity Stebbins, Senior Content Strategist at Conductor
Consumers will make this demand more clearly than ever: their own personalized web ecosystem. Customers feel entitled to a brand experience on their own terms, and will increasingly resist companies that don’t cater to their persona or how buy-ready they are. As a result, we’ll see SEO practitioners turning their attention from keywords toward targeted content.
Naturally, search engines will be reacting to this demand, too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an algorithm shift that serves content based on relevance to a searcher’s persona. When that happens, brands who have already started segmenting their content by persona and stage will have a sizable advantage.
Nichola Stott, Founder & Managing Director at theMediaFlow
In terms of trends, we’re really seeing SEO take its rightful place as a credible marketing discipline next to PR, content marketing, and offline. At times in the past we’ve found it challenging to position SEO as a strategic marketing channel to our clients, or to help our clients fight their corner to shareholders; when it comes to status, credence, and budget.
Maybe it’s because of market maturation, maybe past agents have obfuscated bad work, maybe it’s because of more good agencies doing a good job in educating their clients as to what they do and how they do it? Regardless of why, we’re seeing an elevated status for SEO and more and more clients are pulling us in to collaborate at board level.
My big trend for is for greater integration and collaboration between clients and all their marketing agents. Underpinned by some great cloud-based project and task management tools that are out there at the moment, there’s no reason why these channel specialists can’t share some aspects of knowledge and campaign direction.
My tips to brands would be as follows:
- Present your vision and focus for your whole marketing strategy to all agents and stakeholders together.
- Get each agency lead (or in-house lead for that channel) to present their company’s role in the above, explaining how their strategy fits and supports that vision and focus.
- Investigate cloud-based collaboration and workflow tools like Basecamp, Asana, and even Google Docs. Anything that will help facilitate agile campaign evolution and peer feedback for key milestones.
- Consider strategies for ownership and accountability. Make these cross-functional teams feel valued and in it together.
Finally, one word of caution. We’re seeing a lot of brands move towards creative agencies and content marketing agencies to fulfill their SEO, which in so many cases means that the technical aspect is completely ignored or just plain wrong. Without a robust technical SEO set-up underpinning your website optimization, anything else you spend on campaigns and content is inefficient at best.
Kaila Strong, Senior Director of SEO Services at Vertical Measures
In I think one of the biggest trends myself and my team will be focused on is micro-optimization. As SEO practitioners we need to slow down and really dive into micro opportunities to optimize websites and see improvements in the coming year.
Let’s face it, for clients and our own sites a list starts to build of the activities essential for SEO and “nice to have”. Ranging from server level optimization to reducing page load speed, these are the projects that require more in depth research, testing, and investment. This year I think we’ll see more of the “nice to have” items finally addressed.
You’re sure to have a list of projects you know would help improve SEO, but just don’t have the time to invest. Maybe it’s as simple (or not so simple!) as finally rewriting those meta titles of your products or finally setting up a canonical map for your website.
Looking forward to the coming year I feel that the industry will start to see this shift happening more and more, for brands of all sizes. Even the best of the best have improvements that can be made.
Find what you can improve and do a little bit to get there every day. It only takes 1 percent everyday to add up to remarkable improvement, and SEO is no different.
Brett Tabke, CEO at Pubcon
I see three major trends over the next year:
- The continuation of mobile expansion and adoption by consumers. Phone functions are replacing their desktop counterparts at a brisk pace. The trend lends itself to “app” and “thing” or “device” optimization. The trend is that we are moving away from SEO as “search engine” optimization and towards “user/device/app/space/presence” or experience immersion optimization. We want our content to be optimized and present where ever potential clients are looking at content.
- Facebook Ads. We’ve been waiting, pleading, hoping and begging for it for years. I once again hope this is the year Facebook gets over it’s nervousness and launches Atlas as available to all website owners. If that happens, Google may have to wake up and actually treat website owners as human beings for once.
- Virtual Reality. It begins with Oculus, Gear VR, and Sony Project Morpheus as they hit the market. VR is going to consume market share of “everything.” Every device, every platform, everything is better in VR. The timeline is yet-to-be-seen, but it is coming, and marketers need to stay informed. I can’t say it any better than good old Morpheus from The Matrix: “No one can be told what it is – you have to see it for yourself”.
Marcus Tandler, Partner at Tandler.Doerje.Partner
The biggest SEO trend I’m predicting for is definitely mobile optimization.
There’s more people accessing Google via mobile devices now then via desktop search, so Google has really become a mobile first company. Therefore, the mobile friendliness of webpages is becoming more and more important.
There´s even a new “Mobile Usability” report in Google Webmaster Central to make webmasters aware of these new mobile challenges. There´s also a new “mobile friendly” label popping up in mobile SERPs to highlight pages that are optimized for mobile use.
So if lots of your users are coming through mobile search, you should really focus on getting your website properly optimized for mobile to not get overrun by mobile savvy competitors.
Purna Virji, Director of Communications at Petplan
A very positive trend I see for SEO is the focus shifting back squarely on the user. This means:
- Websites will be forced to be faster and more user-friendly, with a focus on mobile design first in order to compete.
- Persona-driven, relevant, high-quality content will be created, based on very relevant audience insights, with an equal focus on on-site user engagement metrics in addition to link earning potential.
- With semantic search becoming more powerful, doorway pages and thin-content pages will lessen, as the focus is more contextual as opposed to keyword-related, making for a more natural user experience on the site.
- The SEO’s role and sphere of influence within an organization will continue to expand. In order to better serve the customer and be more visible, SEOs will have to work much more closely with PR, brand, social, customer service, copywriting and paid advertising teams.
- Branding and reputation will be even more important as trust metrics will continue to increase in importance.
Fili Wiese & Kaspar Szymanski of Search Brothers
User experience marketing (UXM) is the big thing and it’s spreading fast. We are moving fast from an industry obsessing for years over backlinks, their actual value hardly to be assessed objectively towards people engine optimization, a term successfully coined by Danny Sullivan and eventually toward online-relationship marketing.
Understanding users, not merely your prospective target audience, already is the key to conversion traffic diversity. That does not mean classic SEO groundwork will become obsolete. By all means, making sure search engines and users understand your website and can access it remains a key element. But building your business only on that foundation is a strategy of the past and as we know a reckless one.
Going forward we as web marketers will invest significantly more time into building audiences and relationships, not just PageRank-juicy links. The future is UXM which covers creation of user tests, product design, interaction design, information architecture, interface design, copywriting, usability, accessibility, crawlability and much more. Applying UXM is not merely managing, but exceeding user expectations.
Martin Woods, SEO Consultant at SALT.agency
Over that past couple of years, many specialists in the field of online marketing have gone on record taking about the blurring lines of SEO, social media, and PR. While there is a lot of truth in this statement, especially around the previously flawed silos between these channels, they are now thankfully coming down.
I see a very positive/influential future for search engine optimization, as an important part in generating trusted traffic, which is still very important for most commercial websites. As Andrew Isidoro reiterates, organic search is an essential part of the purchase funnel, and this isn’t likely to change.
I think many people forget the specialist disciplines within the broad field of SEO. Many still see SEO as simply generating “free” traffic, when in fact SEO isn’t just about generating new traffic, but also maintaining traffic, optimizing platforms, and content.
The majority of companies and brands we are working with have been using SEO companies for many years, but without knowing what they are getting for their monthly retainer fee. This has been especially controversial with spam algorithms like Penguin, (which fights link spam) bringing to light the methods used by SEO agencies to increase ranking, which have disastrous consequences – Google penalties.
We are still seeing many big brands approach us with issues relating to supplier SEO agencies building/buying links which are in clear breach of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. If you are in doubt what manipulative links are, here’s a guide.
will be the year SEO agencies are required to be more open and transparent about the methods which are used to increase rankings and traffic from organic search.