Like the year before it, 2013 (and Google) kept us on our toes with its many changes to search and SEO strategies. The evolution towards providing results more attuned to users’ intent and benefit is well on its way, and the drive towards the quality of content and the sense of community is almost palpable. How light you are on your feet will once again be tested in 2014.
As Google continues to push out products and services, look forward to the search giant rewarding those who adopt their entire product line, particularly in terms of which product offers Google the most information about their users.
However, expect more data losses as Google covers its back regarding the sharing and use of personal data. This will be especially felt by those not immersed in Google merchandise and services. In light of the recent two million password thefts of Gmail and other major services and sites, Google could also enforce stricter privacy and security measures, and possibly a crackdown on websites with flimsy security.
The issue of authorship isn’t anything new; it is proving valuable to those who utilise the mark-up and get an attractive rich snippet out of it, and the benefits that come with them such as increased CTR and improved on-page user stats. As for the fabled ‘AuthorRank’, marketers will continue to write content in line with what would be expected should AuthorRank be proven to exist. It is still unlikely that Google will announce anything official in 2014, but it would be very wise to nevertheless prepare for it. Simply understanding that your name will be credited with each piece of writing you produce should push you into creating the best content possible, regardless of whether it’s a ranking factor or not. If it is proved that your AuthorRank ‘score’ does indeed contribute to rankings, you’ll be well ahead of the game.
Social media is as popular as ever, and with Twitter’s recent flotation on the stock market, its popularity is expected to increase even further. Social shares are becoming the votes of the masses, and Google may well be forced into using social signals as a stronger ranking factor than they do currently.
The issues lie with the ease in which people can vote. It takes no effort at all to ‘like’ an article. If Google are to use social signals as a stronger ranking factor, expect a more thorough analysis of specific data from account holders to determine the value of a social share. Much the way that Google currently assigns weighting to websites by analysing links; social profiles could well be judged in a similar manner by the number of connections, and their quality as judged in turn by their own connections. It wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if we saw the integration of the various social profiles across the web as a form of authorship, official or otherwise.
Whether one of the big players such as Facebook implements authorship, or whether a third party will rise to combine all social signals, we could see a large step towards determining both authority and authenticity using social media.
Next year could see a climb in Google+ activity. After paying more attention to their SEO, more small to medium businesses will begin to understand G+’s value. As regular search engine result pages (SERPs) get more competitive, optimising for local will become more important. Using G+ Business pages, Maps, and Google Places will give these organisations an edge in appearing in users’ more locally-relevant searches.
Penguin will further update, and links from previously trusted sources will have to pass more stringent quality tests. More people will adopt the content marketing strategy, and thus, content will have to be even more authoritative to make the grade on the SERPs. The next year will see a deluge in content with authors churning out unique posts (or trying to be the first to break the news).
Image source: lh5.googleusercontent.com
A completely natural backlink profile will be essential in 2014. It will be wise to clean up any links to and from poor websites.
It’s only a matter of time before pressure from webmasters who are being usurped by poor websites will be too hard for Google to ignore. Notoriously spammy niches such as pay day loans are still falling victim to gateway sites, throwaway domains and other unscrupulous tactics. Expect another big algorithmic update toward the end of the year to become stricter with regards to new domains, hopefully appeasing the owners of genuine websites. Google, however, will no longer announce or confirm its updates.
Content authority will be influenced more and more by the social activity that surrounds it, and other factors like the author’s profile.
Articles using images and other media will gain more SEO value. Images undoubtedly add to the user-experience. Already there are signs that articles with embedded media are favoured by users, increasing the likelihood that Google also factors this into its rankings.
Despite Google’s ‘in-depth articles’ apparently showing us the way forward in terms of authority on the SERPs, relatively short, easily-digestible content will still prevail, especially on blogs. Useful content which is simple to understand is particularly important when considering how social and mobile use will continue to rise throughout the year. A user on-the-go has much less patience than a desktop user.
At the moment, the in-depth articles section of the search results is dominated by the juggernauts of the web, such the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Smaller websites, even if their content is highly authoritative, will do well to resist the urge to bulk out their easily shareable articles in hope of a place in the in-depth pack. Let’s hope this favouritism of large websites does not continue, and these results do diversify as the year progresses.
Google will become stricter over author bios at the foot of blog posts. It has become customary to see a brief biography of the article’s author at the bottom of a blog post, with links to their social profiles and, invariably, a link to their own website.
Although this link is a genuine accreditation for a piece of work, it is still fairly easy to manipulate. Keyword-rich back-links from author bios have long fallen by the wayside; 2014 may just see the fall of branded back-links. Footprints are starting to get noticed. Natural links within the main body of text must pick up the pieces. These links must add value to the original post, such as referencing highly relevant pages, or detailing concepts which otherwise cannot be explained in the post. Special attention must be paid (or not, as is the case) to anchor text. Anchor text should primarily inform a user of their destination should they click the link. It is a place fornatural language. It is not a place for artificially inserted keywords. If you follow this rule, your anchor text will add greatly to the user-experience. It is likely that your anchor text will include a keyword or a related keyword anyway, should the content be well themed and in context. Even the mention of a keyword in the proximity of anchor text is starting to gain more SEO value.
A mention (or a citation) on a page will become a valuable commodity in 2014. Because it generally has to fall within context and wouldn’t serve much purpose in list form, a mention is in some ways harder to fake than a link. Word frequency and placement, contextual phrases, and semantic similarity have been found to be increasingly important to the Google algorithm in 2013, and will continue in that direction with Hummingbird in place.
Encourage business partners, associates, friends and relatives to write about your website or company. Simply increasing the amount of ‘chatter’ about you on the web shows Google that your business is worth talking about.
Mobile optimisation is already very important; but it will be critical in 2014. More people will have to implement responsive web design, as Google favours, or review and fix their mobile-specific site to appease the growing number of users on the go. Those who don’t adopt the strategy will be left behind.
Easy navigation, functionality and site speed will be areas to focus on. However, blindly employing a mobile-friendly site without considering your target mobile visitors and how they use your site could come back to haunt you. Be absolutely sure of what your target audience will respond best to.
As mentioned earlier, social profiles will be taking centre stage next year, and there will be a focus on your overall profile. How authoritative and authentic you appear will have weight when evaluating any content you create or engage with.
Blog commenting will re-emerge as a viable marketing method. Hummingbird might well be found to understand blog comments in relation to their relevance to the article, the website, fellow commenters, and the site community as a whole.
Even though Google have vehemently denied using ‘nofollow’ links in their algorithms, this non-direct marketing benefits of blog commenting means that this age-old technique should form part of an overall outreach strategy. If you are using your name in the signature, along with your website link, whilst being signed into Google, it could well transpire that Google recognises all these connections and builds an entire picture of all your online activities. They could even take into account the interactions that centre around your contributions. For digital marketers, this could represent a big opportunity to show Google your level of involvement within your niche, and how well others respond to your input. Conversely, if your participation is seen to be unproductive or spammy, your name, or indeed your website, could feel the negative effects.
Google have long-stressed the importance of building a brand. Establishing your business or organisation as an entity could be a game-changer, especially in fields such as travel and hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment.
Ensure that all aspects of your digital campaigns include an element of your brand, such as your domain name, your social profiles and posts, and a good portion of inbound anchor texts.
With Google Carousel showing us that the Knowledge Graph-style results are here to stay, becoming an entity is gaining increased importance and could earn you better visibility on the SERPs, as well as a much more attractive listing.
People generally gravitate to search results with more visual information called rich snippets. These snippets cater to more specific search queries and help users easily recognise which results could be most relevant to them. For instance, if you’re looking for restaurants nearby, the result on a SERP with an image and a rating would look more appealing, offering much more information at first glance. You’d be much more inclined to click that over the plain-looking result. Other rich snippets include reviews, authorship, recipes, music, and events.
Rich snippets use microdata: a code to help search engines like Google understand what data would be useful to include in a search result. It gives context and further meaning to parts of a website’s content, especially during searches. Microdata uses Schema.org as the standard vocabulary to make sense of your content across different search engines.
Many small and medium businesses, and even some major brands do not employ microdata, but that could change in 2014. The aesthetic value of a results page is becoming more and more important to Google and users alike. Ensure your website is not left behind by allowing Google to display your listing in the most attractive way possible.
Next year will see Google tweaking their algorithms towards Hummingbird’s goal of providing answers and not just keyword-matching results. Mobile optimisation can no longer be treated as a sideline project, and social profiles and signals will become even more important than they currently are. Using microdata will be a strategic move towards gaining more traffic. Quality content will still reign supreme in 2014, with renewed zeal in unique content creation, authorship implementation, and blog commenting.