2013 was a year that saw plenty of changes in the way the SEO community pursue their goals.
Most of what occurred came as a result of algorithm updates from Google: Panda was updated several times, Penguin 2.0 was introduced in May and Penguin 2.1 was introduced in October, all designed to fight against spam links and penalise sites that break the rules.
One of the more notorious examples of Google dishing out a penalty in 2013 was 'Interflora-gate'. Interflora, a market leader in online florists, was punished for ‘unethical’ link building strategies: they sent several bloggers free flowers in the hopes of getting a boost in links and mentions before Valentine’s Day. Their strategy worked, but Google acted swiftly. The lesson that we all took away here is that Google is serious when it comes to pursuing unethical link building practices.
We’ve already seen a few trends from 2013 that indicate what we can expect to see develop throughout 2014, with an increasing shift towards mobile being just one example of how things are evolving. The SEO community needs to think carefully about the content it creates in terms of the value it generates for users and how this can be communicated to search engines.
As it becomes increasingly important for search engines to understand this 'value', marketers have to get to grips with how this will affect their wider marketing strategies moving forward. SEOs can no longer work in isolation of wider media production and planning, as earned, owned and paid integration becomes essential in delivering search engine success.
With Google actively providing more information on SERP, SEOs need to continually test and learn to optimise their results: there will be no room for a one-size-fits-all approach.
In 2014, look out for…
1. Google Hummingbird
Google launched Hummingbird in August. This is a new algorithm designed to improve the way search engines organise and deliver semantic search results. Penguin and Panda were updates to existing algorithms: Hummingbird differs in that it is a completely new system that improved upon old features, while introducing new ones.
A key feature includes 'conversational search'. This means a query like 'Where is the nearest post office?' will yield an actual answer, instead of a list of results showing information about local post offices that doesn't necessarily show you which one is nearest. This is definitely something to bear in mind when optimising sites this year. It’s certainly a key consideration for location-based SEO.
This new focus on 'Natural Language Processing' will start a shift from keyword searches towards semantic searches. It has been designed to cater for mobile users in particular and is something all SEOs need to consider closely.
2. Mobile is King
On demand, location-based mobile activity continues to be a key factor in optimising for search engines. Internet access using mobile devices doubled between 2010 and 2013 in the UK, going from 24% to 53%, an incredibly sharp rise. This will only continue to gather momentum during 2014.
Google announced in June last year that they would be favouring mobile-friendly sites in rankings, going on to publish guidelines on how to create them. This means that SEOs are going to have to consider the needs of mobile searchers in content strategies.
Content should be relevant, fast and delivered instantly. With the arrival of Hummingbird, it’s clear that everyone will be focusing on delivering content primed for mobile consumption: webmasters will have to consider mobile-responsive design as well as opportunities for increased consumer interaction.
3. In-depth articles
In August, Google launched a new type of search result dedicated to ‘evergreen’ content that will provide valuable information to those looking for in-depth, detailed information online. As opposed to short and vague guides that seem half-heartedly put together, these in-depth guides are a new opportunity to boost organic search performance.
SEO marketers should focus their strategies on regularly creating and publishing informative, high quality and in-depth information articles. The sources should be established and reputable publications that make for highly useful, usable articles, designed in a way that will make users want to share them with others.
4. Video marketing
In 2013, the majority of the marketing campaigns that went viral were videos. You can expect this trend to continue, as video content definitely appears to be the easiest way of reaching millions of users.
The age of long-form adverts is over: the internet has dictated that videos need to be short and effective. This has led to the creation of new platforms for short-form video, like Vine and Instagram’s new video function. These platforms have made short, instantly shareable videos very popular and will probably become a mainstream trend in 2014.
Vine's video function restricts the user to a mere six seconds of video, which has led to some extremely creative pieces. The ability to share instantly has created a huge potential reach, as audiences can view videos anywhere and at any time.
5. The rise of Bing?
Google accounts for two-thirds of all search volume: Bing and Yahoo take care of the rest. Although the two held their own in terms of search share through the last months of 2013, the release of Windows 8 and new Windows Phones could assist Bing with increasing its market and search share.
New features include the Bing Smart Search for Windows 8.1 as well as Bing’s voice query capabilities, which are currently being tested on Xbox One. Given that Bing is now the best source of keyword referral data, with Google operating in a secure environment, it’s important for SEO marketers to keep an eye on Bing in 2014, particularly if they’re doing business in other countries, where Google may not necessarily be the leading search engine.
While some people have claimed that SEO died in 2013, others are keen to stress that this observation couldn’t be further from the truth. SEO is constantly evolving and as such, all marketers need to continually update their tactics. Understanding how search engines work and what they are looking for in a website will always require SEO input.
Some of the historical practises of SEO such as link building and on-page tactics are changing, making them less effective. However, testing and learning new content-driven initiatives will prove successful for those that grasp them.
The rules always change in SEO, making it quite difficult to predict what’s around the corner. Still, it’s possible to look at these trends and map out strategies for the near future. It’s safe to say that if your site is optimised for mobile use, and you can provide high quality, authoritative, in-depth content, you will be playing the SEO game effectively in 2014. Just make sure that you keep your eyes open for the inevitable search engine developments in the coming year.