Last year, search engine optimization (SEO) gurus rode a wild rollercoaster of change as Google updated a slew of search engine algorithms. New and exciting algorithm changes are expected for 2014, but one staple of SEO seems to remain static: high-quality, fresh content.
SEO Is Not Dying, But Evolving
The truth is: SEO is far from dying; it's evolving. In 2014, Google will be working overtime to weed out fraud. To ensure that you're earmarked as a productive plant instead of a weed, here are some of the top SEO predictions and how to apply them:
Prediction #1: Google's Crackdown on Spam
"Cheaters never prosper." This idiom holds unmistakable application to SEO cheaters and spammers, the folks who rely on shortcuts over good, old-fashioned hard work. Those who cheat will lose credibility and reputation in 2014. Eventually, they will fail altogether.
Guidelines aren't issued just to look pretty, and Google is getting more aggressive about penalizing sites who insist on operating outside of their posted SEO guidelines. Familiarizing yourself with Google's guidelines is important as we embark on a new year because spammers and cheaters will find themselves getting the ranking boot. Here's what to avoid:
- Don't ignore Google's SEO guidelines, familiarize yourself with them.
- Don't load your content with keywords over quality, relevant material.
- Don't backlink without proper research.
- Don't use shortcuts thinking they will give you quick ranking until you "find time" to flesh out content per SEO guidelines.
Prediction #2: Negative SEO Attacks Are a No-No
The competitors' war wages on and, unfortunately, some like to take their gloves off in the ring. In 2014, you'll need to be wary of competitors who attempt to attack your rankings through low quality links. Search Engine Watch published a great piece discussing the ins and outs of negative SEO attacks.
In essence, a negative attack occurs when a competitor tries to destabilize the organic visibility of a website or single page on Google. Some experts predict such attacks to grow in 2014. The good news is that Google is aware of such unscrupulous tactics and while they admit damage to rankings is possible, they stand by their webspam team. Crackdowns on spam will be the undoing of anyone choosing to wield this tactic.
Prediction #3: Social Media and Google+
We already know social media is a cornerstone of search engine optimization. The staple platforms continue to grow and adapt to the needs of audiences, businesses and marketers. Social signals are predicted to grow continually important throughout 2014. Search engines are now crawling actual social sends, and it's practically assured algorithms will adjust accordingly. Social network dominance will only improve your SEO results.
If you aren't using Google+ religiously to post new content and media, you're missing out on a huge SEO opportunity. In 2014, G+ Pages and Helpouts will likely drive the popularity of both the network and its weight in the SERPs. You see, Google's emphasis on author rank is quickly becoming an effective means of significantly increasing your credibility and reputation. Here's how it works:
Google is encouraging users to get more active on their Google+ profiles by connecting to their content. By linking articles, blogs, press releases, etc., to your Google+ profile and making a link appear on your profile page, author rank will be triggered. Google+ posts are crawled, and index almost immediately- and, thanks to Google Authorship, all of your content will be branded to you. By using Google+ consistently, you can increase your SEO results exponentially.
Prediction #4: Long Tail Keywords
In 2014, long tail keywords will likely grow in popularity. Such keywords consist of 3 to 5 word phrases designed to target specific, relevant search phrases with the goal of pulling in traffic through targeted content.
We expect to see the popularity of these keywords increase due to Google's focus on generating more targeted search results. Consumers know what they want. They are more likely to enter a phrase versus keyword into a search, such as "how to plan a wedding on a budget" versus "wedding planning." As a result, the more focused you become in your optimization efforts, the more likely you are to see excellent results.
Google's search algorithms are armed with the ability to detect synonyms. Quality content won't be stuffed with long tail keywords. Instead, it will be well-written, engaging and fresh. Keywords can and will be adapted to preserve the copy's quality above all else.
Prediction #5: Linking Is Not Dead
Contrary to popular opinion, link building for SEO is not dead. Surprised? It's true that in 2013 we saw a lot of hype from many sources, all crying wolf that link building was coming to an end. Google says differently, and they are the ultimate decision maker. SiteProNews put it perfectly, link building for SEO is still important "because search engines...need context about the content you're publishing, and its related utilities."
Link building is not a simple matter of linking to random content or popular websites and expecting traffic to roll in. On the contrary, link building is a well-researched strategy. When choosing links, keep the following in mind:
- Ensure the content of the link add to or expand on the topic of your content.
- Research the link prior to using it. Things like Domain Authority (DA) matter. You might try using a free tool, such as MozBar, for researching links.
- Back linking is beneficial. It's like a personal recommendation and establishes content specialization. It will become more important in 2014 as longer more specialized content becomes the trend for website owners seeking to command traffic and conversions.
- Advanced techniques-like finding and filling broken links on popular, high-ranking websites-will be "un-sexy but highly necessary," according to SiteProNews.
Prediction #6: Responsive Designs Will Win
Mobile web surfing will increase in 2014 as people move further away from laptops and desktops in favor of tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices. Therefore, simple responsive designs will make you a winner. This means it is imperative for all of your online content to be optimized for mobile viewing.
Optimizing content involves more than just using a website design that is workable for mobile viewers. Another type of optimization must be taken into consideration as copy is written: keeping the content appealing to a highly busy audience. Paragraphs should be kept short; otherwise they'll look like pages on a small mobile screen. Sentence structure should be kept simple so readers can quickly digest the content. It will take a high caliber copywriter to ensure these standards are met while staying on topic and keeping the content interesting.
Prediction #7: Local Mobile Searches Will Explode
Mobile users are on the rise. In 2013, we witnessed a migration as over 50 percent of Internet surfers left their desktops behind. The majority of people today depend on their compact portable devices when searching and surfing the Internet.
Have you noticed search engines and other apps pinpointing your location? A trend arose in 2013: the majority of people searching on a mobile device expected local results based on their current location. Mobile search and its correlation with finding what's local based on the device location will continue to climb in 2014.
Prediction #8: A Shift in Ecommerce
Customers are less concerned with price and more concerned with quality of service and speed of fulfillment. We'll be seeing this shift in ecommerce in 2014. As a result, quality content will be a killer SEO strategy.
Studies indicate consumers are happy to pay more for quality, service and rapid response. They aren't looking for the cheapest price. They are looking for the best quality, for an investment in value. Your best friend in 2014 will be a seasoned copywriter, one capable of writing compelling, relevant copy.
Consumers are searching for information above all else. They want to know why to invest in your product or service. How will it benefit them? Why are you different from the competition? The best way to make a lasting impression is through informative, educational content.
Consumers who feel educated are more likely to buy. If you are the source educating them, your credibility and reputation grows. Potential consumers will become more comfortable purchasing from you, and you'll push your rankings over the top by backing everything with proven rapid responses and excellent customer service.
Prediction #9: Press Releases
The point of a press release, informative document, educational article, blog or business presentation is to generate PR and, ultimately, the bread and butter of sales conversions: traffic. Moving forward, experts predict that press releases of any kind will need to be newsworthy to generate traffic.
How much time do you have in a single day to read? When we say read, we mean to really read, not skim for a general idea. Most of us are lucky to have an hour of freedom to dedicate to really reading. If you expect your press releases to generate traffic, take your own time restraints into consideration; chances are your audience is in the same boat.
What makes you stop to read a press release, or any type of content for that matter? The decision to dedicate a small amount of precious time to really read will revolve around the following factors:
- The title and/or accompanying graphic have caught your attention because it's thought provoking or emotionally charged.
- A quick glance at the headings appeals to your current needs or touches on a topic that recently grabbed your interest.
- The first sentence of the first paragraph you read, which could have been anywhere on the page, grabbed your attention.
- Every sentence you read thereafter kept you enthralled.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: quality content is the heart and soul of SEO. Your content has to demand attention, provide relevance, be substantial and deliver.
Prediction #10: Quality Content Matters
We already know quality content is important, but in 2014 it will matter more than ever. Quality traffic will be the direct result of unique, engaging content strategies. High-quality content will be the focal point of every winning strategy.
How many times have you read content (for the reasons listed under "Prediction #9") and felt let down in the end? While the writing was upbeat and held your attention until the bitter end, the end was just that: bitter, disappointing, lacking. What happened? Honestly? The content fell short of quality.
You see, quality content isn't about keywords, hot topics, relevant backlinks and social media dispersion. Yes, all of these aspects are part of creating and marketing quality SEO content. But at the core of true quality is value.
Successful content must offer something of value-the solution to an issue, the conclusion to a problem, the extension of hope, the satisfaction of answering at least one big question-otherwise, it isn't quality. The reader will feel ripped off, left to wonder why on Earth they wasted their time. Don't let this happen to you. A lack of quality content will reflect on your business or brand. Potential customers will redirect their time-limited attention spans elsewhere.
What It All Means
Just what do these 10 predictions mean for you? You no doubt see the commonality between them all, the statement we kept repeating: high-quality content. It is the ultimate, killer strategy for 2014.
Search engine optimization, rankings, credibility, authority, it's all attainable through a focused effort to generate and market high-quality content. Social media, long tail keywords, linking, responsive designs, local mobile searches, newsworthy press releases, these are all icing on the cake. They're the decoration that says, "Happy Birthday to You When You Choose My Company/Brand." But decorations and icing are just sugary fluff.
Well-written, pristinely formatted, relevant, engaging and value-packed copy is the delicious cake that fills your content marketing strategies for 2014. You might even call it the meat to the potatoes. You can't fill up on sugars and starches with the expectation of feeling full and satisfied; you need the main course for that!
Audiences are looking for the companies and brands that supply a full course content meal. Don't leave them feeling shortchanged and unsatisfied by skimping on or watering down your content. 2014 is the year to satisfy your audience's every need, a task you can accomplish simply by giving them the high-quality content they crave.