Now that most of us have our footing back after Penguin 2.0, what’s ahead for SEO and social media marketing in the year to come? It’s clear that Google’s focus is on eliminating spam and enhancing the user experience through better content. Evidence has shown that both site quality and link relevancy are going to be big players in the next twelve months. But comments from Google and forecasting from a number of different SEO experts suggest that other changes are on the horizon.
Here’s my best guess of where we can expect SEO to go for the rest of 2013 and throughout 2014 – and my top tips on how to prepare. Just to add a standard disclaimer: prediction posts are at best guesses. I’ll be updating this post periodically as more information becomes available, and look forward to your thoughts and insights as well.
1. Content continues to be important, but requires more depth and detail
The days when you could publish 500-word pieces on your blog a couple times a week and achieve authority status are fading away. While high quality, shorter pieces still have value, I predict we’ll see a migration toward “super articles.” Longer pieces that are a minimum of 1,000 words and more likely upwards of 2,000 will become increasingly valuable.
It’s what Neil Patel has called “epic content.” There’s several ways to approach this. If the best articles in your niche offer 50 ideas, your round-ups could offer 100. You could get access to experts, develop detailed tutorials, or supplement your content with high quality videos or images. The key is going to be to follow an approach that sets you apart from the most basic content in your space, and grabs people’s interest for the long-term. The focus is on depth, quality, and ultimate value to the reader.
2. Different kinds of content help you get traction
Whether you’re looking at creating video, developing infographics, or launching interactive quizzes, thinking beyond blog posts and free reports will give you a distinct advantage. As buzzwords like guest posting and content strategy become more and more ubiquitous, it’s important that you do whatever you can to rise above the noise. In addition to committing to do what it takes to write sticky, authoritative content, another strategy will be diversifying the type of content that you publish.
Of course, this connects to your ability to disseminate content in creative ways. There’s only so many ways to share a blog post. But a video can be syndicated to dozens of different sites, added to a branded channel on YouTube, embedded on Pinterest, and more.
Another important factor is your ability to appear in different verticals of search — for example, videos or images — as overall search architecture moves in that direction. A more diverse content base will help you rank more effectively for your target terms.
3. Author authority matters
It’s not just the quality of a single piece of content that matters, but rather your entire body of work. By using Google Authorship and other behind-the-scenes techniques, Google is developing better mechanisms for learning about everything you write. This develops an overall picture of what you’ve accomplished, and what subjects you’re qualified to speak on.
The overall number of social signals your content is generating, how frequently you’re posting, and the quality of sites you’re connected to, this will impact the rankings of the content that you post going forward. To establish your authority, make sure you’re leveraging Google Authorship not only with your regular core content, but also with guest posts that you contribute to other sites in your industry.
4. Links remain critical, but the bar for quality keeps going up
In a video in May, Matt Cutts suggested that Google’s continuing to develop more sophisticated adjustments to the algorithm to measure link quality and thwart link spammers. This evokes the idea of link wheels – creating networks of hub and spoke sites, along with many levels of intermediary sites, in order to build links. The idea is that if they’re dispersed and deep enough, that the connections between them will be masked. It a nutshell, these approaches aren’t effective anymore and will become less so moving forward.
While Google’s already focused on this, ever more sophisticated versions of this approach – from paid advertorials to private blog networks – will continue to be important targets in the war of spam. Not only will we all be taking a retrospective look at our link profiles, but strategizing how to build links in the future will require more ingenuity and planning. Link building is moving in the direction of a relationship-based process.
5. Diversifying link text is ongoing
One of the areas t hit by Penguin 2.0 was sites where anchor text was too optimized. Experts estimated that if more than 30% of your anchor text was identical, it was easy to see that you were actively building links in a way that might be manipulative. Instead, now and going forward, it’s more important to think about linking from an organic perspective.
For example, say your site is currently focused on the topic of Twitter marketing. People discussing your site and linking to it are likely to use a variety of terms: Twitter marketing, marketing on Twitter, Twitter for business, social media marketing on Twitter, and more. There are a number of terms that are all within the realm of a reasonable anchor text choice.
It’s important to develop campaigns that help you post links with a range of different anchor text. Diversifying your link text takes time, especially if you have a significant body of links to your site. I anticipate that we’ll see many website owners working on this in the year ahead. For an overview on proper anchor text strategy in a post-Penguin 2.0 environment, see my article “How to Properly Include Links and Penguin-Safe Anchor Text in Your Guest Blogs.”
6. Great design matters
Great design is a key piece of the user experience. Top-quality design helps overcome the trust barrier that comes up when people first visit your site. If your site looks professional, they’re more likely to believe that your business is legitimate and give you the time and money you’re working hard to earn. Another key factor is driving conversions. Good design helps drive users in whatever direction you want them to go – signing up for your email list, buying your products, or reading and sharing your content.
Design is also a very effective tool for helping build both your authority and your epic content backlog. Is your picture on your website? Do people associate your name and face with high quality content? If so, you’re on the right track. Is design supporting the quality of your tutorials? You can instantly upgrade people’s perceptions of your work by integrating screen shots, videos, and more. It’s a simple way to increase the value of your content.
7. Guest posting comes under increasing scrutiny
One of the most popular means of building links right now is guest posting. It’s a great way to build links, cultivate relationships with other thinkers in your field, and get your material in front of new audiences. The challenge with guest posting is when it’s treated as the “new method of article marketing.” I think we can expect increasing scrutiny from Google on guest posts.
What this means for writers and website owners is that it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the sites where you post. PageRank and Domain authority are two metrics to measure quality. Another is to look and see if these sites have the kind of human signals that make a reputable site – an engaged audience, social shares, and links from other high quality sites. When you do guest post, it’ll be important to put an extra emphasis on developing valuable contributions that really resonate with the target audience.
8. Social continues to exert a powerful influence
Social media isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s gaining a great deal of traction. With the introduction of Google Plus two years ago, it was easy to see that social signals were becoming more important to search. As one expert said, “human rank is hard to game.” By increasing the influence of social media signals, the search engines are essentially outsourcing the manual evaluation process of content to a large extent.
For companies working to rank their content, it’ll be important to ensure they have branded accounts for their sites. Plugins or other mechanisms need to be used in order to make content easily sharable, and to measure social shares. Social media promotion needs to be a front-line priority in your individual content promotion plans, and overall innovative approaches (for example, experimenting with exclusive social content or competitions) used to increase your social reach and influence.
9. Mobile performance and compatibility matter
During an interview with Search Engine Journal, Matt Cutts noted the importance of having a lean mobile site that loaded quickly. Building on that, mobile is no longer optional. Half of all people in the U.S. own a smartphone; one third of internet users own a tablet. Soon, more people will routinely access the Internet via a mobile device than the number of people who do so via a desktop computer.
Having a mobile compatible site is the new minimum threshold. Important aspects include cross-device compatibility and optimizing your designs for mobile conversions. Thinking about mobile productively requires a mindset shift. Mobile isn’t just about making sales. Instead, it’s about a broader set of potential conversions – visits, gathering information for in-store visits, signing up for more information – that require you to focus on the mobile channel.
Besides mobile-ready design, website speed is becoming more important. As the average internet user expects faster speeds, they have less patience. Frustration over slow-loading websites leads to a poorer user experience, which is why website load speed is one of the growing factors in Google’s ranking algorithm. Cloud CDN (content delivery network) hosting solutions are seeing a rise in popularity due to this trend, and for good reason.
10. SEO is less tactics, more strategy
It’s fair to say that this has been the direction of SEO for a long time now, but it’s becoming increasingly true. Tactics – specific ways to build links or to write code – are becoming less and less valuable. Instead, the focus is shifting to your long-term strategy. What’s your content strategy? What’s your link building strategy? What’s your authority strategy? What’s your social strategy? These individual pieces all link together to create the foundation a successful site presence is built on.
It doesn’t mean that tactics don’t matter. After all, tactical moves are how you implement a strategy. Your choices between different kinds of tactics, such as white hat link building or black hat link building, can make all the difference. But if tactics aren’t driven by an overall strategy that’s implementing multiple approaches at the same time, they’re less likely to work. Approaches to SEO need to be cohesive.
I’m sure that there are critical trends that I’ve missed. I’d love to hear from you. What’s working for you right now, and where are you focusing your efforts in the next year? Let me know in the comments below!