7 SEO Trends For 2014: What Can We Expect To See?

Ensure a lively start to your search marketing in 2014 with these 7 SEO trends for 2014.

2013 was the year that many SEOs, digital marketing firms and brands awoke to a new reality. At some point, perhaps it was in September, the pace of change in our industry seemed to set a new land speed record. Those of us who feared the change curled into the fetal position, hoping to wake up from this nightmare, heads swarming with visions of angry hummingbirds and penguins, so we could simply perform the same tasks that brought success in the past. But those of us who welcomed the changes that 2013 brought see opportunity in the shifting landscape to build more meaningful and effective SEO strategies going forward.

Here are the 7 SEO trends for 2014 that top my list:

1) Doing What We Should Instead Of What We Could

The wild west days of gaming the search engines through over-optimization, nefarious black hat slime-doggery or collecting links as if they were beads at Mardi Gras are over. Sure, many SEOs will still do their best to get around the hard work, but in 2014 they may find themselves working harder to find a shortcut than if they had just stayed on the path. Plus, by staying above board you won’t have to worry about being called out by the next algorithm update. You’ll know that the hard work you put into optimizing your website and developing content will be lasting.

2) More Companies Will Take The Deep Content Dive

If I had one overarching SEO goal in 2013, it was to get more content buy-in from the decision makers at the companies we serve. It was a tough slog, but as the year went along, companies that weren’t producing regular streams of content saw their organic signals dropping, while our clients who consistently served their audience the articles, videos, audio and images they hunger for made great strides in acquisitions, behavior and conversions. Reporting is key to persuading the higher ups. Keep showing them how the data, as well as their audience, is just begging for a content strategy. Anthony Eden at Media Realm put it this way…
"Commit to a regular publishing schedule, and follow that strictly. I’ve built stacks of websites over this last year, and the difference between 10,000+ uniques a month and 100 uniques a month is regular, quality content.”
Few companies currently have the resources available to them to go beyond the quick, fluffy article and regularly produce quality content. However, as the need for and appreciation of long-form content continues to develop in 2014, we can expect to see more companies (especially small to mid-sized) realizing that they need to hire an in-house copywriter to help them produce these streams of rich content that both their human and search engine audiences require of them.

3) Concepts and Topics Will Overtake Keywords

We spent the last decade learning how to think and speak more like search engines (“Chicago Dog Mid-Town"), all the while search engines were trying to think more like us (“Where can I find a great Chicago-style dog in Mid-Town at 11am? Because I need that.") and we passed each other on the road somewhere along the way. Content suffered when SEOs were so hyper-focused on cramming their pages and posts to the bursting point with what they thought search engines wanted to read that they forgot about their human audience. Now, with the implementation of Google's Hummingbird algorithm, we are seeing topics and concepts take the place of keywords in search results. It’s not a word matching game any more, it’s about identifying the concept within the searcher’s query. Instead of tracking the performance of keywords on our sites, we should be looking at how whole pages and posts are performing. This will force us to track the performance of our content better in 2014, not just individual words or phrases throughout our site. Don’t be afraid to search like a human in 2014, and optimize your pages and posts accordingly as well. Test more fleshed-out titles and concepts. If you can’t spare at least 400-500 words on a topic, then ask yourself if it would be better distributed through a social media channel or not at all.

4) On-Page Optimization Here to Stay

Best practices for on-page optimization will still apply in 2014. Titles and Meta Descriptions will maintain their importance, although we may see Google more often rewriting our Title tags algorithmically in the SERPs. I foresee a much greater emphasis on schema and structured data markup.

5) The SEO A-Team: Audience, Authority & Authorship

Google and Bing will continue to aggregate our knowledge (Knowledge Graph) and use it to answer more questions directly in the search results, making it less necessary for searchers to click through to your website and become visitors. So if you’re tired of relying on search engines to bring you traffic, you should start building your audience. A reliable, loyal audience means folks coming directly to you for information about your brand or you serving content directly to them (eBlast subscribers, followers or podcast listeners). Then you won’t have to rely so heavily on the trickling down of search engine traffic. How do you build an audience? You have something to say. You say it well, and you say it regularly. Yes, I’m talking about content again, but I’m also talking about using it as a means to develop your authority and credentials as an author of useful content on the web. Make sure your Google+ profile is in order and synced with your website so that you’re building your authority as an author and taking advantage of author-rich snippets in search results. With search engines pushing to answer more of the questions themselves, developing your Audience, Authority and Authorship is critical to staying relevant. Start building a consistent, quality post history, if you haven’t already. Establish yourself and your site as a trusted resource and your content will go farther and display more often in the SERPs.

6) Social Signals and Local Optimization: Relationships Will Trump Links

Community building through social media channels is another effective means of building your audience, but in this case it’s an audience that your brand can directly engage, learn from and mutually benefit. Look for companies to go to further lengths in 2014 to encourage and even incentivize their most ardent social media fans into become brand marketeers. If you focus on building relationships and the best brand experience with your top 5-10 percent of fans instead of chasing after the other 90 percent, they will help bring the others in. This ground up approach will strengthen your social signals, give a boost to your rankings and aid in your local optimization via more positive reviews and ratings.

7) Mobile Optimization

It’s safe to say that if you haven’t updated your website in the last two years and you aren’t providing a great mobile experience, then you’re past due for an upgrade. Not only that, but you’re likely being penalized already by search engines for providing a less than optimal experience for users. Right now you may be seeing more mobile and tablet acquisitions than ever, but the corresponding behavior and conversion data in your reports is sinking deeper into the red. Examine your budget (and your heart) in 2014 and ask yourself how much longer you can afford to ignore your mobile audience that, for many brands, will rival or even overtake traditional desktop traffic in 2014. As we end a year that brought about huge changes for SEO and take a step towards what's next for SEO and Digital Marketing, it’s a great time to take a deep breath and evaluate your SEO strategies going forward. Do you have a SEO plan in place that involves optimized content creation, building an audience, strengthening social signals and mobile optimization? Make 2014 the year that you transform your website from a digital billboard into a true resource for your audience and those seeking you on the web.