The Future of SEO – Trends for 2014 and Beyond

2013 was a game-changer of a year in SEO world. On-the-ball online marketers may have been spouting the benefits of quality content for years, but 2013 was the year everyone finally sat up and took notice. Google’s birthday update, Hummingbird, provided all the confirmation needed to drive the web definitively towards bigger, better and cleverer content. In fact, if we have to hear the phrase “content is king” once more, we’ll perform harakiri with our keyboards.

With the online playing field virtually unrecognizable and many of the less web-savvy playing catch up, what does the SEO landscape look like in 2014 and even further ahead? It can’t all be about content can it? Let’s look into our SEO crystal ball and bring you the long view from the world of future online marketing.

Semantic & conversational search

Hummingbird might not have seemed earth-shattering when it went live back in September, but over the long term this algorithmic update will have incalculable impact. Google have described it as a “platform” – and what do people typically do with platforms? No, they don’t go disco dancing, they build on them.

If Hummingbird has made semantic and conversational search more accurate, you can bet your bottom dollar that this feature is only going to get more sophisticated. So what’s the fallout for those striving for SEO gold in 2014?

Well, for starters, slapdash SEO is a thing of the dark, spammy past. There are no more quick fixes. Instead, the best way to capture relevant, valuable traffic via conversational search terms is to simply come up with the goods. Establishing yourself as an authority in your online sector is now essential. This requires a pretty holistic web-based approach:

  • Establish an engaged, well-connected social presence across all key platforms (not just Facebook, Twitter and Linked In)
  • Ensure every page of your website delivers useful content your visitors really need or want
  • Cram your website with pertinent, usable or entertaining multimedia material your target market will appreciate and distribute it via social channels
  • Push for more, better user generated content, blogger outreach and interaction with visitors
  • Use online PR to your advantage, but don’t treat it as a link-building operation
  • Think more carefully about your target audience; who they are, what they want, the questions they may have, their lifestyles, their interests, you name it…

These are all key Hummingbird pleasers. They satisfy Google’s desire to deliver the best results to the right searchers, plus they’re an important way to naturally target conversational terms, build online brand awareness and boost online engagement.

For a long time SEO was about gaming the system. Now the system has ensured that the only way to win is to play fair. Build the very best website for your target market, add the very best content that meets their needs, informs and excites them, mix in a killer social media presence and 2014 should be your digital year.

(not provided) & the death of the primary keyword

2013 was the year the keyword was finally laid to rest. All searches made through Google are now encrypted via secure HTTPS so there’s no longer any way to view keywords which bring traffic to a website. Instead you’ll be met with a very obstinate (not provided) result. Online marketers everywhere knew this day would eventually come, but it was a funereal sort of week at SEO agencies all over the globe, signaling the end of an era.

This change has only underscored the rise of conversational and semantic search, plus the importance of producing high quality, naturally keyword rich content which brings in all of those (now invisible) long tail searches.

Different data

Yet, as your wisest, elderly family member will tell you, every end signals the start of something new. It’s the circle of life. In this case, the death of the keyword will give rise to everyone getting cleverer about data.

Without keywords, gaining accurate insight into your visitors is more essential than ever. Locations, browsing history, device, time of day – there are all sorts of signals picked up by Analytics you can use to provide better audience insight. It’s time to look more carefully at your data and start thinking about your visitors more scientifically.

The multiscreen marketplace

It might sound like an insane statistic from the future, but today 22% of the world’s population own a smartphone and 6% own a tablet. If you’ve been waiting for the mobile revolution, well, it’s already happened.

The super-stellar global growth of smartphone and tablet ownership has left many online businesses scrambling to catch up. These days, if you’re not getting mobile right, your online business is losing out on a significant slice of the action.

If you need to play catch up next year, your first priority should be to get responsive. A responsive design ensures your visitors are getting the very best experience from your website whatever device they view it from.

It’s not just your website which needs to respond either. If you’re using email marketing to reach out to visitors and potential customers, you need to make sure that your template looks fantastic from smartphones and tablets. After all, up to 65% of all email is now accessed via smartphone.

A creative core

In 2014 and beyond, SEO needs to become more creative and more closely integrated with traditional marketing. The hunger for more, high quality, intelligently planned content will drive the push towards increasingly imaginative online marketing which grabs audience attention, drives traffic and boosts online brand awareness.

B2B companies in particular simply can’t keep churning out the same old “how to find the best deal for X” or “7 tips for cheaper Y”. The internet is saturated with this sort of stuff. It’s time to stand out and find a new angle.

Ensuring this angle integrates well with traditional, offline marketing and advertising is also more important than ever. The online world does not rotate in a vacuum, instead brands need to offer consistency and cohesion between online and offline marketing to convey effective brand messages and offer the very best user experience.

Actually be good

It’s funny, when you look at the big picture for SEO in 2014 and beyond, it all seems to boil down to one deceptively simple principle: Just be good.

Good online marketing is no longer about loopholes, techie tricks or quick fixes, it’s about understanding how to offer an online audience the most compelling lures and the very best online experience. To some this may sound like SEO is dead, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s only just getting started…