Throughout 2013, Google have yet again tweaked their various algorithms in an attempt to filter out good quality sites from those trying to spam their way to the top. With this in mind, there are now even fewer ‘quick wins’ for sites trying to increase their visibility in the search results, which is why investing in a long term SEO strategy will be so important for 2014.
Perhaps the most important algorithm change occurred with the rollout of Google Hummingbird, which has significantly increased the importance of both semantic search and the Knowledge Graph, which I expect to grow in influence throughout 2014. Specifically, search engines are looking to prepare themselves for the impending rise of mobile voice search. Therefore, detailed analysis of both the type and structure of the content you produce is becoming extremely important; as I’ll go on to explain.
Investing in SEO for 2014 should revolve more around a holistic approach to digital marketing. Search engines are becoming increasingly smarter at identifying linkages between your website, social media profiles, whitepapers, e-books and the graphics you’ve produced and shared across the web. It is these linkages that Google and other search engines will prioritise when ranking your content in the search results, which is why your future SEO strategy shouldn’t simply focus on optimising your website. It is now more important than ever for businesses to invest in a long term digital marketing strategy in order to build gradually improve their brand authority and online presence over time.
I have been emphasising the importance of mobile search throughout the past year, but there’s simply no way of ignoring its importance in 2014. For local businesses, responsive (or mobile) sites should no longer be seen as a bonus, they are must haves for 2014. Indeed, mobile local search volume will surpass desktop local search in 2015, According to a study by BIA/Kelsey.
Your sites mobile performance now matters much more to your SEO rankings. Put simply, if you don’t currently have a mobile version of your website, or indeed a site featuring responsive design, then don’t expect your desktop site to rank for mobile search queries. With this in mind, businesses that haven’t yet focused on mobile will be missing a huge chunk of traffic that other businesses (with mobile/responsive sites) are already be cashing in on. The pages you’re trying to rank need to be designed with mobile in mind, and then scaled up for the big screen. I’d suggest that if you don’t have a mobile-optimised website, this needs to be your absolute top priority in terms of SEO for 2014.
As the overwhelming surge towards mobile search continues into 2014, businesses considering optimising their sites for mobile now have 2 options. Many businesses have chosen the route of a separate mobile site (m.example.com), however there is a growing argument that choosing aresponsive website design is the best long term choice.
Above: Google’s Matt Cutts explains that a responsive design template can be ‘nothing but good for your website’.
I already have a mobile site, what should I be doing?
If you already have a mobile site, there are a number of features that you’ll need to bear in mind if you’re trying to improve your mobile search performance. Matt Cutts of Google has specifically mentioned page load speed, and the penalisation of ‘slow loading’ mobile sites at SMX in June. Whilst mobile sites that still feature flash assets, which are incompatible with iPhones, simply won’t rank as well as sites featuring mobile friendly assets.
You should also keep in mind the changes that occurred with the Hummingbird update earlier this year, and how these changed will be impacting the types of content that may rank on mobile devices. Google are continually focusing on improving their semantic search and Knowledge Graph functions, which will be particularly important for mobile SEO, bearing in mind the rise of voice search associated with mobile. Google’s increasing understanding of semantics will have direct implications for wider SEO. This is an area that you should be paying more attention to in 2014, as it impacts how your content should be structured, and the type of content you should be creating.
Content has been the primary aspect of most businesses SEO strategies for years. However, the type of content that ranks well for certain search queries has been changing, and will continue to change into 2014. For example, Google’s Hummingbird update has improved their ability to assess the intent of certain search queries, and there are now different methods of optimising your content for Hummingbird in 2014.
Create conversational content
Specific conversation queries like ‘where is’, ‘what is’, ‘how to’ are precisely the types of question specific content that Google Hummingbird is now going to promote much higher up the rankings. For example, one way you may look to target conversational search queries would be to create informational content, (When was beer invented?), to directly answer user generated queries.
Focus on long-tail queries
FAQ pages have always been a great method of targeting long tail keywords, and will be increasingly important as Google Hummingbird develops throughout 2014. You may look to create detailed, industry specific content via an FAQ section on your site, that answers the specific needs of users in your industry.
Driving relevant traffic
I’ve just discussed the types of content Google will promote in 2014; however, you’ll also need to consider whether the type of content you’re going to be producing will drive relevant traffic that will eventually result in conversions. After all, there’s no use targeting high volume conversational keywords if they’re irrelevant to the products and services you offer. There may not be as much volume in certain long tail keyword phrases; but if you optimise for the right search query, the traffic that it brings will convert much better. With this in mind, it’s important that you look to answer questions that potential customers may be asking, and look to broaden your sites semantic field by using as many synonyms as possible across your site to capture a wider variety of search queries.
Structured data mark up (schema, microdata, microforms etc.) can be used to mark up elements of your site in order to help the search engines understand exactly what you do and the types of products and services advertised on your website. Google have been adding rich snippets within their search results to provide the user with more information about the listings provided on the SERP (search engine results page) itself, which can be achieved by adding structured data to your website.
I have previously written a post on how local businesses should be using structured data to gain greater visibility within the search results, and this is something that should be part of every local businesses SEO strategy for 2014.
Google are increasingly taking social media authority signals into account when ranking websites. Social media engagement is becoming increasingly important, and social media should be used now only build your audience, but as a primary communication channel with your customers/potential customers. I have discussed previously the increasing impact of Google+ on the SEO industry, and it’s going to be absolutely crucial that you invest time on your Google+ presence in 2014.
I’d suggest that the areas requiring the most focus are as follows:
- Establishing Google Authorship of the content you will be producing via your news area/blog, and tying it to your Google+ account. Authorship, which brings your body of content together, will strengthen your appearance in the SERPs as well as improving your Author Rank, which I believe will start to roll out in 2014.
- Add publisher markup to your website, and look to increase +1’s on your businesses Google+ profile. It’s fair to say that Google +1’s are becoming a major factor in the “social signals” component of Google’s algorithm, and I can only predict that this will increase in the year/s ahead.
2013 has been a year of significant change within the search marketing industry, as Google have gotten even smarter at filtering out quality content as opposed to sites that may have traditionally ranked well via black-hat SEO techniques. In order to stay ahead of your competition in 2014 and beyond, you’ll need to pay attention to the priority areas I’ve outlined above, which should increase your visibility for a wider range of search queries across both desktop and mobile devices.