Gearing up for the New Year: The Search Agency
"2013 is quickly coming to a close, which means the holiday season is upon us and the New Year is right around the corner. But before we take a few (well-deserved) vacation days away from our laptops, inboxes, and worn-in office chairs, The Search Agency's earned and paid media teams are taking a stab at predicting what is to come for search marketing in 2014.
First up are predictions from our earned media team (aka those guys and gals who keep constant tabs on the digital marketing industry's SEO news and developments). Here are their visions of the future:
- Rapid Updates to Google's Algorithm: The recent Hummingbird update seems to have kept the landscape relatively unchanged so far. However, the implementation of Hummingbird served as a complete overhaul and likely signals many more iterative improvements, making it easier for Google to react to manipulation and increasingly more difficult to game the system, thereby driving SEOs to focus more fully on white hat tactics and user intent-driven strategies.
- Google+: Google+ will gain more importance, if not more prominence. The decision to make Hangouts the default home for all kinds of messaging, including SMS, within Android 4.4. KitKat will drive additional adoption outside of the search world, but not to a massive extent. Media views will continue to denigrate G+ as a failed copy of Facebook, but in reality, its integration with Android, Google Now, Google Search, and Knowledge Graph will allow it to successfully grow without really threatening to take over the casual social market owned by Facebook.
- Keyword [Not Provided]: Keyword positions will constantly fluctuate, but instead of worrying about what keywords brought visitors to the site, marketers will need to focus on the actions visitors are taking once they're on the site. What pages are most people landing on from the SERPs? What page do they move to next? Are visitors engaging with the site (downloading a PDF, providing their email, buying products etc.)? If there is no engagement, there's room for improvement by committing to offer content, products, or services that will engage visitors.
- Personalized Search Results: The Hummingbird algorithm and subsequent focus on the context of search queries will lead to further personalization of search results. We predict that this aspect of search will be a high priority for Google, given the many changes made over the last several years to provide highly relevant search results for users. Personalized search results will make it even harder to optimize primarily by keywords or impressions and continue to push SEOs to focus on user intent and personas of users and to direct focus away from keywords and rankings.
- Social Media: Twitter will start to show more rich media in users' timelines in an attempt to boost its advertising. We are already seeing it with Lead Generation Cards, in the Discovery Stream, and in pictures/video uploaded natively through Twitter, and I suspect this trend will continue. My guess is that it will be led by advertising, which makes me think the role of Twitter Cards will continue to grow.
- Linking: Links will remain incredibly important to search algorithms, but search engines as a whole will get even better at downgrading or eliminating altogether the value of easily SEO'd links, like those coming from embed codes (most often in infographics) and guest blogging. This will cause many to scream that Google is favoring big brands when in actuality they are just eliminating (or trying to) search engine gaming tactics.
- The Year of Mobile...Again. During Q4 of 2014 the U.S. will get close to the mobile/desktop traffic tipping point, causing many people to proclaim 2015 as the year of mobile for what feels like the 15th year running. With a recent report by Walker Sands already showing Q3 2013 numbers at 28%, it's not a stretch to believe that number can hit the 40s come next year.
- Paid and Organic Optimization: The line between paid and organic "optimization" will continue to blur. This means marketers will need to evolve in their understanding of user intent and to start using advanced tools like multi-channel-funnels and attribution to foster the entire consumer decision journey, not just the "paid clicks" vs. the "organic clicks." The idea of "SEO" as the effort to rank keywords and measure success based on those rankings will all but vanish.
- The SERP will Shift to Favor Paid Results: We will see the SERP continue to evolve by driving clicks to paid listings over organic listings. Things like image ads, display tests within search, and the inclusion of "ad" tags on mobile all signal Google's push to get users to click on paid listings on the SERP across all devices. Additionally, the growing index of information within the knowledge graph will allow Google to provide users with answers directly on the SERP when a paid advertisement doesn't provide the right match.
- Product Listing Ads: Product Listing Ads (PLAs) will continue to play a growing role in retailers' marketing efforts, as the major search engines continue to make these type of advertisements more and more appealing to marketers. The recent development in campaign types that make it easier to manage PLAs combined with the ever-growing SERP space for this ad unit all point to the growing importance of feed-style results in 2014.
- Google Feeds: Google will expand its feed-based products in general. Following its acquisition of Channel Intelligence, expect to see Product Listing Ads become a richer ad format with a better integration within AdWords. In addition, feed-based results will likely expand beyond ecommerce in order to support other kinds of marketing campaigns.
- Cross-Device Attribution: Cross-device attribution will finally become a reality. This will happen!
- Increasing Emphasis on Audience Targeting: Don't expect the paid search keyword to completely vanish like the organic keyword has. However, refinements in targeting will increasingly allow for more precise categorizations of searcher intent. AdWords will roll out and incorporate more advanced user-specific targeting options as Enhanced Campaigns continue to evolve. It will also continue to expand its ad extension repertoire and integration with Google+. We expect to see Helpout extensions in 2014 as Google tries to align revenue-generating ads with the type of informational search queries that typically have little ad competition today.
- Universal Analytics will Overtake Google Analytics: Universal Analytics will effectively replace Google Analytics, changing the basic currency of search analytics from keywords to users. This will lead to some fundamental changes in the way that businesses measure and optimize their digital marketing efforts. It will also almost certainly push online privacy stories back up the news agenda as Google tries to tread the line with providing better user-specific cross-device data without scaring off users.