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.
Here’s my best guess of where we can expect SEO to go for the rest of 2013 and throughout 2014:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.