Search engine optimization (SEO) is always on the move, trying to keep up with the technological and cultural changes fronted by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and the other leading authorities in the tech space. Every time search marketers feel like they have their strategy down, there’s a new type of mobile device or a new algorithm update around the corner that shakes things up and forces search marketers to revisit their sacred strategies.
2014 was an exciting year for SEO—we got a sneak preview at the dawn of smart watches, we saw the Pigeon update revolutionize local search, and we saw the new updates Panda 4.1 and Penguin 3.0 revise and enhance some of the biggest algorithm changes in Google’s history. But as big as 2014 was for the search world, we have it on good authority that 2015 will be bigger.
Here are five predictions we’re making about the shape of things to come for SEO in 2015:
The Google Knowledge Graph is the system that generates that little box of information you see on the right side of the search results, showcasing factual details about people, places, and things from user queries. Today, it’s just a nifty value-add that increases convenience for users who are only looking for a handful of specific details, such as the release date of a movie or the age of a public figure.
We’re predicting that 2015 is going to change that. Google released the Knowledge Graph to improve user experience, and the system is still in its infancy. So far, reception has been almost unanimously positive, and Google will undoubtedly continue to refine and improve the system. As a result, the Knowledge Graph will start to expand to new categories, and the physical space that the Knowledge Graph box occupies will creep into the other search results areas.
That means you might see a slight drop in organic traffic if one of your primary strategies is offering raw information. Since the Knowledge Graph will offer users such information before they ever need to click, that could mean fewer total visitors as a result of searches. It would therefore mean the traffic you do get will be more refined and more interested in your services.
It’s also possible that the increasing influence of the Knowledge Graph will result in some form of Graph-specific paid advertising. Google knows it has a good thing going, and you can trust it hopes to monetize it in the near future.
The announcement of the Apple Watch solidified suspicions that smart watches would become the next big trend in mobile technology. Now that the tech juggernaut is on board, you can expect to see every major brand come out with their own variation of smart watch, and wearable technology will start to explode.
Since more users will be relying on mobile devices on the go to figure out things like directions or the best place for coffee, you can expect to see local search start to change in 2015. Smart watches will have the ability to track a user’s exact location, and proximity will start to play a key role in generating search results—instead of simply recognizing the city or region where a business resides, Google will start indexing hyper-specific local information, probably down to the city block, in order to generate accurate proximity-based results on the go.
Also, user preferences will start to shape search results more than ever. Personalization will start to play a big role in user preferences—people will seek out the content, businesses, and applications that cater to their individual needs. As a result, smart watch search technology will take certain user preferences into account when generating results for a given query. For example, if a user has a history of visiting taco restaurants and searches for “restaurants” in general, the smart watch may generate a specific list of taco restaurants to cater to the user.
Apps and webpages have held a peaceful coexistence for several years, but apps are starting to make their move to replace webpages altogether. The dawn of the smart watch era will accelerate this change, as users will find it much easier to access applications for their needs than to type information into a tiny search bar.
Google is already making its position on the matter clear. The search engine giant is starting to incorporate functionality and data from several third party apps into its search results. For example, you can now make OpenTable reservations directly within Google Maps. And when generating local search results, Google uses information found on Yelp and similar local directories to rank the significance of local businesses.
As we enter 2015, it’s likely that Google and other technological powerhouses will start incorporating the data found on third party applications about businesses just as much as—if not more than—the actual company websites themselves. That means you’ll need a much more diverse, apparent overall online presence, and a decline in focus on your online optimization strategy.
Penguin 3.0 rolled out toward the end of 2014, and it made another stride in reducing the power and authority of bad backlinks. The definition of “bad” backlinks expanded—rather than focusing on spammy backlinks, Penguin 3.0 is honing in on more sophisticated indications of irrelevant link building, such as excessive guest blogging or questionable anchor text.
Additionally, 2014 witnessed the rise in importance of brand mentions, a kind of alternative to traditional backlinks. Now, search engines will recognize any mention of your brand, even without a hyperlink, as a medium for passing authority.
Because of these changes, we anticipate more activity on the link-scouting front in 2015. While Penguin 4.0 may or may not be on the horizon, there will undoubtedly be some kind of update or refresh that continues to reduce the power of most types of external links.
The Hummingbird update in 2013 introduced a new technology to search algorithms: semantic search. Rather than breaking apart search queries and interpreting them based on their words and phrases, semantic search algorithms discern the meaning behind a query, and attempt to find the best results for it.
Smart watches will likely introduce the adoption of voice-based search, which already exists but is rarely used because users are accustomed to typing searches. The increased use of voice-based search will then inspire Google to continue to refine its semantic search capabilities, driving a final nail into the coffin of keyword-based optimization, and instead favoring sites with more semantic clues and colloquial phrases. Hummingbird 2.0 is a possibility, but we’re expecting a more gradual change over the course of 2015 and beyond.
Of course, these predictions are only based on some of the historical trends we’ve witnessed, and the new technologies and advancements that are on the slate for the coming year. We know that Google won’t spend a year sitting idly by—so naturally, there will be updates in some form—but it’s impossible to make any guarantee about the nature and timing of those updates. Nevertheless, we’re fairly confident in the general scope of these predictions, and we’re excited to see them potentially unfold.
Come back next year and see how close we were to the mark!