2014 is coming to an end, and search marketers are already looking forward to the changes on the horizon for the upcoming year. Tech giants Google and Apple are the frontrunners in shaping the new context of mobile user experience, and the evolution of search technology is soaring to new heights. If you want to stay ahead of the game and get the attention of thousands of new users, it pays to be prepared for the changes in store for SEO in 2015.
As the Apple Watch and other smart watches begin to influence the shape of mobile technology, search engines like Google will evolve accordingly. Wearable technology, which takes the mobility and user engagement of smart phones to the next level, will demand real-time search results, and greater usability for users on the go.
It will probably take a few years for these changes to roll out completely, but you can bet that 2015 will see the first generation of them, and the early adopters will be rewarded with higher visibility and access to more users.
Over the last few years, local search has grown in significance because of the sheer number of local businesses online, Google’s commitment to refining local search results, and the emergence of aggregated local directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Already, companies are scrambling to locally optimize their pages and get the most consistent, positively reviewed online presence possible.
As wearable technology starts becoming the norm, local searches will start to be performed on the fly. Rather than consulting a mobile device before leaving one point for a potential destination, users will rely on a wearable device to guide them to a destination en route. Google will start refining their system of local information, classifying businesses within a region, city, neighborhood, and even down to the block. Users will have a more integrated, proximity-based experience, with very specific results based on their location—which means search marketers will need to gain an edge by ensuring their business is optimized for such an experience.
It remains to be seen how, exactly, Google and other search engines will attempt to categorize, index, and display these results, but a massive change is inevitably on the horizon.
Smart phones are easy to use, but their small screens make it difficult for many users to type information. Wearable technology will shrink screen sizes even more, making it practically impossible to type into search engines easily. As a result, voice search—a technology that already exists—will start to become more popular.
Search engines have traditionally relied on written text to formulate results; old versions of Google’s algorithm would identify strings of letters as words, and look for those words in context on the web. Even today, voice search functions by translating spoken words into written words to formulate results. But Google’s technology is growing more sophisticated—instead of identifying words and phrases and looking for instances of them on the web, Google’s semantic search recognition tries to figure out what the user’s intentions are, and formulate results that are most relevant for those intentions.
Voice search will require even more semantic understanding. People naturally speak much different than they type, and they’ll learn to start searching for things much differently through voice than through typed words. As a result, search marketers will need to adjust their strategies to include even fewer keywords, and more phrases that are colloquial and conversational.
The latest update to Google Maps reveals a new potential strategy for the search engine giant: integrating external applications in order to provide the best overall user experience. In the latest update, Google integrated functionality from OpenTable to allow users to place restaurant reservations without ever leaving the Maps app, as well as functionality from the Uber app to estimate the fare of a given ride. Combined with the fact that Google is using information from more third-party local directory apps like Yelp, it’s apparent that the search engine giant is willing to work with other niche specialists in order to present the most relevant information and functionalities for users.
The Apple Watch’s small screen will make it virtually impossible for users to navigate a traditional web browser window, and other wearable devices will probably have the same dilemma. As a result, more users will rely on information found in the context of applications instead of written on static web pages.
The change will, of course, be gradual, and there will always be users who prefer traditional web pages. However, the physical properties of wearable smart devices and Google’s app integration strategies will make it necessary for businesses to find new ways to make their information crawlable—beyond just a website.
Google’s Knowledge Graph has already rolled out in full force, making it easier than ever for users to find what they’re looking for. Rather than forcing users to scroll through pages of search results, Google now offers consolidated information in the form of a box, which provides common answers to common queries—for example, if you search for a movie, the Knowledge Graph will tell you information like the release year, runtime, director, cast, and so on.
Users will begin to rely on finding this information, and the Knowledge Graph will expand to include more archetypes of information to present. As a result, web traffic for top ranking sites might start to decline. It’s unclear how the evolution of the Knowledge Graph might affect the significance of page ranking, but it will start to disrupt the SEO game in 2015.
For now, webmasters should take advantage of the Schema.org microformatting that Google uses to find and interpret such complex information (if they haven’t already). Doing so will make your information more crawlable, and will increase your authority at the very least.
Users have been demanding newer, more immediate, more concise content on an increasing basis since the rise of the Internet. That trend will continue well into 2015, and Google will reward businesses that make an active effort to provide the newest content. As the content available online increases exponentially by the day, the value of “unique” content will diminish in comparison to content that is new.
Content marketers can prepare for this impending change by doing everything they can to post new content on a regular basis. Recycling old content and newsjacking articles that are already weeks old will become obsolete strategies, and Google will reward the sites with the greatest commitment to featuring new, fresh material.
It’s not entirely clear how interactions on social media currently affect your site’s authority, but it is clear that social signals are significant. In 2015, as the world of social media becomes more complex—both with an increased number of social media platforms, and a more sophisticated way of interacting on them with wearable technology—social signals will likely evolve as well. Find new ways to interact with your audience, and experiment with different approaches to determine the best strategy for your business.
In 2015, the gold standard for search engine significance will still be user experience. Give your users the best experience, and you’ll be rewarded with greater visibility. But wearable technology, semantic search capabilities, new information formats, and increasing online competition are all drastically changing the way that users experience the web. Be prepared for these changes going into the new year; the companies who adapt the fastest will earn a significant head start as the technology deploys.