Now, don’t freak out. I certainly don’t mean that SEO as a practice or thing in general has died. On the contrary, the end goal of traditional SEO – increased site/brand visibility and trust – has become more important than ever. What has changed in SEO trends, however (and for the better in my opinion) is the means to that end and the skill set required to reach it.
It really wasn’t that long ago that increased search rankings could be achieved by mostly technically-minded professionals implementing a handful of tried and true tactics. Insert keywords, add sitemaps, create meta data, build links, and voila- your search rankings have improved! All very left-brained stuff. (Yes, this is an oversimplification of SEO of yore). We all know what happened next. . . Black hatters everywhere arose. They keyword stuffed, built link farms and created irrelevant content and unusable sites. Google gave an inch and the industry took miles and miles. A world in which short cutters were rewarded and dishonest behavior won was created.
Enter Penguin, Panda, Payday Loan, Authorship, Google+, Knowledge Graph, Rich Snippets, Carousel (deep breath), countless iterations of Google Places/Local/Listings/MyBusiness, (not provided), heck, even Bing and Yahoo! We live in a much different world now. It’s not that we are playing by different rules now. We are playing an entirely different game; a much much bigger game.
SEOs used to play a pretty small and relatively simple sport. If our sites ranked for the right, high volume terms, we scored. Similarly, if a web developer created a really cool looking website that had people wanting to learn more and functioned properly, they won their game. And if a social media specialist generated followers and engagement via their chosen social channels, touchdown! But two things have happened and are continuing to happen which have caused all of the key players to come to the realization that they are not the star player in their own game, but that they are contributing players in the same game:
- Changes in the Search and Digital Landscape: Changes in the search industry, like the ones mentioned above, have changed not only the way we view SEO, but all specialties in the digital realm. Similarly, changes in social, development technology, paid search, etc. have forced new perspectives throughout the industry.
- General Evolution of the Industry: Not all of the changes and new perspectives are forced on us by the Internet gods. In many cases, we are the catalysts for our own change. For example, SEOs used to be satisfied with appropriate search visibility; however, as eager professionals, we eventually began asking ourselves harder questions. What happens once someone gets to the site? Do users understand how to navigate my shopping cart? How is the paid search program contributing to my organic performance? Is social affecting my rank? And so on and so forth.
As we become fluent in our new sport, SEOs are very much still a vital team member; however, those we thought of before as SEOs are replaced with Digital Strategists – coaches who understand the role each specialty plays in a new and bigger sport. Here are a few SEO trends for 2015 and projections which exemplify how these roles must now work more closely together than ever before.
- The Division of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing: This has been going on for some time and is nothing new. We are seeing SEO become a technically focused practice (think meta, rich snippets and structured data, etc.) while content marketing is evolving into a beast of its own. This is not to say that they are no longer related. On the contrary, SEOs and content marketers must work together and toward similar ends. However, a technical SEO may have handled search-related content needs in the past on their own. Now SEO and content marketing have become large enough to warrant their own skill sets, time, budgets and staff.
- Universal Listings: Brand visibility has never began and ended with your own website, but the introduction of Universal Listings and other changes to the SERP highlight the need to exist online beyond one’s own domain. With Universal Listings, your YouTube video, a company logo on another website, a news article, a map listing, etc. can rank on page one for a relevant term. Not only that, they could even bump your 4th position classic blue link rank toward the very bottom of page one. Ensuring that all these media are well-optimized requires cooperation and communication between developers, SEOs, content marketers, social media specialists and public relations professionals.
- Brand Mentions and the Convergence of PR and SEO: With link building being a thing of the past, Google is putting extra emphasis on simple mentions of your brand name on third party sites. No link required. This is just one example of the crossover between SEO and PR efforts. We are also seeing more importance placed on relationship building (with media, bloggers, customers, etc.) playing a larger role overall in online and search visibility.
- Social Signals: Google has been saying for years that social signals do not play a role in search rankings despite many studies suggesting otherwise. Due to the current social climate, 2015 seems like the right time for social signals to start playing a larger and more transparent role in our search efforts.
- Site Usability and Search Effects: Google has been preaching the importance of site usability (desktop and mobile) for years. Of late, we’ve seen Google implementing more incentive to have a technically sound and usable site. For example, Google submits rank penalties for sites that throw mobile errors. Additionally, Google has been adding features to Google Webmaster Tools to help marketers understand their mobile usability issues. The writing is on the wall, usability will continue to be an important search factor which means SEOs and developers must work closer together than ever.
This by no means an exhaustive list, but I do think that it sheds a bit of light on the evolution that we’ve seen in SEO and digital marketing as whole. What trends have been of particular interest to you?