Effective search engine optimization is all about adaptability. Google continuously changes the search engine algorithms it uses to index and rank websites, and these changes can impact the effectiveness of your SEO campaign in both large and small ways. The trick to long-term SEO success is therefore to anticipate these changes in order to stay ahead of the curve and adapt quickly. So what can we expect from Google next?
Responsive Design becomes Essential
As internet users migrate from desktops to mobile devices, Google has placed greater emphasis on responsive web design. Search engine results pages will now evaluate sites based on how responsive, or "mobile-friendly," they are to viewers. Sites that aren't responsive and present viewers with poorly formatted text and links, slow load times, and horizontal scrolling (among other inadequate features) will find their SERP listings lack this mobile-friendly distinction. This will have significant impact on the how a user decides which website to view on their mobile device, and will push sites that aren't mobile-friendly down in rankings. In short, 2015 will be a year in which websites can no longer make up for lacking responsive design with other SEO efforts. To keep your competitive edge, check to see if your site meets Google's mobile-friendly criteria.
Shift to Semantic Language
Google will also continue to focus more on the language that people actually use in their search queries to generate relevant results. This is in an effort to ensure that the search engine continues to be as user-friendly as possible; as more users type in queries based on natural phrases and colloquial language, Google has de-emphasized the value of exact keywords and technical phrases. Web content that doesn't incorporate semantic language will therefore suffer. Creating a FAQ page that features naturally-phrased questions and responses, or evaluating Google's related queries that appear at the bottom of a results page, are helpful ways to identify and incorporate semantic language. This emphasis on semantic language goes hand in hand with Google's shift towards long-tail keyword research, too. Looking forward, businesses should expect to transition all aspects of content towards more semantic language and feature the majority of their keywords in long-tail form.
Social Media Intertwined with Search
By all accounts, we can expect that social media and search will become even more interdependent in 2015. This month's announcement that Google will soon make the tweets of Twitter's 284 million users instantly searchable on Google is proof that a partnership between social media and search is thought to be mutually beneficial. The revival of this partnership—Google previously made tweets searchable from 2009 to 2011—is a signal to businesses to invest more into managing their Twitter profiles and to leverage Twitter not just as a social media platform, but as a true extension of their SEO campaigns.
Despite Google's insistence that social media signals don't directly factor into rankings, there's increasing evidence to suggest that social media definitely has become a way to gauge a website's authority. Social media profiles are already ranking on search engine results pages and social media sites are listed in the information boxes that accompany some SERP listings. In addition to its relevance to search results, social media itself will continue to be all about growing an audience and prompting follower engagement through creative posts, promotions, and calls to action.
Brand Mentions Replace Express Links
Google is changing up its approach to link analysis. In an effort to suppress black hat tactics, Google has begun to develop algorithms that differentiate between express and implied links. An express link is that which takes users directly to a URL, while an implied link is simply a brand mention without a lead to an URL. Rather than outright linking, both brand mentions and citations will be used to determine which websites truly maintain credible authority. Going forward websites can worry less about featuring direct links in their content and focus more on the natural integration of their brand name. In terms of inbound linking, this also means that third-party websites won't always need to link to your web page to aid your authority; mention of your company's name will now suffice.
Eliminating Links and Penalties
Google's turn towards brand mentions and its crackdown on black hat linking are further indicators that sites with linking issues will be subject to heavy penalties. Businesses will need to closely evaluate all of the links directed to their site via a link toxicity analysis, using something like Google Webmaster and Open Site Explorer from Moz, to identify poor links and secure their immediate removal. This may require emailing web masters directly to ask that they remove these unnatural links to their site. If you find there's nothing you can do to remove these bad links, apply for a Google disavowal; a disavowal ensures that Google will overlook these unnatural links when determining a website's ranking.
Quality Trumps Quantity in Content
Google will continue to value content that's not just fresh, but valuable to the web community it intends to reach. Frequently publishing content will still help reflect that your company is engaged, but maintaining an active publishing schedule shouldn't come at the cost of generating relevant, quality material. Content will continue to reign supreme in the coming year, and as more businesses invest in SEO, the need for exceptional writing will only increase. Content will also continue to branch out into varying mediums such as infographics, professional videos, e-books, and whitepapers to garner more industry authority. Though the blog is still powerful, these alternative options will serve as valuable additions to content marketing plans and may make for more shareable content on social media.
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