I first met Bart Gibby, VP of SEO for fast growing Utah firm Boostability, in October, when I spoke on Crisis PR at a local evening meeting of Salt Lake’s search marketing professional association, SLC/SEM. Boostability is an expert in SEO and local search. We spoke about crisis PR, of course, but we also discovered we are kindred souls in our passion for the increasingly better ways marketers are discovering to make SEO really “work”. To that end, I invited Bart to collaborate with me on the article you see here today – of all the greatest developments on the horizon in the SEO universe, what are the trends marketers need to be aware of as we move into 2014, and what should they do? Here’s what he said:
1. The Ever-Changing Google Search
Google has said in the past that they do approximately two tweaks to their algorithm every day. The graph below represents the most noteworthy changes to Google’s algorithm in the years since 2002. These are changes that Google either mentioned officially or that have had a significant impact on the Internet marketing community.
Though we have only seen 15 noteworthy changes for 2013, it is clear from the rising graph that Google has taken exponential action in its algorithm changes since 2011.
Since February 2011, in fact, Google has released 25 updates that affect its website content quality algorithm known as Panda. Other include website layout and the devaluation of generic product or service keywords in the domain name known as the “EMD” (Exact Match Domain) update. Examples of a domain that would have been devalued by the EMD update would be DaytonOhioPlumbing.com or iPhoneAccessories.net, in an effort to take away the “unfair advantage” of hits to a company whose name precisely matches the generic search term it answers.
In 2013, the Panda algorithm logic was merged with the main Google algorithm, so updates for the Panda algorithm have ceased. But Boostability estimates that changes that could amount to another 10 Panda updates in 2013 could bring the real number of major changes in 2013 to 25.
Google has been relentless during 2013 in its pursuit to squash link building in cases where the intent of the link builder is to manipulative Google’s algorithm rather than add genuine value to users. Thus the advent of the new Google algorithm, Penguien, that the company applies separately from the main Google algorithm about once a quarter.
These updates may seem daunting, but they actually level the playing field and give web marketers the opportunity to step in and make their sites more competitive in the context of Google’s new rules. Google’s desire, of course, is to give search engine users great results, not the results that contain the highest level of spammy link profiles.
If your company has the resources to spend on truly advancing its website, the updates mean a significant thing: you can out position your competition by simply having a better website, which means offering better products and services, providing best value, and refining your website users’ experience.
Gibby recommends online marketers cease all spammy link building practices immediately, and I agree. Marketers should focus on cleaning up their link profiles and should aim their efforts at creating compelling and textually rich content that includes images, video, and audio, and that fully explores what attracts new customers and keeps them coming back. “If you take care of your customers, they (and Google) will take care of you,” he concludes.
2. Optimization for Multi-Screen and Smart Phone & Tablet Use
In June 2013, Neilson reported that of mobile phone users in the U.S. 61% of them now use smart phones. That is a 10% increase since early 2012.
The study “Why We Don’t Buy: Consumer Attitudes on Shopping Cart Abandonment,” by Bronto Software and Magento said that 54% of people who buy online daily or weekly own a tablet and 64% own a smartphone.
“You can’t afford not to have a mobile friendly website in 2014,” Gibby says, and notes that having a mobile-friendly website implemented wrongly could hurt your site’s performance in Google searches. Here’s why:
In November 2013, Bronto Software published a study of 106 online retailers named “Responsive Design Provides the Perfect Fit”. The study showed that for companies marketing through emails, when smartphone and mobile users clicked on the email link, only 4% of retailer websites rewarded the users’ efforts with a mobile friendly or “responsive” website design. iPhone and Android users, however, received a responsive or adaptive design 69% and 68% of the time respectively.
What this likely means is that retailers are using different or separate URLs or locations for their mobile friendly sites rather than consolidating their efforts to a single website, Gibby said. An example of this practice might be mobile.example.com vs. www.example.com. This is a problem, as the same content is now located on more than one URL or location. How does Google (or even Bing) know which URL to show their searches?
For optimal success Google recommends “responsive web design.” This phrase refers to website design that adjusts the layout or size of the website according to the screen or window size of whatever device or web browser is being used to view it. So whether your website users are using an iPhone, Android, tablet or desktop PC, the HTML code used to render the page is the same for every URL. This eliminates the need to host separate mobile sites at a different location than the main website. Essentially, the main website is the mobile website as well.
This does two things. First, it makes sure the user goes to a page optimized for their viewing needs regardless of their device. Secondly, having only one URL for each piece of content draws all search engine ranking value to one URL, making it stronger.
If you haven’t already, now is a great time to unite your mobile site and main site’s content through a responsive web design, for both mobile marketing purposes and to strengthen your site’s SEO.
3. Local Search Competition on Search Engines
The Google Places Stats and Facts page says that “20% of searches on Google are related to location.” According to comScore, 56% of mobile phone users use their browser for local searches, raising the importance still further for small and local businesses to establish themselves online.
There are about 250,000 new claimed listings on Google a month (Mike Blumenthal’s 2011 estimate), and the implications are tremendous. The need for your business to have Google & Bing optimized business listings is vital for your success in 2014.
Internet marketing firms such as Boostabililty that are catering to small and local firms have seen tremendous growth. In the first week of 2013 Boostability reported 3,347 SEO accounts with local intent. On Nov 27 they had 6,229 accounts, amounting to a staggering 86% rate of growth in localized SEO business in 11 months.
As demand for pertinent local search results rises, so does supply. Getting your business on Google+ and Bing is not difficult. Whether you hire third party or do it in house, you should optimize local search for all of your business locations in 2014. If you’ve already done this, look into improving your standing further by optimizing the profile, adding new images, coupons, and updating the hours of business. Freshening up your profiles in the coming year will produce a better return than ever before.
4. Remember There are More Users in HTML 5 Compatible Environments than in Flash
StatCounter’s data, quoted in the Google study “Unlocking the HTML5 Opportunity: What’s the Holdup,” says that in May 2013, the number of users who have HTML 5 compatible environments overtook users with FLASH compatible environments.
HTML 5 is important as it allows for dynamic and interactive content like FLASH, but is compatible a across multiple devices, browsers, and screens. Soon, the need to have multiple technologies such as FLASH and Silverlight for your company’s ads and creative on content will all merge into HTML 5, saving development cost and time to execution, Gibby says.
FLASH will still be compatible with regular desktop browsers, but HTML 5 content will soon be compatible with every browser on every device.
You’ll notice from the graph below that HTML 5 compatibility is continuing to grow in general. But is it growing among your website’s user base? Start to track if, you haven’t already, how much usage there is on devices and browsers that are compatible with HTML 5 vs. FLASH that use your website.
If the trend is positive for HTML 5 on your website then start to incentivize your in-house teams to learn HTML 5 if they have not done so already. What you pay for trainings and workshops will be an investment well spent.
5. Pinterest Usage Soars
If your target market’s demographic includes white or Hispanic females aged 18 to 64, Pinterest is the place to be. (Nielsen.com, 2012 Social Media Report). At 27,223,000 unique U.S. visitors in 2011, Pinterest has experienced exponential growth. As of July 2013, Pinterest grew to 70 million subscribers with 50 million of those in the U.S. (Semiocast, July 2013). Twenty one million of these are believed to be “active” users by Semiocast, meaning that the accounts have been used at least once in the month the study was conducted and were not newly registered. The moral of the story is this: Pinterest users are active users. If the growth rate of Pinterest continues on this track, it may ultimately overtake Twitter in total number of user accounts.
Based on these trends is your online marketing ready for 2014? If not, you have a little more time. Thanks to Bart Gibby for his contributions to the research I’ve presented. And I welcome your thoughts.