The New Year is a time for both reflection and planning. If the past is any indication of the future, we can expect some big things in 2014.
The following is brief recap of the major changes we saw in 2013 and where you should focus your attention and investments in 2014.
What Changed in 2013
2013 was a bold year for the online marketing world. We saw an abundance of changes to our industry, forcing major tactical and behavioral shifts from agencies and consultants.
The most notable changes included Google’s Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird update along with the omission of keyword data. In a nutshell, these updates shook up search rankings by devaluing many of the tactics webmasters and SEOs used to get websites ranked, while also limiting important data about site visitors.
So what happens when many of the tools in your tool belt suddenly stop working? You adapt, or you go extinct.
Diversify Your Approach in 2014
One-dimensional approaches are inherently higher risk. Companies hardest hit by Google’s 2013 updates relied too heavily on one or two tactics. The moment those strategies became ineffective, the results stopped cold.
A comprehensive approach should focus on several different areas. They include mobile, local, social, purchased, content, and user-experience.
Mobile usage continues to climb while Google is throwing down the hammer on websites that don’t optimize the mobile experience.
Google recognized early that mobile usage would soon surpass desktop usage, and that this posed a threat to its #1 revenue engine: selling ads.
User behavior on mobile is modified from desktop in almost every way. This includes the ads people see and the likelihood that someone clicks. If I’m Google, my obsession would to be protect the revenue-per-user metric derived from online ads as users move from desktop to mobile.
What does this mean for website owners?
Google’s ability to effectively monetize the mobile web directly correlates to a positive user experience. By rewarding webmasters who focus on the user experience an advantage in the rankings, more webmasters will follow suit.
Optimizing for mobile:
1. Use a web design built to accommodate mobile devices. We recommend using responsive web design, which auto-formats your website based on the screen size.
2. Focus on speed. Google has said for many years that site speed is a ranking factor for desktop sites. The same applies to mobile sites as well.
3. Create a great user experience. If you focus on delivering the best possible experience for the user, which includes fast loads times, relevant content, great presentation, and no dead links, Google will reward your efforts.
Local results, or search results that populate based on your location, are a great way to capture traffic when proximity is important. Local results are placed on a normal Google search result page (both desktop and mobile) below the paid ads and within, or sometimes above, the traditional organic ads.
Back in July, I broke down the Google search result page, which includes highlighting the local listings specifically.
These local listings are especially important to someone searching on a mobile device, as studies show mobile searches are more likely to have local intent.
How does this change in 2014? As the percentage of Google searches done on a mobile device continues to grow, securing strong rankings for your services will be more critical than ever before.
The invention of the internet, and specifically social media, are analogous to the industrial revolution in terms of its impact on society. We can all list several ways social media has changed our own behavior, but consider the incoming generation that has only known the world WITH social media.
I don’t expect major changes to the significance of social media in 2014 versus 2013 or 2012. I only expect it to continue on its current trajectory and become more and more significant with each passing day.
In my last piece, I introduced the concept of “BEO”, which stressed the importance of buying traffic as a strategy. If you can achieve an acceptable rate of return with your purchased traffic, you can ensure a percentage of your lead generation is always under your control. This way you don’t have to worry about the phone going quiet the next time Google updates their formula.
How does this change in 2014? As I mentioned in the mobile segment, ad revenues make up a huge percentage of Google’s top line. Google is continuously experimenting with new formats and features that bring value to their advertisers. Recently, Google has experimented with a new ad format on the search result page, replacing the yellow shaded area with a bright yellow marker next to each ad. By reducing the visual distinction between an organic ad and a paid ad, more users may begin clicking on paid search ads.
Google has proven very successful in devaluing weak content and artificial links. This has forced marketers and webmasters to adopt an earned strategy to their inbound marketing. More specifically, developing unique, high value content. Adding quality content to your website on a regular basis is not a new strategy (far from it), however as lower-cost alternatives have become less effective for producing rankings and traffic, the impact of content has increased significantly.
Prediction for 2014: with other tactics becoming extinct, the gold rush of content is underway. This increase in demand will produce low-cost, low-quality options for getting content produced. To reap the benefits of a content-favoring Google algorithm, it will be important to maintain a high quality standard, even when it comes at a premium price.
Experience (User-Centric Approach):
The biggest sin of online marketing occurs when we stop focusing on the user. For some, monitoring rankings, improving PageRank, and increasing the number of followers are considered more important than providing the best user experience. It’s important to state and agree on the end-game (‘generate more business online’ usually covers it), and then make sure all metrics can be tied back to that activity. If you can’t make the connection between the activity and the end-game, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it in the first place.
Prediction for 2014: At the end of the day, doing what’s right for the customer almost always pay off. Building this into your online marketing philosophy will protect you against any new trends and search engine updates.
One final note…
I want to sincerely thank all those who took the time to read and share my posts this last year. As someone who is very passionate about the online marketing space, I take great satisfaction in sharing my thoughts and ideas as well as industry developments with you every two weeks.
If you find these articles valuable, please share them using the social links below. It goes a long way and only takes a second to do.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful New Year!
As chief marketing officer of WebStrategies, Inc., Chris helps small businesses reach and connect with more customers online. He is the chief strategist for inbound marketing campaigns and the lead analyst for web analytics and website usability testing. Find Chris on Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.