Recently I was asked by Danny Denhard to contribute to a collective post on the direction organic search will be heading in 2015. My thoughts were published alongside those of leading SEO industry experts like Stacey MacNaught, Kevin Gibbons, Dan Sharp, Paddy Moogan, Matt Beswick, Paul Rogers, Patrick Hathaway, Stephen Kenwright, Carl Hendy, Simon Penson, Justin Butcher, and Michael Briggs.
It’s a great collection of different perspectives on the future of search, and you can see some areas of overlap where many of us believe search and SEO are heading. Every individual contribution is worthwhile to read. Below are my own thoughts, though I recommend you read the whole piece (it’s also available as a downloadable PDF).
If there’s one complaint I can make, it’s that the contributions to Danny’s article are very heavy on XY chromosomes. As Stacey’s contribution is so excellent, I can’t help but feel that a greater dose of female perspective would have made it an even more awesome article. I’d love to have read the predictions of Aleyda Solis, Nichola Stott, Samantha Noble, Hannah Smith, or any of the other exceptionally talented women in our industry.
Anyway, here is my contribution:
With the number of high profile changes and algorithm updates in 2014, what do you think the most important thing will be to achieve success in 2015?
First of all you need to have a product or service that Google can’t (easily) steal or copy. Increasingly we see Google wanting to be the end-destination, rather than the gateway, which is why they’re using websites’ content to provide answers directly in their search results (knowledge graph), or building rival services of their own (Google Maps, Flights, Hotel Finder, Credit Card comparison, etc).
So make sure you have something that Google can’t (yet) take over, otherwise you’ll find yourself out of business very quickly.
Secondly, you need to diversify your acquisition channels. Even if you have a unique product, there’s no guarantee Google will show you in its search results. Organic search is likely to be your biggest traffic driver for the foreseeable future, but if Google can’t take over what you do they’ll damn sure try to force you to buy AdWords ads.
So don’t rely too much on a single traffic source. Diversify your digital marketing channels, and do them all as well as you can.
Where or what do you think the biggest challenge will be in 2015?
Aside from preventing yourself from becoming obsolete when Google tries to move in to your niche, your biggest challenge is to do effective SEO whilst steering clear of Google penalties and algorithmic filters. There has always been a conflict between what works to drive organic visiblity, and what Google recommends you do. In recent years this conflict ignited into full-on war when Google started putting the onus of cleaning up its search results firmly on webmasters rather than on its own webspam team, and they’ve been liberally handing out penalties ever since.
The problem is of course that effective SEO often breaks Google’s guidelines. So, to avoid getting penalised, you have to be smart about what you do, how you do it, and the tracks that you leave for Google to discover. That’ll be your biggest challenge.
I also expect Google will keep shifting the goalposts, and tactics that work fine now will be re-designated as spam at some point down the line. Preparing for that can also be quite challenging, and you’ll need contingency plans for when that happens.
Thinking about how you think your industry or clients industries are going, what’s the best piece of advice that you give all clients or prospective clients in coming weeks/months?
As per the first point, diversification is key. I’m a SEO guy through and through, and I’m advising my clients to not rely purely on SEO. Yes, organic search is and will remain the strongest driver of growth for nearly all websites out there, but due to the increasingly adversarial attitude Google is adopting towards the web, you can’t rely on organic search indefinitely.
Google wants you to buy ads, so you better suck it up and start an AdWords campaign. When those paid visits arrive on your website, work hard to convert them into customers; use CRO and UX to make your website deliver tangible results for your business. And when you’ve won a customer, do whatever you can to keep them: use email marketing and social media effectively to retain business so you don’t have to keep paying Google for the privilege of sending you new customers.
What do you predict will be the biggest change / or hardest hitting change in 2015?
I’m not sure if 2015 is the year, but I’m convinced that in the near future Google will start using brand sentiment as an alternative to link-based metrics for its ranking algorithms. A positive brand sentiment, as evidenced through positive customer reviews and mentions online, will become a crucial factor for businesses that want to gain visibility in search.
If and when this is rolled out, expect to see a massive shift in search visibility for some major brands, as well as for many smaller players. Sentiment analysis is however a notoriously difficult nut to crack, but I’m seeing all kinds of interesting technologies appear in this space, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on and prepare for.
Lastly, if you were Google what would you do to improve quality and search results?
If I were Google I’d make damn sure I recognised my place in the online ecosystem. Google has broken the unofficial agreement they had with the web: that they could take websites’ content to show in their search results, and in return they would send relevant traffic back to those websites.
Now Google believes that they shouldn’t be the middleman, but instead act as final destination, using whatever means at their disposal to keep people on their own sites so they can harvest more personal data and show more ads. Google still takes all your content, but increasingly it doesn’t send traffic to your site but wants you to pay for it through AdWords advertising.
It’s a destructive development for the rest of the web, causing great harm to the online businesses whose websites Google used for building its empire the first place. Google needs to realise its position in the ecosystem and stop chasing after profit maximisation to the detriment of everything and everyone else.
Read all contributions in the full article here.