15 predictions for digital marketing and organic search in 2015

Now typically I don’t like to make predictions for what is going to happen in Search for the simple reason that change runs rampant within the world of Search. What Google does today might not be what Google does tomorrow. So I thought it would be fun to ask Mediative’s Organic Search team about what some of their predictions are for 2015. Keep in mind that these are predictions based in part on what we have seen this year and where we think Google and Search in general is heading.  Changes in technology, evolving consumer search habits, and changes in how businesses approach their digital strategies are all going to impact how digital marketers map out their strategy for reaching their audience, promote their brand and generate leads and sales.

If you want to succeed in the digital space in 2015, here are some things that we think you should be paying attention to:

1. Machine Learning begins to further impact search results

While we know that Google has a series of algorithms that determine why site “A” appears before site “B” in the search results, we expect Google to become a smarter search engine in 2015. Look for another Google-Hummingbird-type algorithm update that focuses on returning semantically relevant search results based on data that Google has acquired and based on predictions as to what the answers to the search query is. Wikipedia defines “machine learning” as “a scientific discipline that deals with the construction and study of algorithms that can learn from data. Such algorithms operate by building a model based on inputs and using that to make predictions or decisions, rather than following only explicitly programmed instructions. ”We will continue to see the results fluctuate and it will become harder to “control” your website’s visibility in the SERPs.  From an organic search perspective, we are at the mercy of the algorithms.

2. Content will not reach the pinnacle… yet

Many may argue that content is nearing ubiquity but there is still a lot of noise or “garbage” out there.  Your content strategy needs to grow. Just because you have a blog, doesn’t mean that you will have online success. Just because you throw up a couple of videos does not mean that your video content will go viral.  Digital Marketers have in essence become publishers and everybody is doing content. The fact is that many are doing content poorly. The challenge is in the ability to create unique, timely content that users need to consume quickly. It is all about convenience and being in the right place at the right time. How your content intercepts your audience at the various stages of the buying funnel has never been more important. And speaking of content…

3. Optimizing for semantically rich content topics and not simple keyword queries becomes the norm

I have been recomme2015 Predictions Digital Marketing and Organic Search Jody Nimetznding this for years now. You have to create topically relevant content as opposed to optimizing just for specific keywords. Traditional keyword optimization is nowhere near as effective as it once was. In some cases it’s no longer relevant. You have to think about semantics and topics. Here’s a quick example, you can have a website that focuses on “medical insurance” and is not even optimized for “health insurance” yet the site shows up in the SERPs for both terms. (Even though their pages may or may not contain the term “health insurance”. Sites that are optimized for the topic as a whole will perform better in the SERPs. Mediative Sr. Organic Search Strategist, Hicham Damahi, out of our Montreal office states that “Post hummingbird, different/similar keywords are now returning very similar SERPs (Domain diversity dropped), because strong domains with good content are taking over smaller sites (pages built around one keyword on smaller sites are being dropped). More on the impact of Hummingbird here. The example of this page ranking first for tons of different keywords is stunning: http://beauty.about.com/od/hairbasics/a/flattering.htm. Hicham adds: “The shift from Queries to Topics will be fulfilled; the old strategy of building a page around a keyword will become building a page around a topic, and pages will now rank for a broader types of queries (topically related) even if the title tags are not optimized – Marcus Tober from Search Metrics has some data to back this theory:

2015 Predictions Digital Marketing and Organic Searchword count vs 2013

4. Technical Functionality of a Site becomes critical for success

2015 Predictions Digital Marketing and Organic Search Niall FlynnNiall Flynn, a Sr. Organic Strategist in our Toronto office and one of our leading technical SEO’s predicts that key technical elements will become even more important in 2015. For example, Niall goes on to suggest:

  • Sites that do not adhere to responsiveness will be excluded from mobile search and will lose rank
  • Schema will continue to grow in usage and new schemas will become more relevant
  • Web coding is moving towards a less scripting based approach as Google start to create a more app centric internet
  • Site speed will continue to be a ranking factor and become even more important for Mobile
  • SEO will become less header based as Google iterate more and more quality signals

5. Authority will matter

2015 Predictions Digital Marketing and Organic Search Zak Ramdani

 Zak Ramdani, Sr. Organic Strategist in Mediative’s Vancouver office suggests that “Google will get better at qualifying and weighting a business’s online reputation”. Building trust with your consumer is an on-going need.  The Internet is a vast and ruthless space, where a couple of negative reviews or a little negative SEO can do monumental damage to your brand and your business. Look to Google to reward websites and brands that not only have a strong online reputation but a strong offline reputation as well.

6. Google Pigeon will be launched in Canada

Hicham predicts that Pigeon will be launched fully in Canada and notes that:

  • As we saw with the original Pigeon release, there will be a decrease in the 7 packs and 3 packs, meaning only the strongest listings will continue to appear in those local SERPs.
  • While some industries will lose local packs in the SERPs; others will win them, see thisBrightEdge study for more detail. (Real estate and Insurance businesses should be ready to lose visibility.)
  • The update of the search radius will also impact the visibility of some businesses, for example a business in the suburb of Montreal may stop receiving local visibility in search for queries like Widget+Montreal
2015 Predictions Digital Marketing and Organic Search Hicham Damahi
  • The launch of pigeon in Canada will more likely be released once every Google placelistings are upgraded to Google+ local listings (new G+ listings have an edge over the old ones in the SERPs –  and big brands were penalized after pigeon in the US because most of them are still on Google Places as mentioned in this article).

7. Optimize for Mobile – Mobile optimization is a must for 2015

Yes we have been stating this for the past few years, but you can bet your house that Mobile optimization is a must have for 2015. Just look at all of the focus that Google is placing on it. In fact as Mediative Organic Search Strategist Isabelle Hulshof mentions, “Mobile optimization and UX will be key in 2015. With Google adding mobile usability features to GWT tools and deploying its “mobile-friendly” label globally in the next few weeks, it is clear that they are putting the emphasis on mobile for 2015. Businesses should make sure that their mobile website is well optimized and user friendly (adapted content, screen sizes, links and touch-elements accessibility, etc.) since these could all be new ranking factors of a new 2015 Google algorithm.”

8. Brand Mentions will begin to work their way into ranking signals as an eventual authority signal

Mediative’s Zak Ramdani predicts that Google will be amping up their interpretation of brands placing more authority on brands that are more frequently mentioned in a positive manner. Social becomes important here as engines such as Google and Bing factor in authority signals such as social shares and mentions even more into their ranking algorithms. This is already happening to an extent but look for the engines to put more weighting on this in 2015.

9. The Revival of Authorship

Similar to the supporting of XML sitemaps and schema, we think that the engines will collaborate in a similar fashion on some sort of authorship revival. Earlier this year Google dropped its authorship as I touched on in this post from August. However many think that it will be back in some form in 2015. We do think that it will again become a ranking factor for Google as they try to reward authority and devalue scrapers or producers of duplicate content.

10. Link Popularity still important but it’s all about the authority

Similar to the previous point around brand mentions, backlinks to your site are still important.  However it is acquiring them in a natural fashion that is even more important. Google’s Penguin algorithm will continue to devalue sites that artificially inflate their link inventories. As Isabelle points out, “while links are still an important ranking factor, the “authority” of links created have suffered lately with the changes in the Google algorithms. Nevertheless, authority is still what Google is searching for and businesses should therefore focus on developing “brand mentions’” (implied links) along with “classic backlinks” to leverage their brand authority as this is taken into consideration by Google to measure a business’s website authority on the web and in results.”

11. Schema and Rich Markup – The NEW Meta Tag

While this is not something new, schema and rich markup should be a part of your regular optimization efforts in 2015.  Schema markup is great for communicating to the search engines information about your page and the page topicality (see point three above). In essence schema markup is like meta data on steroids and really meta data is simply data about data. Schema is data about data and it helps the search engines understand what your pages and web site is all about.  Schema markup could ultimately being a key piece of the ranking algorithm, or at least play a more pivotal part in the rankings that Google and other engines serve up.

12. Digital Marketers will return to basics

Marketing 101 should never be forgotten. I think that we are going to see digital marketers return to basics and really focus on items such as establishing personas and reevaluating their target audience. Revisiting the four (or five) “P’s” of marketing will serve digital marketers well as they map out marketing strategies.  We are going to see marketers simplify the process and focus on the journey rather than the immediate goals or targets.  To quote this great article from Forbes from Jack Trout that I came across, “To complete the process, you need to turn the idea into a strategy. (If the idea is a nail, the strategy is the hammer.)”. Stepping back and setting a clearly focused digital strategy will mean evaluating what’s worked and what’s not worked and mapping out the process for the entire journey. Are you going to kick it old school with link building and keyword research in 2015? Most likely not, but you will be looking at building content themes and supporting your content with semantically relevant terms, you’ll also be looking to ensure that your audience is successfully served with a great mobile experience. The importance of understanding and connecting with your audience will not change.

13. Google will continue rolling out the changes

Google has stated that they make hundreds of algorithm updates every year. Niall Flynn has a number of thoughts as to some of the changes we may expect to see from Google in 2015 (algo changes and beyond):

  • Google are adopting a new front face PR stance
  • Algo changes will become even less defined
  • Algo changes are not announced in the same way as Google becomes less transparent about updates and refreshes
  • EU Countries will continue to fight Google’s monopoly and the US will have one SERP style and the EU another
  • Google will launch more spam fighting algo changes; this will continue to be an ongoing battle for them.
  • Internal street view will be refocused and re-introduced

14. Yahoo will re-emerge as a strong alternative to Google

Yahoo has been sitting quiet and although they still have their search deal with Microsoft (Bing), Yahoo is starting to make moves to re-emerge as its own true search engine. They have seen a nice lift from their recent deal with FireFox in becoming their default search engine.  In addition, Marissa Mayer continues to plot to get rid of Yahoo’s deal with Bing.  This could be the year that we see Yahoo come out and gain back some of its glory from a decade ago. They will not be a Google-killer by any means but they will be a nice alternative to those who are unhappy with Google and their endless algorithm updates. ComScore states that the current US search market share breaks down as follows Google (67 percent), Bing (19.5 percent), and Yahoo (10.3 percent). While we don’t expect this to change greatly in 2015, Yahoo could again become the #2 player in Search in North America.

15. Matt Cutts will officially leave Google

Uup you heard it here, we feel that Matt Cutts has taken enough time to reflect on his time as Google Evangelist and will decide to move on. His replacement, albeit it in a different role could be someone like Pierre Far who has been attending conferences on behalf of Google and has been showing up more and more to assist web masters in their online efforts.  Pierre’s current title at Google is Webmaster Tools Analyst but this may change in 2015.

There you have a few predictions from our organic search team. Have some predictions of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments of this post and maybe we will include them in a future post.

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Mediative helps businesses cut through the digital clutter so they can better perform in an otherwise complex digital landscape and, ultimately, reach, engage, and convert more potential customers.