Debunking Google Predictions for 2014

Some Google Predictions for 2014

In my previous post I discussed whether Google might be you friend or foe in 2014. We touched on some areas where Google may be further cracking down (see: link spam) and where they might be going with Search in 2014.  I have a feeling that, like the past few years, we are going to see some fundamental movement from Google with Search, specifically Organic Search.

Here is a look at five predictions regarding Search and SEO for 2014 and our take on whether these items might in fact become a reality.  Regardless, they are points to consider as Google builds a smarter search engine (and revenue generator).

Prediction #1: We will see unparalleled dynamic movement in search results

This is in fact happening as we speak.  In recent months we have seen Google add the Knowledge Graph, Carousel Results and continue to modify their results pages.  Look for more of this to happen.  The new concern for some may be the fact that just because you have had prime visibility for a given phrase for years, you may be in jeopardy if you do not enhance this content.  Recent comments from Google’s Matt Cutts suggest that “…If you want to stay competitive, you need to take a “fresh” look at your site and keep upgrading, tweaking, improving the site and the user experience. Otherwise, new sites that have a better user experience may surpass you, as they should. In short, having an old domain doesn’t mean you will always keep the rankings you have today…” Look for regular fluctuation in the search results in 2014. More than we have even seen.

Prediction #2: Google will reduce the number of blue links (i.e. organic results) by 50% on the SERPs

In the past Google has reduced the number of organic results from the traditional ten listings to seven.  In addition to ad placements and local results (depending on the query), organic results continue to be pushed below the fold on many Google SERPs.  The reason Google is doing this is simple.  Organic links do not directly generate revenue for Google unlike the paid ads that have been given prominence on a Google SERP.  (Even though organic results still tend to generate more clicks than paid results).  While I do not think that Google will in fact drop the number of organic listings on a SERP to a mere five, the days of ten blue links are behind us.  Look for seven or eight tops.  An adverse impact is that this is another factor that makes it difficult to apply an organic click-through rate to position for Google results.  At the end of the day Google will be looking to further monetize their results.  The great SEO veteran Bruce Clay has more on this is a recent post featuring his SEO predictions for 2014.   Bruce nails it when he states, “Ultimately Google wants mobile results to be filled with listings that make Google money.”

Prediction #3: Google will begin to offer paid results for local listings

According to reports from eMarketer, mobile searches will outpace desktop searches by as early as 2015.  I think this might even happen sooner.  As a result, Google will look at some form of “payola” for enriched features for local results that businesses can purchase.

In 2014, local results will be displayed for over half of all searches regardless of device.  At Mediative, we’ve conducted some studies into mobile search and one of our most recent studies had these findings:

  • 89% of participants said they searched for a local business on their phone at least once a week. Last year, this number was 65%.
  • In a week’s time, 59% of participants say they search for restaurants or bars, 35% say they search for financial institutions, and 48% say they search for perform shopping-related searches.
  • 54% of mobile search users claim they perform general searches (hotels Toronto) and 46% claim they perform specific searches (Hyatt Toronto)

Check out our research by visiting the following link: http://www.mediative.com/insights.

Another option for Google to monetize placement could be in the form of Carousel results.  Google may look to “adjust” where your site shows up in the carousel results by offering premium placement therein.

Overall I would say that there is a good chance (75-80%) that Google begins to offer some sort of paid local listing enhancement in 2014.

Prediction #4: Google will take an even harder stance on spam (specifically link spam)

This is almost 100% certain.  In fact there have been numerous comments out of the Google camp that suggest they are already taking further action against spammers.  I have seen a number of articles and blog posts from site owners complaining about being hit with some sort of Google penalty.  Google is setting the tone early as (at the time of this writing) we are still in January.  Algorithm updates such as Penguin will continue to focus on link spam.  Recent announcement from Google on guest blogging show that Google is finding that the one-time acceptable practice of guest blogging has become exploited and a tactic for link spammers.  Google will be taking action against sites that they feel has manipulated the use of guest blogging to generate links.

Efforts such as over optimization, negative SEO tactics and having thin content will result in seeing your site devalued in the search results and in some case you may receive an actual penalty from Google.  We have heard of an unprecedented amount of penalties being issued in the first few weeks of the year.  Either that, or people are simply more active in reporting these penalties.  Blatant spammers with a long history of recovering (rightfully so) and first time offenders may have an easier time or shorter time period to recover.  Warning for all of your repeat spammers; you may get hit hard in 2014 and it will take you a long time to correct the ship.  Our best advice?  Follow Google’s guidelines and avoid any tactics that may manipulate your placement in search results.  Avoid traditional link building tactics and focus on enhancing your content.

Prediction #5: Link Popularity as part of Google’s ranking algorithm will be no more

There is a lot of commentary out there about link building being dead.  Well this might be true for a number of traditional link building tactics, but we need to remember that the Web is based on links.  While I do not (and have never been) a fan of “building links”, the link popularity element of the ranking algorithms will most likely always be there.  So I do not think that it is going away anytime soon.  What I do believe is that the Engines (and I believe Bing has already started this)  weighting of link popularity in the algorithms will be “lightened”.  That is, it will not be the number one ranking factor in the ranking algorithm.  With hundreds of elements to the ranking algorithms, adjustments will be made to help combat link spam and manipulation of search results.  Link popularity has always been a questionable piece of the algorithm for me anyways.  If it is so easy to manipulate then why has Google given it so much weighting in the past?  Thankfully the ranking factors have changed and will continue to change.

Overall, I do expect a lot of change from Google in 2014.  They are working to create a “super computer” or as Google often refer to it as a “Star Trek computer”.  It will be interesting to see where Search goes in the next few years.  I definitely feel that we are moving away from “typed search” to voice and conversational search.  What this means is that the content on your site has to be bulletproof.  It has to address questions that people have, it has to have the information that they are looking for and it should address local intent.  From a searchers perspective, whether you are looking for a plumber in Calgary or a quote on car insurance in Chicago, you want to be presented with the information that you are looking for in an easy-to-engage manner.  This will never change and regardless of Google creating a super-computer, it is still about relevancy of the content and of the data that users have access to.