Praying at sunset

What a complicated year 2013 was for web-marketing people. 2012 saw pain delivered in the form of Penguin, exact match domain penalties and lots of little tweaks leaving many ‘web professionals’ wondering what just happened to their job. 2013 was the year of the slow dagger in organic search positioning by way of results pages overhauls and simply not telling webmasters how their website was being found. The old guard will know that in 2014 link-building is not dead, but that it’s impossible to rank in an area of the results page that will deliver any traffic without paying. It’s denial if you say to say to a client that they are ranking in position #2 and it’s great when in fact that traffic is below the fold and getting zero clicks!

SEO’s have been quicksand for a few years now and with each New Year the job moves closer and closer to traditional marketing, while the escalating cost of CPC traffic makes offline public relations campaigns economically viable (imagine saying that 5 years ago in an SEO forum!).

I’ve no doubt the year will bring surprises – it’s what makes this corner of Communications so interesting and challenging.

I thought I’d have some fun with some crystal ball gazing to see what could be in store for us, the 0.1% of specialists that know that the first 3 adverts in Google are paid and that the CSS colour used to display those PPC ads renders clear on most laptops running Windows 7 (and that you consider that unethical!).

 What can we expect?

  1. Exclusive PPC for Google listings on Brand and E-commerce terms
    Google plays with the results display daily. The aim is to clutter as much as possible the top of the page with advertising (at the time of writing, even the cookie message pushes down organics serps!), or with Google+ related pages, or Google Shopping, or other PPC & Google owned products. If you’re in the travel sector, doing old-hat SEO this year will be your most expensive through OTAs (Booking, Expedia etc). Expect this trend to continue. Position number 1 for organic search positions are no longer in view (above the fold) for most searches.


  2. Requirement to have Google+ listing for business and Webmaster Tools
    They’ve been carrot and sticking the industry for years, whether through Google webmaster tools, authorship or suggesting fast load time increase your position.I think that this year we might see a requirement signed up to a Google property just to be listed in their search engine. We might expect Google to cite vague ideas of security and authenticity to the SEO community like that NSA fun they had with us in 2013. What about if Google+ was the only page that they showed in the organic results (because it was trusted and verified by a Google process!).


  3. The demise in the economic viability of producing informational websites.
    In 2013 we saw a bigger roll-out of the Google carousel for related searches. If you are in the information niche delivering content this is probably going to be a really bad year. At the time of writing Google’s current carrot is to ask webmasters to add tags to make in-depth articles more visible in their search index. At the same time informational searches in Google are currently being rehashed from many content providers (like yours) with the aim of providing a one-stop shop for answering peoples search queries (probably this is fruit of their purchase of Wavii algo) . Think of search results looking like a Windows 8 display and the user never having to leave the Google search (and Google not paying you a cent to pinch your words and pictures). Google’s already creaming off a lot of information searches by auto-generating Google+ pages full of 3rd party reviews and placing them at the top of the search. It is similar treatment to brands and artists that are having auto-generated pages on Youtube.
  4. The Rise of Social Advertising
    Assuming that Facebook doesn’t get closed for privacy infringement, the huge cost of CPC in Google Adwords combined with the lousy conversion rate and ever increasing costs will make social media advertising more appealing. However, unlike the early days of Facebook advertising where people were duped into believing that increasing fans was actually going to benefit their business (it didn’t because then Facebook turned around and started charging them to reach the friends they’d paid to make in the past!) landing page optimization (learned from PPC campaigns with a social twist) will seek to bring people closer to the company. Expect a range of social media tools specifically designed to optimize this creative space.


  5. The importance of context and the rise in costs of delivering SEO.
    If we say that everyone with an online business that was working was investing in SEO and that the market was made up almost exclusively of agencies that were automating their link-building until those fateful days in 2012, it stands to reason that a large percentage of those online businesses got slapped with a penalty. The irony is that keywords in links will always work in Google as it is part of their ranking DNA, but their guidelines have been tailored to kick everyone from their listings should there be a non-advertiser getting free traffic.

    – QUICK TEST: Take a competitive niche, take the top keywords and run them through Google with 100 results. Then strip out the duplicate domains and do some comparison on the vertical markets. I’ve seen some niches where there were only 38 websites….across the whole range of keywords!

    The impact of the 2012 update was that pretty much across the board websites have disappeared and never come back. That means that you need laser focus on your link-building activities to make sure that the link is super relevant. To quantify with an example: I helped with the launch of a site in December and have popped it onto the second page of Google with just 8 links. That’s because those links are gold, contextual and highly relevant. Take your copy of Xrumer or Scrapebox and stop mining the web for forums or blogs to spam. Instead perform advanced link-analysis and target only those places where there is relevance. Use the tools for data analysis but recognize that you will need to develop relationships to survive in SEO in 2014.


  6. Stop building guff stuff for SEO purposes.
    “We’ll build a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Blog page because it will help with our SEO” – this is the output of advice from many agencies. It’s easy to do and looks impressive to the client and the managers they report to.  By all means register your brands to keep the names secure, but you should not be building anything that is not developed around your company strategy because the chances are that long-term, these things will not help with SEO and your energies will be rewarded with questions once the initial budgets have been exhausted (they will also be pain to keep alive!). Define the function of your social networks, start from the position of “if we had to pay each time we posted or shared this content would we do it?”. Stack the things you own – whether it’s a video or a piece of written content – on a web-property that you own. Make sure that the only way a person can get the whole picture (whether reading an article or watching a video – do a short version for sharing) is to visit your website. While they are at your website try and close them with some kind of action – whether this is a sale, coupon, newsletter or whatever, the goal is to reconcile the ROI on your advertising spend. Did I say measure everything with something deeper than Bitly…something that arrives at your conversion point on your website.

That’s what 2-weeks away from SEO & SEM eating Christmas food and drinking does to someone with a passion for digital communications.

Let’s hope that none of it (except for point 6) comes true, but if it does, do make sure you have a plan to deal with the future.

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Author Information
Glyn S. H. has been online marketing since 1999 and has developed campaigns for leading luxury brands that have included Nestlè and Interflora . He works primarily in for the Travel and Tourism sector, helping hotels beat-down OTA paychecks. He has a web-marketing company, a Masters in Professional Communication, speaks fluent Italian, and is married with two kids. He also has a good sense of humour – essential for survival in web-marketing. He is not employed by Google. To contact via email: glyn@ (this domain).