More focus on micro data & schema mark up

In 2014 I think we’re going to see a big focus on micro data and schema mark up as “semantic search” becomes more and more critical. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, announced during his keynote speech at Pubcon 2013 that Google wants websites to be marked up so that search engines can interpret which parts of the sites do what. This ties in with the Knowledge Graph – where Google has been trying to understand entities, rather than just the searches. In 2014 it is likely that this will become more popular, with Google potentially releasing more than just products, events, videos, recipes and organisations – so actually telling search engines ‘this is a product’ or ‘this is an event’, ‘this is the event title’, ‘this is the date’, ‘this is the time’. So you can actually mark up your data so that the search engines can interpret and understand what parts go where, so that when people are searching they see this ‘advanced search snippet’.

There is also the consideration of marking up with HTML5. If site owners move their site into Html5, there are now new tags they can use so that search engines know more, e.g. rel=”me” (they know that social profile you are linking to is your social profile). So you put that tag within the link and they know that social profile is your social profile. I think we are going to see a really big push on things like that and people are going to be able to do that more.

More focused content

The second thing ties in with Hummingbird. I predict that we will start to see a lot more focused content as a result of user-centric search – rather than content just being regurgitated for the sake of it. Site owners and brands are going to have to start to look at their content strategies and create more quality content in response to what their users are actually asking for, rather than just terms they think will bring in lots of traffic – fresh content which is built in response to the questions users ask that are related to their business, products and services.

I think next year we’re going to see a really big turnaround as more digital marketers start to actually understand that people don’t want to just see more visits to their site, they don’t want to just increase visits all the time, it’s actually going to become more about the users. This really ties in to Universal Analytics, because the Universal Analytics dashboards are more focused on the users rather than visits as we can see more of the user’s journey across different platforms and it is a lot more centralised around the user. This data can then be used to see where and how users are interacting with you in more detail and this can then feed in to a content plan created for your users.

We’re really likely to see this shift starting soon, with clients and agencies becoming more focused on who the users coming to your site are, and how they interact with your content, rather than just the number of visits. This will help to shape the content and bring in more long-tailed traffic, targeting those “questioning” searches so you get higher conversion rates because you’re really attracting the right audience.

More internal integration

Over the next year I think we’ll start to see internal marketing teams becoming more integrated and working together to share their ideas and strategy. If all of the different teams within your company have one common goal – to generate business – then it makes sense to be integrated to achieve that goal.

We’ve already started to see it through 2013 where businesses are starting to tap into their PR departments and to actually start sharing that knowledge. We have already started to see one of our high-end retail clients integrating more with their traders so that they can gain more knowledge of the products. And I think this will have a really big impact on search because we’re going to have so much more information about not only the products and what’s going on in the business and relating that back to the website, but also we’re going to be hearing from the users and the people that are talking to the users.

Crack down on bloggers & paid posts?

My ‘out there’ prediction for 2014 is that I think there is probably going to be an algorithm update that cracks down on paid posts. I know that we’ve had Hummingbird and Penguin and Panda and they’ve all tried to attack link-building and stop people spammy link-building, but people are now paying for links in blog articles. Even though they might be much better pieces, there are lots of bloggers out there that are getting paid to write articles that are still trying to manipulate search engines.

I’m not sure on the how or the why, but I think next year we will probably see a release that tries to crack down on bloggers, or maybe something that offers bloggers a different platform and a different way to post their content or collaborate with companies. That’s my ‘out there prediction’ – that maybe we’ll see some form of Adwords or affiliate platform that search engines control where bloggers can actually register with them. Because search engines are not really collaborating with or talking to bloggers yet and potentially I think we might see something for bloggers to communicate with search engines to give them the tips on what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be. But obviously bloggers want to be paid for what they do as well, but they could potentially start penalising bloggers for accepting paid links. Search engines don’t want people to stop linking within posts if those links are relevant references, because obviously that is the whole point of linking within content, but at the minute that is being used to manipulate search engines because they’re seeing it as a vote of confidence. So I think we’re going to see the power of link-building decrease further, and potentially a penalisation of bloggers who take on a lot of paid posting work.

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