Ask any digital marketing expert about the major trends they expect to see in 2015, and he or she will likely answer with one word: mobile.
This should come as no surprise. Mobile devices get more eyeball time than TV screens these days, according to recent research from Yahoo's Flurry. Mobile search is expected to exceed desktop search in 2015, according to eMarketer, and mobile marketing is the fastest growing digital advertising channel in the United States, says BI Intelligence.
SEO and SEM Predictions for 2015
All About Mobile
Marketers spent 49 per cent of their paid search dollars on mobile platforms during the 2014 holiday season, according to a report from Marin Software, and many marketers expect the focus on mobile to increase in 2015.
"The top search marketing trend to watch in 2015 is the continued shift to mobile," says Carmen Vetere, vice president of marketing, Gazelle. "We increasingly see more and more consumers searching for information, products and prices from mobile devices. Brands need to be prepared to monetize traffic from mobile search, which has historically been harder to do than from desktop. Site experience, content and transactional flows need to be optimized to meet the increasing flow of users from mobile devices. As consumers use mobile devices to comparison shop, we may also see Google put more of the shopping experience right on the search results page to make it even easier."
"If your Website isn't mobile-friendly, you can lose out on search marketing," according to Sherry Holub, creative director, JV Media Design. "Google now blatantly prefers mobile-friendly sites, and if you haven't considered mobile users in your search marketing plan, you're missing a huge chunk of the market."
Andrew Akesson, technical SEO strategist, Venn Digital, says Google could eventually force all sites on the first page of its search results to be mobile-friendly. Google's main concern is user experience, and it could push websites that aren't mobile-friendly to the second page of search results. This will "inevitably lower mobile organic traffic to the sites that aren't playing the game with mobile search," he says.
"For any website that doesn't currently have a responsive website, now is the time to act," according to Akesson. "Not only will it enhance your customer experience, it will likely increase on-site conversions and dwell time, as well as lower bounce rates, which can only ever have a positive impact on your business's bottom line."
Google Refines Local Search
"With the Pigeon update last year, it became clear Google would continue to improve its local search result listings," says Arham Khan, senior digital marketing executive, HighQ. Khan predicts this trend will continue. "As the number of users searching on mobile devices grows, it makes sense for Google to tailor listings according to the local area. I expect smaller businesses to capitalize on this trend by updating addresses, phone numbers and locations on their websites so that they match with off-page directory listings."
"Localization of search is poised to be a big trend for 2015, even for large brands that have previously focused on centralized search marketing campaigns," according to Kevin Souers, CTO, Revenew. "Today's consumers are performing more and more searches for local solutions with an increasing number of those searches on mobile. Search engine algorithms are continually evolving to favor local results, identifying them as more relevant to the searcher. In 2015, national brands will place more emphasis on not only localizing their search but leveraging big data insights to improve local search strategies and launch more targeted, relevant search campaigns that deliver results."
Content (Marketing) Still King
Content marketing emerged as a significant trend in the SEO community during the past few years, and it's becoming essential for marketers. In 2015, quality content will be "more important than ever," according to Samuel Oh, CEO of Smohzie Inc. and founder of Money Journal. "People have become less patient with Web spam and have learned to spot it more quickly, resulting in higher bounce rates and lower time and page sessions for many website owners." To be successful today, content needs to be thorough, as well as engaging and useful, Oh says.
Paid Content Distribution Grows
"The mantra of content as king will not diminish in 2015," says James Rice, head of digital marketing, WikiJob. "Marketers will not only be focusing on how to create great content, but how to distribute it effectively at scale. Paid content distribution, such as promoted posts on Facebook, will become a much more standard practice. As marketing budgets in this area increase, the amplification providers will offer much more detailed analytics to allow marketers to test and justify the effectiveness of their spend." Rice suggests testing paid amplification on Facebook, Outbrain, StumbleUpon and Taboola, using "benchmark analysis to compare the effectiveness of each for different types of content."
Bloggers, Media Increasingly Important to Search Rankings
"Journalists will play a big role in SEO, because Google pays a lot of attention to authoritative, recognized media sites," according to Borja Obeso, CEO of Mind Ahead and an online marketing blogger. "Networking with journalists will be another important strategy for search marketing in 2015."
Structured Data Represents Significant SEO Opportunity
Structured data lets Websites display more information in Google search results than just the basics, such as links and meta descriptions. However, only 0.3 percent of Website domains actually take advantage of structured data, even though sites with structured data rank four positions higher on average in Google search results than those without structured data, according Orun Bhuiyan, marketing specialist, SEOcial. Bhuiyan's comments are based data from a recent Search Metrics report. (See Search Engine Journal's "Structured Data for Dummies" for more information.)
Search Results Get Personal
Devices will increasingly integrate "passive listening" in order to predict search queries and intent, and to deliver the most relevant results, says Justin Emig, search marketing manager, Web Talent Marketing. Emig cites Amazon's Echo and Google Now cards as two examples of passive listening technologies that will drive the delivery of more personalized search results.
"Google will also place a heightened focus on answering consumer queries directly from the search results pages," according to Emig. Websites that employ structured data markup and rich snippets, and that optimize for the kinds of questions Google Now users ask, will benefit from this trend.
Marketers Shift Dollars to 'Less-Crowded' Platforms
"The top search marketing trend to watch out for in 2015 would be marketers shifting a lot of their budget to untapped, less crowded and unconventional platforms," says Taruna Manchanda, digital marketer, Wingify Software Pvt. Ltd. Bing Ads will become a stronger player in search marketing as a result of this trend, according to Manchanda. "Even though Bing's traffic volume is low, this leads to lower competition and less costs" for digital campaigns. Marketers can purchase leads on Bing for half the price of leads on Google AdWords, Manchanda says.
Video Advertising Accelerates
Video advertising on sites such as YouTube "is still less competitive and comparatively cheaper" than other forms of online ads, but it offers a lot of potential for raising brand awareness and increasing conversion rates, according to Manchanda. For example, video viewers may experience your brand for 30 to 60 seconds, compared to a 5- to 10-second glance at search or display ads.
SEO and SEM Tips for 2015
Ensure Your Website Design is Responsive, Mobile-Friendly
"If your budget is tight, I recommend at least having a few responsive landing pages designed specifically for your pay-per-click (PPC) traffic," says Anthony Myers, founder, Preeminent Productions. "If you're not actively running any PPC campaigns, find out what your best converting pages are. These are the pages that organic traffic is landing on and converting visitors to leads or customers. Have your three to five best pages redesigned to be responsive. And make sure to offer a great user experience for small screens. Even if you're not displaying the full content [of your desktop site], get visitors intrigued enough with your mobile site to leave their email addresses. Use a call to action like: 'We know you're on the go, so let us email you the full version to read at home later.'"
Test Your Website's Mobile-Responsiveness
You can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test Tool to "diagnose any areas where your Web pages aren't meeting best practices for mobile," says WikiJob's Rice. "Aim to have all your pages labeled with the 'mobile-friendly' snippet, to differentiate your pages from competitors and gain an advantage in click-through rate from search. Also, be mindful of the rise of voice search, and how people will phrase queries differently on mobile and expect concise, location-based answers to their questions."
Test Your Website's Speed
Search-result rankings factor in Website load speeds, according to many digital marketing experts. After using Google's Mobile-Friendly Test Tool, HighQ's Khan recommends testing your site's mobile and desktop speeds with Google's PageSpeed Insights tool. Most of the time, the issues it discovers are easy for developers to fix, and those tweaks "can have a positive impact on mobile website and SEO performance," Khan says.
Tailor Your Online Ads to Mobile Devices
Ads designed for mobile have "less text and a richer image," according to Leo Polanowski, head of client services, Yahoo! "Put your main points and calls to action in headlines or at the front of descriptions. Use images that will emotionally resonate with consumers. Provide searchers with the easy answers they're looking for. An effective way to do this is with enhanced site link extensions. This format lets you add two lines of descriptive text in bigger, bolder type to your site links. We've seen enhanced site links boost click-through rates by 22 percent compared to traditional site links."
Take Your Time and Build Great Content
"Instead of rushing a bunch of articles out, seriously slow down and spend another hour or two on each of them," says Myers. "Do more research. Have you looked at other related niche articles out there? What's missing in those articles? Is there a gap you can fill? Give your users the best, unique content they've ever seen on your topic. Make sure it's so good and different that they can't help to share it with others. Then, get in your users' heads and think about what they might need next [after reading your article]."
Spread Your Stories Across Platforms
In 2015, storytelling across various media platforms, including social networks, blogs and video, will be more important. "It's essential to create a diversified marketing strategy and a variety of media for consumers to interact with your brand," according to Kathryn Bisson, marketing master, Technology Seed. "The brand's mission and story needs to begin on a strong website and then share that story on other media, including Google AdWords and Bing Ads, to direct people to a story about your services. Use social media to display the corporate culture, or YouTube and Vine to tell your story via video. Every piece will work together to encompass all aspects of an organization and all people to relate to the brand as a personality."
Know Your Target Audience
"Persona definition is a mandatory prerequisite to optimizing for search," says Ashley Paris, research analyst, demand creation strategies, SiriusDecisions. "As part of that exercise, pay attention to the lexicon of your buyer. What are the words they use to describe their initiatives, challenges and questions? How do those words and phrases vary by industry, geography and stage in the buying process? When those questions are answered, you can originate content and a digital footprint that's truly relevant to the type of searches your buyers are performing."
Ensure Your Website is Secure
"Google will reward sites [in its rankings] that are secure and punish those that are less secure," says Mike Ryan, director of marketing, Keeper Security. "As more sites get hacked, Google will take further action in protecting their users from cyber attacks. Google has said that security is a top priority. It even announced in August that going HTTPS [adding an SSL, 2048-bit key certificate on your site] will give you a minor rankings boost."