It’s been a long fifteen or twenty years, but SEO slogs on. Bewildering newbies and be-deviling the old hands, there should be nothing left to surprise us. For some, just the fact that SEO is still relevant is a surprise for many of us. Rest assured. It is. But we’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that 2014 promises to be another exciting, at times dramatic, and even more interesting year than last year. No matter what anyone said this time last year, SEO is important, manageable and something you’ll want to be paying attention to.
Hopefully you’re a little more relaxed with your site and getting your skills together. Now, here are the biggest issues you’re going to need to know to conquer your market in 2014.
1. Authorship – and even more troublesome markup
If you haven’t conquered this one, it’s time to stop putting it off. Authorship is only going to continue to grow in importance. Other markup, specific to industries and business models is going to make your coding work a little heavier, and on Google+ it’s only going to get more important. Google’s pairing up with the Structured Data Markup Helper Tool is something you or your webmaster need to deal with. But rest assured, by mid winter, structured data, more and more of it, are going to be a big part of your SEO changes and site improvements.
2. Build Brand
This is more important than ever – and if you follow some of the logic that Google seems to follow you’ll see why. Google favors authority, for brands just like it does for authors. But building a brand can seem just like building a reputation. Put some attention into making your business name into an authority and a cool person. It’s not that difficult.
Understanding user intent is going to be ever more important, and if you’re not going for increasingly semantic-influenced content, you’re likely going to miss out. More detailed explanations. More long form answers. And again, more mark-up.
4. Site Speed
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often webmasters over-look page load times – and now they seem to get punished for them. What seemed like minor technical issues a few years ago are probably back for good this time. Only those who master basic old-school SEO and the technical demands of increasing page load time are going to be rewarded.
Bounce Rate, like page load times, is your basic indicator of User Experience. Did people instantly find what they were looking for? And did it satisfy them? These are the essential questions before you get into the wire-frames and the really advanced design questions. In most cases, your design and presentation should be able to satisfy most of the inquiries coming into your site. If they are not, then you know what to do next.
6. Inbound Links
Just like we said above, Old School SEO is set to come back with a vengeance. Link building is definitely going to be a part of that but not in the old “shallow” content way of the past. Shallow, quick, cheap content is not going to do you any good at all. But be creative, pursue big or local media and legitimate linking partners and do some traditional press releases that get your name out there and in the right hands. Editorial links from big traditional media to your site are nearly always going to be the big fish you want to catch. They are hard to fake and no matter the reputation of your local paper, it’s authoritative.
7. Outbound Links
If you haven’t got a good, trustworthy blog running on your site, you probably need one. Sharing and linking to the news from the other businesses (and people!) working in your area makes you into a good citizen and a legitimate player on the internet. If you’re working all alone, your business is isolated and all the search engines can see that. It’s not something they are going to reward with good rankings or traffic. Get involved and let your neighbors know you’re out there.
8. Social Media
Facebook is still important for your PR and your branding. But the rabid bear coming out of the cage is Google+ and taming and befriending this one – for SEO – is going to be more important. From your structured markup to your continual presence, sharing and linking, Google+ is already showing hugely positive returns. It’s not even so much a question of how or how much but a question of ramping it up so that you learn these things early.