Search, marketing, content and social; marketing has many fields and many experts. It’s also constantly changing. Everything from Panda and Mobilegeddon to the slow shift away from Facebook and into messaging apps has an influence on consumers, markets, and people. Those of us who toil in the trenches are well advised to keep one eye on the future, to prepare for and adapt to trends before and as they happen. It’s a death sentence to be left in the dust, and it’s an elevator to success if you’re among the first to adapt and adopt.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a bunch of predictions made by experts in Internet marketing, SEO, social media and content.
The Prediction: SEO becomes more than just search engines. The web has grown too large for search engine results to always be valuable, and already customers are making buying decisions based on reviews and online comments rather than blog posts and sales pitches. Searches through Pinterest, YouTube and other social arenas will grow more important than searches through Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Our Thoughts: This is an interesting concept, but it’s probably a bit off the mark. Yes, people are influenced by social comments for their purchasing decisions; that’s why user reviews and testimonials are good for conversions. Yes, searching is done through Pinterest and YouTube.
However, what’s the easiest way to implement a site search? Google. Who owns YouTube? Google. Yes, social interaction is valuable, but how do people find locations to put their social commentary? Google. In this sense, the search engines, particularly the big G, are going to remain as strong as ever.
The Prediction: Google’s Knowledge Graph will come to dominate search results. You can already see this happening if you perform a simple Google search for a movie, politician, celebrity, band or other entity. Google generates a box to the right of the organic results, with everything from name and genre to services you can find more information, band discographies, tour dates, movie show times, Wiki summaries and a whole lot more. As time goes on, more and more simple queries that can be answered in such a resource box will be answered in that way.
Our Thoughts: This has been a long time in coming, really. Everything from Google’s little easter eggs to the local results carousel, it’s all cases where Google has been putting more value on the search page.
The best argument for the prevalence of the Knowledge Graph is that it’s helping to minimize the number of dumb redundant pages that need to be on the search results. For example, if Google summarized Wikipedia in the Knowledge Graph, they wouldn’t need to have Wiki be one of the top results. They still will, because it’s too big a site to demote, but fewer people will go through with clicking Wiki when the information they’re looking for is available immediately.
The Prediction: No matter what Google algorithm updates occur over the coming years, one thing will always remain constant; the key to success is doing right by your users. As long as you know what users want, what they don’t want, and how to properly present the information they want to see, you’ll be insulated from the majority of Google’s algorithms.
Our Thoughts: This is more or less true. One of the biggest problems anyone in the SEO profession encounters with clients is the willful ignorance that comes from ignoring trends. How many people are still hit, year after year, by Panda and Penguin updates? Part of that is rising standards hitting old content, but part of it is people always persisting and trying to “weather the storm” and wait until Google changes back. It never happens, and those people tend to let their sites die out. Heck, how many people – even with half a year of advanced notice and half a decade of trends – still don’t have mobile sites?
Produce quality content, not even necessarily in volume, and work to please your users. Google is swiftly growing better and better at interpreting value and intent. When you can showcase your intent to be valuable, you’ll find your promotion comes naturally.
The Prediction: The European Union will heap on heavy regulations that dramatically and directly affect Google, leading to an adapt-or-die necessity from the big G in the EU market. This will lead to a drastic divergence between US and EU marketing. EU regulations have been surprisingly powerful, and while they perhaps go about their goals in the wrong way, it’s impressive that they’ve made headway at all.
Our Thoughts: I’m not particularly well-versed in European regulations and politics, but this prediction seems accurate. I think that Google will adapt or perhaps create a specific European search department and algorithm. They’re an extremely powerful company in the United States, and if they can fragment and get an adaptable alternative into prominence in the EU, they can be as powerful there as they are here.
Do I think it’ll all happen next year? Probably not. Regulation and litigation involving global companies and political agendas takes years to move. On top of that, there are several large political changes brewing in the United States, including the upcoming presidential change and the major global trade partnerships that include some labyrinthine Internet-related language. It’s going to be an interesting few years, that’s for sure.
Rand Fishkin from Moz (Again)
The Prediction: Pinterest will take the world of paid social marketing by storm with promoted pins, which only just opened up at the start of the year. Pinterest as high engagement, high traffic, and a very product- and consumer-oriented audience. That audience is perfect for B2C marketers, making Pinterest the place to be in the coming years.
Our Thoughts: This is similar to the Instagram Gold Rush that exploded in the middle of last year, when that report came out about Instagram rocking engagement rates approximately a billion times higher than anyone else. Instagram hasn’t really panned out for marketers quite as much as Pinterest could, though, primarily because the barrier to entry is so high. You need a mobile device, a mobile emulator, or a third party service with access to your login to post remotely to Instagram. Pinterest doesn’t have that issue.
I think Pinterest marketing could expand dramatically in the coming y ears, and there’s no doubt that promoted pins will be a huge part of that. Expect to see a revolution in commercial pin graphic design. Start establishing your presence now, if you have the kind of audience that will take to the site well enough.
The Prediction: HTTPS will become more and more important in the wake of an increasing number of large-scale corporate data breaches, large security issues like Heartbleed, Google’s announcement that SSL is a ranking factor, and the general global push for privacy rights and backlash at the NSA.
Our Thoughts: Honestly, if you don’t have a site running HTTPS, you’re behind the times. Google making it an official ranking factor is just icing on the cake. I personally want to take things one step further. The NSA spying issues and Internet privacy controversy notwithstanding, using any encryption you can is a good idea to protect your customer data from theft.
I don’t think it’s going to happen next year, but I would love if a new, stronger form of security debuted in some way. The reason I don’t think it’ll happen is that there’s even now a push against more security, with some politicians going so far as to say encryption itself should be fought.
The Prediction: Meta keywords will remain meta keywords, even with the advent of semantic search. Semantic search is the idea that sentences rather than keywords, concepts rather than phrases, are the most important determinant of search success. Even so, putting the right keywords in the right places will still have a huge impact on ranking.
Our Thoughts: Google has been progressing more towards contextual content and semantic search over the last few years, but it all still comes back to parsing language. If you think about it, semantic search is just the ultimate extension of long-tail keywords. Rather than single words or short phrases, they’re sets, matrices of interconnected synonyms and related words. By providing content of high value about a certain subject, you’re still using important keywords in relevant places. The future of semantic SEO is just a more complex version of picking the right keywords to target.
My corollary to this prediction is that you will find it increasingly difficult to target synonyms as different articles. You won’t be able to write two blog posts about the same topic, just using different keywords for the subject itself.
The Prediction: Mobile will be increasingly in focus for the coming years. It’s been growing at an astonishing rate, and with Google’s Mobilegeddon it’s just come to a head. Sooner or later – probably sooner – there will be a tipping point where mobile reaches critical mass and anyone not directly invested in it will lose everything.
Our Thoughts: I’m not sure that the change over will be so dramatic, but I do think that mobile is very definitely the way to go, at least for the next few years. There are two options on the horizon that could “defeat” it, those being wearable tech and augmented/virtual reality. Wearable tech is really just an extension of mobile devices, so that hardly counts. VR could do it, but there’s still a few years yet before the hardware reaches the point of ready availability necessary to dominate a market. That, and it’s still looking for a killer app.
The Prediction: Video on social media will no longer be dominated by YouTube with a hint at Facebook and the side distraction of Vine. Other sites, including Twitter and LinkedIn, will not only allow videos to be hosted on their own sites, they will give preferential treatment to natively hosted videos over videos linked from other sites. This will have the side effect of diversifying marketing videos for different platforms, as well as giving more unique media and “commercial” style advertising opportunities to marketers willing to put them to use.
Our Thoughts: This is already happening on Facebook. Videos not only have a graphical preference over external links, they also autoplay to entice users into clicking and watching the full thing. Facebook is on the cusp of widespread video advertising availability. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes more prevalent than ever on Facebook, and expands to other sites around the web.
The Prediction: Widespread social analytics will become more and more essential, more prevalent, and more sophisticated. Stand-alone social listening apps will die or be rolled into more generalized, well-rounded offerings. Brands will increasingly grasp how important social media is, and will demand better analytics and data to support their efforts.
Our Thoughts: One of my biggest gripes over the last year or three has been the sheer number of overlapping analytics a marketer has to keep track of these days. Google Analytics “does it all” for websites, but there’s no comparable centralized solution for social. If you want data on Facebook, you have to use Facebook Insights, you have to use a conversion pixel to track website data on Facebook, you have to use Google Analytics to track social referrals, and you have to use URL parameters to track Facebook users on your site. It’s a mess, and that’s just with one social network.
It will be a very welcome change in my mind if one offering comes up that aggregates social analytics, social listening, Google Analytics data, and anything else you want to include via modular extensions. Some tools are already pushing in that direction, but there’s nothing quite entirely comprehensive just yet.
The Prediction: Information density will begin to approach a singularity level. Some experts expect a 600% increase or more in the amount of information and content online by 2020. This has wide-reaching consequences. Brands branch out into more unique forms of content with lower competition. Curated feeds like Facebook show declining reach because there’s just so much competition. Consumer-based filters like Zite are founded to create an all-around curated experience for individual users, not just based on certain site accounts. All of this forms one massive hurdle marketers will have to deal with in the next few years.
Our Thoughts: The content singularity is weighing heavily on my mind, as you may have noticed on our dialing back of blog posting recently. Content is king, but the Internet as fragmented into a trillion tiny kingdoms, and those kingdoms are at war.
I think Google’s steady increase in content standards is helping here, as it helps push out the worst content and drives marketers to focus on singular valuable pieces of content over multiple less useful posts. This is one way to help the problem with blogs, but it doesn’t solve anything with social. Mark is right; this is an issue that will need to be addressed, and I’m not quite sure how it’ll happen.
The Prediction: The next couple years will be the advent and growth explosion of social micro-conversions. The typical social conversion funnel today begins at a social media post and directs users back to a site, with an attendant dropoff in visibility and traffic. When social networks produce the ability to buy an item directly through a tweet, Facebook registration, click to call or Pinterest purchase, conversions will come faster and easier.
Our Thoughts: I think of the budding trend of social microconversions to be inevitable, and when I say that, I point to mobile gaming as a prime example. The concept of microtransactions is alive and well in mobile gaming, where users can buy directly through an app rather than being forced to go through a link to a website, to a store, to a checkout. The only difference in my mind is that with a social network you’re not limited to digital goods, and can one-click-order physical goods to be shipped to your address with ease.
The Prediction: Companies want to continually produce content, but it’s growing increasingly difficult to do so in volume, affordably, and convincingly. As more and more content exists, companies will need to be more appealing, and will no longer be able to outsource their content creation to the lowest bidder. Content will need to be personalized. The solution to this is decentralization. Crowdsourcing is already taking over in some arenas, and it may make its debut in content creation. Companies will use customers and employees to tell their stories, like a hyper-advanced version of testimonials and case studies.
Our Thoughts: I think some brands might experiment with replacing their content with more user-drawn engagement, but I don’t think it will become a significant trend. For one thing, a lot of current content creators are doing it because it’s what they love to do, and because they have a passion for their industry. There’s always going to be a place for individual writers with a keen grasp of business communication, marketing, customer interaction and so forth. Plus let’s face it; how many customers have the capacity to tell a story in a way that’s meaningful or powerful to other potential customers?
The Prediction: Marketers will be seeing less and less returns from thin content, not just in the blog arena, but in the social arena. Bite-sized content is great for consuming in a second, but that’s all the attention it receives. The audience for content like white papers, case studies, videos, and ebooks is somewhat smaller, but those users are much more likely to be beneficial to attract.
Our Thoughts: There’s definitely a push for more multimedia content throughout the web, but I don’t think it’s going to invade social. The key problem that social is facing right now is the proliferation of content, driving up competition and driving down reach. Facebook users aren’t going to want to spend an hour reading your ebook when they can spend five seconds skimming your blog post. Some slower-paced networks, like Pinterest, might see a surge in more “fat” content, but it won’t be widespread.
The Prediction: Paid media, paid advertising, will become absolutely necessary. Facebook has already been pushing in this direction, with the increased competition, the hard filter and the curated feed limiting brand visibility organically. Promoted posts and ads like them on other sites will be more necessary than ever to reach a sizable audience and grow.
Our Thoughts: This is happening, and happening fast. Brands are no longer able to get away with purely organic posting in the hopes that their high quality will do where their limited budget fails. Brands will need to get educated about paid advertising, and quickly, or they’re going to be left behind.