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The Top 7 SEO Trends Dominating 2014

By Jayson DeMers | Forbes

In September 2013, I wrote a post where I predicted the top 7 online marketing trends that would dominate 2014. Now that we’re reaching the midway point of 2014, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at where we’re at, particularly in terms of SEO.

Google has been busy over the past year, and traditional SEO strategies, tasks and roles have changed considerably.

Let’s take a look at what we’re seeing thus far in 2014.

1.    Google Authorship is rising in importance

More business owners are realizing the importance of Google Authorship and are taking Author Rank more seriously; as they should, particularly since Google has confirmed they do use a form of Author Rank – at least in terms of ranking in-depth articles.

The end of 2013 saw Google reducing authorship snippets by 15% in an effort to increase clickthroughs to only the highest quality content. This has meant an overall reduction in the total number of search results being accompanied by authorship info, and increased competition among authors.

We’re also seeing a tiered system in terms of what’s displayed next to search results: some search results are displayed with full authorship details, while others are displayed with only a byline.

Factors that continue to determine whether authorship snippets are included (or what tier is used) include the reputation and trustworthiness of authors, as well as the website on which the content is published.

There has been speculation that those who don’t establish some degree of authority via Author rank will become irrelevant (i.e. their content will no longer rank). While we’re not there yet, it’s a strong reminder for writers and marketers to get Authorship set up now before we do reach that point. For help with that, see “Google Authorship: How to Dress Up Your Search Results to Demand Attention.”

2.    Brands are realizing the necessity of social media, as it plays a major role in website traffic referrals and content dissemination

So far in 2014, social media seems to be a major factor (if not the major factor) in terms of referral traffic and content dissemination.

According to recent research released by Shareaholic, Facebook continues to lead the pack in terms of social media referral traffic. In March 2013, Facebook drove 21.25% of all traffic sites receive. Pinterest came in 2nd at just over 7% of all traffic, although its share of traffic has grown by 48% since December. Twitter continues to trail behind with a 1% share of all website traffic.

With many sites struggling to earn even mediocre rankings in the search engines, brands are increasingly seeing social media as a quicker way to get their content in front of their target market, and to increase website traffic.

3.    “Content marketing” is beginning to replace the term “SEO”

Most experts would agree that it’s no longer enough to simply have an SEO strategy. In fact, I’ve noticed the term ‘content marketing’ starting to become used synonymously with ‘SEO’. While the two should certainly be differentiated on many levels, many argue that content marketing is the ‘new SEO’.

Business owners and marketers should continue to focus on creating high-quality content guided by solid keyword research based on SEO competition and keyword research, with a focus on topical and long-tail targeting. But the days of picking a handful of keywords and putting all efforts toward becoming ranked #1 for those keywords are over. Competition is simply too high in all industries now; there’s always going to be at least one other brand doing it better and spending a higher budget than you.

A solid content marketing strategy aims to build your exposure for many long-tail keywords while also building brand awareness, authority, credibility, social media awareness, and conversion rates. It’s a “cast the net” approach rather than a “throw the spear” approach.

However, any content marketing strategy should employ SEO best practices at its foundation; meaning following important on-page SEO elements that are still relevant and useful in 2014, and will remain useful through 2015 and beyond. A technical knowledge of SEO coupled with a corresponding strategic content marketing plan is the online marketer’s new secret weapon.

4.    Guest blogging has been redefined

Guest blogging was probably the biggest buzzword throughout 2013. SEO professionals and online marketers preached the value of this tactic for building links, brand authority, credibility, and myriad other benefits. For many marketers, that was all turned upside down when, in his January webmaster video and blog post, Matt Cutts made the startling and controversial pronouncement: “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.”

In response to misinterpretations of his statement, however, he scaled his announcement back by differentiating ‘good’ guest blogging from bad. In short, ‘bad’ guest blogging means doing so solely as a means of getting links; ‘good’ guest blogging means contributing excellent content to build your audience and reputation.

He writes: “There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.”

Guest blogging will continue to remain an excellent strategy for building your audience, your brand and your personal thought leadership plan. And yes, those inbound links will still count. However, spammy, low-quality guest blogging is a thing of the past, and smart marketers will focus instead on using guest blogging for the many other benefits it provides. For my response to the guest blogging debate, see my article, “Guest Blogging Dead? Not Even Close.”

5.    SEO is becoming more expensive as it becomes more difficult to get inbound links and create link-worthy content

Pre-Panda, producing content that would rank highly was relatively easy. Slap up some keyword-rich content, get a few keyword-rich links to it, and you were good to go.

But as ranking well becomes more difficult, marketers and business owners are realizing the need to increase their investment in content creation and link building in order to rank in the search engines.

Roles like Content Manager, Director of Content, and Content Marketing Officer (CMO) are becoming increasingly mainstream, as is the outsourcing of content creation and link building. I predicted the rise of this responsibility in a June 2013 post titled “The Job Title That You’ll Need to Hire by the End of 2013.” According to recent research by Kapost, 54.1% of marketers are prioritizing content marketing team hiring above any other sub-discipline.

This hefty investment in content creation and SEO is meaning brands are having to carefully re-evaluate the types of content they’re producing, and actively track whether that content is helping them achieve their goals.

6.    In-house SEOs are becoming coordinators for actual fulfillment work

With the increased volume of tasks and the wider range of skills needed for content creation and SEO, in-houses SEO professionals are increasingly being called on to coordinate the fulfillment of work, based on their technical knowledge, rather than completing it themselves.

While in the past, SEOs would typically write and optimize content and build relationships with other site owners for link building purposes, these roles are now being outsourced to agencies who have built existing relationships with high-quality publishers and blogs. SEO professionals themselves are becoming project managers, coordinating responsibilities, assigning them, and assessing and repairing on-site optimization problems.

An in-house SEO in 2014 is far more likely to be found making decisions, finding contractors and overseeing content strategies and link building, rather than doing it themselves.

 7.    As competition for online visibility rises across all industries, the demand for SEO services is increasing

With the vast majority of businesses now actively using content marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy (some research puts this number as high as 94% for B2B small businesses), the competition for search engine rankings is fiercer than ever.

And because of this increase in competition, SEOs – both in-house and agencies – are being called on to get all this expensive content ranking well in search engines.

Despite the obvious rise in the popularity of content marketing, the 2014 Moz Industry Survey shows that a greater number of marketing professionals are being tasked with SEO (78%) than are responsible for content marketing (49%).

So to those who say that SEO is dead, I would say ‘not by a long shot’. The tasks and roles associated with SEO may have changed and SEO may be steadily integrating with content marketing, but I don’t see SEO going anywhere anytime soon.

We’ve seen many changes this year when it comes to SEO, but one thing is certain: despite the changes, businesses continue to experience its value in terms of building their reputation, increasing their visibility and getting traffic to their site.

What would you add to this list? What other SEO trends are dominating so far in 2014?