By Noah Brimhall
For the last few years, every list of SEO predictions has included at least one item that focused on content marketing. While this trend remains important, there are at least nine others that go beyond this well-trod subject and are safe to predict will shape search marketing efforts in 2015.
The gradual decrease in prominence and eventual disappearance of Authorship Rich Snippets spells doom for Video Rich Snippets. It is already pretty difficult to get these to show up for a site, but next year Google will eventually only show Video Rich Snippets for videos hosted on YouTube. Google has shown it understands the impact rich snippets have on the entire search results page, and they'll choose to reserve this high impact feature for YouTube.
Businesses, with video content that they want to appear prominently in search results, better make them available on YouTube. What's more, their presence on YouTube had better be engaging and comprehensive to have any chance of capturing potential customers.
Continuing a trend seen in 2014, Google will provide even more content on the search results page (SERP) than ever before. Whether this takes the form of one of the many Knowledge Graph features (Answer Box, List Carousels, etc.), structured snippets or some yet-unseen content feature, Google will provide plenty of options so searchers won't need to click on a search result to get the answers they need.
Having structured data on a site, an up-to-date Google+ account and correct information in third-party data sources such as Freebase and Wikipedia will be more important than ever.
For ambiguous queries, Google will try to show a set of results that meets a broader range of potential user intents and will show relevant content from smaller and less established sites that have traditionally had trouble competing with big, reputable companies. Google will begin to recognize that just because a company has a large amount of links, it doesn't mean the content is necessarily more relevant (more about this on the next page).
As mentioned above, search result pages will begin incorporating even more structured data next year, but structured data will also come in to play in how Google evaluates sites for relevancy and will even have an effect on the way pages are ranked. This might come in the form of AuthorRank (a way to tie rank to individual authors). Structured data from trusted sites provides Google with information it can't get anywhere else, and this will be rewarded.
SEO professionals shouldn't limit themselves to providing structured data that corresponds to rich snippets or other currently existing features of search results. Rather, they should look for opportunities to structure content, such as products, locations and other entities, even if they aren't sure how it will be used.
Although links and their anchor text are going to continue to be the primary rank signals for the foreseeable future, the importance of social signals, non-link brand mentions and page speed in rankings will only increase in the next year. Google knows that links are one of the most manipulated signals and will look to other signals to balance out black-hat and negative SEO.
This means that brands have their work cut out for them. If they haven't already embraced social, they should start now. It's also time for all companies to actively try to speed up their Web pages. Finally, digital enterprises can't stop worrying about links, but it's increasingly important to focus on brand mentions and not just branded links.
Google, Microsoft and Apple will add features to their mobile search experience that are intended to bypass the search experience (Siri, Google Now and Cortana) or provide content on the search results page. One of the most surprising features of iOS 8 from an SEO perspective is the "Suggested Website," which allows users to skip search results and go directly to websites. More and more consumers are using smartphones and tablets as their primary way of accessing the Internet, which means brands can expect to see less traffic directed to their sites.
A mobile strategy means more than just having a mobile optimized website, it means making sure new mobile search features prominently showcase a company's site and site content. Marketers will also need to understand that a decrease in mobile organic traffic won't tell the whole story of their mobile SEO efforts. New goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) will be necessary to understand the return on investment (ROI) of mobile.
Runaway SEO growth is not going to come from traditional markets in the future; the best un-tapped source of customers is going to come from China and other emerging markets. The cost of translation will be paid off in beating competitors to these key markets.
Finding an expert with experience and knowledge of search engines like Baidu will be increasingly important, especially given the specific technical/content SEO and legal requirements of working in the Chinese market.
Tools that report on Google algorithm changes will have more trouble accurately noticing these changes as they become more frequent, but ultimately only affect a smaller percentage of sites. Google will be more reluctant to announce big-name changes (e.g. Panda, Penguin, etc.), because it won't want to make headlines with algorithm updates.
Following best practices for SEO compliance and carefully tracking a site's SEO-related KPIs and metrics will become very important. Companies won't be able to depend on others to warn them of changes, so they need to be able to identify them on their own.
One of the things that gets missed all too often in the hype of content marketing is that creating content is necessary, but not sufficient. It is important to create content that is truly unique and provides actual value to potential customers and searchers. Spend more time (and money) developing content that targets your specific SEO goals, and the payoff of in-depth, quality content will be manifold.
Noah Brimhall is the senior SEO manager at Obility, a leading B2B demand generation company specializing in Internet marketing for businesses with long sales cycles.