The 2018 Local SEO Forecast: 9 Predictions According to Mozzers

Posted by MiriamEllis

It’s February, and we’ve all dipped our toes into the shallow end of the 2018 pool. Today, let’s dive into the deeper waters of the year ahead, with local search marketing predictions from Moz’s Local SEO Subject Matter Expert, our Marketing Scientist, and our SEO & Content Architect. Miriam Ellis, Dr. Peter J. Myers, and Britney Muller weigh in on what your brand should prepare for in the coming months in local.


WOMM, core SEO knowledge, and advice for brands both large and small

Miriam Ellis, Moz Associate & Local SEO SME

LSAs will highlight the value of Google-independence

Word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) and loyalty initiatives will become increasingly critical to service area business whose results are disrupted by Google’s Local Service Ads. SABs aren’t going to love having to “rent back” their customers from Google, so Google-independent lead channels will have enhanced value. That being said, the first small case study I’ve seen indicates that LSAs may be a winner over traditional Adwords in terms of cost and conversions.

Content will be the omni-channel answer

Content will grow in value, as it is the answer to everything coming our way: voice search, Google Posts, Google Questions & Answers, owner responses, and every stage of the sales funnel. Because of this, agencies which have formerly thought of themselves as strictly local SEO consultants will need to master the fundamentals of organic keyword research and link building, as well as structured data, to offer expert-level advice in the omni-channel environment. Increasingly, clients will need to become “the answer” to queries… and that answer will predominantly reside in content dev.

Retail may downsize but must remain physical

Retail is being turned on its head, with Amazon becoming the “everything store” and the triumphant return of old-school home delivery. Large brands failing to see profits in this new environment will increasingly downsize to the showroom scenario, significantly cutting costs, while also possibly growing sales as personally assisted consumers are dissuaded from store-and-cart abandonment, and upsold on tie-ins. Whether this will be an ultimate solution for shaky brands, I can’t say, but it matters to the local SEO industry because showrooms are, at least, physical locations and therefore eligible for all of the goodies of our traditional campaigns.

SMBs will hold the quality high card

For smaller local brands, emphasis on quality will be the most critical factor. Go for the customers who care about specific attributes (e.g. being truly local, made in the USA, handcrafted, luxury, green, superior value, etc.). Evaluating and perfecting every point of contact with the customer (from how phone calls are assisted, to how online local business data is managed, to who asks for and responds to reviews) matters tremendously. This past year, I’ve watched a taxi driver launch a delivery business on the side, grow to the point where he quit driving a cab, hire additional drivers, and rack up a profusion of 5-star, unbelievably positive reviews, all because his style of customer service is memorably awesome. Small local brands will have the nimbleness and hometown know-how to succeed when quality is what is being sold.


In-pack ads, in-SERP features, and direct-to-website traffic

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz

In-pack ads to increase

Google will get more aggressive about direct local advertising, and in-pack ads will expand. In 2018, I expect local pack ads will not only appear on more queries but will make the leap to desktop SERPs and possibly Google Home.

In-SERP features to grow

Targeted, local SERP features will also expand. Local Service Ads rolled out to more services and cities in 2017, and Google isn’t going to stop there. They’ve shown a clear willingness to create specialized content for both organic and local. For example, 2017 saw Google launch a custom travel portal and jobs portal on the “organic” side, and this trend is accelerating.

Direct-to-website traffic to decline

The push to keep local search traffic in Google properties (i.e. Maps) will continue. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen local packs go from results that link directly to websites, to having a separate “Website” link to local sites being buried 1–2 layers deep. In some cases, local sites are being almost completely supplanted by local Knowledge Panels, some of which (hotels being a good example) have incredibly rich feature sets. Google wants to deliver local data directly on Google, and direct traffic to local sites from search will continue to decline.


Real-world data and the importance of Google

Britney Muller, SEO & Content Architect at Moz

Relevance drawn from the real world

Real-world data! Google will leverage device and credit card data to get more accurate information on things like foot traffic, current gas prices, repeat customers, length of visits, gender-neutral bathrooms, type of customers, etc. As the most accurate source of business information to date, why wouldn’t they?

Google as one-stop shop

SERPs and Maps (assisted by local business listings) will continue to grow as a one-stop-shop for local business information. Small business websites will still be important, but are more likely to serve as a data source as opposed to the only place to get their business information, in addition to more in-depth data like the above.


Google as friend or foe? Looking at these expert predictions, that’s a question local businesses of all sizes will need to continue to ask in 2018. Perhaps the best answer is “neither.” Google represents opportunity for brands that know how to play the game well. Companies that put the consumer first are likely to stand strong, no matter how the nuances of digital marketing shift, and education will remain the key to mastery in the year ahead.

What do you think? Any hunches about the year ahead? Let us know in the comments.

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Reblogged 10 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

9 Predictions for SEO in 2018

Posted by randfish

For the last decade, I’ve made predictions about how the year in SEO and web marketing would go. So far, my track record is pretty decent — the correct guesses outweigh the wrong ones. But today’s the day of reckoning, to grade my performance from 2017 and, if the tally is high enough, share my list for the year ahead.

In keeping with tradition, my predictions will be graded on the following scale:

  • Nailed It (+2) – When a prediction is right on the money and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) – Predictions that are in the ballpark, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) – Those that got near the truth, but are more “incorrect” than “correct”
  • Way Off (-2) – Guesses which didn’t come close

Breakeven or better means I make new predictions for the year ahead, and under that total means my predicting days are over. Let’s see how this shakes out… I’m not nervous… You’re nervous! This sweat on my brow… It’s because… because it was raining outside. It’s Seattle! Yeesh.

Grading Rand’s 2017 Predictions

#1: Voice search will be more than 25% of all US Google searches within 12 months. Despite this, desktop volume will stay nearly flat and mobile (non-voice) will continue to grow.

+1 – We have data for desktop and mobile search volume via Jumpshot, showing that the former did indeed stay relatively flat and the other kept growing.

But, unfortunately, we don’t know the percent of searches that are done with voice rather than keyboards or screens. My guess is 25% of all searches is too high, but until Google decides to share an updated number, all we have is the old 2016 stat that 20% of mobile searches happened via voice input.

#2: Google will remain the top referrer of website traffic by 5X+. Neither Facebook, nor any other source, will make a dent.

+2Nailed it! Although, to be fair, there’s no serious challenger. The social networks and e-commerce leaders of the web want people to stay on their site, not leave and go elsewhere. No surprise Google’s the only big traffic referrer left.

#3: The Marketing Technology space will not have much consolidation (fewer exits and acquisitions, by percentage, than 2015 or 2016), but there will be at least one major exit or IPO among the major SEO software providers.

+2 – As best I can tell from Index.co’s thorough database (which, BTW, deserves more attention than Crunchbase, whose data I’ve found to be of far lower quality), Martech as a whole had nearly half the number of acquisitions in 2017 (22) versus 2016 (39). 2017 did, however, see the Yext IPO, so I’m taking full credit on this one.

#4: Google will offer paid search ads in featured snippets, knowledge graph, and/or carousels.

0 – Turns out, Google had actually done a little of this prior to 2017, which I think invalidates the prediction. Thus I’m giving myself no credit either way, though Google did expand their testing and ad types in this direction last year.

#5: Amazon search will have 4% or more of Google’s web search volume by end of year.

-2 – Way off, Rand. From the Jumpshot data, it looks like Amazon’s not even at 1% of Google’s search volume yet. I was either way too early on this one, or Amazon searches may never compete, volume-wise, with how Google’s users employ their search system.

#6: Twitter will remain independent, and remain the most valuable and popular network for publishers and influencers.

+2 – I’m actually shocked that I made this prediction given the upheaval Twitter has faced in the last few years. Still, it’s good to see a real competitor (despite their much smaller size) to Facebook stay independent.

#7: The top 10 mobile apps will remain nearly static for the year ahead, with, at most, one new entrant and 4 or fewer position changes.

+1 – I was slighly aggressive on wording this prediction, though the reality is pretty accurate. The dominance of a few companies in the mobile app world remains unchallenged. Here’s 2016’s top apps, and here’s 2017’s. The only real change was Apple Music and Amazon falling a couple spots and Pandora and Snapchat sneaking into the latter half of the list.

#8: 2017 will be the year Google admits publicly they use engagement data as an input to their ranking systems, not just for training/learning

-2 – I should have realized Google will continue to use engagement data for rankings, but they’re not gonna talk about it. They have nothing to gain from being open, and a reasonable degree of risk if they invite spammers and manipulators to mimic searchers and click for rankings (a practice that, sadly, has popped up in the gray hat SEO world, and does sometimes, unfortunately, work).

Final Score: +4 — not too shabby, so let’s continue this tradition and see what 2018 holds. I’m going to be a little more cavalier with this year’s predictions, just to keep things exciting 🙂


Rand’s 9 Predictions for 2018

#1: The total number of organic clicks Google refers will drop by ~5% by the end of the year

In 2017, we saw the start of a concerning trend — fewer clicks being generated by Google search on desktop and mobile. I don’t think that was a blip. In my estimation, Google’s actions around featured snippets, knowledge panels, and better instant answers in the SERPs overall, combined with more aggressive ads and slowing search growth (at least in the United States), will lead to there being slightly less SEO opportunity in 2018 than what we had in 2017.

I don’t think this trend will accelerate much long term (i.e. it’s certainly not the end for SEO, just a time of greater competition for slightly fewer click opportunities).

#2: Twitter and LinkedIn will both take active steps to reduce the amount of traffic they refer out to other sites

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all had success algorithmically or structurally limiting clicks off their platforms and growing as a result. I think in 2018, Twitter and LinkedIn are gonna take their own steps to limit content with links from doing as well, to limit the visibility of external links in their platform, and to better reward content that keeps people on their sites.

#3: One or more major SEO software providers will shutter as a result of increased pressure from Google and heavy competition

Google Search Console is, slowly but surely, getting better. Google’s getting a lot more aggressive about making rank tracking more difficult (some rank tracking folks I’m friendly with told me that Q4 2017 was particularly gut-punching), and the SEO software field is way, way more densely packed with competitors than ever before. I estimate at least ten SEO software firms are over $10 million US in annual revenue (Deepcrawl, SEMRush, Majestic, Ahrefs, Conductor, Brightedge, SISTRIX, GinzaMetrics, SEOClarity, and Moz), and I’m probably underestimating at least 4 or 5 others (in local SEO, Yext is obviously huge, and 3–4 of their competitors are also above $10mm).

I predict this combination of factors will mean that 2018 sees one or more casualties (possibly through a less-than-rewarding acquisition rather than straight-out bankruptcy) in the SEO software space.

#4: Alexa will start to take market share away from Google, especially via devices with screens like the Echo Show

Voice search devices are useful, but somewhat limited by virtue of missing a screen. The Echo Show was the first stab at solving this, and I think in 2018 we’re going to see more and better devices as well as vastly better functionality. Even just the “Alexa, show me a photo of Rodney Dangerfield from 1965.” (see, Rand, I told you he used to be handsome!) will take away a lot of the more simplistic searches that today happen on Google and Google Images (the latter of which is a silent giant in the US search world).

#5: One of the non-Google tech giants will start on a more serious competitor to YouTube

Amazon’s feud with Google and the resulting loss of YouTube on certain devices isn’t going unnoticed in major tech company discussions. I think in 2018, that turns into a full-blown decision to invest in a competitor to the hosted video platform. There’s too much money, time, attention, and opportunity for some of the big players not to at least dip a toe in the water.

Side note: If I were an investor, I’d be pouring meetings and dollars into startups that might become this. I think acquisitions are a key way for a Facebook, an Amazon, or a Microsoft to reduce their risk here.

#6: Facebook Audience Network (that lets publishers run FB ads on their own sites) will get the investment it needs and become a serious website adtech player

Facebook ads on the web should be as big or bigger than anything Google does in this realm, mostly because the web functions more like Facebook than it does like search results pages, and FB’s got the data to make those ads high quality and relevant. Unfortunately, they’ve underinvested in Audience Network the last couple years, but I think with Facebook usage in developed countries leveling out and the company seeking ways to grow their ad reach and effectiveness, it’s time.

#7: Mobile apps will fade as the default for how brands, organizations, and startups of all sizes invest in the mobile web; PWAs and mobile-first websites will largely take their place

I’m calling it. Mobile apps, for 95% of companies and organizations who want to do well on the web, are the wrong decision. Not only that, most everyone now realizes and agrees on it. PWAs (and straightforward mobile websites) are there to pick up the slack. That’s not to say the app stores won’t continue to generate downloads or make money — they will. But those installs and dollars will flow to a very few number of apps and app developers at the very top of the charts, while the long tail of apps (which never really took off), fades into obscurity.

Side note: games are probably an exception (though even there, Nintendo Switch proved in 2017 that mobile isn’t the only or best platform for games).

#8: WordPress will continue its dominance over all other CMS’, growing its use from ~25% to 35%+ of the top few million sites on the web

While it depends what you consider “the web” to be, there’s no doubt WordPress has dominated every other CMS in the market among the most popular few million sites on it. I think 2018 will be a year when WordPress extends their lead, mostly because they’re getting more aggressive about investments in growth and marketing, and secondarily because no one is stepping up to be a suitable (free) alternative.

35%+ might sound like a bold step, but I’m seeing more and more folks moving off of other platforms for a host of reasons, and migrating to WordPress for its flexibility, its cost structure, its extensibility, and its strong ecosystem of plugins, hosting providers, security options, and developers.

#9: The United States will start to feel the pain of net neutrality’s end with worse Internet connectivity, more limitations, and a less free-and-open web

Tragically, we lost the battle to maintain Title II protections on net neutrality here in the US, and the news is a steady drumbeat of awfulness around this topic. Just recently, Trump’s FCC announced that they’d be treating far slower connections as “broadband,” thus lessening requirements for what’s considered “penetration” and “access,” all the way down to mobile connection speeds.

It’s hard to notice what this means right now, but by the end of 2018, I predict we’ll be feeling the pain through even slower average speeds, restrictions on web usage (like what we saw before Title II protections with Verizon and T-Mobile blocking services and favoring sites). In fact, my guess is that some enterprising ISP is gonna try to block cryptocurrency mining, trading, or usage as an early step.

Over time, I suspect this will lead to a tiered Internet access world here in the US, where the top 10% of American earners (and those in a few cities and states that implement their own net neutrality laws) have vastly better and free-er access (probably with more competitive pricing, too).


Now it’s time for your feedback! I want to know:

  1. Which of these predictions do you find most likely?
  2. Which do you find most outlandish?
  3. What obvious predictions do you think I’ve shamefully missed? 😉

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 11 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The 2017 Local SEO Forecast: 10 Predictions According to Mozzers

Posted by MiriamEllis

Maybe it takes a bit of daring to forecast local search developments in quarters 2, 3, and 4 from the fresh heights of Q1, but the Moz team thrives on challenges. In this post, Rand Fishkin, Dr. Pete Meyers, George Freitag, Britney Muller, and I peer into the future in hopes of helping your local business or local search marketing agency be mentally and tactically prepared for an exciting ride in the year ahead.


1. There will be a major shakeup in local SEO ranking factors.

Rand Fishkin, Founder & Wizard of Moz

My prediction is that the local SEO ranking factors will have a major shakeup, possibly devaluing some of the long-held elements around listing consistency from hard-to-control third parties. I think Google might make this move because, while they perceive the quality and trustworthiness of those third-party local data aggregators to be decent, they don’t want to force small business owners into maintaining contentious relationships or requiring them to learn about these services that control so much of their ranking fate. I’ll be the first to say this is a bold prediction, and I don’t give it super-high odds, but I think even if it doesn’t happen in 2017, it’s likely in the next few years.


2. Feature diversification will continue to mature.

Dr. Peter J. Myers, Marketing Scientist at Moz

I predict that local SEO will finally see the kind of full-on feature diversification (organic and paid) that has been going on with organic for a few years now. We’ve already seen many changes to local packs and the introduction of local knowledge panels, including sponsored hotel panels. Now Google is testing paid home services, ads in local packs, destination carousels, trip planning guides and, most recently, “Discover More Places” map results. By the end of 2017, “local SEO” will represent a wide variety of organic and paid opportunities, each with their own unique costs and benefits. This will present both new opportunities and new complications.


3. Voice search will influence features in Google and Amazon results.

George Freitag, Local Search Evangelist at Moz

I also think we’ll see a new wave of features appear in the local pack over the next year. I believe that voice search will play a large part in this as it will determine the most important features that Google (and Amazon) will incorporate into their results. As both companies start to gather more and more data about the types of complex searches — like “How long will it take me to get there?” or something more ambitious like “Do they have any more of those in my size” — Google and Amazon will start to facilitate businesses in answering those questions by allowing more opportunities to directly submit information. This satisfies both Google’s desire to have even more data submitted directly to them and the searcher’s desire to have access to more information about the businesses, which means it’s something that is definitely worth their time.


4. Google will begin to provide incredibly specific details about local businesses.

Britney Muller, SEO & Content Architect at Moz

I predict that we will see Google acquiring more intimate details about local businesses. They will obtain details from your customers (via different incentives) for unbiased feedback about your business. This will help Google provide searchers with a better user experience. We’ve already started seeing this with “Popular Times” and the “Live” features, showing you if current traffic is under or over the typical amount for the specific location. Your location’s level of noise, coziness, bedside manner (for doctors and clinics), and even how clean the bathroom is will all become accessible to searchers in the near future.


5–10. Six predictions for the price of one!

Miriam Ellis, Moz Associate & Local SEO

I have a half-dozen predictions for the coming year:

Diminishing free packs

Google paid packs will have replaced many free packs by 2017’s end, prompting local business owners to pay to play, particularly in the service industries that will find themselves having to give Google a piece of the pie in exchange for leads.

Voice search will rise

Local marketers will need to stress voice search optimization to business owners. Basically, much of this will boil down to including more natural language in the site’s contents and tags. This is a positive, in that our industry has stressed natural language over robotic-sounding over-optimization for many years. Voice search is the latest incentive to really perfect the voice of your content so that it matches the voice your customers are using when they search. Near-me searches and micro-moment events tie in nicely to the rise of voice search.

Expansion of attributes

Expect much discussion of attributes this year as Google rolls out further attribute refinements in the Google My Business dashboard, and as more Google-based reviewers find themselves prompted to assign attributes to their sentiments about local businesses.

Ethical businesses will thrive

Ongoing study of the millennial market will cement the understanding that serving this consumer base means devoting resources to aspirational and ethical business practices. The Internet has created a segment of the population that can see the good and bad of brands at the click of a link, and who base purchasing decisions on that data. Smart brands will implement sustainable practices that guard the environment and the well-being of workers if they want millennial market share.

Google will remain dominant

What won’t happen this year is a major transfer of power from the current structure. Google will remain dominant, but Facebook will continue to give them the best run for their money. Apple Maps will become more familiar to the industry. Yelp will keep building beyond the 115 million reviews they’ve achieved and more retail business owners will realize Yelp is even bigger for their model than it is for restaurants. You’ve pretty much got to be on Yelp in 2017 if you are in the retail, restaurant, or home service industries.

Amazon’s local impact will increase

Amazon’s ingress into local commerce will almost certainly result in many local business models becoming aware of the giant coming to town, especially in metropolitan communities. I’m withholding judgement on how successful some of their programs (like Amazon Go) will be, but local business owners need to familiarize themselves with these developments and see what’s applicable to them. David Mihm recently mentioned that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon buying a few bankrupt malls this year — that wouldn’t surprise me, either.


Taken in sum, it’s a safe bet that local SEO is going to continue to be a significant force in the world of search in the coming year. Local business owners and the agencies which serve them will be wise to stay apprised of developments, diversifying tactics as need arises.

Now it’s your turn! Do you agree/disagree with our predictions? And how about your forecast? When you look to the future in local, what do you foresee? Please help us round out this post with predictions from our incredibly smart community.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 1 year ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Inverse Document Frequency and the Importance of Uniqueness

Posted by EricEnge

In my last column, I wrote about how to use term frequency analysis in evaluating your content vs. the competition’s. Term frequency (TF) is only one part of the TF-IDF approach to information retrieval. The other part is inverse document frequency (IDF), which is what I plan to discuss today.

Today’s post will use an explanation of how IDF works to show you the importance of creating content that has true uniqueness. There are reputation and visibility reasons for doing this, and it’s great for users, but there are also SEO benefits.

If you wonder why I am focusing on TF-IDF, consider these words from a Google article from August 2014: “This is the idea of the famous TF-IDF, long used to index web pages.” While the way that Google may apply these concepts is far more than the simple TF-IDF models I am discussing, we can still learn a lot from understanding the basics of how they work.

What is inverse document frequency?

In simple terms, it’s a measure of the rareness of a term. Conceptually, we start by measuring document frequency. It’s easiest to illustrate with an example, as follows:

IDF table

In this example, we see that the word “a” appears in every document in the document set. What this tells us is that it provides no value in telling the documents apart. It’s in everything.

Now look at the word “mobilegeddon.” It appears in 1,000 of the documents, or one thousandth of one percent of them. Clearly, this phrase provides a great deal more differentiation for the documents that contain them.

Document frequency measures commonness, and we prefer to measure rareness. The classic way that this is done is with a formula that looks like this:

idf equation

For each term we are looking at, we take the total number of documents in the document set and divide it by the number of documents containing our term. This gives us more of a measure of rareness. However, we don’t want the resulting calculation to say that the word “mobilegeddon” is 1,000 times more important in distinguishing a document than the word “boat,” as that is too big of a scaling factor.

This is the reason we take the Log Base 10 of the result, to dampen that calculation. For those of you who are not mathematicians, you can loosely think of the Log Base 10 of a number as being a count of the number of zeros – i.e., the Log Base 10 of 1,000,000 is 6, and the log base 10 of 1,000 is 3. So instead of saying that the word “mobilegeddon” is 1,000 times more important, this type of calculation suggests it’s three times more important, which is more in line with what makes sense from a search engine perspective.

With this in mind, here are the IDF values for the terms we looked at before:

idf table logarithm values

Now you can see that we are providing the highest score to the term that is the rarest.

What does the concept of IDF teach us?

Think about IDF as a measure of uniqueness. It helps search engines identify what it is that makes a given document special. This needs to be much more sophisticated than how often you use a given search term (e.g. keyword density).

Think of it this way: If you are one of 6.78 million web sites that comes up for the search query “super bowl 2015,” you are dealing with a crowded playing field. Your chances of ranking for this term based on the quality of your content are pretty much zero.

massive number of results for broad keyword

Overall link authority and other signals will be the only way you can rank for a term that competitive. If you are a new site on the landscape, well, perhaps you should chase something else.

That leaves us with the question of what you should target. How about something unique? Even the addition of a simple word like “predictions”—changing our phrase to “super bowl 2015 predictions”—reduces this playing field to 17,800 results.

Clearly, this is dramatically less competitive already. Slicing into this further, the phrase “super bowl 2015 predictions and odds” returns only 26 pages in Google. See where this is going?

What IDF teaches us is the importance of uniqueness in the content we create. Yes, it will not pay nearly as much money to you as it would if you rank for the big head term, but if your business is a new entrant into a very crowded space, you are not going to rank for the big head term anyway

If you can pick out a smaller number of terms with much less competition and create content around those needs, you can start to rank for these terms and get money flowing into your business. This is because you are making your content more unique by using rarer combinations of terms (leveraging what IDF teaches us).

Summary

People who do keyword analysis are often wired to pursue the major head terms directly, simply based on the available keyword search volume. The result from this approach can, in fact, be pretty dismal.

Understanding how inverse document frequency works helps us understand the importance of standing out. Creating content that brings unique angles to the table is often a very potent way to get your SEO strategy kick-started.

Of course, the reasons for creating content that is highly differentiated and unique go far beyond SEO. This is good for your users, and it’s good for your reputation, visibility, AND also your SEO.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Announcing the 2015 Online Marketing Industry Survey

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

We’re very excited to announce the
2015 Online Marketing Industry Survey is ready. This is the fifth edition of the survey, which started in 2008 as the SEO Industry Survey, and has also been known as the Moz Industry Survey. Some of what we hope to learn and share:

  • Demographics: Who is practicing inbound marketing and SEO today? Where do we work and live?
  • Agencies vs. in-house vs. other: How are agencies growing? What’s the average size? Who is doing inbound marketing on their own?
  • Tactics and strategies: What’s working for people today? How have strategies and tactics evolved?
  • Tools and technology: What are marketers using to discover opportunities, promote themselves, and measure the results?
  • Budget and spending: What tools and platforms are marketers investing in?


This year’s survey was redesigned to be easier and only
take less than 10 minutes. When the results are in we’ll share the data freely with you and the rest of the world, along with the insights we’ve gleaned from it.

Survey importance

By comparing answers and predictions from one year to the next, we can spot trends and gain insight not easily reported through any other source. This is our best chance to understand exactly where the future of our industry is headed.

Every year the Industry Survey delivers new insights and surprises. For example, the chart below (from the 2014 survey) lists
average reported salary by role.

One of the data points we hope to discover is if these numbers go up or down for 2015.

Prizes. Oh, fabulous prizes.

It wouldn’t be the Industry Survey without a few excellent prizes thrown in as an added incentive.

This year we’ve upped the game with prizes we feel are both exciting and perfect for the busy inbound marketer. To see the full sweepstakes terms and rules,
go to our sweepstakes rules page. The winners will be announced by June 15th. Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

Grand Prize: Attend MozCon 2015 in Seattle

Once again, the Grand Prize includes one ticket to
MozCon 2015 plus airfare and accommodations. This is your chance to see greats like Wil Reynolds, Cindy Krum, Rand Fishkin and more over 3 days in Seattle. Plus experience lots of networking and social events. Moz is also covering the cost of the flight plus hotel room.

2 First Prizes: Apple Watch

Shhhhhh! Because we’re giving away two Apple Watches. These aren’t available to the general public yet, which make them mysteriously awesome.

10 Second Prizes: $50 Amazon.com gift cards

Yep, 10 lucky people will win $50 Amazon.com gift cards. Why not buy yourself a
nice book? Maybe 
this one?

Help with sharing!

The number of people who take the survey is very important!
The more people who take the survey, the better and more accurate the data will be, and the more insight we can share with the industry.

So please share with your co-workers. Share on social media. Share with your email lists. You can use the buttons below this post to get you started, but remember
to take the survey first!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

10 Predictions for the Marketing World in 2015

Posted by randfish

The beginning of the year marks the traditional week for bloggers to prognosticate about the 12 months ahead, and, over the last decade I’ve created a tradition of joining in this festive custom to predict the big trends in SEO and web marketing. However, I divine the future by a strict code: I’m only allowed to make predictions IF my predictions from last year were at least moderately accurate (otherwise, why should you listen to me?). So, before I bring my crystal-ball-gazing, let’s have a look at how I did for 2014.

Yes, we’ll get to that, but not until you prove you’re a real Wizard, mustache-man.

You can find 
my post from January 5th of last year here, but I won’t force you to read through it. Here’s how I do grading:

  • Spot On (+2) – when a prediction hits the nail on the head and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) – predictions that are in the area, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) – those that landed near the truth, but couldn’t be called “correct” in any real sense
  • Off the Mark (-2) – guesses which didn’t come close

If the score is positive, prepare for more predictions, and if it’s negative, I’m clearly losing the pulse of the industry. Let’s tally up the numbers.

In 2014, I made 6 predictions:

#1: Twitter will go Facebook’s route and create insights-style pages for at least some non-advertising accounts

Grade: +2

Twitter rolled out Twitter analytics for all users this year (
starting in July for some accounts, and then in August for everyone), and while it’s not nearly as full-featured as Facebook’s “Insights” pages, it’s definitely in line with the spirit of this prediction.

#2: We will see Google test search results with no external, organic listings

Grade: -2

I’m very happy to be wrong about this one. To my knowledge, Google has yet to go this direction and completely eliminate external-pointing links on search results pages. Let’s hope they never do.

That said, there are plenty of SERPs where Google is taking more and more of the traffic away from everyone but themselves, e.g.:

I think many SERPs that have basic, obvious functions like ”
timer” are going to be less and less valuable as traffic sources over time.

#3: Google will publicly acknowledge algorithmic updates targeting both guest posting and embeddable infographics/badges as manipulative linking practices

Grade: -1

Google most certainly did release an update (possibly several)
targeted at guest posts, but they didn’t publicly talk about something specifically algorithmic targeting emebedded content/badges. It’s very possible this was included in the rolling Penguin updates, but the prediction said “publicly acknowledge” so I’m giving myself a -1.

#4: One of these 5 marketing automation companies will be purchased in the 9-10 figure $ range: Hubspot, Marketo, Act-On, Silverpop, or Sailthru

Grade: +2

Silverpop was 
purchased by IBM in April of 2014. While a price wasn’t revealed, the “sources” quoted by the media estimated the deal in the ~$270mm range. I’m actually surprised there wasn’t another sale, but this one was spot-on, so it gets the full +2.

#5: Resumes listing “content marketing” will grow faster than either SEO or “social media marketing”

Grade: +1

As a percentage, this certainly appears to be the case. Here’s some stats:

  • US profiles with “content marketing”
    • June 2013: 30,145
    • January 2015: 68,580
    • Growth: 227.5%
  • US profiles with “SEO”
    • June 2013: 364,119
    • January 2015: 596,050
    • Growth: 163.7%
  • US profiles with “social media marketing”
    • June 2013: 938,951
    • January 2015: 1,990,677
    • Growth: 212%

Granted, content marketing appears on far fewer profiles than SEO or social media marketing, but it has seen greater growth. I’m only giving myself a +1 rather than a +2 on this because, while the prediction was mathematically correct, the numbers of SEO and social still dwarf content marketing as a term. In fact, in LinkedIn’s 
annual year-end report of which skills got people hired the most, SEO was #5! Clearly, the term and the skillset continue to endure and be in high demand.

#6: There will be more traffic sent by Pinterest than Twitter in Q4 2014 (in the US)

Grade: +1

This is probably accurate, since Pinterest appears to have grown faster in 2014 than Twitter by a good amount AND this was 
already true in most of 2014 according to SharedCount (though I’m not totally sold on the methodology of coverage for their numbers). However, we won’t know the truth for a few months to come, so I’d be presumptuous in giving a full +2. I am a bit surprised that Pinterest continues to grow at such a rapid pace — certainly a very impressive feat for an established social network.


SOURCE: 
Global Web Index

With Twitter’s expected moves into embedded video, it’s my guess that we’ll continue to see a lot more Twitter engagement and activity on Twitter itself, and referring traffic outward won’t be as considerable a focus. Pinterest seems to be one of the only social networks that continues that push (as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube all seem to be pursuing a “keep them here” strategy).

——————————–

Final Score: +3

That positive number means I’ve passed my bar and can make another set of predictions for 2015. I’m going to be a little more aggressive this year, even though it risks ruining my sterling record, simply because I think it’s more exciting 🙂

Thus, here are my 10 predictions for what the marketing world will bring us in 2015:

#1: We’ll see the first major not-for-profit University in the US offer a degree in Internet Marketing, including classes on SEO.

There are already some private, for-profit offerings from places like Fullsail and Univ. of Phoenix, but I don’t know that these pedigrees carry much weight. Seeing a Stanford, a Wharton, or a University of Washington offer undergraduate or MBA programs in our field would be a boon to those seeking options and an equal boon to the universities.

The biggest reason I think we’re ripe for this in 2015 is the 
LinkedIn top 25 job skills data showing the immense value of SEO (#5) and digital/online marketing (#16) in a profile when seeking a new job. That should (hopefully) be a direct barometer for what colleges seek to include in their repertoire.

#2: Google will continue the trend of providing instant answers in search results with more interactive tools.

Google has been doing instant answers for a long time, but in addition to queries with immediate and direct responses, they’ve also undercut a number of online tool vendors by building their own versions directly into the SERPs, like they do currently for queries like ”
timer” and “calculator.”

I predict in 2015, we’ll see more partnerships like what’s provided with 
OpenTable and the ability to book reservations directly from the SERPs, possibly with companies like Uber, Flixster (they really need to get back to a better instant answer for movies+city), Zillow, or others that have unique data that could be surfaced directly.

#3: 2015 will be the year Facebook begins including some form of web content (not on Facebook’s site) in their search functionality.

Facebook 
severed their search relationship with Bing in 2014, and I’m going to make a very risky prediction that in 2015, we’ll see Facebook’s new search emerge and use some form of non-Facebook web data. Whether they’ll actually build their own crawler or merely license certain data from outside their properties is another matter, but I think Facebook’s shown an interest in getting more sophisticated with their ad offerings, and any form of search data/history about their users would provide a powerful addition to what they can do today.

#4: Google’s indexation of Twitter will grow dramatically, and a significantly higher percentage of tweets, hashtags, and profiles will be indexed by the year’s end.

Twitter has been 
putting more muscle behind their indexation and SEO efforts, and I’ve seen more and more Twitter URLs creeping into the search results over the last 6 months. I think that trend continues, and in 2015, we see Twitter.com enter the top 5-6 “big domains” in Mozcast.

#5: The EU will take additional regulatory action against Google that will create new, substantive changes to the search results for European searchers.

In 2014, we saw the EU 
enforce the “right to be forgotten” and settle some antitrust issues that require Google to edit what it displays in the SERPs. I don’t think the EU is done with Google. As the press has noted, there are plenty of calls in the European Parliament to break up the company, and while I think the EU will stop short of that measure, I believe we’ll see additional regulatory action that affects search results.

On a personal opinion note, I would add that while I’m not thrilled with how the EU has gone about their regulation of Google, I am impressed by their ability to do so. In the US, with 
Google becoming the second largest lobbying spender in the country and a masterful influencer of politicians, I think it’s extremely unlikely that they suffer any antitrust or regulatory action in their home country — not because they haven’t engaged in monopolistic behavior, but because they were smart enough to spend money to manipulate elected officials before that happened (unlike Microsoft, who, in the 1990’s, assumed they wouldn’t become a target).

Thus, if there is to be any hedge to Google’s power in search, it will probably come from the EU and the EU alone. There’s no competitor with the teeth or market share to have an impact (at least outside of China, Russia, and South Korea), and no other government is likely to take them on.

#6: Mobile search, mobile devices, SSL/HTTPS referrals, and apps will combine to make traffic source data increasingly hard to come by.

I’ll estimate that by year’s end, many major publishers will see 40%+ of their traffic coming from “direct” even though most of that is search and social referrers that fail to pass the proper referral string. Hopefully, we’ll be able to verify that through folks like 
Define Media Group, whose data sharing this year has made them one of the best allies marketers have in understanding the landscape of web traffic patterns.

BTW – I’d already estimate that 30-50% of all “direct” traffic is, in fact, search or social traffic that hasn’t been properly attributed. This is a huge challenge for web marketers — maybe one of the greatest challenges we face, because saying “I brought in a lot more traffic, I just can’t prove it or measure it,” isn’t going to get you nearly the buy-in, raises, or respect that your paid-traffic compatriots can earn by having every last visit they drive perfectly attributed.

#7: The content advertising/recommendation platforms will continue to consolidate, and either Taboola or Outbrain will be acquired or do some heavy acquiring themselves.

We just witnessed the 
surprising shutdown of nRelate, which I suspect had something to do with IAC politics more than just performance and potential for the company. But given that less than 2% of the web’s largest sites use content recommendation/promotion services and yet both Outbrain and Taboola are expected to have pulled in north of $200m in 2014, this is a massive area for future growth.

Yahoo!, Facebook, and Google are all potential acquirers here, and I could even see AOL (who already own Gravity) or Buzzfeed making a play. Likewise, there’s a slew of smaller/other players that Taboola or Outbrain themselves could acquire: Zemanta, Adblade, Zegnet, Nativo, Disqus, Gravity, etc. It’s a marketplace as ripe for acquisition as it is for growth.

#8: Promoted pins will make Pinterest an emerging juggernaut in the social media and social advertising world, particularly for e-commerce.

I’d estimate we’ll see figures north of $50m spent on promoted pins in 2015. This is coming after Pinterest only just 
opened their ad platform beyond a beta group this January. But, thanks to high engagement, lots of traffic, and a consumer base that B2C marketers absolutely love and often struggle to reach, I think Pinterest is going to have a big ad opportunity on their hands.

Note the promoted pin from Mad Hippie on the right

(apologies for very unappetizing recipes featured around it)

#9: Foursquare (and/or Swarm) will be bought, merge with someone, or shut down in 2015 (probably one of the first two).

I used to love Foursquare. I used the service multiple times every day, tracked where I went with it, ran into friends in foreign cities thanks to its notifications, and even used it to see where to go sometimes (in Brazil, for example, I found Foursquare’s business location data far superior to Google Maps’). Then came the split from Swarm. Most of my friends who were using Foursquare stopped, and the few who continued did so less frequently. Swarm itself tried to compete with Yelp, but it looks like 
neither is doing well in the app rankings these days.

I feel a lot of empathy for Dennis and the Foursquare team. I can totally understand the appeal, from a development and product perspective, of splitting up the two apps to let each concentrate on what it’s best at, and not dilute a single product with multiple primary use cases. Heck, we’re trying to learn that lesson at Moz and refocus our products back on SEO, so I’m hardly one to criticize. That said, I think there’s trouble brewing for the company and probably some pressure to sell while their location and check-in data, which is still hugely valuable, is robust enough and unique enough to command a high price.

#10: Amazon will not take considerable search share from Google, nor will mobile search harm Google’s ad revenue substantively.

The “Google’s-in-trouble” pundits are mostly talking about two trends that could hurt Google’s revenue in the year ahead. First, mobile searchers being less valuable to Google because they don’t click on ads as often and advertisers won’t pay as much for them. And, second, Amazon becoming the destination for direct, commercial queries ahead of Google.

In 2015, I don’t see either of these taking a toll on Google. I believe most of Amazon’s impact as a direct navigation destination for e-commerce shoppers has already taken place and while Google would love to get those searchers back, that’s already a lost battle (to the extent it was lost). I also don’t think mobile is a big concern for Google — in fact, I think they’re pivoting it into an opportunity, and taking advantage of their ability to connect mobile to desktop through Google+/Android/Chrome. Desktop search may have flatter growth, and it may even decline 5-10% before reaching a state of equilibrium, but mobile is growing at such a huge clip that Google has plenty of time and even plentier eyeballs and clicks to figure out how to drive more revenue per searcher.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

How You Can Build a Meaningful Brand

Posted by Hannah_Smith

Earlier this year I wrote a post about
the future of marketing. In it, I made a handful of predictions; arguably the most ‘out there’ of which was this: in the future, only brands which ‘mean something’ to consumers will survive. 

In today’s post I’ll be exploring what it takes to become a meaningful brand, and how you might go about building one.

SEO is not dead

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying SEO is dead, or that organic search is not an important channel 🙂
These stats speak for themselves:

However, what we’re being asked to do as SEOs is constantly evolving. 

It used to be that you could build a very successful business online just by being great at SEO. But today, the SERPs are changing, and ranking first doesn’t mean what it used to:

The BBC still rank first organically for ‘weather’—but their listing is pushed beneath the fold. Plus, given the that the information the searcher is seeking is displayed right there in the SERP, I’m guessing they’re not receiving as much traffic from this term as they once were.

But it’s not just informational queries:

Skyscanner still rank first for the term ‘flights to paris’, but again here their organic listing is pushed beneath the fold thanks to paid search listings and the proprietary Google flight product.

Google is even going so far as to show its proprietary products against branded searches (hat-tip to 
Barry Adams for pointing this out):

MoneySuperMarket’s organic listing is above the fold, but Google is nonetheless being very aggressive.

As a consequence of these changes, as SEOs, we’re being asked to do different things. Clients of yesteryear used to say things like:

Get us links!

But today they’re saying things like:

Get us press coverage, social shares and exposure [links] on sites our target audience reads.

Whilst they may not explicitly be asking us to build a brand, nonetheless much of what we do today looks a lot like brand building. But where do we start?

What does ‘brand’ mean?

Before we kick off I think it’s worth exploring what brand really means. We have a tendency to use ‘brand’ and ‘company’ or ‘organisation’ interchangeably, but in reality they are two distinctly different things.

Here’s a definition:

brand – to impress firmly; fix ineradicably; place indelibly

Therefore a brand is not a brand unless it leaves a lasting impression, and of course, it needs to be a favourable impression. Essentially companies or organisations need to build brands that mean something to people.

However, right now companies and organisations are struggling to do this effectively:

“In Europe and the US, consumers would not care if 92% of brands ceased to exist” 


source

That means that consumers would only miss 8% of brands. 

Clearly we have a mountain to climb. How do we go about building meaningful brands? Particularly on SEO retainer budgets?

You can learn a lot by deconstructing the success of others

Like many in the search industry, I’m a fan of taking stuff apart to figure out how it works. So, when trying to figure out how to go about building a meaningful brand, I started by looking at what meaningful brands are doing right now.

I uncovered three core principles—some meaningful brands do all three; some just do one or two—I’ll deal with them each in turn.

1) Meaningful brands find opportunities to delight customers

Most people’s interactions with brands suck. But great interactions stand out and are shared. Let’s take a look at some examples:

@smartcarusa

Here’s how @smartcarusa responded when someone suggested that a single bird dropping would total one of their cars:

Now the takeaway here is not to rush out and make a bunch of infographics on disparate topics.
Out of context, the infographic is neither remarkable, nor particularly interesting, and I don’t think it would have garnered coverage had it not been created in response to this tweet.
But I think a lesson we can take from this is that going the extra mile to respond in a novel way can yield out-sized returns.

@ArgosHelpers

This is how @ArgosHelpers responded to a customer asking when PS4s would be back in stock:

The takeaway here is not people love brands who use slang—I think this is actually a very artfully worded response. See how the brand has taken care to use the same language as their customer without being in any way condescending? That’s what you need to shoot for.

@TescoMobile

This is how @TescoMobile responded when someone described their network as a ‘turn off’:

Whoa! 

The lesson here is definitely not ‘be a dick to people who are dicks to you’; I think the lesson here is that a well-judged, cheeky response can travel.

Ultimately you need to tread carefully if you want to use this type of tactic. I think @TescoMobile got away with this one—but it is really close to the line. To do this sort of thing you need to have a deep understanding of your audience—what’s considered funny and what’s just plain rude? This can vary hugely depending on the niche you’re working in and the public perception of your brand.

Moreover, if you’re a brand engaging in this sort of activity, you need to consider not only your own response, but the potential response from your audience, too. Some brands have an army of loyal advocates. But if brands aren’t careful, they may unwittingly encourage said army to attack an individual with a response like this.

Of course it’s not just interactions that have the capacity to delight—sometimes being nimble is enough:

@Arbys

When Pharrell turned up to the GRAMMYs wearing *that hat* here’s how @Arbys responded:

The takeaway here is not that you need a bit of luck, instead it’s that you need to be ready, willing and able to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise. I think that if @Arbys hadn’t tweeted that, then someone else would have done and their brand wouldn’t have benefited.

Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this; let’s move on to principle two:

2) Meaningful brands give people the ability to define themselves to others

Have you ever thought about why you share what you share on social media? Most of us don’t think about it too much, but
The New York Times did a
study on the psychology of sharing in which 68% of respondents said they share things via social media to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about.

For example, I might share an article from
hbr.org because I want you to think I’m the sort of person who reads Harvard Business Review. Or I might share an Oatmeal comic because I want you to think I have an excellent sense of humour. I might share something about the Lean In movement because I want to let you know where I stand on important issues.

If you’re seeking to create a meaningful brand, this can be an excellent space to play in because brands can give people the ability to define themselves to others. Now I don’t necessarily mean by creating content like
this which literally allows people to define themselves:

Brands can also help people define themselves by creating things people ‘look good’ sharing—let’s take a look at some examples:

GE’s #6SecondScience

The takeaway here is to create things which are tangentially related to your brand, that people ‘look good’ sharing. When people shared this content they were sharing stuff that was more than just ‘cool’—by sharing this content they were also able to express their enthusiasm for science.

In a similar vein meaningful brands create commercials that don’t feel like commercials—again, these are things that people ‘look good’ sharing:

Wren’s First Kiss

This film definitely got people talking. To date it’s received over 94 million YouTube views and coverage on over 1300 sites. But this isn’t just a video content play…

Oreo

When Oreo turned 100, they created 100 pieces of content over 100 days:

This campaign got over 1m Facebook ‘likes’ and thousands of pieces of press coverage. 

But actually, I think the smartest thing about this campaign was that it was highly topical content which put the cookie right in the centre of people’s conversations without being self-serving.

Still with me? Let’s move on to principle three:

3) Meaningful brands stand for something above and beyond their products or services

This is difficult to explain in the abstract, so I’m going to shoot straight to some examples.

BrewDog

BrewDog is a craft beer company. Their brand values are drawn from punk subculture—they’re anti-establishment and believe in individual freedom.
So when Dead Pony Club ale was ‘banned’ because the phrase “rip it up down empty streets” was printed on the label, their response was to issue a
press release apologising for ‘not giving a shit’ over the marketing rules breach.
Their fans loved their response:

The takeaway here isn’t that sweary press releases get attention (although they undoubtedly do)—by refusing to take the ruling lying down BrewDog showed people they were a brand which stood for something beyond great beer.

Nike

A core value for Nike is “if you have a body, you are an athlete”, and these values have inspired incredible creative like this:

I think that this advert is powerful because Nike isn’t talking about how their trainers enhance your performance, they’re talking about celebrating everyone’s athletic endeavours. It’s about more than just their products. 

OKCupid

I think that taking the decision to stand for something is perhaps most potent when it could actually cost a brand customers. When Mozilla appointed a new CEO, OKCupid showed this message to Firefox users:

They went on to say:

The takeaway here is not ‘align your brand with a cause and win the the Internet’, but rather, taking a bold stance on a relevant issue, even if it could actually hurt your business, can create a lasting impression.

What do I mean by ‘actually hurt your business’? Sadly, not everyone believes in equal rights for gay couples, as such, taking this stance could cost OK Cupid.

Using these principles day-to-day

The reality for me is that right now, much of this I can’t affect—sadly no clients have dropped several million into my lap and asked me to create them an ad like Nike’s 🙂

That said, I do think that it’s helped me to clarify my thinking on what it means to be a meaningful brand and how to figure out how to get there. At Distilled (the company who is good enough to employ me), the place we play most frequently is principle two—we create content which allows people to define themselves to others; things that people ‘look good sharing’. 

Perhaps more importantly, we’re taking the time to understand the companies we’re working with better so that our creative work is better aligned with their brand values. 

And so, dear reader, over to you—I’d love to hear what you think it takes to build a meaningful brand, and what’s working (and not working) for you, do let me know via the comments.

This post is based on a session I presented at SearchLove; those who are interested can view the full deck below:

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

The Future of Link Building

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

Building the types of links that help grow your online business and organic search traffic is getting harder. It used to be fairly straightforward, back before Google worked out how to treat links with different levels of quality and trust. However, the fact that it’s getting harder doesn’t mean that it’s dead.

What does the future hold?

I’m going to talk about links, but the truth is, the future isn’t really about the links. It is far bigger than that.

Quick sidenote: I’m aware that doing a blog post about the future of link building the week of a likely Penguin update could leave me with egg on my face! But we’ll see what happens.

Links will always be a ranking factor in some form or another. I can see the dials being turned down or off on certain aspects of links (more on that below) but I think they will always be there. Google is always looking for more data, more signals, more indicators of whether or not a certain page is a good result for a user at a certain moment in time. They will find them too, as we can see from
patents such as this. A natural consequence is that other signals may be diluted or even replaced as Google becomes smarter and understands the web and users a lot better.

What this means for the future is that the links valued by Google will be the ones you get as a result of having a great product and great marketing. Essentially, links will be symptomatic of amazing marketing. Hat tip to
Jess Champion who I’ve borrowed this term from.

This isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be. That’s the point.

To go a bit further, I think we also need to think about the bigger picture. In the grand scheme of things, there are so many more signals that Google can use which, as marketers, we need to understand and use to our advantage. Google is changing and we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is going on.

A quick side note on spammy links

My background is a spammy one so I can’t help but address this quickly. Spam will continue to work for short-term hits and churn and burn websites. I’ve talked before about 
my position on this so I won’t go into too much more detail here. I will say though that those people who are in the top 1% of spammers will continue to make money, but even for them, it will be hard to maintain over a long period of time.

Let’s move onto some more of the detail around my view of the future by first looking at the past and present.

What we’ve seen in the past

Google didn’t understand links.

The fundamental issue that Google had for a long, long time was that they didn’t understand enough about links. They didn’t understand things such as:

  • How much to trust a link
  • Whether a link was truly editorially given or not
  • Whether a link was paid for or not
  • If a link was genuinely high quality (PageRank isn’t perfect)
  • How relevant a link was

Whilst they still have work to do on all of these, they have gotten much better in recent years. At one time, a link was a link and it was pretty much a case of whoever had the most links, won. I think that for a long time, Google was trying very hard to understand links and find which ones were high quality, but there was so much noise that it was very difficult. I think that eventually they realised that they had to attack the problem from a different angle and 
Penguin came along. So instead of focusing on finding the “good” signals of links, they focused on finding the “bad” signals and started to take action on them. This didn’t fix everything, but it did enough to shock our industry into moving away from certain tactics and therefore, has probably helped reduce a lot of the noise that Google was seeing.

What we’re seeing right now

Google is understanding more about language.

Google is getting better at understanding everything.
Hummingbird was just the start of what Google hopes to achieve on this front and it stands to reason that the same kind of technology that helps the following query work, will also help Google understand links better.

Not many people in the search industry said much when
Google hired this guy back in 2012. We can be pretty sure that it’s partly down to his work that we’re seeing the type of understanding of language that we are. His work has only just begun, though, and I think we’ll see more queries like the one above that just shouldn’t work, but they do. I also think we’ll see more instances of Googlers not knowing why something ranks where it does.

Google is understanding more about people.

I talk about this a little more below but to quickly summarise here, Google is learning more about us all the time. It can seem creepy, but the fact is that Google wants as much data as possible from us so that they can serve more relevant search results—and advertising of course. They are understanding more that the keywords we type into Google may not actually be what we want to find, nor are those keywords enough to find what we really want. Google needs more context.

Tom Anthony has
talked about this extensively so I won’t go into loads more detail. But to bring it back to link building, it is important to be aware of this because it means that there are more and more signals that could mean the dial on links gets turned down a bit more.

Some predictions about the future

I want to make a few things more concrete about my view of the future for link building, so let’s look at a few specifics.

1. Anchor text will matter less and less

Anchor text as a ranking signal was always something that works well in theory but not in reality. Even in my early days of link building, I couldn’t understand why Google put so much weight behind this one signal. My main reason for this view was that using exact match keywords in a link was not natural for most webmasters. I’d go as far as to say the only people who used it were SEOs!

I’m don’t think we’re at a point yet where anchor text as a ranking signal is dead and it will take some more time for Google to turn down the dial. But we definitely are at a point where you can get hurt pretty badly if you have too much commercial anchor text in your link profile. It just isn’t natural.

In the future, Google won’t need this signal. They will be much better at understanding the content of a page and importantly, the context of a page.

2. Deep linking will matter less and less

I was on the fence about this one for a long time but the more I think about it, the more I can see this happening. I’ll explain my view here by using an example.

Let’s imagine you’re an eCommerce website and you sell laptops. Obviously each laptop you sell will have its own product page and if you sell different types, you’ll probably have category pages too. With a products like laptops, chances are that other retailers sell the same ones with the same specifications and probably have very similar looking pages to yours. How does Google know which one to rank better than others?

Links to these product pages can work fine but in my opinion, is a bit of a crude way of working it out. I think that Google will get better at understanding the subtle differences in queries from users which will naturally mean that deep links to these laptop pages will be one of many signals they can use.

Take these queries:


“laptop reviews”

Context: I want to buy a laptop but I don’t know which one.


“asus laptop reviews”

Context: I like the sound of Asus, I want to read more about their laptops.


“sony laptop reviews”

Context: I also like the sound of Sony, I want to read more about their laptops.


“sony vs asus laptop”

Context: I’m confused, they both sound the same so I want a direct comparison to help me decide.


“asus laptop”

Context: I want an Asus laptop.

You can see how the mindset of the user has changed over time and we can easily imagine how the search results will have changed to reflect this. Google already understand this. There are other signals coming into play here too though, what about these bits of additional information that Google can gather about us:

  • Location: I’m on a bus in London, I may not want to buy a £1,000 laptop right now but I’ll happily research them.
  • Device: I’m on my iPhone 6, I may not want to input credit card details into it and I worry that the website I’m using won’t work well on a small screen.
  • Search history: I’ve searched for laptops before and visited several retailers, but I keep going back to the same one as I’ve ordered from them before.

These are just a few that are easy for us to imagine Google using. There are loads more that Google could look at, not to mention signals from the retailers themselves such as secure websites, user feedback, 3rd party reviews, trust signals etc.

When you start adding all of these signals together, it’s pretty easy to see why links to a specific product page may not be the strongest signal for Google to use when determining rankings.

Smaller companies will be able to compete more.

One of the things I loved about SEO when I first got into it was the fact that organic search felt like a level playing field. I knew that with the right work, I could beat massive companies in the search results and not have to spend a fortune doing it. Suffice to say, things have changed quite a bit now and there are some industries where you stand pretty much zero chance of competing unless you have a very big budget to spend and a great product.

I think we will see a shift back in the other direction and smaller companies with fewer links will be able to rank for certain types of queries with a certain type of context. As explained above, context is key and allows Google to serve up search results that meet the context of the user. This means that massive brands are not always going to be the right answer for users and Google have to get better at understanding this. Whether a company is classified as a “brand” or not can be subjective. My local craft beer shop in London is the only one in the world and if you were to ask 100 people if they’d heard of it, they’d all probably say no. But it’s a brand to me because I love their products, their staff are knowledgeable and helpful, their marketing is cool and I’d always recommend them.

Sometimes, showing the website of this shop above bigger brands in search results is the right thing to do for a user. Google need lots of additional signals beyond “branding” and links in order to do this but I think they will get them.

What all of this means for us

Predicting the future is hard, knowing what to do about it is pretty hard too! But here are some things that I think we should be doing.

  1. Ask really hard questions
    Marketing is hard. If you or your client wants to compete and win customers, then you need to be prepared to ask really hard questions about the company. Here are just a few that I’ve found difficult when talking to clients:

    • Why does the company exist? (A good answer has nothing to do with making money)
    • Why do you deserve to rank well in Google?
    • What makes you different to your competitors?
    • If you disappeared from Google tomorrow, would anyone notice?
    • Why do you deserve to be linked to?
    • What value do you provide for users?

    The answers to these won’t always give you that silver bullet, but they can provoke conversations that make the client look inwardly and at why they should deserve links and customers. These questions are hard to answer, but again, that’s the point.

  2. Stop looking for scalable link building tactics

    Seriously, just stop. Anything that can be scaled tends to lose quality and anything that scales is likely to be targeted by the Google webspam team at some point. A
    recent piece of content we did at Distilled has so far generated links from over 700 root domains—we did NOT send 700 outreach emails! This piece took on a life of its own and generated those links after some promotion by us, but at no point did we worry about scaling outreach for it.

  3. Start focusing on doing marketing that users love

    I’m not talking necessarily about you doing the next
    Volvo ad or to be the next Old Spice guy. If you can then great, but these are out of reach for most of us.That doesn’t mean you can’t do marketing that people love. I often look at companies like Brewdog and Hawksmoor who do great marketing around their products but in a way that has personality and appeal. They don’t have to spend millions of dollars on celebrities or TV advertising because they have a great product and a fun marketing message. They have value to add which is the key, they don’t need to worry about link building because they get them naturally by doing cool stuff.

    Whilst I know that “doing cool stuff” isn’t particularly actionable, I still think it’s fair to say that marketing needs to be loved. In order to do marketing that people love, you need to have some fun and focus on adding value.

  4. Don’t bury your head in the sand

    The worst thing you can do is ignore the trends and changes taking place. Google is changing, user expectations and behaviours are changing, our industry is changing. As an industry, we’ve adapted very well over the last few years. We have to keep doing this if we’re going to survive.

    Going back to link building, you need to accept that this stuff is really hard and building the types of links that Google value is hard.

In summary

Links aren’t going anywhere. But the world is changing and we have to focus on what truly matters: marketing great products and building a loyal audience. 

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