If the turbulence of animals (pandas, penguins, pigeons, oh my) from Google in 2014 was any indication to what the future holds, then local business owners are bracing themselves for another year of uncertainty and confusion. Which is why predicting changes to SEO and search engines is akin to predicting the weather. You can see the patterns and trends, but it can all change in a heartbeat.
That being said, we can take a look into the 2015 landscape based on what we saw in 2014 and formulate some best practices and predictions.
1. Business owners will seek out more education and training.
For business owners who have been trusting and getting burned by “SEO experts” for years now, 2015 will be the year that they take time to learn at a high level what SEO and digital marketing actually do. They will be checking into news and trends through blogs like (plug) this one as part of their daily routines. Digital Marketing, SEO, SEM, etc, will not sound as foreign as they once did. All of this education will, of course, make business owners more knowledgeable and less likely to be tricked into things that they don’t need or want. At the end of the day, there is a major difference between doing SEO for companies and brands versus doing SEO for local and small businesses.
2. For local businesses, reviews, social media and directories will be just as important as SEO.
2015 will continue 2014’s trend of local businesses using other channels outside of the search engines to get traffic and conversions. Properties like Yelp (barnacle), Facebook, Internet Yellow Pages, and even Pinterest will give businesses a steady stream of customers if they are managed correctly. Local businesses will realize that they have to engage online in the digital world as a part of their marketing plan. They will realize that these citations play an important part in the ecosystem that feeds into what the search engines use to rank local businesses.
3. Google and the other search engines will continue to change, experiment, and release numerous updates to their algorithms.
In 2015, the search engines will continue battling against people trying to game the system. Look for more iterations of both Panda and Penguin in the coming year, as Google will continue to try and find the perfect tweaks and changes to combat spammers. Also look for short-run experiments and changes such as the “local pack” and the “local carousel” and other new additions to Google’s bag of tools.
4. Business owners will realize the power of data and analytics.
2015 will be the year that local businesses will understand the power of having data and analytics at the touch of their fingers. With free tools such as Google Analytics, it would be unwise for owners to not use the tool to learn how visitors (customers) come to find them. Analytics is what will help business owners make intelligent decisions in their digital marketing efforts. Analytics will also allow them to see if their “SEO experts” are actually giving them a good return on investment.
5. Mobile Mobile Mobile Mobile Mobile
This has been the battle cry for 3-4 years now, but this year will be the most evident. If your digital presence (websites, profiles, directory listings, maps, etc.) is not set up for mobile visitors, then it is time to do so now. Some experts predict that if not this year, then definitely by next year, mobile will overtake desktop computers in the number of visitors and searches. Google is aggressively promoting mobile optimization and they are even letting users know if a site is “mobile-friendly” or not before they click on the search result. 2015 will be the year of mobile, location-based searching and hyper local results. You should strongly consider getting up to par with this unless you are prepared to be left behind.
As you can see, these predictions aren’t necessarily traditional “SEO” in terms of specific optimization tactics. But these are in fact “search” improvements that local businesses can make to be found online. The way that customers find businesses is amorphous and changing more every day. Your customers do not necessarily find you through a search engine, but they are still searching for you online. Resources like directories, review sites, and social media sites are also driving customers to your business. At the end of the day, all of this makes up your digital marketing and your “SEO” and will translate into more customers and more money. It will also make you a more knowledgeable business owner and less likely to be a target for shady agencies and individuals set to con you out of your money or get you penalized through their ignorance.