It has been an incredibly eventful year in terms of updates from Google. Major 2013 changes included further releases of Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird taking flight, and the shift away from providing keyword data thanks to encrypted search.
Many have gone so far as to ask whether SEO as a profession is dead: for one interesting perspective, see my recent Forbes interview with Sam Roberts of VUDU Marketing. My own take is less alarmist: Google has taken major spam-fighting steps that have shifted the playing field for SEO professionals and anyone trying to get their site on the map in the year ahead.
At the same time, the need for an online presence has never been stronger, while the landscape has never been more competitive. The potential to make a real ROI impact with your company's online marketing initiative is greater than ever. But defaulting to so-called "gray hat" tactics no longer works. Instead, SEO professionals need to step up and embrace a more robust vision of our area of expertise.
You might call it a move from tactician to strategist: the best and most successful players in our space will work to anticipate Google's next moves and respond to them with laser focus. In a sense, the infinite digital game of chess that is SEO will continue, but the rules of the game have become more complex.
Through a mix of what I'm observing and reading and what I'm seeing working out in the field today for my clients, here are some suggestions for companies and SEO professionals that are thinking ahead to 2014 for their digital strategies.
Content Marketing is Bigger than Ever
Content marketing will move from buzzword to mature marketing movement in 2014. From an SEO perspective, Google will be looking at companies that have robust content marketing efforts as a sign that they're the kind of business Google wants to support.
Think of all the advantages of a good content strategy:
Regular, helpful content targeted at your audience.
Social signals from regular sharing and engagement.
Freshness or signs that your site is alive and growing.
Increasing authority connected to your body of work.
Sound familiar? It's the very approach to SEO that all of Google's recent updates have been designed to shape.
What changes you need to make in 2014 depends largely on where your company stands now in relation to an active content marketing strategy. Companies with existing content strategies will need to assess the role of mobile, specifically.
If you've just begun to move in the direction of content marketing, it's time to really commit and diversify. If you haven't started yet, it's time to take the plunge.