Every good Internet marketer knows there is only one valid rule for online marketing, and it's this: Tomorrow, the rules will change. The digital world is constantly evolving, with new technologies arriving to kick the old ones into the gutter, and consumer behavior shifts as the choices expand.
Your website may be working … but is it working hard enough? Online marketers not only have to keep up with the current landscape, but also look ahead to anticipate what the future might bring.
Here's what's likely to happen in 2014 as the Internet continues to change.
1. Content marketing still reigns supreme
Providing consistently valuable content has always been a staple of online marketing, and it's going to become more important than ever. Two recent changes to Google are driving factors in the rise of content marketing.
First is the new Hummingbird algorithm, which changes the rules for mobile searches and makes all of them more intelligent by using a “conversation-based” engine that finds information based on the way people talk.
Then there's across-the-board secure search. Previously employed only when a searcher was logged into a Google account, the search engine giant has now implemented SSL for every search — and at the same time pulled the Google Keyword Tool. Now, paid searches through AdWords are the only ones being tracked by keywords.
These changes mean that online marketers will have to rely on organic SEO generated by strong content to boost search engine rankings.
2. Social media gets wrapped up in SEO
Traditional inbound links still carry more weight than social media mentions, but that dynamic is shifting. With search engines seeking to return the most relevant content with the highest quality, social shares are becoming a valuable component for search engine rankings — because the more people choose to share a piece of content, the higher its perceived quality.
For this reason, diversity in social media will also be important. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are still the Big 3 of social networks, but rising stars like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and Tumblr look like they're here to stay — and they'll add weight to your social signals. Currently, only a third of CEOs have any presence on social media sites, meaning that we have a long way to go before social reaches its saturation point within the business executive community.
In 2014, blending social strategies with SEO will help businesses enrich their content marketing efforts and drive organic search results.
3. Images are essential for success
As online consumers have become desensitized to banners and frame ads, the sheer number of advertisements has increased in a bid to gain attention. The emphasis today is on content that's easily digestible; and great images help your content stand out.
Attesting to this is the rise of sites like Pinterest and Buzzfeed, the immediate popularity of infographics, and the fact that the most popular articles and blog posts with the most social shares contain clear, well-placed images. The visual nature of the Internet means that incorporating images can only help your marketing efforts.
Properly labeling images with relevant file names and ALT tags will also strengthen your SEO and improve the accessibility of your content.
4. Mobile matters more than ever
The shift toward mobile is undeniable. There are now more active mobile devices than adults in the US, and consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to research products and services, find businesses, shop directly, and more. Forbes reports that by 2017, 87 percent of connected devices sales — a category that includes desktop and laptop PCs — will be smartphones and tablets.
Next year's Internet marketing battlefield will play out largely on mobile devices, as a growing number of users expects to access products, services, apps, and information on smartphones and tablets. Your business needs to have responsive design in place, and online features that cater to a mobile audience, in order to remain competitive.