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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
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
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
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
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”
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)
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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