The only thing certain in SEO is that SEO changes. Below are my 10 bold predictions for how the SEO landscape will change during 2015. In the coming year I see Google getting more competitors and losing some market share, the rise of voice search and response devices in the home, not provided keyword data being given back but with a twist, and new mobile ad units that reside at the top of search results and not the bottom.
1. In home searching by voice will expand with connected devices / Google gets in on the game
Amazon’s Echo might have gotten the jump on Google with a voice powered assistant / search engine for the home. But Google and Apple won’t stay out of the game long and given Amazon’s mixed reviews for the Echo so far, it’s a safe bet the two giants will fare much better.
When Google purchased NEST Labs I predicted that such a virtual helper / search engine you could talk to in your home was on the way soon. Google has the technology already for a powerful in home assistant, it’s merely getting manufacturing, design, etc.. organized now. My bet is they announce their new device at Google I/O 2015 and an Apple HomeKit powered unit will be ready by late July or August of 2015.
But what does this all mean for the publisher? Since these devices thrive on understanding public domain facts and data publishers that get traffic from this, ala Wikipedia, might have a tougher time in 2015. But I don’t think the voice response will stop there, entire news RSS feeds can be ingested and read aloud at a command, websites scanned for pricing information, and more. That could spell the end of driving traffic to news articles for impression driven ad revenue and also for analytics like knowing when users are scanning your pricing page and optimzing it for conversions. There is some hope for this later in the countdown.
2. Amazon will announce a new search engine
Amazon’s CEO loves to lose money on new toys. And Amazon is often called Google’s biggest threat. Starting in 2015 a new, mobile first, search engine will be launched by Amazon. This engine will understand users purchase history on Amazon and view history on Amazon prime and seek to surface relevant content across the web for their personal taste and preferences without needing invasive amounts of data (ala Google+). Of course this search engine will live on Amazon devices, which they will give out nearly free, and will surface Amazon products more often than competitors like eBay. The engine will also play home to Amazon’s Display Ad network.
What will be great about this search engine is that for non-amazon data it’ll need to partner with 3rd party websites like Yelp and others leaving opportunity for many SEOs to rank. Since this will be the default search engine on Kindle Fire and Amazon Phones it’ll also have a built in traffic base from the start. The engine will also be proactive doing things such as suggesting reading material on a rainy saturday or a movie for a date night you schedule in your calendar.
3. Yahoo! will announce it’s own search engine, parting ways with Bing
Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer was the VP of Search at Google from 2005 to 2012 when she was moved to Google Local, at the time the equivalent of solitary confinement at Google and a signal her years of building the iconic search engines algorithm and home page were no longer needed. When she went to Yahoo! in 2012 nearly everyone thought she would run right back to building a search engine, but she didn’t. Marissa while at Yahoo! has overseen the purchase of Tumblr, the take over of FireFox’s default search, and doubled the stock price of the company. These efforts I’m certain have earned her a lot of goodwill among investors and she’s now primed to push for her own search engine in 2015. With the FireFox deal Yahoo! can promise investors immediate usage and with Marissa’s background they can guarantee some measure of success.
Marissa also has the privilege of sitting back and watching the search engineering world from the outside over the past 3 years as her replacement at Google, Amit Singhal, makes gaffe after gaffe with search including Google’s controversial Panda roll out among other things.
I have no idea what that search engine might look like, but Marissa is intelligent enough to build one that can leverage mobile and appease webmasters and users. It’ll be interesting to see what they build.
4. Google will give back (not provided) keyword data, but only to sites with HTTPS
In August 2014 Google told webmasters that HTTPS would be a ranking signal. I think this is a precursor to a greater movement which Google called “HTTPS Everywhere” at Google I/O 2014. Soon Google will make webmasters really salivate over HTTPS by funneling keyword data between the engine and a script they can plugin to website.
While I’ve been very skeptical of Google’s reasoning behind pulling keyword data (i.e. it helped other ad servers with search retargeting) recent email leaks show us a Google under constant assault by large industry lobbies and governments. Google might not have been lying when they said it was user privacy after all and to prove it and to help spread HTTPS around the web I believe in 2015 Google will give back keyword data.
5. Google will move towards dropping links as a signal and move toward a signal that mixes location, content quality, and social mentions called “RepRank”
As a link builder I’m always looking at what Google might go after next. Right now there really isn’t a new link building tactic that’s getting spammed a lot and Google has gotten good at identifying link networks and bad guest blogs with the exception of occasional false hits.
So with all of this extra time on their hands what could Google engineers do? I’d bet they could find a way to stop worrying about link spam once and for all by focusing on ways to reduce the part of the algorithm they take up during 2015.
6. Matt Cutts will announce his retirement, will be appointed to a government position
Matt Cutts just hasn’t been to work in a while, says he trusts the team. Right after Matt went on leave his colleague at Bing, Duane Forrester, was laid-off. A coincidence? Yeah, most likely but it might also signal the end of search engine’s going out of their way to keep the webmaster community happy or informed of changes.
If that is the case, or Matt is just tired of getting the brunt of anger, it’s possible he’ll retire and become a lobbyist or a government tech advisor. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can’t think of many people I’d rather have fighting for consumer internet rights and net neutrality that Mr. Cutts himself as he’s ardently defended it via his social channels and would be someone lawmakers and citizens could trust.
" 'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet." <–said Ted Cruz, unironically. Wild to see Cruz burn bridges with many tech-savvy folks.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) November 10, 2014
7. Facebook will fix it’s search offering bringing back good elements of Graph Search and including local search as a focus
Facebook stated in early 2014 that they would take on Google for keyword search and they delivered on December 9th of 2014. To bring keyword search they also killed off, at least for now, Graph Search which had been a large set of phrases users could use to dig through their social graph for information.
Unfortunately Facebook hasn’t really hit a home run yet. Their local search is still a mess, even though I’ve seen them testing out new layouts, it just hasn’t hit yet. Also we have no idea really what Facebook users are searching for and now with Graph Search dead it might take a while for users to understand the new search layout.
I foresee Facebook finally getting a really good local search product bundled into their web version and possibly a standalone app since that’s kind of their thing right now but also bringing back really useful queries like ‘my friends who’ from Graph Search.
8. Google will launch a new top ad unit that breaks the current long ad into 4 separate ads with colorful images on desktop, on mobile these four ad units will take up most of the space
Google’s Local Carousel seems to have failed, or has it? I thought all along Google was really only testing images in the top bar and never intended to keep the Local Carousel in it’s current form. I told a few of my colleagues that if the Carousel stuck around it would a tantalizing opportunity for monetization by selling the first few slots in the horizontal row.
Currently the carousel has been dropped on local queries like restaurants and bars but still shows up on events and museums. The other queries show a different local package that doesn’t always sit at the top of the page. In other words, it could be Google is testing something. In any case I think Google has a need to monetize mobile search better. Who really scrolls all the way down the results and then clicks an ad?
If Google could find a new ad format that would appear nice on both touchscreen smart phones and desktop/tablet they would have a real winner. Breaking up the large banner ad at the top of the SERPs to me seems a nice way of accomplishing that goal.
9. A new schema markup code will be added for phonetic reading of a brand name and to label content engines can read aloud to users
Right now search engines wanting to display ‘answers’ trust that they have an algorithm in place to scrape those answers from websites. On Google that has lead to them scraping entire copyrighted snippets and reading it aloud while not saying the publisher’s name right.
— (not provided) (@YoungbloodJoe) November 28, 2014
And on Bing they have gotten completely incorrect information by scraping a question and answer site.
— (not provided) (@YoungbloodJoe) December 12, 2014
Voice search with voice reply isn’t going away and will actually increase at a fast pace in 2015.
That means search engines will (hopefully) want a way to get answers (or facts) and attribute them properly to the sources of the information. They already have this way in Schema.org, a markup language used to better understand a pages content. If the engines collectively added a new set of calls to Schema.org they could get the facts, phonetic spellings of brand names, and even full snippets to read with the publishers permission.
10. Despite losing it’s deal with Yahoo! Bing will make other deals and attract more users reaching over 45% of USA searches.
Ok this one is a bit out there, but I really think Satya Nadella is in a good position to push search with Bing. Microsoft holds sway over a key demographic with their Xbox units and beat Google, Apple, and Amazon into living rooms and teenagers bedrooms by launching the gaming console in 2001. If they can repeat that success with mobile devices which have so far been subpar or gotten mixed reviews and lacked brand recognition they can power a new generation of mobile searching. It’ll take out of the box thinking, listening, and understanding and I think that might already be underway at Redwood the company has made some recent awesome moves including (possibly) changing the business model for Microsoft Windows and accepting Bitcoins as payment.