February 06 2015

This is the first half of a two-part series regarding internet marketing trends and predictions. Part one will look back at significant changes from 2014, while part two will forecast our predictions for 2015.

Even though Google is just one player in a large digital realm, it is a very powerful one. As the most popular search engine in the US, the company has been extremely influential; intentionally shaping the way people develop and optimize websites, content and advertising. Google’s actions this past year have led to a core set of understood standards by which each of these things will be judged and engaged with. The most prevalent theme of 2014 was Google’s promotion of a “level playing field” by implementing new and tightening existing standards for website content, security, and organization while revamping their own architecture in the same manner.

The following are three internet marketing trends that stood out in 2014, along with specific examples of how each trend impacted advertisers and web users.

The Continued Rise of & Optimization For Mobile Audiences

What has happened?

Weare a more mobile society than ever before, and the growth in mobile device usage shows no sign of slowing. In fact, internet usage on mobile surpassed desktop for the first time earlier this year. A user-friendly mobile experience is integral to keeping visitors engaged to the point of interaction and most importantly, conversion. Mobile device usage has become a key step in the e-commerce buying cycle. According to Google, 89% of small business mobile customers access a search engine on a mobile device to shop for a business purchase. In sync with mobile devices’ growth in popularity, digital behemoths such as Google have implemented new products, features, and standards to promote easy and convenient mobile device usage.

  • Google retired their Googlebot-Mobile crawler in January 2014 and now uses Googlebot as its crawler. This is an implicit indication that there does not need to be (and should not be) a distinction between mobile and desktop experiences.
  • Google began using a mobile-friendly tag in their search results in November 2014 to clearly indicate to users the websites that are optimized for mobile.
  • Google announced that there are organic ranking factors for mobile devices. Mobile-friendly websites are prioritized over no-mobile optimized sites for users on mobile devices.

What to do about it?

Optimize your website for mobile users, either by using responsive web design or creating a separate mobile website. Not sure how Google “sees” your website for mobile devices? Check out this tool. You can also use your analytics solution to understand how users are searching for you; you might be surprised! TopSpot is well versed in mobile strategies and we are available to answer any questions you may have.

Facilitation of User Experience

What has happened?

Google’s stated mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. In concert with this mission, Google’s number one philosophy is to “focus on the user and all else will follow.” This belief speaks volumes about how Google develops its products, features, and services. The year saw a decided focus on facilitating uncomplicated and secure user experiences: decreasing the distinction between organic and paid search listings, introducing https as a ranking signal, redesigning search engine result pages with larger headlines, etc. Google’s intention is to improve the web and in doing so, improve user experience. This makes sense for Google as a company. If its products are straightforward, useful, and fun, people will continue to use them. Google makes money directly through paid advertising, and can only continue to do so if it remains the most popular search engine; it behooves Google to continuously improve its products with the community in mind.

The prioritization of the user and standardization of user experience is apparent in many ways. New developments in 2014 furthered user interests by providing more information in a more easily digestible format:

  • New Callout ad extensions were introduced in September 201. They provide users with a larger amount of useful information, beyond what is written in the ad text.

Callout Extension

  • Product Listing Ads – which transitioned to Google Shopping in August – grew in prevalence over the course of the year.These image-based ads are clear and easy for users to digest.

Google Shopping Product Listing Ads

  • In August, Google announced they would use HTTPS (the secure version of HTTP) as a lightweight ranking signal in order to promote the privacy and security of their users. Again, Google is sending the message that the user’s experience (and well being) is of utmost importance.

What to do about it?

If you are a paid search advertiser, take advantage of new opportunities to provide as much clear information as possible. On the organic side, a continued focus on user-oriented organic strategies is key. Evolve and improve your site’s content and organization so that it is easy to use and understand. Consider enabling HTTPS for your site if you have not already done so. If you are not sure where to start, Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is a great resource. You can contact always contact us; we’re here to help!

Neutralizing the Differences on Search Engine Result Pages

What has happened?

It is in Google’s interest to make its search engine an easy and functional space for advertisers, without compromising their first priority of user experience. In 2014, Google took steps toward a more level playing field between paid and organic search results.

  • Google removed authorship by the end of June, as discussed in this TopSpot blog post. Anything that could distract from the actual content and merit of a search result is not helpful to the user, and therefore not in Google’s interests to employ.

Google Authorship

  • Search result algorithm updates have taken place throughout the year. Google has found new, more stringent ways to weed out sites that are spammy or that simply do not have good content. Google will always reward clear organization and informative content with higher organic rankings. On the paid search side, ads with high-quality scores will be shown higher on the search results page and for a lower cost per click than one with a low-quality score. Advertisers are rewarded for clear, informative ad text that relates to a user’s intention, and for linking ads to web pages with relevant, informative content.
  • Google redesigned its search results page layout in early 2014. As part of this redesign, the distinction between ads and organic results is not as clear. The same things are emphasized for both paid and organic results, like larger, more legible headlines and sitelinks. There is no longer a colored background behind paid ads; instead, there is just a small yellow “Ad” box next to the headline.

What to do about it?

Don’t rely on anything gimmicky to attract users to your site, whether through paid or organic results. Google has already identified many of these “spammy” signals, like excessive punctuation, ad stuffing, a lot of broken links, etc. Again, the focus should be on creating good content that clearly informs and educates the user. Intuitive, logical website organization is crucial as well.

We can expect that mobile optimization, prioritization of the user community, and leveling the distinction between paid and organic results will have a significant, lasting impact. These trends will change the way businesses communicate to potential customers in the short, medium and long term, but also shape how users interact with other individuals and companies.