17 December 2013 - 5:15pm | posted by | 4 comments

The state of search marketing: Industry experts offer their predictions for SEO and PPC in 2014

Search marketing has changed beyond all recognition this year. The Drum’s panel of industry experts share their thoughts on what it will look like in 2014.

As part of The Drum's most recent Search supplement, a cross-section of experts from the search marketing industry give their predictions for the space in the year ahead.

Creative Review: 

Caragh McKenna, group account director UK, The Search Agency

Caragh McKenna, group account director UK, The Search Agency

With the introduction of Hummingbird in September online marketers have been abuzz with conjecture on how it will affect site rankings and what it will mean as semantic search evolves to saturate organic search results. In reality semantic search has been merging into users search results over the past two years. Google has been tweaking it’s algorithm to increasingly use semantic and conversational cues to associate related results moving to more user friendly search results with less focus on the ‘primary keyword’.

Search engine marketers must provide the algorithm with the ability to tap into content using both topics and concepts. 2014 will see the intelligent online marketer look at strategies that integrate the breadth of signals Google is looking to. Where do the natural relationships lie in our strategies providing indicators that the content on a client’s social media page or external PR piece strengthens the topic response to the user’s query? As mobile, wearables and voice modelling become a growing reality, semantic search provides the marketer with the tools to bring a user one step closer to a fully integrated and personalised environment that they are far more likely to convert in.

Jon Myers, VP and MD EMEA, 
Marin Software

Jon Myers, VP and MD EMEA, 
Marin Software

With 69 per cent of UK consumers now accessing the internet through multiple devices, rising to 86 per cent amongst 25-34 year olds (according to ComScore), in 2014 the biggest challenge will be getting a multi-screen strategy in place. As advertisers refine the user experience across mobile and tablet and more advertisers buy ads through Google’s Enhanced Campaigns, we expect conversion rates and CPCs to rise.

The greatest opportunity for paid search marketers in 2014 will be the use of additional data sources to optimise campaigns. In 2014 we expect to see search bids being modified based on even richer customer data like insurance companies boosting bids when they know someone’s renewal is approaching and bid down when they have just renewed. Furthermore, many offline contextual factors will be integrated, for example, if it’s raining searchers are more likely to buy a take-away. There are many use cases, but ultimately in the future, bids will be customised according to demographics, interests and offline contextual factors.

Mark Byrne, head of SEO, iProspect

Mark Byrne, head of SEO, iProspect

For consumers, it’s a safe bet to say that Google is going to become even more aggressive in blurring the lines between organic and paid search. For marketers, it’s about being agile and always looking to how things will be six to 12 months ahead. Whilst it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all this change, they key is to focus on content and authority.

The convergence between online and offline media is only going to be accelerated with the advent of services like Sky’s AdSmart. This is a really exciting opportunity for online to properly step up to the plate and have an equal voice in the broader media plan. The challenge will be around creating strategies based on the clients unique products and business challenges, and attributing value back in a fair and timely manner.

I’m comfortable that any developments will offer far more opportunities than they do challenges. We have long positioned our strategy around three content centric pillars - ensuring our clients websites have a clear onsite focus that answers a user’s query, creating link worthy content and making sure that this is in front of the right people, and finally, moving attribution and reporting from keyword to content centric to reflect our approach.

Sam Fenton Elstone, head of media, iCrossing

Sam Fenton Elstone, head of media, iCrossing

Keyword search strategies are dead. Google no longer provides natural search keyword data and has introduced new ways to target users with paid advertising that reduces the significance of the user search query. So, brands need to move on from keywords and make their audience their priority.

In order to understand their audience’s intentions, brands need to look beyond what people are searching for and listen more intently to signals such as location, device and the user’s previous browsing and purchase behaviour. To do this effectively, they will need to invest in collating and analysing audience data. It’ll be worth the time and money. It will give them the knowledge they need to access their audience across the web and create innovative content that their audience will happily share. Search is set to continue to become increasingly complex but by focusing on their audience brands will be always be on target.

Luke Smith, founder, Croud

Luke Smith, founder, Croud

Google seems to finally be getting to where Ask Jeeves marketed itself as being over a decade ago (and the USS enterprise was in the 60s).

This isn’t life imitating art however, it’s a natural progression – the logical next step in ordering data.

As The Google algorithm continues to respond more accurately to the nuances of human language, searching will become more natural to the user and more problematic to companies employing ‘ SEO tactics’.

The real winners in 2014 will be site owners that configure their on page content to capture these longer search queries and align their mobile strategy to benefit from the boost this will give to mobile search.

For the user, semantic search will continue to evolve as a lifestyle assistant – it’s easy to think of Google Now as a voice activated PA in your pocket.

Alistair Dent, director of paid media, Periscopix

Alistair Dent, director of paid media, Periscopix

Search in 2014 will be an exciting time. As consumers we can expect to see searching get easier and more prevalent. Predictive search will reduce how much work we need to do, and increase how much useful information we get. It’ll be given to us in the most helpful formats: phones, glasses, watches, etc.

As marketers we can expect our jobs to get more difficult, but results have the potential to get better than ever before. We’re not just bidding on keywords any more, we’re dealing with interacting audiences. Keywords, locations, browsing history, device and time of day already play a part. As more signals become part of the mix we’ll need to do much deeper analysis, but we’ll be able to put our efforts and budgets into the most lucrative areas.

Kevin Gibbons, managing director UK, BlueGlass Interactive

Kevin Gibbons, managing director UK, BlueGlass Interactive

The biggest challenge I see for marketers in 2014 is to integrate skills into a multi-channel strategy. Semantic search has evolved hugely during the last 12-18 months and the common theme is focused on providing the best user experience possible. The required skill-sets to do this are becoming much broader than search, spreading across digital and offline channels too.

As a result, the biggest opportunity is to make marketing more consumer-led and integrated:

  • Consumer-led – because search is becoming much more content and data driven. The power that brands have is their knowledge, data and people – giving them the ability to leverage internal assets to targeted audiences.
  • Integrated – because in order to get the best results from digital you have to be able to have be agile to move faster than your competitors, analyse what works and have flexibility to make decisions to allocate budget where it works best.

This feature was first published in The Drum's Search supplement on 13 December, and is available to purchase here.

BlueGlass Interactive


BlueGlass Interactive is an innovative, digital marketing agency that is on a mission to... Read more


Brighton, London

Guided by insights. Driven by passion. Measured by results.

iCrossing UK is a digital marketing agency specialising in data driven... Read more


Charlottesville, Columbia, London, NewYork, Paris

Periscopix, a Merkle Company, runs massively effective online advertising campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands. 

We live and... Read more


18 Dec 2013 - 10:52
richardbaxterseo's picture

Hi Katie,

2014 will be a progressive evolution of what we've already been concentrating on:

1) Everyone's talking about Hummingbird. That's fine - but it's so often being taken out of context and used as in idea to fit in with the simple fact that, yes, search engine algorithms change, as do the infrastructures that they use to crawl, index and understand search queries. Hummingbird is the latter - and doesn't really change the rules of search marketing. Who had even noticed the roll out (which was a month prior to the update!).

Your content needs to be worth linking to - expertly written, rich and authoritative.

On that note, continue to build the content on your site around the real needs of your audience. Answer their questions, find solutions to their problems.

2) Technical best practices in SEO have not changed, including prioritisation of implementing on page vocabularies such as: Schema.org, Authorship, Open Graph and Twitter Card. Watch for the tolerances of algorithm updates such as Panda - your technical strategy will need to take these this into account.

3) Penguin (the component of Google's algorithm that penalises low quality link building) will become much, much stricter. Stop paying your agencies for keyword optimised, high volume blogspot links and sitewide links in low audience, low quality blogs. You'll be spending a fortune on removing them - or you'll be losing a fortune in lost revenues if you get penalised.

3) Content marketing needs to evolve beyond paying simple lip service to the term. Firstly, every search marketer needs a more technical vocabulary to create the ideas they may have. It's all very well being the story teller, but a great story teller understand the medium via which they can best communicate the story. Know your CSS3 from your SVG and JQuery from your MooTools, and you will be a more successful content creator. After all you'll actually be able to talk sensibly with a development team!

4) Mobile first. Not, mobile site. Every new site development must be built in a responsive CSS framework from a mobile first perspective

5) HTML5 video, SVG, long form content and how it affects fundamental site layout and design. Site design is quite simply not radical enough. Everyone seems to be playing it safe when it comes to branding and site redevelopment. There are huge opportunities for those brave enough to attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Be wary of the importance of day to day tactics (much of the content of this post) vs aggressive, radical marketing strategies that grab the attention of an often tired audience. Those willing to prototype new ideas, build, learn, iterate and innovate will see huge growth in 2014. Playing it safe by adjusting tactics you've already had access to in the past few years will only yield marginal improvements.

Thanks for the article!

Richard Baxter SEOgadget.com

18 Dec 2013 - 11:19
Mons's picture

@richardbaxterseo Bravo Richard! You hit the nail on the head. every single one of your points is valid and correct.

I am a bit fed up with so called experts (some in the article) spouting absolute rubbish about SEO. The drum nead to speak to people who do actual SEO on the ground - and yes we use "SEO tactics".

19 Dec 2013 - 12:05
sampe11275's picture

I've not read anything particularly new or groundbreaking here. The claim, several times, that search will become "more natural" confuses me. More natural to who? Google being the first stop for information gathering, shopping, research, whatever, is something individuals have been doing naturally for years.

Google simply aims to make the results of the natural action more relevant, which we can all agree is a good thing. But this is hardly a prediction, its what the big G have been fairly explicit in emphasising is their aim for SERPs for many many months.

Confused by Luke Smith stating that SEO tactics are dead in one paragraph but then says in the next that the winners will be people who...um...use long tail seo tactics. Long tail, short tail, it will all happen naturally if webmasters and SEO stop focusing on getting up the rankings and focus more on giving their customers useful information. (Not provided) in my opinion is the best thing to happen to search marketing...ever.

In essence - marketers should just focus on providing the best product/service with the best customer support (in terms of providing information required by consumers to make the most informed decision possible, and channels for solid customer service) and they and their clients/business do just fine.

Anyways, this article is just one of many "top predictions" articles that will be flooding digital press for the next couple of months that only serves to encourage marketers to use big words and say any old nonsense for the sake of appearing smart and promoting their own agencies.

20 Dec 2013 - 14:28
Kristophr's picture

I'm pretty sure Luke was referring to Structured data and using markup language (schema.org etc) on your site to ensure it has the best chance to rank for a number of terms.

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