As 2014 comes to a close, internet marketers are surveying the 2015 horizon and making predictions based on current trends. So, what’s in store for the coming year in terms of SEO?

Mobile optimization and analytics

The analytics firm BIA Kelsey predicts that mobile search will eclipse desktop search in the coming year. This isn’t too surprising, given that year-over-year people are increasingly using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to get online. In fact, many individuals don’t even own a desktop or laptop.

Google and other search engines have stepped up their standards for mobile websites, with Google penalizing mobile sites that takes too long to load, for example. The search engine has also been testing the placement of mobile-friendly icons next to its search results, and it offers mobile usability ad anaytics sections in its Webmaster Tools area.

Most notably, Google offers a developer site where you can test the look and feel of your website on an example mobile platform. If your site is deemed to be not mobile-friendly, Google will even tell you why; example reasons might include the text being too small to read or the links being too close together.

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What does this mean for you? Obviously, if you haven’t yet attempted a responsive web design with your website, now is the time. Fortunately, there are several tools, including Duda and Instapage, that can help generate a mobile-friendly website for you.

Search rank will become equated with effective content marketing.

Pure SEO, or the actual insertion of keywords and meta tags into content, will still exist but will be viewed as more of a technical detail than true SEO. As for the “real deal,” it will rely heavily on content marketing. This is due to the rise of semantic SEO, a feature that Google (and other search engines) started focusing on following the Panda and Hummingbird algorithm updates.

Another quality content indicator that Google is focusing heavily on is reference queries, or what terms users are inputting into search engines, and then following through to eventually click on and peruse the winning search result.

What this means for affiliate and other marketers going forward is that, if you don’t have a solid content strategy in place, your site will not be ranked well on major indices. This includes the generation of content that is of low quality, or what Google likes to call “thin.”

Thus, if you rely on search engine traffic for your business, your business will fail.

Going forward, you should first seek out and destroy any thin content that is currently published on your site. If you are operating a WordPress-based website, the Webmaster.Net Post Quality Analyzer plugin will even help you find those posts or pages that are sure to incite the ire of Google. After those low quality areas are dealt with, you will need to invest in the creation and publication of high quality content including long blog posts, pillar articles, product reviews, etc.

Finally, if you’re not already on Google’s Webmaster Tools, do so stat. The Tools area is one of the few areas left where you can actually examine which search terms are being input by users who go to your website. Based on these wins, you can adjust your future content production strategy accordingly, and thus better address those reference queries being used to find your website and/or its products.

Implied links and social mentions will become important.

Google+ Authorship may have been shut down this past year, but that doesn’t mean that the entire experiment has been tossed. Site authority (i.e., domain authority) is going to be measured in new ways, and one of the most interesting is based on Google’s Panda algorithm update this past March.

As opposed to a site’s authority being based on the number and quality of its express links (i.e., links containing a URL), a strategy that was often exploited by black-hat SEO agents and self-serving fluff content networks (often termed private blog networks), a site’s authority will now also be determined by its implied links.

What are implied links? They are references or social mentions of a website or its brand without the use of a URL. Implied links, as opposed to express links, are much more likely to stem from genuine interest in a brand, such as through a comment on a blog post, a citation of the website in an article, etc.

Thus, if you haven’t already been using your blog or various social media platforms to start conversations, now is the time. Consider also how you might contact other individuals in your industry and have them publish a few of your guest posts or promotions. To get started on the social aspect of social mentions, Spot.IM offers a handy social platform integration tool for your website.

Negative SEO will be confronted.

A trend currently on the rise is negative SEO, which is the deliberate direction of spammy one-way links to a competitor’s website in order to knock that website down in search rank. While this can be countered with link disavows and re-publication of targeted pages, it’s a messy surveillance system that often penalizes the webmaster first before corrective action can be taken.

With Google now focusing on implied links and other site authority indicators beyond just express links, negative SEO may become less of a calamity for quality websites. However, there seems to be a culture of denial about the prevalence of negative SEO. My own prediction, in the case of negative SEO, is that Google and other search engines will continue hearing about it, and the complaints will escalate to the point that major corrective measures will be taken.

What can you do now and going forward? Obviously, you need to perform regular checks on your website to determine if it is being targeted. If you see a sudden drop in your search volume, or a note from Google itself, don’t ignore the messenger. Be proactive about protecting yourself from malicious negative SEO attacks.

What are your 2015 SEO predictions?

Please leave your 2015 SEO predictions in the comments below!

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