If there’s one constant in the search marketing world, its Google, Bing, Yahoo and their ilk keeping the rest of us on our toes. Constantly. 2014 was no different. Some huge changes. Some barely evident ones. Some that raised eyebrows across the board. Others that came as a huge relief. So without much ado, let’s dive into the year that was and how it affects marketers like you and me. #1. Guest Blogging Becomes Taboo After years of dithering this way and that, the year began with What this means for you: In interviews and posts after his original post, Cutts clarified Google’s stand on the entire conundrum. Guest blogging was not the problem; paying to be featured as a guest blogger and sneaking in links back to your own site definitely was. Create high quality, original content – not reworded or spun from existing articles. Post your content only on high authority sites and ensure that you present a fresh perspective that has not been offered before. Do these and chances are you’ll ride home safe without incurring the wrath of Google’s web spam team. #2. HTTPS Becomes a Ranking Signal The last couple of years have been witness to devastating data breaches across retail, cloud sharing, financial services and more. With each new day heralding reports of new ways in which personal data can be compromised, Google has taken its first step towards encouraging greater security implementation among website owners. Google will now reward websites that use HTTPS data encryption with higher rankings on its SERPs. The end game for Google, as it has always claimed, is a better and safer user experience on the web. What this means for you: To date only ecommerce and financial companies invested in installing HTTPS on their websites, but with the HTTPS protocol becoming a stated official ranking factor, it makes sense to invest in a HTTPS Security Certificate for your site too. This becomes even more critical if you manage any personal information belonging to your users including, but not limited to, email addresses, passwords, credit card details, and other financial and health care related information. When you actually move your domain from HTTP to HTTPS, make sure you follow Google’s guidelines for domain changes to avoid a loss in search rankings. #3. Social Overtakes Search in Referral Traffic (Twice!) That Facebook has a member base to rival the entire population of China (and growing) is reason enough not to ignore a platform that is so ubiquitous today. However, when the traffic referrals from social media sites actually surpass the marketer’s darling – search – it’s time to sit up and take notice. June and then again September 2014 witnessed social media referrals overshadow search by a small margin. If this is a sign of things to come, the focus that currently exists on social marketing deserves to be upped by a HUGE margin! Source: Shareaholic What this means for you: Don’t worry about the naysayers. At least not yet. Search is not going anywhere as the dominant referral source for sites across industries. However, this does not mean we sit pretty and not bother about other sources like social media, retargeted display ads, or even email marketing. Invest in a consolidated dashboard tool like Cyfe that will help you monitor every metric important to your business through individual, global and comparative control panels. Keep your social media efforts going strong and monitor your traffic and engagement closely, so that you can allocate resources to your best performing assets in a timely manner. #4. Google Pigeon Lands on Local Search Results Local search optimization and marketing was, till recently considered a nebulous area, very different from general search marketing. With the arrival of Google’s first nod to local search marketing – the Pigeon update – the dos and don’ts of local search marketing became clearer. Pigeon rewarded sites that added a distinct local flavor to all the key on-page and off-page ranking factors that matter to general search. Local optimization suddenly became a lot more than mere citations and directory listings. What this means for you: The Pigeon update meant that even national brands needed to up the local flavor in their content to be relevant and get ranked high. From ensuring consistent and structured citations in business directories that match the Name-Address-Phone Number listed on your site to choosing the right category name for your business on Google Pages, the things that help boost local rankings have been spelt out loud and clear. #5. “Mobile friendly” Labels Show Up in SERPs “This will be the year of mobile” is a refrain we have been hearing for the last three to four years. However, the wolf actually came hunting last year, with mobile internet traffic finally overtaking web browsing for the first time ever. In response to the growing strength of the mobile phone as a primary web access platform, Google launched a new label on its search results that called out sites that render well on mobile devices and those that do not. Though introduced fairly recently, this is one feature that is expected to make a dent in the CTRs of non-mobile optimized sites. What this means for you: For God’s sake, optimize that website for mobile devices, already! Responsive websites with design that pays special attention to the needs of small screens will make the cut and be featured as “Mobile Friendly” by Google. Make sure your buttons are large enough for users with fat fingers. Offer adequate white space between different page elements to prevent wrong clicks and rack up additional data charges. Avoid Flash like the plague and ensure that your text size is large enough to be legible on mobile screens. Still in doubt? Take Google’s mobile friendliness test and see if your site passes muster. The Road Ahead This was a recap of only a fraction of the surprises that Google threw at marketers last year. Now add Bing, Yahoo and on-site search to the mix, and you have a full scale war zone on your hands. So suit up, buckle down and prep your site with these fixes for 2015. I’m sure, “Flappy Penguin” is not a game anyone wants to play in the search rankings context! Images: ”Business and technology, searching system and internet concept – male hand pressing Search marketing button./Shutterstock.com“ ______________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. 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