The last few years were absolutely jam packed with Google algorithm changes that dramatically changed the SEO landscape. Lots of companies effectively closed up shop or pivoted to different service offerings because the old SEO methods simply didn't work anymore.
Make no mistake, SEO is still effective. But the specific tactics that are most effective have definitely changed.
I just read a post today where several SEO experts gave their predictions for what the SEO landscape might be like in 2015, and I'd like to do the same.
The important changes to date
In 2010, Google announced it's Caffeine update, which effectively allowed them to process data much more effectively than before. This opened the door for them to use machine learning at massive scale to much more effectively determine the quality of a website or webpage. I think the industry has only recently come to terms with how this massive change is playing out in the wild.
The next major piece of the puzzle was dialing down the importance of links and dialing up the importance of metrics that measure, if indirectly, how people interact with a particular website or webpage. Pogosticking is a perfect example of such a metric.
Arguably, this second point could be considered an extension of the first, but I think it warrants pointing out separately.
There have been quite a few other changes, but in my opinion, the introduction and refinement of these have had the biggest impact on SEO to date.
What to expect in 2015
I think 2015 will bring just a refinement of the two important changes I outlined above; that is, Google's ability to predict, identify, measure, and act on signals that are indicative of page and site quality.
In it's time, the PageRank algorithm was a breakthrough and it was the beginning of Google's reign as king of search. But it's an imperfect system; it doesn't measure quality directly and it's easily manipulated.
Until Google gets a probe into every user's brain, they're going to have to rely on these indirect metrics to infer quality. But their goal is to get as close to a direct measure of quality as possible.
Refinement of machine learning techniques
As evidenced by their acquisition of several artificial intelligence companies, Google will continue to refine their use of machine learning in both predicting and measuring quality. Humans are relatively skilled at this, machines are not, and machine learning is helping Google to bridge that gap – very effectively I might add.
Improved understanding and measurement of user interaction
I've written about the importance of organic click-through rates and pogosticking pretty extensively. I'm confident enough that Google is using these heavily in determining quality that I wrote this guide to achieving localized organic rankings focused largely on improving those metrics.
Why just 2 major predictions?
Sure, we'll probably see big changes on the mobile front, refinements in the local (Pigeon) algorithms and improved quality across the board. We might even see testing of paid local results.
But none of those changes will fundamentally alter the way we conduct SEO to the same extent as Google's evolving understanding of indicators of quality.
If you want to read some of the others (many of which I also agree with), you can check out the original post.
What not to expect in 2015
Don't expect social signals to impact SEO
People have been speculating whether social signals impact SEO for years, and even though Matt Cutts put that to rest in Jan, 2014, it's still a pretty common assertion.
I don't think social signals will come into play in 2015, or anytime in the near future for that matter. This article makes it pretty clear why so read that for my take on it.
Don't expect Google+ to be around in it's current state
In spite of the articles I'm always being sent about why you absolutely must be on Google+, it will either die or mutate. Not all of Google+ because it's much more than just a social network, but the social network component won't be around in it's present state.
What does this mean for you?
SEO is becoming much more than the step-by-step, by-the-numbers discipline it used to be. Moving forward, if you aren't focused mainly on the user experience you provide on your website, you're going to start falling behind.
Understanding how users interact with websites, working to improve that experience, and crafting content (in whatever form) that best serves visitors is the way forward.
SEO as a discipline has gotten much more complicated, but in my opinion, it's also getting much more fun!