What Is SEO Going To Bring Us in 2014?

Well, this is my first blog post since August, and the first thing I can tell you is that 2014 is going to bring a revival, lots more blogging, tweeting, speaking etc…

Things have been extremely busy over the past 12 months at Branded3, we’ve seen massive growth in SEO, Content, Online PR and Creative; proof that SEO is going through a change, thanks to all the curve balls that Google keep throwing our way. It’s no longer about picking up as many links as you can, strange anchor text formulas or in content links (dear me) to rank well in Google, you have to focus on becoming the best result, and this means more than acquiring a handful of rubbish links.

So, over the last 12 – 18 months I have been working hard with the team to restructure our offering, add new skills to our growing department, and thankfully it’s been a massive success.

What will 2014 bring us then? More link penalites as Google tightens the choke hold? Will SEO finally die? For the next 1000 words ‘ish’, I am going to presume people are interested in what I have to say and reel off what I think are some things to look out for in 2014.

Engagement & Brand Building

Now these have been losely spoken about in the past, but in my opinion they are about to get really important, really. We have a saying at Branded3, “If you have enough links to be in the top 5, you have enough links to be position 1”. I am a firm believer in this, and how someone engages with your site is key to winning the battle at the top of Google.

I was speaking with X Googlers (Web Spam Team) around a year ago, and they kept talking about an algorithm ‘return to SERP’, we’ve adapted this slighty and called it ‘return to search’. The algorithm monitors the time it takes for a user to click on your listing and then click back to Google, either to refine the search or choose an alternative result. If users clicking on your result are back on Google within seconds looking for the next result, then this may suggest you aren’t ‘the right’ result and your rankngs will drop. We believe that this was a part of the Panda algo, but has since been incorporated into the main algorithm, and it’s going to be important over the next 1-2 years as Google tries to identify who should be at the top.

Return to search algorithm

We have trialled this since with great results, moving clients from 4-5 to position 1 without running a single link acquisition campaign. Of course links will continue to be important, but if no one is engaging with your site, link efforts will be a waste of time. Engagement on and off site are going to be really important.

This brings us nicely onto brand building, how else will Google recognise that you’re a result that should rise to the top? Well if thousands are searching out your brand every month this is a pretty good signal, and your link acquisiton strategies should incorporate an element of ‘becoming famous’. Let’s face it, Amazon don’t rank for everything because of their perfect site architecture and quality links, they rank where they do because they are the result everyboby wants to see (Do you honestly search ‘books’ anymore?).

I’ll likely be blogging/speaking on this throughout 2014 quite a lot, so hopefully I can catch up with you at one of the events.


Boy, they have had a rough ride for the last couple of years, does anyone know what a natural link is anymore?

There is a lot of speculation about links, what works, what doesn’t work, people still trying to trick Google etc…. For me there are a couple of very clear cut facts:

1) Google are still going to ‘manually’ identify unnatural links.

2) Google are going to penalise any website operating any form of manipulation, the bigger you are the harder you’ll fall.

When I hear people talking about anchor text formulas, mixing up landing pages, and brand link building only, I can’t help but think they’re just not getting it. If you’re trying to think about how you fly below the radar, then it is only a matter of time before you’re in trouble. Real people are looking at your links, if you’re using low quality blogs, or even high quality paid links, it is going to stand out. Google are active on ‘black hat’ forums, and other SEO forums looking for new tactics and supposed tricks, lets face it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, but just in case they probably have those too.

Your links have to be a natural by-product of genuine activity, think traffic first, or brand exposure, or social interaction, think anything, but don’t run a link strategy where the sole purpose is to acquire as many links as possible.

To make my point you only have to read the post on iAcquire with regards to how they would solve the RapGenius problem (once they have recovered of course).

Badges?! Isn’t that too risky? Not if you switch up the link destination and ALT attribute randomly using Javascript magic.

They are talking about giving badges to fans, however, if you have to go to lengths to manipulate links using JS then your strategy clearly isn’t the type of thing Google want to work. Natural links shouldn’t need manual intervention, we should all be moving away from link control, unless of course you are disavowing the nasty ones.

Great post otherwise, but I’m not sold on this particular tactic.

The Disavow Tool

Yes, I think this tool will continue to be heavily used, simply because it works. I do think Google will come out with an official statement which makes it clear that the tool works and put an end to the crazy amount of link removals that are happening. Going to blog on Branded3 early next year about link removals and why they are a bad idea.

Lets keep this simple, continue to disavow your bad links, even if you have no manual penalty, keep things clean. It will prevent as well as recover.

Link Tools

Little left field this one, but I think link tools will go through a drastic change. A lot of link analysis is now dead, you simply don’t know what your competitors have disavowed, or what may be penalising them, so mining their links is a waste of time. However, understanding what links are harmful is key, so tools that help you audit and disavow nasty links will become more popular. Tools like Linkrisk and LinkDetox already exist and I expect to see a few new competitors pop up in 2014. (I would always manually audit your links as well as using these tools, if Google can’t create an algo to detect all the bad links, I doubt anyone else is close.)

Even though technical link information is going to be less popular, competitor strategies are still going to be important to understand. What is the campaign, who is talking about it, how popular is it on platform x, where did the conversation start… these are all questions Online Marketers and SEO’s are going to be interested in.

Guest Blogging

Time up I’m afraid, it’s been overdone and I think Google are going to be all over this in 2014, penalising blogs with follow links on posts marked as ‘guest post’ and sites that have lots of links coming from such posts.

Yes, if you are an expert looking for brand exposure, and the posts have an authorship box that links back to your Google plus profile, and you only post on the best quality, high traffic blogs etc…. then yes, it is still worth doing, otherwise I would simply leave it alone.

So where does this leave SEO?

Well, it leaves it exactly where it has always been, going strong.

SEO has never been about link spam, anchor text, high PR links, sidebar links, keyword stuffing etc… it’s always been about driving relevant search traffic to your web property, those were simply tactics to artificially increase rankings. Search traffic is still there, it’s still extremely profitable, and you will still need to inlist the help of a search expert to help you get at it.

You will absolutley need collaboration between different teams and skill sets, but the objective remains the same, more relevant search traffic.

I could go on, but I’ve covered the things I want to discuss, yes social will continue to be important, more so as an activation tool in my opinion, but nevertheless important, and yes mobile, we all know it is huge, and having your site in order is a priority, Google have already fired the warning shot.

Anyway, hope eveyone is enjoying the holidays and looking forward to 2014.

Happy New Year!


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

One thought on “What Is SEO Going To Bring Us in 2014?

  1. There’s a lot of wisdom in this post Tim. I’m normally not one for year end prediction posts, but I’m glad I read this one.

    I wanted to let you know that I’m testing your theory of disavowing rather than removing links for manual penalties. It still blows my mind that this could possibly work because John Mueller makes so many comments in Webmaster Central hangouts about how important it is for people to remove links. I have one site so far where we had already done a thorough disavow and link removal but Google gave us some example links that were not in our backlink checkers. Some creative Google searches led us to find an additional 100 or so bad links. We didn’t remove any, but just disavowed and resubmitted and we passed. Interesting, huh? I have another case that I will likely be submitting without doing extra removals in the next few days. However, this site has already manually removed a large number of links that they had access to, so if they pass it may be because of that work. We’ll see!

    I’m interested in your statement about how if you can rank in the top 5 you can rank #1. In our local real estate SERPS I’m amazed to see that the top sites are ones with very few links but they are ones that really have good content to engage users. I think that links are still important (provided they are natural) but user engagement is supremely important. The “return to SERP” algo you are talking about sounds like what is described as “the long click vs the short click” in the book “In the Plex”. It makes sense. If users consistently click away from your content and engage with someone else’s content then that sends a strong signal to Google.

    I’ve gone on enough already. Just wanted to thank you for this post. All the best in 2014.


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