How is your organization kicking off the new year? Are you hammering away at your annual marketing plan? Perhaps you’re course-correcting from a less-than-stellar performance from one of your KPIs. Maybe 2015 will be the year you’ll finally start content marketing. In any case, there are six steps you need to take, specific to search optimization, that will help you strategize, rebound and launch into the new year brilliantly.

1. Put Mobile in Motion

It’s probably not a surprise that having a mobile website is at the top of our list. In the lightning-fast changes of the SEO world, mobile is one thing that has consistently appeared on industry experts’ “must do” lists for years.

In March 2014, comScore reported that time spent with mobile apps now exceeds desktop web access, and two months later reported that “Mobile platforms – smartphones and tablets – combined to account for 60% of total digital media time spent, up from 50% a year ago.’ If time spent consuming apps and media are exceeding desktop web access, it’s easy to see that the trajectory for mobile to surpass desktop when it comes to how we access the web is a clear and near-future reality for which you must prepare immediately.

Google Responds to Responsive Design

Google has made it clear that it prefers responsive design – sites that display the same URLs and HTML to all devices, mobile or desktop, and use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to change how the page appears on the screen – because they believe it offers a good user experience and makes it efficient for Googlebot to discover your content. Furthermore, with Google’s November 2014 rollout of the “mobile friendly” designation in its mobile search results, it’s likely to be a positive (yet perhaps indirect) ranking factor. Therefore, sites that successfully enact a mobile strategy will likely have lower pogo-sticking and bounce rates, and greater user engagement on the page, all of which we know are keys to better performance.

Mobile friendly designation

If creating a responsive design would mean starting fresh with a brand new website, it may be worth your investment. If not, there are other ways to achieve a mobile-friendly website more quickly and, to paraphrase General George Patton, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. - George S. Patton

This year, make your website mobile-friendly in one of three ways:

  • Responsive design
  • Third party plugins for your CMS (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.)
  • Separate mobile and desktop sites

2. Shift Into Semantic Mode

Here’s an example of how quickly the world of search optimization is evolving: Last summer, I wrote a post on developing a canonical keyword strategy, which essentially maps out a fairly strict one-keyword-one-page approach to keyword research and page-level authority. Today, I recommend you zoom out and look at your content, old and new, from a broader perspective to develop a semantic keyword strategy. It’s not an entirely different strategy, it’s just the 2015 effect; another lens through which organizations need to be looking at their keywords.

What does a semantic keyword strategy look like? It’s a strategy that takes a wider look at the general topics, keywords, keyword variants and – most importantly – searchers’ intents – for which your website is (or should be) an authority, at both the page and the overall domain level.

In a recent webinar, Rand Fishkin of said, “Google has upgraded their understanding of the web, of content, of the connection between topics and meaning and phrasing and brands and websense, and that poses a very different and unique challenge from what we’ve been faced with before. Before, we were targeting our pages and keywords. Now we need to figure out how to make our brands – our domains – synonymous with the set of keywords and topics. That’s a whole new kind of challenge.”

To take on that challenge and build your semantic strategy, follow these guidelines:

  • Go beyond the typical keyword research tools. Broaden your tactics to include image, video and topical sites.
  • Make ideation lists of concepts and intents as well as keywords.
  • Aim for domain-level association with your highest-level topics.
  • Don’t worry (as much) about keyword cannibalization; you don’t need one page for every variant because the searcher’s intent is the same. You can consolidate pages and even write on the same topic again and again to build domain-level authority, as long as you’re serving different intents and the content still meets standards of quality.

3. Pay Attention to Yahoo! Bing and DuckDuckGo

With less and less data available to marketers through Google’s Analytics and AdWords, and a couple of browser+search engine celebrity breakups in the news, 2015 is the year to (re)start paying attention to Bing, Yahoo! and the privacy-preserving search engine DuckDuckGo.

Firefox recently dumped Google and chose Yahoo! as its new default search engine (probably because Google’s Chrome is a direct Firefox competitor.) Likewise, all eyes are on Apple as its Safari-Google deal ends in 2015, with many eagerly speculating that Bing will be the logical replacement, since Apple already uses Bing for some Siri functionality as well as the Spotlight feature on the Mac. Currently, iOS 8 users can opt to switch from Google to DuckDuckGo as the default search engine for Safari.

For marketers, this new set of Yahoo!, Bing and DuckDuckGo users and their searches pose a tremendous opportunity. This year, spend some time benchmarking and tracking KPIs such as keyword rankings for your site and your competitors, Click Through Rate (CTR) from the SERPs and bounce rate for these specific engines. For measurement, why not match the tool to the search engine? You should absolutely sign up for and implement Bing Webmaster Tools. There are some handy features of BWT that Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t offer, and sometimes you can find intelligence in BWT that nicely fills the gaps left by Google’s hidden data.

At no point during 2015 will the headlines read, “Links No Longer Important to SEO.” Links will continue to be a strong signal of authority this year and for years to come, even if they will probably lose importance over time. This, however, is the year to start link earning rather than link building. One high quality, well-earned link to your website today will pay dividends far above a dozen spammy links built using the strategies of yesteryear (e.g. 2010.) You’ll be more likely to receive traffic, conversions and additional natural links as a result.

Link earning is more like the time-tested public relations process than link building. It’s relationship building with websites and the people that make them. You consistently create high-quality content, reach out to and build real relationships with others through social media, advertising or outreach, and over time foster the kind of familiarity that leads to natural links from their sites to yours.

Vertical Measures’ own Kaila Strong wrote a fantastic how-to article with three ways to earn better links – and more of them – that suggests you look for unlinked brand mentions, analyze the competition and try a direct approach to link earning. To learn exactly what to do and how to do it, check out her post.

5. Increase PageSpeed, Increase Conversions

How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line [INFOGRAPHIC]With the increase in time spent on mobile devices, our collective impatience for slow-loading pages, and bounce rate/pogo-sticking as a ranking factor, PageSpeed continues to be imperative for 2015. According to the widely-quoted study by the Aberdeen Group, “A 1-second delay in page load time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions.” As illustrated by this infographic from Kissmetrics, if you have an ecommerce site making $100,000 per day, a 1-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5M in lost sales every year.

Check the PageSpeed of your site’s top 10 landing pages using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix (or Pingdom or Web Page Test) for both mobile and desktop devices. Benchmark your current speeds and then ask yourself: Would it benefit your bottom line to follow Google’s suggestions for compressing, minifying, reducing or eliminating obstacles and see an increase in conversions? If “Yes,” then make reducing PageSpeed one of your top goals for 2015.

6. Develop Multiple Personas

If you’ve been engaged in content marketing for a while, or if you’re familiar with Vertical Measures’ 8 Step Process to content marketing, you’ve probably come across the concept of buyer personas. These fictional characters, typically just two or three in number, represent the main types of customers that visit your site. The personas may be based on anecdotal beliefs – especially in the early stages of content marketing – or empirical data from your web analytics or marketing automation software, and they each have a specific profile of who (age, gender, location, education, etc.,) where (location, device, time on site,) tasks, motivation, nickname (First Class Felicia, Bargain-Hunting Ben, Reagan the Researcher) and a photo.

Whether your user personas are merely sketches or fully fleshed-out characters, you can begin to develop them – and your content – more richly by targeting keywords toward each of the particular personas. Picking up where we left off with your new 2015 semantic keyword strategy, let’s say you’ve brainstormed your lists of topics, keywords and variants, and intents. Take this ideation process one step further and add your personas to the mix, imagining what each character’s intent, keywords and variants might be.

For example, Bargain-Hunting Ben might search a hotel booking site for “cheapest hotel near the beach” while First-Class Felicia might search for “five star resorts in CA” and Reagan the Researcher’s query is “huntington beach hyatt vs hilton.”

Each of these keyword queries shows individual semantic intents and variants as well as where each searcher is in his/her buying funnel. Felicia is still in an early Awareness stage, having not been introduced to a specific brand or city in California yet, but she knows she wants a first-class hotel with amenities. Ben intends on finding bargain accommodations within walking distance of a beach he’s clearly already researched; he’s further along in the Engagement/Consideration stage. Reagan is in the Purchase/Decision stage, closely comparing brands she knows in a specific beach town.

You can expand and target your content – both on-site and in your lead nurturing emails and communications – to reach each one of these user personas and meet them where they are in the sales funnel. With measurement and refinement, you can continue to hone in on the sweet spots where personas, keywords, intents and buying stages overlap for maximum ROI.

Put all these steps together and enter into 2015 with these takeaways for your content marketing strategy:

  • Think about mobile always, with a goal of having a mobile-friendly website that loads at least 1-second faster this year than it did in 2014 (same goes for your desktop site.)
  • Expand your keyword research to build topical authority at the page and domain levels, made possible by keywords and semantic variants targeted toward your buyer personas and their intents.
  • Use your topical authority and semantically-supported, high-quality content as a conversation starter aimed at building relationships for link earning.
  • Pay attention to how your outstanding semantic content with earned incoming links does in Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.

Want More about the Future?

Future of Content Marketing

If you want to dive deeper into what the future looks like for both SEO and content marketing, we just released a free download that goes into those topics in depth: The Future of Content Marketing in 2015 & Beyond. There are expert contributions from industry leaders like Robert Rose, Michael Brenner, Andrew Davis, and more along with a checklist of 40+ items to remember as you step into 2015. Click here to download.