For SEO strategists and aspiring web startups, 2013 was marked by a number of noteworthy trends in the field of online marketing.

The value of social media linking, the increased importance of mobile platform development, and the need to maintain high quality content over time all contributed to a turbulent year in the ever-changing game of search engine optimization. For some, these changes herald an alarming shift in the ongoing viability of SEO as a marketing strategy, as Google moves closer to the desired goal of all true search engines: to provide the most relevant results for every search. As Google Search becomes more refined, it is natural that there will be a greater need for websites to establish and maintain good user content, which means larger investment costs up front. But for those who know how to step back and take a larger view, the increased importance of content marketing is an exciting development that brings web designers one step closer to their ultimate goal. Here's how to step forward and seize that opportunity.

SEO Trends for 2014

SEO as a marketing strategy is designed solely to increase your website's ranking on search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. But getting users to your website is only half the battle. To attract customers and generate business, you have to sell the user on the value of the website itself, which means providing an engaging, user-friendly environment filled with valuable content. And because Google is constantly striving towards a search algorithm that reliably locates these content-rich sites, you can kill two birds with one stone by skipping straight to the finish line. Market your site well on social media, and be prepared to deliver a great experience when your users finally get there.

One of the most popular SEO tactics of last year was to increase linking from social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Google's Hummingbird search algorithm prizes social media linking as a good indicator of online success, and this will remain a valuable tool in your arsenal going forward. Getting users to link to your site from any location validates to Google Search that you provide a useful online service. However, be wary of accumulating links for their own sake. Although maximizing social media links can still be a viable tactic in increasing your site's ranking, Google has become increasingly wary of those who use link building to boost their visibility without providing quality content to match. It is therefore critical to pair a strong social media presence with rich and engaging content for your users. So what exactly is good content? What is this solid foundation you should build upon into the future? The only honest answer there can be is-it depends.

Good content is measured entirely by what the user wants. Play to your audience. If you run an Extreme Sports website for teenagers who chug Monster and skateboard 8 hours a day, there's probably minimal value in inviting them to subscribe to your well-written weekly newsletter. Provide a blog board, post some graphic videos of X-Game crashes and Shaun White's latest 1260 Double McTwist, and let the users do the rest. If you operate a website for tattoo enthusiasts, make it colorfully visual and highly interactive. Consider an application that lets the visitor draw and design their own tattoos, or interact with other artists to generate new ideas for themselves. The level of technicality, complexity, and personability you display in your content should be tailored to what your users will want most. There is no set formula. The only universal key to good content is to make it easily navigable and accessible across a variety of platforms. To that end, make sure your mobile site is just as good as your regular one. The importance of mobile devices will only continue to grow. And if you are designing a website from the ground up, make your mobile URL the same as your regular one, to ensure that the hits continue to accumulate.

In the end, websites live and thrive off the value of the services they provide. SEO is but a means to an end, and for those who are willing to embrace it, content marketing is a powerful tool that will lead to enduring success, no matter what changes may occur into the future.

By: Ryan Kasso

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