So it’s the start of a new year and small businesses everywhere are hoping this will be the best year yet to date. So these days every business strategy needs to include a good helping of SEO to help gain exposure and bring in new traffic and customers.

But SEO in 2015 is looking tricky. Over the past several years Google has been gradually plugging the holes in their algorithms to prevent site owners from manipulating them to get to the top. Things have become much more advanced and no longer is it sufficient to stuff your site with key words, or to build countless in-bound links of dubious quality.

In fact though, Google did away with those strategies a long time ago: it’s just even worse now going forward into 2015. Even guest posting (where site owners write content for other sites in exchange for links) is no longer safe, as Matt Cutts has been warning against over-using that strategy too.

So what’s left? What can a business owner do to get to the top of search this year? Read on and we’ll attempt to shed some light on this increasingly difficult question…

The Mobile Experience is Critical

It was a monumental year in mobile marketing and that’s because 2014 was the year mobile searches finally surpassed desktop searches.  It’s pretty obvious that Mobile is “kind of a big deal now” and Google places a lot of importance on the mobile experience for their users.

Another way we know Google is putting a lot of emphasis on mobile is because they’ve added a mobile usability section in Google Webmaster Tools so users can test their site and see how it performs on a mobile device.  Additionally Google has been penalizing sites that generate errors for mobile users.

Businesses that don’t offer a mobile friendly experience will see their conversions plummet and will see a significant drop in search engine rankings over the course of 2015.

The ‘In Depth’ Post and Content Marketing

Lately Google has started curating their search results to a degree by highlighting news articles as well as ‘in-depth articles’. Of course you can try hard to get your content featured in this section but that’s not what’s important.

“What’s important is that it tells us Google likes in-depth content” That means long-form writing that covers multiple angles of a given subject and links out to other resources.

Writing this type of content for a blog is the definition of ‘content marketing’ which is becoming more and more popular among webmasters. At the very least you should look at moving from 500 word articles to 700 or 1,000. But make sure to break it up into bite size paragraphs to avoid scaring off your readers.

Schema.org Markups

If you checked out that link explaining how to get your content to feature as an ‘in-depth article’, then you will have noticed that writing lots of detailed content isn’t the whole story. Also outlined there is the importance of adding schema.org markups which will allow Google to identify the nature of your content. Think of this as an extended version of title and meta tags that lets you show Google key facts, company logos, publishing dates and other useful details.

These markups are also what allow Google to include your content in its ‘knowledge graphs’ and to show more information alongside your listing in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). With correct use of these markups you can theoretically increase your CTR (click through rate) without even getting higher in the rankings.

At the same time, these markups are only likely to become more important going forward as Google and other companies clamor to provide us with digital assistant services. It’s this information that Google Now, Siri and Cortana will eventually be able to use to give you recipes or let you know times via voice command. If you want to future-proof your online presence this year, this would be a very good place to start.

Social Media Integration

This has been ‘the next big thing in SEO’ for the last five years and it’s only continuing to grow in importance. For starters, if the continuous algorithm updates have taught us anything, it’s that relying 100% on SEO for business is folly – it’s crucial that you also have traffic coming in from other sources and social media is a perfect example.

Likewise, social media can help to give your site more social indicators and organic looking recommendations that Google might be listening to more and more. In their most recent report of crucial factors for SEO, Moz found Google Plus to be an important indicator for Google. Likewise, Facebook and Twitter can also help to boost the street cred of your site.

Of course there are other advantages to social media too. For starters, Google Plus will impact on your personalized results which will bypass the regular listings. And looking to different, larger communities – Google is now also taking notice of Reddit it seems. Many bloggers have noticed that Reddit is playing an important role in their site promotion, while Google has even added Reddit posts to their ‘news’ section.

All the Rest

There are many other factors to keep in mind for 2015, which by-and-large are developing in much the way they were expected too. SEO is no longer one dimensional and has become fully integrated with other aspects of marketing. Likewise, many techniques that worked previously still continue to work: like updating content, optimizing for speed and building quality backlinks.

Breaking it Down

That might seem like a lot to take on board, so let’s break it down into some actionable points. Here’s all you need to consider going forward in 2015:

  • As usual, SEO in 2015 will consist of adding great content to your site regularly, keeping your website fast and responsive and generating organic backlinks
  • In-depth content with lots of links to external authorities is the order of the day. ‘Content marketing’ is the best form of internet marketing this year.
  • Google is clamping down even more on ‘manipulative’ techniques – even guest posts must be used sparingly
  • Make sure you are using schema.org markups to tell Google more about your content and to be in with a chance of getting featured
  • Generate natural links from social media, post to Reddit and other online communities

There’s no doubt that the SEO game has evolved, with even more focus on the user experience. But while a lot of things change, some stay the same: A focus on relevant high-quality content, well-presented no matter where your user happens to be.