Want to know what agency leads predict will happen to the “search” agency moving into 2014? Here goes….

Danny Denhard
Oct 14, 2013 · 20 min read

Ever since the search agency concept was created, it has had to evolve, moving into more recent years the demands from clients and changes from search engines has seen evolution in many forms and iterations. This led for me to reach out to respected search agencies to see how they see their agencies have to change their agency and where agency leads see the industry moving into.

Simon Penson | Managing Director Zazzle Mediawww.zazzlemedia.co.uk | @simonpenson

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

There can be little doubt that change will be omnipresent. Google is only going to iterate faster as it gets its head more around link data. The search giant is heading towards semantic web quickly and those that stand still will be left behind.

It means for marketers that the only medium worth investing in for long term success is content, and to then leverage that across as many digital channels as possible to ensure maximum value is achieved.

Alongside that it’s imperative that markup and indexation is a priority to ensure that any site, or platform, is well optimised and ready to take advantage of any ‘carrot’ Google may dangle in SERPs. In depth articles are a really interesting development as they are a real reward for that content investment I mentioned earlier. I expect more of these ‘SERP specials’ to be announced as part of what seems to be a move from ‘stick’ to ‘carrot’ tactics to get us all thinking about the user and value-adding content.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

There is undoubtedly going to be a convergence in the space. We’ve been lucky enough to be content led for a long time but we are definitely seeing many more transition to that approach. Alongside that we are really moving a lot into PR more and more and we’re adding developers and designers to allow us to create genuinely different content like this and this.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I hope the answer is content strategy and tactical implementation — but with a commercial objective!

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

Refining and perfecting the PR piece around bigger content and managing expectation and educating clients on the importance of it for the long term.

There is a clear move to personalisation and demand for quality content — how do you see your agency offering value?

We have a diverse and unique set of skills here. We understand how the web works and who the real influencers are and the data behind that can fuel informed content strategies that really work. Our experience is also greater than most and we have quite a lot of editorial experience now also, with a new Head of Content joining us imminently with a very strong background in PR and editing titles.

And lastly, what do you think the industries biggest challenge in 2014?

Change. There is no doubt that the switch from silo-led marketing to a truly integrated approach will be bumpy and it’s up to us to educate the wider business world on the importance of taking an entirely fresh approach to digital marketing. One that leverages search, social and influencer channels.

Paddy Moogan | SEO Consultant | Distilledwww.distilled.net | @paddymoogan

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

As always, the search industry will adapt to whatever is thrown at us. One of the things I admire most about the industry is it’s ability to keep adapting to changes and take advantage of them. The core fundamentals are going to remain the same though, it’s just tactics and some strategy that is going to change to match the changing climate. The core things we need to do — build links, create great content, be technically sound and have a great product are never going to change. Having said that, I think that we’ll find more and more that what search becomes looks more and more just good marketing. It has come full loop, from a time where search didn’t exist where good marketing won, to a time when manipulative tactics won, to a time now where (for long term success anyway) good online marketing will win again. Maybe that won’t happen in 2014, it may be too soon but that’s my hope at least!

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

More of the same I think. We’re been talking for a while now about the t-shaped marketer and I think agencies will be pushing their teams to embrace a wider skill-set but a key proficiency more and more. We’ll see agencies expanding their services more to include things such as social, analytics, content, social and CRO. This isn’t to say they’re moving away from technical SEO and link building- far from it! It’s just that SEO will become one discipline in a wider set of offerings that agencies can provide. Some agencies are doing this already and doing a good job, but I can see more of a shift as they try to diversify and take a seat at the bigger table.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I can’t see paid search budget being reduced any time soon with the ever increasing space that PPC takes up on search results. I can see companies moving budgets a bit more towards paid content promotion using services like Outbrain, Zemanta, even display advertising in order to get more eyeballs on their content. Budget will also be moved towards video (still too slowly though) because of the increased accessibility on mobile devices as well as faster and faster broadband speeds. Companies will start to take video more seriously and see the power of it.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

Again, I think it’s more of the same. Agencies will continue building out either in-house content teams or an external network of freelancers who can satisfy the growing demand for high quality content. The fact is that link building is getting harder and harder for legitimate companies and if you don’t want to buy them, great content gives the best chance of getting the ones that matter and that you won’t have to remove in a years time!

I think that we’re going to move towards trying to understand audiences more. We do bits and pieces right now but in the grand scheme of things, I think we’re way behind other marketing channels on this. Understanding where audiences are and how they interact with content in the current climate is going to be very important. The fact is that things have changed and will continue to change as technology develops. We’re no longer limited by our location, we can access content pretty much anywhere we want and however we want. We’re a million miles away from content only being available via a TV set in our house and the newspapers that get delivered daily. This means that audiences are changing and their attention is spread pretty thinly across lots of mediums and brands. Agencies will need to adapt their strategies and tactics to ensure that their clients are in the right place at the right time.

There is a clear move to personalisation and demand for quality content — how do you see your agency offering value?

The demand for high quality content is definitely getting bigger with many companies now understanding that 500 words with a few keywords here and there is just not going to cut it any more. Distilled are well positioned to meet this demand because we invested heavily in a creative team nearly two years ago as well as pushing our video expertise really hard. Right now, I think the content we create offers great value to clients because we’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years about what works, what doesn’t and we’ve refined the content creation process a lot. Couple this with the involvement of outreach and PR teams, I think we can offer a lot of value to a clients business.

And lastly, what do you think the industries biggest challenge in 2014?

As an industry, we’re naturally moving into territories that are already occupied by other companies. Content marketing and PR agencies have been around way longer than we have and know what they’re doing, we’re pushing more and more into those areas and have to be prepared for pushback. SEOs are very adaptable and can certainly fight their corner, however our nature is to optimise the hell of something, push it to it’s breaking point and get out when it’s broken. We can’t afford to do this in new areas and need to find the right balance between disrupting an industry and not destroying it!

Kelvin Newman | Strategy Director | Site Visibiltyhttp://www.sitevisibility.co.uk | @kelvinnewman

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

I think with integration between different disciplines people have been talking the talk for years, the coming year is really going to be about walking the walk. In the past collaboration with out disciplines was a nice to have, increasingly you can’t achieve any results in paid or natural search without the help of overlapping marketing channels. In some cases this greater need will produce better outcomes but I expect a lot of search marketers are going to find themselves in meetings and following inter-departmental processes that they might not be accustomed to.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

I’ve talked quite a bit recently about digital agencies acting more like film or television production companies. Where they bring together a variety of people to collaborate of a specific project who go their separate ways once the projects done. These collaborators could be other companies, contractors ad freelancers. This is really good news for agencies with a history of project based work but a harder cultural shift for those more accustomed to monthly retainers

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I’d like to think we’ll see a greater focus on what works! in reality I think more people will keep moving into what-ever is new, the newer it idea or approach is the easier it is to be more successful. I do wish in general people would spend more money making more from their current traffic before going off trying to find more.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

Talent is a constant challenge, the last qtr and first qtr are when we see the most movement of staff and clients; I think that’s only going to increase as a lot of people working in search are coming up to the point when they might be looking to make a move,

There is a clear move to personalisation and demand for quality content — how do you see your agency offering value?

I think specialism will increase in value, they say two clients in a sector is a conflict of interest and three is a specialism. I think one way to really add value is to know an industry sector or vertical inside out, each client benefits from all the work you’ve done in the past.

And lastly, what do you think the industries biggest challenge in 2014?

The keyword challenge. It could be the biggest change in search while I’ve been working in the sector. If you can predict what keywords will work for you (with the difficulties in Googles Keyword Planned) or measure which are currently working (with not provided) I think a change in thinking is inevitable.


Dan Sharp | Founder & Director | http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/ | @screamingfrog

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

I am going to go out on a limb and say, we will see an evolution of the general trends we already have! I just don’t see the fundamentals changing anytime soon — Our responsibilities and practices have grown, but the core objective remains the same.

But nobody likes that answer as it’s boring, sorry! Here’s 5 perhaps more interesting predictions —

1) SEO & PR Agencies will fight for more of the same budgets.

2) Businesses will throw money invest into content like never before.

3) *Some* early authorship signals will be introduced in scoring. Their impact will be negligible.

4) Mobile sub domains will no longer be used for new builds. Well, I hope.

5) Google have just released ‘Helpouts’. It will quietly die, although perhaps not quite by the end of 2014.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

I see search agencies investing more in talent that helps get their clients talked about online. It’s true creatives, designers, developers, writers, illustrators, PRs, and marketers who have these skillsets. ‘Link building’ is of course just good marketing and it can almost be put into 3 buckets; content, PR and outreach.

It’s an exciting time, we get to work with some very talented people these days, such as hiring stand-up comedians, cartoonists or experts in a particular field. Perhaps things that years ago would be fairly unheard of.

We will also continue to see growing agencies expand disciplines into specialist areas, such as analytics and CRO.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I think budgets will continue to be invested heavily in paid search and SEO, but also (as I mentioned above) content. ‘Content marketing’ has already been talked to death by the industry but for brands especially; investing in content production will be huge and they will need support. I expect traditional content marketing agencies, PR, design houses and SEOs to fight for this budget.

I also see more focus (I hope) and in turn budgets on UX and CRO, as some businesses come to the realisation they should make the most of what they have, rather than just wanting more and more. In today’s world of Google, that would be wise.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

I’ll talk about Screaming Frog. I see our biggest challenges as —

1) Integrating & managing the different skillsets, disciplines and teams we have now to maximise potential for our clients, particularly in big content production.

2) Development & release of the next generation version of the SEO Spider.

3) Finding new premises in central Henley-on-Thames, which is proving difficult! We have already outgrown our office which can only really fit 20 of us.

And lastly, what do you think the industry’s biggest challenge in 2014?

I think one of the challenges of SEO is finding its place a little. There has been a real evolution offsite in particular and plenty of agencies using outdated practices will have already been impacted.

As mentioned in my predictions, I do feel we will see more competition with traditional PR and content agencies. I think we are already seeing this now, but PR agencies (in my opinion) are just not doing a very good job of it, when they are *so* well placed. I expect them to get better one day, maybe 2014 will be it.


Justin Butcher |Head of Digital Marketing | Return On Digitalwww.returnondigital.com | @justin_butcher

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

I see encrypted keyword data, as well as the new Hummingbird engine, as a big opportunity for the SEO industry to completely change its mindset and start thinking about target audiences more than it has done up until now. I suspect a lot of agencies will advise their clients to use PPC as a testing ground to gain keyword data and carry on as before, and whilst this may have short term benefits, long term I think this is missing the point entirely. Search is going to become less and less about the exact keywords on the page moving forward and more about semantics and context. Consider the amount Google already knows about the user before they have even performed a query (e.g. mobility, location, search history) and how Hummingbird allows them to process this information and serve the better results to that user based on more than the search query itself. If Hummingbird is about Google trying to understand searcher intent then you need to optimise for all types of intent and at all stages of the buying funnel rather than simply keywords alone.

In addition, if you want to win the organic click in 2014, it’s not going to be about simply being visible in the SERPS, you’re also going to need to look good as well. Competition for clicks is only going to get more fierce with things like ad extensions and Google Shopping taking up so much prime search real estate. In 2013 we have spent a lot of a lot more time on Click Through Rate Optimisation with the use of hreview, authorship and video markup and I see us spending even more time on this in 2014. Also, if you’re not using your best performing PPC ad copy in meta descriptions then perhaps it is time to consider doing so. In 2014, you will need to stay on the ball with structured data and rich snippets if you want to compete for user attention, as Google will undoubtedly be testing more and more of these in the SERPS over the next year.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

Something which has already started happening, but which I think will be an increasing trend in 2014, is clients seeing too much of a crossover between the work that their digital and PR agencies do and making a decision between one or the other. This very often leads to a very difficult relationship between digital and PR agencies as both are worried about losing their budget to the other. Digital agencies tend to sneer at PR agencies for not understanding digital but it also works both ways. There are many SEO agencies who are offering “online PR” who simply don’t understand PR at all. I think the savvy digital agencies will start to bring real PR expertise in because they understand how properly executed PR campaigns can enhance their digital marketing efforts.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I think that in 2014 there will be more focus on making the most of existing traffic (eg UX and CRO), encouraging return visits (e.g. remarketing) and increasing customer lifetime values (e.g. social media and email marketing) rather than just focusing on ways to increase traffic. In order to make better judgements about how marketing budgets should be spent, there will also be a move away from looking solely at last click attribution and more weight placed on multi-channel attribution as a better way of determining the role each channel plays in the path to conversion. Speaking from our own experience, the use of multi-channel attribution has allowed us to make much more informed decisions as to how we should be using, and how much we should be investing, in the different channels. There has also been some recent progress in terms of cross-device attribution methodology so I’m sure we’ll also be looking at this a lot more in 2014.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

1) Hiring the right staff. In an ever changing industry we need to have a future focused hiring policy, hiring people who can adapt as the industry changes.

2) Educating clients. Keeping clients up to date with industry changes and what it means for their campaigns has always been a challenge. However, we are anticipating huge changes in 2014 so this will be even more of a challenge.

3) Team structure. Ensuring that the way we are structured is scalable in a time of rapid growth, as well as adaptable to industry change.

There is a clear move to personalisation and demand for quality content — how do you see your agency offering value?

We offer value because we saw where the industry was going two years ago and have been developing our content team since that time. And by content, I don’t just mean the written word, but visual, video, interactive or any other types of content that are required to meet client objectives.

And lastly, what do you think the industry’s biggest challenge is in 2014?

I think the biggest challenge for the industry, particularly with regard to SEO, will be how to deal with the loss of organic keyword data. I suspect that the agencies who are most prepared change their mindset will be the ones that win in 2014.

Andy Travers | Operations Director | Caliberhttp://www.caliberi.com | @Traversty

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

Content — On the one hand we foresee an increase in the ubiquity of cheap, low quality content disguised as value-add — expect to see a deluge of baseless infographics and PR surveys. On the other, savvy brands will dedicate greater efforts to the utility of content — rather than purely on the ‘wow’ factor — bringing together real world and digital experiences in new and interesting ways to generate positive impact on their search and social channels.

Data — Some will continue to rage against Google for removing organic keyword data, particularly if they continue to keep AdWords data accessible. The industry will debate, as it tends to, and eventually move towards a consensus on reporting best practice in the absence of such data. As a result, however, ROI for SEO will be harder to ascertain and we may see a shift to a blended or holistic view of performance spanning multiple earned and owned channels.

UX — The increasing importance of page and user centric measurements will mean SEO will be accepted as a more influential factor within the design and development process across multiple strands of online marketing — mobile, CRO/UX, page structure, coding practices.

Hummingbird — for those at the higher end of the maturity scale we see attention shifting to exploiting the evolving knowledge graph and mobile search developments, expect to see first voice search strategies on your SEO roadmap.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

We expect to see SEO agencies continuing to branch out and develop their data, content, UX, Social and PR capabilities to match the evolving search and broader digital landscape.

A focus for many traditional agencies will be the evolution of their link acquisition strategies and how they can effectively package a growing mixture of requisite skills. We expect to see a growing distinction between agencies in this area, with some opting for a technology and data-led approach,some preferring more personal, contact-led outreach and others relying on more on content quality.

As these services evolve, agencies will need to bring in new skills and evolve their operations accordingly. As with any business those who can adapt and scale most effectively are more likely to succeed.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

We see brands potentially reallocating budgets from brand cost centres into digital marketing to account for the increase in digital content production, campaign development and outreach. The cost of driving traffic through organic channels is increasing, the savvy brands/agencies will be looking to exploit low-cost/high-impact opportunities and emerging technologies.

Links will still be a core focus but increasingly on quality over quantity.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

1. Managing the shift of clients from link-centric campaigns to content-centric campaigns — strategies, budgets, reporting and infrastructure will all need to adapt.

2. Defending our business from Social, content and PR agencies moving into the SEO space.

3. As we enter our 6th year out key challenge will be managing the growth and scale across the business from a start-up to a grown-up agency.

There is a clear move to personalisation and demand for quality content — how do you see your agency offering value?

We have been at the sharp end of this trend for some time. We’ve invested in a highly experienced creative director, and built an agile team of ideation experts drawn from specific backgrounds of both on and offline expertise — research, outreach and creative to name just a few.

Another major focus is on digital PR, where we’ve brought in extensive talent and retraining. We’ve been working on this new product for the last 3 years, as like all good agencies being future proof and keeping our ear to the ground is key to our success. We want to be leading the change in this area. Bad SEO needs to exit stage left, permanently.

And lastly, what do you think the industries biggest challenge in 2014?

For brands, the continued constraints of economic recovery will restrict the ability of some to be able to operate in an effective and agile manner in the evolving digital environment, leading to lost opportunities.

On the agency side, the merging and acquisition of agencies and technology companies continues apace. If the bigger network agencies can combine their capabilities in an agile way that brands can’t then this poses a risk for the smaller guys. Fortunately, this is an age old conundrum that has never really been solved, which should give hope and motivation to niche specialists and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Barry Adams |Digital Services Director | Pierce Communications www.piercecommunications.co.uk / @badams

What are your Predictions for search industry for 2014?

I expect — and hope — that the industry will continue to mature and we’ll see fewer ‘cowboys’ out there peddling SEO to unspsecting clients. Clients are becoming increasingly educated about SEO and digital marketing, and that is a very good development for our industry. We’ll be able to work with more informed clients who have a clear understanding of the value of search and more realistic expectations of what can be achieved.

The industry will also begin to leave the hype-chasers behind. You know the types, a different job title every three months of so depending on which way the buzzword-winds blow; from SEO Guru to Social Media Expert to Content Marketing Strategist to whatever the latest hype phrase is. Those sorts of practicioners — and the agencies that adopt such modes of thought — will lose credibility as the market matures and be put on the back foot.

How do you see the search agency evolving into 2014?

I see two major and somewhat contradictory trends emerging, which will be interesting to see how that will pan out.

First I see an increasing demand for highly specialised services, such as technical SEO, advanced web analytics, advanced PPC, etc. More and more clients that have internal digital resources will want to partner with an agency that goes beyond the basics and has genuine expertise at their disposal that complements the clients’ own internal teams.

On the other hand I see a homogenisation of the search industry where agencies will start to look more alike, as they all try to appeal to clients in very similar ways with the same skillsets and expertise. All agencies will offer content marketing, SEO, PPC, social media, and UX services, and it’ll be harder for clients to distinguish between each agency’s unique offering — as these offerings will be increasingly less unique.

More than ever I suspect agencies will need to set themselves apart through the quality of their work and the prestige of their client portfolios.

With budgets becoming tighter, where do you see budgets being concentrated on in 2014?

I think client budgets will be withdrawn from less accountable tactics and be focused more on those tactics that have demonstrably high ROI. Already you see a backpeddling among social media marketers when it comes to ROI (read: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-myth-of-social-roi-2013-10 — an admission of defeat if I ever read one), and many clients who have dabbled in social media marketing and have seen limited results will be redistributing their budgets to the most accountable of all digital marketing disciplines: Paid search and SEO.

I also expect the granddaddy of digital marketing disciplines, email marketing, to make a bit of a comeback — though 2014 might be too early for that, it could be 2015 or later before that truly emerges as a trend.

What do you predict will be the three biggest changes to agencies and your agency in Q4 and first half of next year?

Like I said, agencies will need to acquire specialised skillsets to be able to compete, and that also means they need to achieve a minimum critical mass of clients to be able to make specialised staffing an economically feasible move. Smaller agencies will, by necessity, continue to have staff with general broad-spectrum skills, but they will in the longer term lose out to agencies that can offer specialised staff for specific disciplines.

So agencies will need to be able to grow rapidly, partner with specialised subcontractors, or risk being left behind. We at Pierce Communications are fortunate enough to have reached that critical mass of clients that allows us to increasingly offer specialised services, though with the Northern Irish market being what it is we don’t see the specialisation trend to kick in here yet in 2014 to the extent it will in the rest of the UK.

And lastly, what do you think the industries biggest challenge in 2014?

Our biggest challenge as an industry will be to resist the push towards advertising from the big digital platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter) and to keep clients — and ourselves — focused on the ‘earned’ traffic channels that I feel deliver the most value.

Clients will be subjected to powerful propaganda from the big platforms to use their advertising channels, and it’ll be a struggle to keep client budgets focused on those earned media areas like SEO that we know yield much better results.

What are your thoughts? How do you see the search agency evolve and develop in the coming months?

I. M. H. O.

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    Danny Denhard

    Written by

    Director Of Growth at JustGiving. Career in Product, marketing and growth in growth based companies. I write a weekly newsletter over at dannydenhard.com/weekly

    I. M. H. O.

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