Following on from our posts looking at search predictions for next year and the SEO’s 2015 wishlist, it’s time to take a look back at the major trends from the past 12 months.

Here’s what our panel of experts came up with, and while we’re at it I also asked what they think Google might begin clamping down on in 2015.

And to learn more on this topic, download Econsultancy’s SEO Best Practice Guide

What were the most significant developments in SEO in 2014?

Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of Distilled

There are arguments to be made for the dropping of authorship or for the Pigeon local search update, but my vote would go to the increasing use of general answer boxes (i.e. not those that come directly from the knowledge graph).

Google’s ability to interpret natural language is continuing faster than we might think – and its confidence in the results is clearly high if it is prepared to have these automatic summaries appear even in regulated industries like finance.

I think history will show this to be the most significant development as it presages so many fundamentally new possibilities about how we search and how we find.

Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi

There have been a few. The fact that concerns around negative SEO inched higher rather than lower is significant.

It suggests focus and attention on the area and that means continued budgets and developments in the area.

We’ve lost some key points of contact between the SEO community and the search engines.

Duane Forrester did a great job at Bing but is no longer there. Equally, Matt Cutts stepped back and away from Google. He has already extended his leave into 2015. Will he come back?

There’s on-going and building drama around disclosure.

Too many agencies (SEO, PR, other) are happy for bloggers to forget, omit or just not to know about the requirement to properly disclose when incentives have been used.

We saw this make primetime TV news when it came to vloggers.

What is Google likely to clamp down on in 2015?

Andrew Girdwood, DigitasLBi

I think Google will tighten even further on content quality assessment. This may well extend to the likes of infographics or PR campaigns.

It’s ‘unnatural’ (to use Google’s lingo) if a bunch of blogs, over the course of a day or so, all happen to carry an unremarkable and template based infographic/creative first seen on a brand’s blog that the rest of the world is ignoring.

It’s equally unnatural if a bunch of review bloggers all pick the same week to rave about, link to, and photograph a cosmetic set that’s been available for months.

I think link reclamation is seriously in jeopardy.

This is the soul destroying and bothersome technique of emailing bloggers and journalists to say: “I see you mentioned Brand X in an article this month. It’ll be great if you change that to a link to Brand X!”

I suggest it’s in jeopardy because it’s become popular (it’s a process) and because it’s trivial for Google to decide, “links that appear in articles an hour after the content first appeared don’t count as quality signals.”

It’s just as trivial for Google to decide that, “links that appear in articles a day after the content first appeared are an example of algorithm manipulation.”

Will Critchlow, Distilled

Websites that don’t work well on mobile. Those little “mobile friendly” badges are just the start.

Poor UX in general is likely to get increasingly negative feedback loops I suspect.

Nick Fettiplace, SEO director of Jellyfish

There is so much talk and concern around negative SEO – blackhat linking tactics maliciously undertaken by your competitors to get your website penalised or knocked-off the top spots of Google.

It’s definitely something we’ve seen an increase in during 2014 and this seems like an area that Google needs to clamp down on.

I think two things will happen here, and it will be a bit of a combination between Google and Webmasters:

  1. Google will devise better means of detecting and preventing against this, therefore protecting healthy sites against attack.
  2. Webmasters will need to ‘build-in’ to their monthly SEO activity an element of on-going backlink monitoring and health-checking to ensure that negative SEO attacks are picked up quickly and can be rapidly remedied. This will involve iterative updates of disavow files and manual link removal processes.

Social signals might also get more attention from Google.

With social signals playing an increasing role within your site’s ranking/performance I’m sure Google will begin devising tighter means of detecting unnatural/manipulated social engagement, in a similar way that it did with backlinks after introducing Penguin. It makes sense.