As the year 2015 winds down to a close, it’s time to start looking forward to 2016 and beyond. Digital marketers and SEO professionals are always looking to the future so they can be ready for the changes that are no doubt coming. Google is constantly pursuing a better search experience. This results in changes to how they index and rank pages, resulting in changes to SEO tactics.
It’s a cycle that has been going on for years, and 2016 will be no different. New WordPress tips and SEO best practices will start emerging, but I’m here to give you the inside scoop now instead of later.
11 Emerging SEO Trends for 2016
Google is a business like any other, they just happen to be one of the largest businesses in the world. Everyone that uses their service is a customer to them, so it’s only natural for them to constantly pursue a better experience for their users.
As you read these eleven upcoming SEO changes, keep the words user experience at the forefront of your mind. You’ll find that all of these changes make sense when viewed through that lens.
- Voice and Mobile Search Functionality
The ability to search using your voice is nothing new, but with the release of virtual assistants like Cortana, Google Now, and Siri, people are using the feature more than ever. They want to ask a question and receive their answer immediately. In the past, people would search on their computer, find an article, and retrieve the information themselves.
Not anymore. Now they want the answer immediately. Here’s how to adapt:
- Utilize structured data and “rich snippets” to answer important questions immediately
- Focus less on keywords, and more on how your audience converses
- Look for the questions they ask and answer them in a way that the search engine can’t (more in-depth for example)
- Direct Answers in Search Results
Google has applied the knowledge graph and the carousel into search results for some time now. These provide people with answers to their questions immediately and are often pulled from a specific website. To appear in one of these, you will need to have an authority on the subject. And provide a clear, concise answer to the question at hand in your content.
Since Wikipedia likes to dominate these, how do you compete?
- Dive deep into your niche and find very specific questions your readers have
- Address these immediately in your content, following Google’s structured data formula
- The Mobile-Focus Continues
There has been a growing focus on mobile-responsive web design, and 2016 will continue to increase this focus. More people access the internet on mobile devices these days, than ever before. If your site doesn’t respond and adapt to these different screen sizes, you will be penalized by Google because of a poor user experience.
It’s time to adapt:
- Run your website through Google’s Mobile Friendly test tool
- If you’re using WordPress, find a mobile-responsive theme
- You can also hire a designer to make the changes to your site.
- Local SEO Becomes a Major Focus
The best way to stand out from the crowd is to appeal to people in your local area. This provides a focus for your SEO strategies and narrows the pool of competition. Mobile and voice search will pair with this to help people find local solutions to their problems, so let’s make sure you’re on top of that list:
- Utilize keywords focused on your location and area
- Provide up-to-date Google Maps information
- Offer app integration with Google as well (this will show up in search results)
- SEO and Digital Marketing Become One and the Same
Over the past few years, SEO and “content marketing” have slowly become synonymous with one another. Google has been focusing on the user experience high quality content more and more with each update. A successful SEO campaign now includes social media campaigns, and other elements of digital marketing. The two will continue to blend.
Here’s how you stay ahead:
- SEO and Digital Marketing are no longer separate, they work together
- High quality content, social media promotion, and marketing all connect with SEO
- The goal is to build organic links, increase engagement, and build brand awareness
- Bing Offers More Competition Than Ever
Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, has always been a competitor to Google, but in 2016 it will become more important than ever. The integration of Cortana with Bing brings voice search and direct answers to this platform. With Google making some questionable choices, we’ll see SEO professionals start looking to Bing more than ever before.
How do you get comfy with Bing?
- Many of Bing’s SEO is identical to Google (use what you’ve been using)
- Take a look at Bing’s Webmaster Tools
- Bing Looks at physical location more than Google (so local SEO is important here)
- Building a Varied and Natural Link Profile Becomes more Important
The backlinks you have pointing to your site have always been important, but now it’s also important for them to be natural, relevant, and diverse. In 2016, you’ll want to avoid any link building services that promise quality links for cheap. These will raise red flags on Google’s end every time.
As you continue to bring in backlinks in 2016, keep these tips in mind:
- Pursue links from other sites in your niche that are valuable and relevant to those readers.
- Use influencer outreach and guest posting to ensure your backlinks are coming from the proper anchor text and from high-quality sites.
- Vary up your anchor text constantly and keep the flow of new links steady.
- User Engagement Becomes a Focus
In 2016, a high bounce rate and low user engagement will be killers for your SEO ranking. Your site needs to captivate and capture readers, or they won’t stick around to visit other pages. If people are leaving immediately, that shows Google they didn’t find what they were looking for.
Understanding what your audience wants and needs is the first step in creating a high user engagement. Take these steps next:
- Run A/B Testing to see which design elements are working
- Take steps to engage your readers in the comments and on social media
- Learn what they want and need from your site and provide that from the get-go
- Google’s Focus Turns to the User Experience
There are numerous factors that point towards the overall user experience of your website. Everything Google is doing in 2016 and beyond points towards them finding new ways to measure the quality of the experience on your site. Things like bounce rate, the number of ads, the mobile responsiveness, and other factors all affect this overall metric.
Keep these things in mind:
- Always look at your site and its content through a reader’s eyes.
- Simplify and streamline the elements of your site to ensure ease of use.
- Maintain a focus on reader intentions and desires in your content.
- Interstitial Ads Must Go
Google recently announced that it would begin penalizing sites with Interstitial Ads. These are ads on mobile sites that appear right as you arrive and block you from seeing the content within. They usually prompt you to download the app and won’t go away until you find their small close button.
These types of ads are downright annoying. You may not have any ads like these on your site, but consider other ads you have:
- Are any ads blocking users from reading your content?
- Do ads appear quickly, interrupting a reader just as they arrive?
- Reconsideration Requests Become More Difficult
Our final trend refers to the process by which websites can have penalties lifted from them by Google. If you’ve been penalized, you can apply for a reconsideration request once you’ve fixed the issue. In the case of certain sites, they will fix the problem, obtain approval, and then turn around and do it again.
You won’t do this, but since others have, Google may become stricter with how they reconsider penalties. Prepare accordingly:
- Stay up-to-date on new updates and try to avoid penalties.
- If you need to submit for a reconsideration request, ensure you’ve removed the problem entirely beforehand.
- Once approved, take steps to ensure it won’t happen again to avoid another penalty.
As you can see, the user experience is at the forefront of Google’s mind. Everything you do with SEO should somehow connect back to that one concept. How do you see SEO changing in the future, and what steps are you taking to prepare?
Share your thoughts and theories in the comments below!