SEO Trends 2016: 44 Experts On The Future Of Organic Search Success

Why user expe­ri­ence, use­ful con­tent, and mobile-friend­li­ness will be crit­i­cal SEO suc­cess fac­tors in 2016

Danny Goodwin By Danny Goodwin from Momentology. Join the discussion » 7 comments

The only con­stant in the world of SEO is change. In our epic post on SEO trends for 2015, our pan­el of experts over­whelm­ing­ly (and cor­rect­ly) pre­dict­ed mobile would be one of the biggest areas to watch. While mobile got the most atten­tion last year, what should be the top focus­es for brands and busi­ness­es in 2016?

If 2015 was the year of becom­ing mobile-friend­ly, then 2016 is shap­ing up to be the year of user expe­ri­ence.

In ear­ly 2015, Google intro­duced an assort­ment of changes and a new “mobile-friend­ly” algo­rithm designed to improve the mobile expe­ri­ence for con­sumers. Then in Octo­ber, we learned about an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence algo­rithm called RankBrain, which is Google’s lat­est attempt to improve search results for its users.

Just as Google has always been focused on pro­vid­ing its users with the best results, now it’s time to put your focus on what’s most impor­tant for your audi­ence.

Under­stand­ing your audi­ence and the entire con­sumer jour­ney so you can be vis­i­ble at the moments when it mat­ters most is mis­sion crit­i­cal now.

Con­tent strat­e­gy also remains a top focus, but with a greater eye toward intent, con­text, and use­ful­ness.

You can’t ignore mobile SEO or apps in 2016, either. Con­sumers live in a mobile world and rely on devices of all sizes – so your mobile strat­e­gy must put users first.

Through it all, fun­da­men­tal, tech­ni­cal SEO will remain crit­i­cal. And tech­nol­o­gy and data will be cru­cial to help opti­mize and mea­sure the suc­cess of your organ­ic efforts in 2016 and beyond.

This year, Momen­tol­ogy has col­lect­ed insights from 44 expe­ri­enced SEO experts:

What’s the future of SEO? Here’s your fore­cast for 2016.

Barry Adams, Founder, Polemic Digital

Barry AdamsThe search space will con­tin­ue to nar­row in focus in 2016, as mobile-first brows­ing habits will siphon traf­fic from search engines towards mobile apps – specif­i­cal­ly YouTube, Face­book, and news apps. I sus­pect 2016 might be the first year to see a stag­na­tion, if not decline, in search vol­umes on some of the major search engines.

As a result of this nar­row­ing search space, a brand’s total share of voice will become even more impor­tant. I expect a pro­lif­er­a­tion of brand-owned con­tent chan­nels – such as Momen­tol­ogy – in a wide range of indus­tries, from DIY to retail, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and med­ical tech­nol­o­gy.

Brands will cre­ate and pro­mote self-owned pub­li­ca­tion chan­nels to build their own audi­ences, rather than rely on third-par­ty plat­forms to deliv­er vis­i­tors to their com­mer­cial sites. Some of these brand-owned chan­nels will be indis­tin­guish­able from inde­pen­dent chan­nels. A few inde­pen­dent online pub­li­ca­tions will be bought by brands who can’t be both­ered build­ing their own audi­ence from scratch.

Alto­geth­er, 2016 will be the year where the fight for audi­ence atten­tion will reach a new peak, as organ­ic search evolves in to a zero-sum game and social media becomes exclu­sive­ly pay-to-play for cor­po­rate accounts. The lim­i­ta­tions of our indus­try will start to mate­ri­al­ize as con­sumer behav­ior changes, and the fight for con­sumer atten­tion will be fiercer than ever.

In order for SEO to sur­vive and thrive in such an envi­ron­ment, SEO providers will need to focus more on high­light­ing their clients’ com­pet­i­tive edge and find increas­ing­ly provoca­tive and atten­tion-grab­bing con­tent angles.

The future of online suc­cess will not be depen­dent on organ­ic search. Instead I see an online brand’s growth rely on how suc­cess­ful they’ll be able to inte­grate with exist­ing dom­i­nant plat­forms. News host­ed on Face­book and Google, ecom­merce through Twit­ter and YouTube, those will be the trends that will pave the way for online suc­cess in the com­ing years.

Adam Audette, Senior Vice President of SEO, Merkle

Adam AudetteThere are three key areas our teams are work­ing in that I believe rep­re­sent the future of organ­ic search:

1. Mobile, Apps & New Tech­ni­cal Work

Apps, apps, and more apps. Deep link­ing, app index­ing, and now app stream­ing are all key areas for SEOs in 2016. App store opti­miza­tion, mobile arti­cle for­mats from Google, Apple and Face­book, and the increas­ing impor­tance of app con­tent in organ­ic search all mean we will be focused on a mobile world more and more.

A sec­ond relat­ed piece is tech­ni­cal SEO work. Pag­i­na­tion, faceted nav­i­ga­tion, and inter­na­tion­al SEO are just table stakes. The future is about http/2 as well as https, JavaScript, sin­gle page appli­ca­tions (SPAs), the DOM, and dynam­ic web­sites. Not to men­tion site laten­cy, struc­tured data, and even voice search.

2. Con­tent Strat­e­gy & Con­tent Mar­ket­ing

Mov­ing toward a deep­er under­stand­ing of audi­ence cohorts and per­sonas, and how searcher behav­ior changes based on the seg­ments. This direct­ly informs site archi­tec­ture, tax­on­o­my, con­tent plans and task com­ple­tion met­rics.

Here, too, we need to under­stand future tech­nol­o­gy such as voice search and how it changes behav­ior, result­ing in new types of con­tent expe­ri­ences.

All of this must be informed by user test­ing.

Final­ly, an under­stand­ing of enti­ty search and struc­tured data and how the Knowl­edge Graph can best rep­re­sent a brand’s iden­ti­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty in organ­ic search.

3. Per­son­al­ized Expe­ri­ences & Mar­ket­ing Address­abil­i­ty at Scale

We will be increas­ing­ly lever­ag­ing first-par­ty data to improve con­tent expe­ri­ences, while mak­ing that con­tent per­form well in organ­ic search. We’ll also be lever­ag­ing data to under­stand the cross-chan­nel per­for­mance and strate­gies between dis­play and organ­ic search and paid and organ­ic search.

The future is data and lever­ag­ing SEO as a crit­i­cal piece of the attri­bu­tion fun­nel, and its rela­tion­ship to a holis­tic dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy.

Loren Baker, Co-Founder & VP, Foundation Digital

Loren BakerAll in all, inte­grat­ed mar­ket­ing that deliv­ers tar­get­ed users to top­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant con­tent will be a key focus on 2016.

What do I mean by this? Make sure that your con­tent fun­nel is pop­u­lat­ed with tar­get­ed traf­fic, not only from influ­encer out­reach, but from smart ad buys, per­sona tar­get­ing, social shar­ing inte­gra­tion, and any oth­er mar­ket­ing dis­ci­plines.

Deliv­er the right per­son to the right type of con­tent. Enrich their life/goals from an infor­ma­tion and UX per­spec­tive enough for that traf­fic to become your brand advo­cate – through shar­ing and inter­act­ing with that con­tent, mak­ing a pur­chase (trig­ger­ing an event), or adding to the sto­ry­line in some way.

Daniel Bianchini, Director of Services,

As we move into 2016, there will be two sig­nif­i­cant changes in the way SEOs approach cam­paigns, both of which have start­ed to be dis­cussed more open­ly.

  • There will be a con­tin­ued but much more in-depth approach to under­stand­ing the audi­ence. Dur­ing 2015, we start­ed to move toward the idea of cre­at­ing con­tent that is more spe­cif­ic, and focus­es on the need of the user. How­ev­er, dur­ing 2016 we will start to use the vast data that is now eas­i­ly avail­able to us to be more tar­get­ed. While doing this, we will look more into the expe­ri­ence the user has when they land on our con­tent regard­less of the device they are using.
  • There is going to be more of a focus on search via mobile devices. I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean through search engines, but how appli­ca­tions like Google Now are learn­ing about our needs. Thus, the need to increase the use of struc­tured data will inten­si­fy.

Chris Boggs, Founder, Web Traffic Advisors

Chris BoggsIn 2016, SEO will con­tin­ue to com­mand a greater share of exec­u­tive atten­tion from SMBs to enter­prise. Last year I pre­dict­ed decon­struc­tion would be an impor­tant part of the SEO world in 2015, and I cer­tain­ly did my share of that with clients and net­work­ing friends. For 2016, I will bor­row from Google’s John Mueller, who was quot­ed in Twit­ter as using one word to define what SEOs should be focused on: con­sis­ten­cy.

Of course, many in the indus­try lam­bast­ed this typ­i­cal­ly coy rec­om­men­da­tion – tru­ly falling into step with some of the Google rid­dles the SEO indus­try was long blessed with by Matt Cutts.

What the hell does that even mean

The great thing about using the word “con­sis­ten­cy” to encap­su­late SEO strate­gic think­ing is that the word can be mapped to each of the typ­i­cal work streams asso­ci­at­ed with organ­ic opti­miza­tion: tech­ni­cal atten­tion to detail, estab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing rel­e­vance, and grow­ing author­i­ty.

For tech SEO con­sis­ten­cy can be pret­ty sim­ple to envi­sion and “strate­gize” by SEOs and mar­keters, but often this trans­lates to impos­si­ble demands for IT teams based on site tech­nol­o­gy that is in place. One exam­ple is a blog on a dif­fer­ent sub­do­main in order to sup­port a sep­a­rate CMS. This is some­thing SEOs – at least par­tial­ly because of an unspo­ken goal of con­sis­ten­cy – some­times will tar­get as an oppor­tu­ni­ty but end up com­pro­mis­ing or aban­don­ing the idea of mov­ing the blog to a direc­to­ry because it sim­ply won’t work.

Con­tent seems like the eas­i­est con­sis­ten­cy goal to tack­le. Just pub­lish on-top­ic con­tent that is use­ful to your tar­get audi­ences, right? I feel there is more to it. I believe con­sis­ten­cy in this case has to do with your style/tone, such as how The Onion uses an irrev­er­ent 404 Error page, keep­ing in theme with its satir­i­cal self.

Also, how con­sis­tent is your con­tent with that of the com­pe­ti­tion? I often rec­om­mend cre­at­ing a con­tent matrix to tru­ly under­stand what pages your com­peti­tors are using, and where the gaps exist that may cause your site to look incon­sis­tent when it comes to true rel­e­vance. This is also a reword­ing of a clas­sic SEO strat­e­gy and cre­at­ing pages to fill gaps found dur­ing key­word research.

The con­cept of link and author­i­ta­tive cita­tion con­sis­ten­cy is eas­i­er than it can be made out to be. SEOs some­times act like chil­dren in the way they think they can pull the wool over Google’s eyes when it comes to some link acqui­si­tion tac­tics. Pen­guin and man­u­al penal­ties have reformed many, but not those obliv­i­ous or stuck about 5 years behind evolv­ing “legit­i­mate” SEO.

Co-cita­tion and the under­stand­ing of rela­tion­ships between sites and indus­tries is prob­a­bly Google’s great­est strength, and it should be played-into. The old school link “build­ing” roux of dis­cov­er­ing who links to your com­peti­tors and try­ing to get those links still holds true.

In this last area, some are lucky than oth­ers because their “nature” is incon­sis­ten­cy, when it comes to inbound links. Broad­er news and infor­ma­tion pub­lish­ers have an eclec­tic link pat­tern both inbound and out­bound. Lever­age this under­stand­ing to be con­sis­tent in get­ting “off top­ic” links from places that link to a wide vari­ety of sub­jects, but also main­tain con­sis­ten­cy with your peers by get­ting the rel­e­vant links that help to iden­ti­fy your top­ic.

Michael Bonfils, CEO & President, International Media Management Corp.

Michael BonfilsI’d like to say it’s going to be more of the same, but it won’t.

Google’s busi­ness mod­el of a desk­top-based search engine adver­tis­ing plat­form faces some real chal­lenges as dif­fer­ent means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the devices that sup­port them, con­tin­ue to evolve. As a glob­al SEO provider, explain­ing to clients and their respec­tive agen­cies who part­ner with us that PPC, social, and dis­play all need to talk and work with us has them scratch­ing their heads ask­ing us why and to stay in our own cor­ner of the room.

To sur­vive as an SEO in 2016, it means to expand our knowl­edge, as well as the abil­i­ty to pro­vide this key­word-based world of ours to reach into social, dis­play, and paid search in a mobile world. Our job is no longer just dri­ving Google searchers to top rank­ings, it’s also dri­ving them to the plat­form expe­ri­ence – be it mobile, social, or apps – and hav­ing these vis­i­tors hope­ful­ly use our key­words and clients to advo­cate for that expe­ri­ence.

Google’s algo has no oth­er way to go but to evolve into AI that eval­u­ates “chat­ter” rather than rules. In 2016, our job will be cre­at­ing cross-chan­nel keyword/client “chat­ter” more than just links.

Brent Csutoras, Founder & CEO, Pixel Road Designs

Brent CsutorasFor too long, we have looked at our online mar­ket­ing cam­paigns as check­lists, where we focus more on get­ting all the checks rather than the qual­i­ty of the items we are check­ing off. In 2016, we have to start focus­ing on the qual­i­ty of every­thing we do, from the strat­e­gy, to the cre­ation, to the imple­men­ta­tion, the engage­ment, and ulti­mate­ly mea­sur­ing the return.

What is the point of spend­ing a lot of time, ener­gy, and resources on a cam­paign, that research would have shown you will not get the reac­tion you hoped for. Why cre­ate mul­ti­ple info­graph­ics, if they are aver­age qual­i­ty and won’t stand out from the thou­sands of oth­ers, and why run a mar­ket­ing cam­paign in a way that does­n’t speak to the audi­ence your tar­get­ing?

In 2016, the engines will con­tin­ue to focus on user expe­ri­ence, qual­i­ty, and per­son­al­iz­ing results for each user.

So you have to research what your audi­ence would like, what top­ics they actu­al­ly become vocal and take action behind, cre­ate your mar­ket­ing cam­paigns direct­ly for the audi­ence you are tar­get­ing, and make sure the qual­i­ty of what you are pro­duc­ing and pre­sent­ing is high enough it elic­its the action and response you need.

Dave Davies, CEO, Beanstalk Internet Marketing Inc.

Dave DaviesI strong­ly believe that 2016 is going to be the year that any sem­blance of using pure­ly old-school SEO tac­tics is culled with the focus of con­ver­sa­tions being around “web pres­ence” and less around “where do I rank today.”

With the release of Google’s Search Qual­i­ty Rat­ing Guide­lines there is a clear mes­sage: usabil­i­ty and user expe­ri­ence first with a focus on how clear and acces­si­ble the main con­tent of a spe­cif­ic page is. What we’ll be fur­ther wit­ness to through 2016 is the human rat­ings on actu­al expe­ri­ence (and not just con­tent) being inte­grat­ed into the algo­rithm through human algo­rithm adjust­ments and the fur­ther uti­liza­tion of AI to under­stand what the user would be or is expe­ri­enc­ing and adjust­ing page scores based on that.

Fur­ther, we’ll see mar­keters (those that aren’t culled) broad­en­ing their thoughts regard­ing Google organ­ic pres­ence beyond the rank­ing and some­times even beyond the click. This will come in the form of increased atten­tion being paid to fea­tured snip­pets and mobile where the click is often replaced with instant access to knowl­edge. In this area I high­ly rec­om­mend fol­low­ing Eric Enge of Stone Tem­ple Con­sult­ing who is per­form­ing some inter­est­ing tests.

Final­ly, in 2016 we’ll see an increased aware­ness by large brands on how to bet­ter uti­lize their data. We saw in 2015 Black Fri­day sales fall in the retail sec­tor by more than 10 per­cent with online sales pick­ing up the slack with a jump of 14.3 per­cent. Inter­est­ing­ly, email drove 25 per­cent more sales than in 2014, illus­trat­ing a far more effec­tive use of user data.

Anec­do­tal­ly, I noticed a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in how I was mar­ket­ed to dur­ing this peak sales peri­od with out­stand­ing use of both email and remar­ket­ing. Big brands are step­ping up their game. The ques­tion for 2016 is whether they will stay ahead or whether small­er com­pa­nies will make use of the tools and prin­ci­ples to take some of those sales back.

Sum­ming up, in 2016 busi­ness­es need to:

  • Focus on glob­al pres­ence and not just rank­ings.
  • Focus on mak­ing the main con­tent of your page quick­ly acces­si­ble, engag­ing and use­ful.
  • Think about the var­i­ous ways con­tent is being dis­played in search results and ques­tion how you can be present there.
  • Think about ways of using your cur­rent vis­i­tors and the data you hold to remar­ket to. Be smart and give them what they want.

Stoney deGeyter, CEO & Project Manager, Pole Position Marketing

Stoney deGeyterI would­n’t be sur­prised to see a greater influ­ence of the user expe­ri­ence in the search results. Google has already announced that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is now the third most influ­en­tial rank­ing fac­tor. While this is described more as a query pro­cess­ing algo­rithm, it’s not a far leap to see “RankBrain”, as they are call­ing it, begin to take over some of the oth­er rank­ing fac­tors that Google deems impor­tant.

That’s not to say that oth­er “old school” algo­rithm fac­tors will no longer apply. What is AI oth­er than an algo­rithm that learns to write itself? The Google search results, with­in just a few years, could pri­mar­i­ly be fueled by this learn­ing algo­rithm that that takes all the old school sig­nals into account.

Cur­rent­ly, engi­neers look at the data and tweak the algo­rithm accord­ing­ly. RankBrain could essen­tial­ly cut out the engi­neers to allow the algo­rithm to adapt on the fly, even minute by minute based on the data being pro­duced. With essen­tial­ly 40–50 or more algo­rithms being used, RankBrain could replace them all.

So where does user expe­ri­ence come into play?

A learn­ing algo­rithm can, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, do a bet­ter job at ana­lyz­ing searcher intent, and adjust accord­ing to mass behav­ior. Actu­al­ly, with enough com­put­ing pow­er, it could adjust accord­ing to indi­vid­ual behav­ior. Every click, every bounce, every time you scroll the search results, all of this data can be imme­di­ate­ly trans­lat­ed.

Yes, RankBrain is still look­ing at the data that the engi­neers are look­ing at, but it can more eas­i­ly inter­pret that data and rewrite, test and release the algo­rithm accord­ing­ly.

Google has already invest­ed a great amount of resources in cre­at­ing pre­dic­tive assis­tants. It won’t be too long before each of us feeds Google enough data for RankBrain to use your spe­cif­ic behav­ior to deliv­ers a com­plete­ly cus­tom set of search results craft­ed just for you.

Eric Enge, CEO, Stone Temple Consulting Corp.

Eric EngeThere are two major trends to fol­low dur­ing the course of 2016. These are:

1. A New Era of ‘Con­tent Effec­tive­ness Opti­miza­tion’

This is the notion of mea­sur­ing over­all user sat­is­fac­tion with the pages of your site, and striv­ing to increase that to high­er lev­els.

In Google’s Search Qual­i­ty Rat­ing Guide­lines, for the first time ever, Google intro­duced the con­cept of “Needs Met”. This is an eval­u­a­tion of whether pages returned in the search results actu­al­ly address the needs of the searchers. It does­n’t take much insight to real­ize that Google would not be col­lect­ing this data (at great expense) if they weren’t mak­ing active use of it.

Pan­da was only the first major algo­rithm that attempt­ed to mea­sure con­tent qual­i­ty. Google’s jour­ney down this path is con­tin­u­ing, and I believe they have many ways they try to assess con­tent qual­i­ty today.

The bot­tom line? If you can tune your web pages so that more peo­ple are sat­is­fied with the expe­ri­ence of your site, chances are good that this will lead to rank­ings increas­es for you over time.

2. The Rise of Machine Learn­ing

Google recent­ly announced an algo­rithm called Rankbrain. This algo is a machine learn­ing algo­rithm that they said had become the third most impor­tant fac­tors in rank­ings.

I’ve been able to have some con­ver­sa­tions with a Google spokesper­son, and what I learned is that con­trary to what some oth­ers in the trade press has said, the Rankbrain algo­rithm is applic­a­ble to all search queries, not just the long tail or more unusu­al ones. Here is what the spokesper­son said to me:

These sorts of sig­nals usu­al­ly aren’t restrict­ed to a spe­cif­ic por­tion of queries; it’s more that the effects are notice­able more for some queries than oth­ers.”

You can think of search engine algo­rithms as hav­ing tra­di­tion­al­ly hav­ing three com­po­nents:

  • Dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty (can they find the con­tent).
  • Rel­e­vance (what is the con­tent about).
  • Impor­tance (how does its val­ue com­pare to oth­er pages dis­cov­ered on the same top­ic).

Rankbrain improves search in a fourth area, that of bet­ter under­stand­ing the intent of the user’s query.

The fact that Google believes that this is work­ing real­ly well for them is a big deal. They will con­tin­ue to tune Rankbrain, as well as find oth­er ways to make use of machine learn­ing in their algos. You will also hear more and more about how oth­er com­pa­nies such as Face­book are using it.

We are enter­ing the first stage of the machine learn­ing rev­o­lu­tion. It has a long way to go before it peaks, but you will be hear­ing about it con­stant­ly from here on out.

Erin Everhart, Lead Manager, Digital Marketing — SEO, Home Depot

Erin EverhartWe’ve seen some pret­ty big changes in 2015 with organ­ic search – side note: I feel like we say that every year, so there’s even an under­ly­ing trend here: to just always expect things to change – that will car­ry into 2016, but the one that’s keep­ing me up at night is how dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent the SERP land­scape has changed.

Most notably are two things:

  • Google moved from a 7 Map Pack to a 3 Map Pack in August, which lim­its place­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, but the even more trou­bling sign is that the Google Snack Pack is appear­ing for more queries, on both desk­top and local, than the 7‑Pack Places was. Google isn’t serv­ing local results for just city-spe­cif­ic or “near-me” queries; it’s appear­ing for key head terms even if there’s no local intent (e.g., “pic­ture frames”).
  • Google is now show­ing three paid ads instead of two on mobile.

Both of those changes are push­ing your tra­di­tion­al 10 “free” organ­ic list­ings fur­ther down the page, and you bet­ter believe that’s going to have an impact on your CTR. I would­n’t be sur­prised if you start see­ing less traf­fic YOY even if you’ve main­tained a No. 1 rank­ing.

Maybe Google is just test­ing things out? Or maybe they’ll move to a com­plete­ly paid mod­el for all Map list­ings? Who knows at this point, but I think we’re going to start see­ing that a No. 1 rank­ing in 2016 isn’t near­ly as valu­able as a No. 1 rank­ing was in 2015. And frankly that’s a scary world to live in.

Duane Forrester, VP, Organic Search Optimization, Bruce Clay Inc.

Duane ForresterIn a sin­gle word, “use­ful­ness.”

The engines have been focused on this for a while now, the con­cept of get­ting clos­er to the root of what a searcher means, intends or desires.

Rel­e­van­cy” was the watch­word for the last few years. The prob­lem is that rel­e­van­cy is too nar­row, too eas­i­ly met today and does­n’t dive into the intent behind a query. If you can under­stand the intent, you’re orders of mag­ni­tude clos­er to solv­ing for what­ev­er the searcher actu­al­ly needs in the big pic­ture.

Busi­ness­es need to take the much-talked about yet often over looked step of tru­ly inte­grat­ing pro­grams in 2016. Cross shar­ing data between search and social both paid and organ­ic. They need to devel­op pro­grams for data cap­ture, research and insight deriva­tion. That will allow the pro­duc­tion of use­ful con­tent and expe­ri­ences, aligned with searcher needs, that the engines will eat up!

The engines want, first and fore­most, to have high­ly sat­is­fied cus­tomers. Your con­tent can be their answer. And when the engines win, you can win too.

Glenn Gabe, President, G‑Squared Interactive

Glenn GabeFor impor­tant trends in 2016 SEO-wise, I’ll focus on the top­ic from a Google algo­rithm update stand­point. In 2016, we expect the migra­tion of major algo­rithms like Pan­da and Pen­guin to Google’s core rank­ing algo­rithm, which can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on many sites across the web.

In the past, Google would unleash these algo­rithms in one fell swoop (and the impact could typ­i­cal­ly be seen on one spe­cif­ic day). With Google’s move to migrate these major algo­rithms to its core rank­ing algo, web­sites could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly see impact at any time. This is a huge shift for Google, and can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on web­sites once the migra­tion is com­plet­ed.


Between Pen­guin and Pan­da, it looks like Pen­guin will be the first to go real-time. Note, this was sup­posed to hap­pen in 2015, but Google recent­ly announced that the launch has been delayed (due to the hol­i­days). Need­less to say, many web­mas­ters and busi­ness own­ers impact­ed by pre­vi­ous Pen­guin updates are eager­ly await­ing the real-time Pen­guin.

Google’s Pen­guin algo­rithm, which heav­i­ly tar­gets unnat­ur­al links, has been dev­as­tat­ing for cer­tain web­sites. And it doesn’t help that Pen­guin has been a dis­as­ter of an algo­rithm recent­ly. There hasn’t been an update in close to a year, the last one (Pen­guin 3.0) was under­whelm­ing to say the least, and web­sites are still being fil­tered after per­form­ing a lot of reme­di­a­tion work.

We can only hope that the real-time Pen­guin has more of an impact than Pen­guin 3.0. Time will tell.

From a Pan­da stand­point, the update tar­get­ing low qual­i­ty con­tent has turned into a once-per-year update (when it used to roll out near-month­ly). The last offi­cial update was Pan­da 4.2 released on July 18, 2015. And sim­i­lar to Pen­guin 3.0, it was under­whelm­ing.

Google had tech­ni­cal prob­lems with the update, so there had to be an extend­ed roll­out (over months). Based on the slow roll­out, it was dif­fi­cult to see the impact (if any) across the web. Many sites that had been pre­vi­ous­ly impact­ed by Pan­da updates, espe­cial­ly Pan­da 4.1 and the 10/24/14 update, saw lit­tle impact from Pan­da 4.2.

If Pan­da does go real-time, sites could tech­ni­cal­ly see impact at any time with regard to low qual­i­ty con­tent. And “low qual­i­ty con­tent” can mean sev­er­al things. But, and this is impor­tant, it will be near-impos­si­ble to know that Pan­da is impact­ing your site. I’ve writ­ten about this prob­lem over the years (start­ing in 2013 when Google first hint­ed that Pan­da would go real-time at some point).

Why is this a prob­lem? Well, when you know you have been impact­ed by Pan­da, you could ana­lyze your site through the lens of the algo­rithm update. Then you can form a sol­id plan of attack for rec­ti­fy­ing con­tent qual­i­ty prob­lems. But if you don’t know Pan­da is impact­ing the site, you won’t know that con­tent qual­i­ty is a prob­lem hold­ing back your site.

So, you are left with decreas­ing Google organ­ic traf­fic with lit­tle clue about what the prob­lem is. Could it be tech­ni­cal, con­tent-relat­ed, links-relat­ed, etc?

Basi­cal­ly, both Pan­da and Pen­guin hav­ing the abil­i­ty to impact your site at any time with­out any sign they are impact­ing the site will leave many ques­tions about what to tack­le SEO-wise. This will undoubt­ed­ly lead to a lot of con­fu­sion and frus­tra­tion.

That said, the good news with bak­ing major algo­rithms into Google’s core rank­ing algo is that web­sites can see impact more fre­quent­ly based on the changes they are imple­ment­ing. The down­side is you won’t know which fac­tors are caus­ing drops or gains in Google organ­ic traf­fic. I think we’re all eager to see how this plays out.

One thing is for sure, 2016 will be an inter­est­ing ride algo-wise.

Megan Geiss, Marketing Strategy Director, Merkle | RKG

Megan GeissAs we look at 2016 to see what’s on tap for SEO, we must first real­ize those things from this past year that will con­tin­ue: mobile expan­sion and per­son­al­iza­tion.

The push for mobile to con­tin­ue to dom­i­nate is obvi­ous, with the app space get­ting more and more atten­tion. Mobile apps are tak­ing over the SERP land­scape and to be suc­cess­ful in mobile search, com­pa­nies are going to need to have opti­mized mobile apps with deep link­ing.

The oth­er area that will con­tin­ue to be impor­tant is per­son­al­iza­tion. Although not as present in organ­ic search, it will like­ly take on a big­ger play and become an impor­tant fac­tor.

Google wants us to deliv­er the best con­tent pos­si­ble for the unique user’s queries and will reward those com­pa­nies that do. Is this where RankBrain comes into play? Per­haps. There is a lot left to be seen and learned from Google’s machine-learn­ing and I think we are going to see more of that for 2016.

Casie Gillette, Director of Online Marketing, KoMarketing

Casie GilletteA cou­ple trends you need to watch are fea­tured snip­pets and brand equi­ty.

At this point we all under­stand the goal of Google is to give peo­ple the answer to their query as fast as pos­si­ble. But I also think over the past cou­ple years, we under­stand a bit more about what that real­ly means for web­sites.

Yes, Google wants to give peo­ple the answers but they want to give them the answers direct­ly with­in the search results — not by send­ing them to your web­site. In turn, we are see­ing a lot more fea­tured snip­pets in SERPs.

We are also see­ing brands become more pow­er­ful. Google wants to show their users trust­ed sources and that often means well-known brands.

There are a cou­ple things that come from this:

  • Brands have to refo­cus on how they can reach those top of the fun­nel con­sumers in search results when Google is try­ing to direct­ly pro­vide them the infor­ma­tion they need.
  • SEOs have to think beyond the web­site, beyond links, and real­ly con­sid­er the cus­tomer. Peo­ple are using oth­er chan­nels to dis­cov­er prod­ucts and com­pa­nies. They are ask­ing for rec­om­men­da­tions on social chan­nels and in forums. They are look­ing for reviews and they are gath­er­ing as much data as pos­si­ble before they even start the con­ver­sa­tion on your web­site. We have to make sure we (or our clients) are mon­i­tor­ing social media for the right key­word phras­es, answer­ing ques­tions in forums or in dis­cus­sion groups, and engag­ing our cus­tomers. We need our cus­tomers, poten­tial cus­tomers, and the gen­er­al pub­lic talk­ing about us because that’s how we become a trust­ed brand.

Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director, Acronym Media

Mike GrehanCon­tent gap analy­sis will be impor­tant in 2016. In fact, more pre­cise­ly, devel­op­ing con­tent around intent to pro­vide an expe­ri­ence and not just a result.

We’ve known for a long time in search that the notion of rel­e­vance has always been cen­tral to pro­vid­ing accu­rate results. But now, we need to think not just about “is the result rel­e­vant” but also “is the result use­ful in the moment?”

And that means putting a lot more thought into con­tent, not just because you think it may rank, but because it gen­uine­ly does sat­is­fy an infor­ma­tion need, at that pre­cise moment, for the end user.

  • Should the result for a spe­cif­ic moment be a web page?
  • Or would a video result or local map result bet­ter?
  • Would a sim­ple image be use­ful?
  • Should it be a short and con­cise result, or does it need a mul­ti-page PDF doc­u­ment?

2016 will be much more about “con­tent aware” strate­gies and “con­tent map­ping” solu­tions.

Jenny Halasz, President & Founder, JLH Marketing

Jenny HalaszIn 2016, we will see a sig­nif­i­cant trend toward tech­ni­cal SEO. Peo­ple will always have their fun pro­claim­ing SEO dead, but as Google los­es con­trol of their algo­rithm and ele­ments like RankBrain become more per­va­sive, the tech­ni­cal ele­ments of SEO will become ever more impor­tant.

Sites that fail with com­plex tech­ni­cal imple­men­ta­tions will suf­fer at the hands of the algo­rithm. Google will have a take-no-pris­on­ers atti­tude when hre­flang tags and schema are imple­ment­ed incor­rect­ly.

John Mueller was just recent­ly quot­ed say­ing that if you fail to pro­vide the hand­shake com­mand for an hre­flang tag, Google will just dis­re­gard it entire­ly. When Google does what they think is best, it usu­al­ly works out OK, but there are enough cas­es of them get­ting it 100 per­cent wrong that brands and mar­keters will need to mon­i­tor this to make sure they’re get­ting it right.

As speed, mobile deliv­ery, apps, and voice search func­tions become more impor­tant, we’re going to see an even fur­ther widen­ing of the gap between rich and poor. The large brands that can afford the sig­nif­i­cant bud­gets asso­ci­at­ed with imple­ment­ing these tech­ni­cal require­ments will con­tin­ue to dom­i­nate the SERPs, both local­ly and nation­al­ly. The small busi­ness­es, unable to keep pace, will fall by the way­side, and we’ll see a lot of great ideas go unno­ticed.

Final­ly, 2016 will be the year that we see links begin to get degrad­ed in the Google algo­rithm. The cul­ture of fear and para­noia that sur­rounds links (both inbound and out­bound) has infect­ed the main­stream.

Where once the pan­ic was con­fined only to SEOs and our ilk, it has now spread to major brands, major media, and pri­ma­ry sources that Google has tra­di­tion­al­ly used in the algo­rithm to deter­mine val­ue of a web­site. Fear and para­noia of a Google penal­ty with­out actu­al knowl­edge of how they work has bro­ken links as a rat­ing and rank­ing method.

It’s sig­nif­i­cant that the Pen­guin algo­rithm isn’t rolling out in 2015, and that it took more than 12 months to roll out last time. I believe the sig­nals Google used in that algo­rithm aren’t valid any­more, and there is an increas­ing lev­el of noise and con­fu­sion sur­round­ing links.

Instead, I believe that Google will use a sort of “author­i­ty rank” to deter­mine the val­ue of a site as their pri­ma­ry fac­tor rather than links. It may still use links in the com­pu­ta­tion, but I think it will encom­pass men­tions, shares, buzz, and asso­ciate pri­ma­ry indi­vid­u­als with com­pa­nies as sub­ject mat­ter experts. How exact­ly they’ll do this remains to be seen, but I think we can count on links not mat­ter­ing as much in the near future.

Christopher Hart, Head of Client Development, U.S., Linkdex

Christopher HartWe’re rapid­ly mov­ing toward a dig­i­tal world where mul­ti­ple envi­ron­ments will sim­ply become the envi­ron­ment in which users expe­ri­ence your stuff. So under­stand­ing your user will be crit­i­cal.

Four top trends to watch now:

1. User Expe­ri­ence

Users expect your site to work, whether they access your site through a brows­er or an app. Google (and search engines in gen­er­al) are work­ing to find ways that allow them to make judg­ments that aren’t game­able. So, expect user engage­ment met­rics to start caus­ing web­sites or pages to rank more favor­ably.

If a site is more use­ful, it’s more valu­able. Great con­tent that is use­ful and engag­ing to an audi­ence is valu­able. Use­ful­ness is a reward­ing fac­tor – it does­n’t mat­ter whether you have the great­est con­tent in the world.

2. Mobi­liza­tion & Apps Com­ing Togeth­er

Desk­top. Mobile. App. It’s all merg­ing.

Google and Apple have made huge strides in mak­ing apps more index­able. Google app usage can be a stream­ing expe­ri­ence from the cloud, not from your site.

Mobile envi­ron­ments will be the norm and users will con­tin­ue to engage with con­tent and medi­ums on the fly. Try­ing to reach your audi­ence while they’re sit­ting still in one loca­tion in front of a device is a los­ing strat­e­gy.

3. Big Data Will Become Nor­mal Data

More orga­ni­za­tions are get­ting their arms around this and big data will do more to break down cor­po­rate silos.

One exam­ple you should take notice of: Pub­li­cis Groupe. The agency made a seri­ous move, reor­ga­niz­ing itself to remove silos in a bid to become cus­tomer-cen­tric and ensure all their clients are ser­viced with the same data and tech­nol­o­gy.

4. Schema & Markup

Peo­ple who don’t take notice and markup their sites prop­er­ly will find less engage­ment hap­pen­ing. It’s an easy win to pro­vide your infor­ma­tion in a way that search engines will under­stand how to present it.

There are now hun­dreds of SERP vari­a­tions and the organ­ic click curve is chang­ing fast. Peo­ple are con­sum­ing more info at a glance. One of your jobs is put the most “glance­able” infor­ma­tion in front of peo­ple.

Bill Hartzer, Senior Strategist, Globe Runner

Bill HartzerFor 2016, con­tent will remain king, so to speak, and pub­lish­ing con­tent on a reg­u­lar basis will con­tin­ue to be impor­tant. For 2016, though, since search engines are much more aware of actu­al user engage­ment met­rics (espe­cial­ly on the social side), cre­at­ing con­tent that real­ly res­onates well with peo­ple will be key. Not only do you need to cre­ate good con­tent, but that con­tent must be some­thing that users, real peo­ple, engage with.

Your social strat­e­gy must be tight­ly inte­grat­ed and coor­di­nat­ed with your search strat­e­gy, because in 2016, it’s going to be even more con­nect­ed. Your web­site just won’t rank well if it’s not liked by real peo­ple.

For 2016, it’s impor­tant to have a good edi­to­r­i­al cal­en­dar that not only tar­gets your main key­words, but those key­words need to be inte­grat­ed into larg­er top­ics that you cov­er. Those top­ics should then be cov­ered in depth, espe­cial­ly in a way that is use­ful for your ide­al web­site vis­i­tors. Then, use social media to help pro­mote your con­tent in a way that not only dri­ves them to your web­site but also encour­ages engage­ment.

Kristjan Hauksson COO & Partner, SMFB Engine

Face­book has moved clos­er to the search expe­ri­ence I was hop­ing for and will go fur­ther toward that in 2016, this might cre­ate the Social Search Engine Opti­miz­er or the SSEO. This is not only because of Face­book but also Twit­ter and oth­er more organ­ic social media net­works crawled by Google.

SEO gained a bit of a momen­tum in 2015 and will keep on doing so in 2016 with still more empha­sis on social media sig­nals and the mobile expe­ri­ence. This was under­lined mid-year 2015 when Google’s John Mueller stat­ed that sites with­out a ded­i­cat­ed desk­top ver­sion would not suf­fer any rank­ing penal­ties.

I am also see­ing indi­ca­tions that video will start to play an even big­ger role is 2016.

Fun­da­men­tal­ly, 2015 ver­sus 2016 SEO will not change. It’s still about good con­tent and user expe­ri­ence. And remem­ber that title tags still mat­ter.

Christina Hecht, Senior SEO Strategist, Vertical Measures

Christina HechtHead­ing into 2016, one trend we’ve seen with big brands and small­er clients alike is the need to get more ROI from exist­ing con­tent, which involves cir­cling back to old­er con­tent, improv­ing it, and repub­lish­ing it.

We know that Google responds well to fresh con­tent, so for years, brands and web­site own­ers have got­ten the mes­sage that they need to con­sis­tent­ly pub­lish new con­tent. But cre­at­ing brand new con­tent isn’t always pos­si­ble and it’s cer­tain­ly not the only strat­e­gy to pur­sue.

In fact, it’s a mis­take to over­look the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lever­age exist­ing con­tent that you’ve already invest­ed in and has proven suc­cess­ful. Things change dai­ly, so take anoth­er look at your exist­ing con­tent to ensure that your pre-2016 con­tent still makes sense in the new year.

2016 will bring even more fre­quent change than ever before, with real-time updates to the Google Pan­da and Pen­guin algo­rithm updates hap­pen­ing now or in ear­ly 2016, respec­tive­ly. Plus, a brand’s user per­sonas and com­pe­ti­tion have like­ly changed over time, which war­rants giv­ing exist­ing con­tent anoth­er look and a fresh­en­ing-up.

My best advice? Fol­low this five-step process to squeeze more juice from old­er con­tent with min­i­mal effort:

  1. Pri­or­i­tize con­tent that once per­formed well but has recent­ly become less effec­tive.
  2. Check to see if the con­tent still aligns with the types of search­es your cur­rent user persona(s) might make and their expec­ta­tions of your page. If it doesn’t, tweak it to meet your searcher’s intent.
  3. Improve the con­tent with seman­tic key­words (syn­onyms, close-vari­ants and tan­gen­tial­ly-relat­ed phras­es), Hum­ming­bird-style queries and easy-to-con­sume for­mat­ting (bul­lets, tables, images).
  4. Repub­lish the con­tent and ampli­fy it as you would a new piece of con­tent: Share it, tweet it, pro­mote it, post it, reach out to influ­encers, and earn new links.
  5. Mea­sure the results and learn from them; KPIs include rank­ings, traf­fic, SERP CTR, engage­ment, bounce, con­ver­sions, etc.

Jim Hedger, Creative Partner, Digital Always Media inc.

Jim HedgerSearch doesn’t change with the pre­ci­sion or plan­ning we might expect from the smartest tech­nol­o­gists in the world. It evolves with its envi­ron­ment, albeit often in stag­ger­ing leaps.

The search engines and social media tools tend to go where the users are, or where they expect their users to be in the future. Google’s mis­sion is still based on mak­ing the world’s infor­ma­tion free and deliv­er­ing it by pro­duc­ing the best search result sets based on query and user behav­ior.

The key phrase for SEOs: “user behav­ior.” Every­thing is about adapt­ing to or pro­mot­ing behav­iors. (A con­ver­sion is a favor­able behav­ior.) After all, it is no good to make changes or pro­mote evo­lu­tion if the users are not going to appre­ci­ate them or worse yet, if the users are migrat­ing to anoth­er ecosys­tem.

Mobile Every­thing

In a data-dri­ven world, every­thing is mobile. I can’t do the sim­plest things such as rak­ing leaves in the back­yard, walk­ing to the cor­ner store, or even doing laun­dry in the base­ment with­out first being sure whichev­er mobile device I’m using is in my pock­et.

We con­sult mobile devices to con­firm long known sur­face routes, sub­way, and bus sched­ules. We use them when shop­ping to see if some­thing less expen­sive can be found else­where. While watch­ing a hock­ey game, my girl­friend and I will often be on one of four mobile devices strewn across the liv­ing room table. I have one cra­dled in my ear as I type this sen­tence.

Google has been push­ing mobile friend­ly design for the last few years and that will con­tin­ue in 2016 with sup­port for Accel­er­at­ed Mobile Pages. AMP strips all unessen­tial JS queries from source code to build a faster load­ing and page which is less reliant on mul­ti­ple third-par­ty servers.

Google’s sup­port is anoth­er in a series of sig­nals sug­gest­ing Google expects more users to gen­er­ate more queries using mobile devices. (Mobile queries passed the 50 per­cent mark some­time in the sum­mer of 2015.)

User Expe­ri­ence

As the Inter­net Adver­tis­ing Bureau (IAB) belat­ed­ly dis­cov­ered, cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive user expe­ri­ence is crit­i­cal to actu­al­ly ben­e­fit­ing from user accep­tance. In a rush to sell ad space on any pos­si­ble high traf­fic online prop­er­ty, pub­lish­ers and mark­ers made some major mis­takes which Google moved to cor­rect.

Inter­sti­tial ads can make the mobile expe­ri­ence exas­per­at­ing, espe­cial­ly if they appear every time the same URL is loaded. Worse than that, auto-run video ads are annoy­ing, deplete bat­ter­ies rapid­ly and eat a lot band­width.

Google has been clear about its dis­like of degrad­ed user expe­ri­ences. SEOs should clear­ly avoid site ele­ments that degrade or defeat a mobile ses­sion. Expect Google to demand high­er qual­i­ty user expe­ri­ence, espe­cial­ly in the mobile envi­ron­ment.

Qual­i­ty Con­tent

Good con­tent isn’t going to be good enough if it is rid­dled with inac­cu­ra­cies. Google is like­ly to begin some form of algo­rith­mic fact check­ing, espe­cial­ly around web­sites offer­ing crit­i­cal health, finan­cial, polit­i­cal, real estate, news and busi­ness infor­ma­tion, or prod­ucts.

Google already per­forms fact check­ing oper­a­tions on local busi­ness list­ings so “begin” might be the wrong word. Extend might be clos­er but in the near future Google will be capa­ble of look­ing inside itself to ver­i­fy the accu­ra­cy of infor­ma­tion found on any giv­en page.

Deep Thoughts

I want to write about the impact of Google and IBM open sourc­ing their first gen­er­a­tions of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence but that would require far too many words. Suf­fice it to say the advent of what are essen­tial­ly super-com­put­ers being opened to the gen­er­al pub­lic will have pro­found effects on how mar­keters learn to under­stand the oceans of con­sumer data we have at our dis­pos­al.

Expect new ana­lyt­ic met­rics to emerge as user behav­ior and intent are bet­ter inter­pret­ed by an already high­ly ana­lyt­ic adver­tis­ing sec­tor. Ana­lyt­ic mar­keters have found a myr­i­ad of ways to pre­dict a user’s life expe­ri­ence.

Remem­ber the Tar­get direct mail cam­paign that acci­den­tal­ly announced a teen daughter’s preg­nan­cy to her fam­i­ly? That trick was accom­plished because one of Target’s mar­keters got the idea to per­son­al­ly exam­ine the shop­ping habits of women who had signed up for Target’s baby reg­istry. Once that mar­keter com­pared the items reg­u­lar­ly pur­chased by sev­er­al self-report­ed preg­nant women he was able to extrap­o­late that most women who pur­chased X, Y, and, Z were very like­ly preg­nant them­selves.

Imag­ine what we’ll be able to learn about con­sumers with the algo­rith­mic aid of rudi­men­ta­ry A.I. in the com­ing months and years.


The slow march of the Pen­guins might stop in 2016. I’m in the camp that thinks Google final­ly broke itself some­time back in 2013 or 2014 and has been des­per­ate­ly try­ing to patch mas­sive holes rather than rebuild­ing itself.

For what it’s worth, this sit­u­a­tion was pre­dict­ed way back in 2003 when Google links became com­modi­ties that were being bought and sold based on what Google showed as PageR­ank. The only sur­prise is how long it’s tak­en to scale into the algo­rith­mic dis­as­ter it has become.

I don’t expect the Pen­guin link eval­u­a­tion ever-flux project to ever be com­plet­ed, even though like every oth­er SEO I’ve been push­ing my clients to pay strict atten­tion to their link foot­prints, how links are phrased on their pages, and to whom they choose to link to.


A quick and dirty pre­dic­tion to fin­ish on… AOL will buy the assets of Yahoo for $4.2 bil­lion and the promise of free email accounts for all Yahoo employ­ees for the rest of their nat­ur­al born lives. If those employ­ees’ brain pat­ter­ing is ever trans­ferred to any A.I. oth­er than the one Maris­sa May­er keeps tucked away in her sec­ondary shoe clos­et, those email accounts will be closed faster than the last Yahoo board meet­ing will be.

For the record, pre­dict­ing the evo­lu­tion of envi­ron­ments is as dif­fi­cult as pre­dict­ing the weath­er. Many if not all of these ideas might be wrong. It’s not like Google or Bing have fol­lowed the most log­i­cal paths to get to this point.

Jon Henshaw, Co-Founder & President, Raven Internet Marketing Tools

Jon HenshawTwo trends to watch:

Device Respon­sive­ness and Speed

As most search mar­keters already know, mobile search­es have sur­passed desk­top search­es. That means if you don’t have a mobile-friend­ly site, you could be miss­ing out on a lot of traf­fic right now.

In 2016, I think Google will step up their efforts to dis­play results that are more ful­ly opti­mized for the device that’s access­ing their search engine. In par­tic­u­lar, they will focus on speed and start to give spe­cial atten­tion to tablets.

SEOs will need to do what­ev­er they can to speed up and improve the UX of their sites. Imple­ment­ing SRCSET for their images and improv­ing the UX for tablets is a good place to start.

Bifur­ca­tion of Sites and Apps in Search

It’s becom­ing clear that both web­sites and apps are here to stay. Google has fig­ured out that peo­ple may want either one (or both) based on their inter­ests, needs and usage pat­terns. If busi­ness­es have an app or are plan­ning to cre­ate one, they should take full advan­tage of Google’s App Index­ing.

Bill Hunt, President, Back Azimuth Consulting

Bill Hunt2016 will be the year of searcher inter­est align­ment.

Suc­cess­ful search mar­keters will need to cre­ate new key­word phrase to con­tent maps that focus on the “why behind the query” and then ensure the paired con­tent sat­is­fies the needs of searchers. You’ll need to go beyond qual­i­ty con­tent and think about the best for­mat that ampli­fies the align­ment.

Device and loca­tion-cen­tric con­tent will be more impor­tant. It will be essen­tial for search mar­keters to cre­ate a holis­tic approach con­sid­er­ing the dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions for the same set of key­words.

Brands will need to broad­en the lens and focus on over­all find­abil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly out­side tra­di­tion­al search engines, by inte­grat­ing video, social net­works, and specif­i­cal­ly apps.

Mark Jackson, President & CEO of Vizion Interactive

I think more and more peo­ple are buy­ing into the con­cept of SEO (bud­get­ing for “SEO”), but they’re call­ing it “con­tent mar­ket­ing”. Because of this, the root of our prac­tice is going underserved/unnoticed and I think it’s time to revis­it the tech­ni­cal and archi­tec­tur­al foun­da­tion.

SEO has evolved a bunch over the years, but the core of our prac­tice should always be ensur­ing that a web­site is prop­er­ly archi­tect­ed and can be cor­rect­ly crawled, indexed, and cached. Too often, I am see­ing peo­ple make a mess out of their robots.txt, on-page meta and/or sitemaps.

For exam­ple, peo­ple hasti­ly mov­ing to https, but for­get­ting that they need to fol­low cer­tain steps to ensure a smooth tran­si­tion. Or, ecom­merce web­sites that fail to fol­low prop­er pro­ce­dures with pag­i­na­tion / canon­i­cal­iza­tion. It is this foun­da­tion that allows the rest of it to be suc­cess­ful. With­out this foun­da­tion, you’re build­ing a stilt house made of tooth­picks.

Fun­da­men­tal things, from my per­son­al expe­ri­ence this past year, seem to be tak­ing a back seat to “doing con­tent”. Maybe they’ll dress up the con­tent by pay­ing for some social shar­ing of the con­tent, or even do some actu­al out­reach to pro­mote the con­tent to the right peo­ple.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s all impor­tant.

But, if I were to pre­dict “the big thing” for 2016, it would be get­ting clients to remem­ber that there is still a tech­ni­cal side to SEO and it’s a vital one.

Some great tools that I’ve been using more, recent­ly, include Deep Crawl and Visu­al SEO. Get­ting a real sense for how a site is crawled, the effi­cien­cy of the crawl, and then ver­i­fy­ing the index­a­tion with a view of Google’s cache/Google Page Speed tests. These are fun­da­men­tal ele­ments that all SEOs should pay close atten­tion to, espe­cial­ly for large ecom­merce web­sites.

Ammon Johns, Internet Marketing Consultant

Ammon Johns2016 marks a nec­es­sary shift towards play­ing hard­ball. There are two ways this will hap­pen:

Reeval­u­ate Your Posi­tion on Apps

Apps are a great way to gain addi­tion­al data, since cus­tomers using the app are logged in, or oth­er­wise iden­ti­fi­able by default if your app is built cor­rect­ly. That means that you want to be think­ing of an app for your busi­ness as the new form of store card or loy­al­ty card.

You should be incen­tiviz­ing use of the app over use of the web­site with dis­counts or reward points so that you col­lect more of that valu­able data, and let less of it be giv­en away to third par­ty ser­vices and track­ers.

Once users have your app and know it gives them points or dis­counts they are more like­ly to use the app rather than search­es that could make you fight for posi­tion against com­peti­tors all over again every time.

Real­ize Google is Your Rival

If you haven’t already done this, then 2016 must be the year that you real­ize that Google is not your friend, nor even your ally. Yes, there are times that Google will do you a good turn, but only when it suits their objec­tives.

Ide­al­ly as a busi­ness, once you have served a cus­tomer, you want them to come direct­ly to you the next time. Google is absolute­ly your rival in this.

Google has its own busi­ness and brand to pro­mote, way above yours. Google would hap­pi­ly be telling peo­ple in your store, via apps or Google Glass, “Hey, that item you are look­ing at is cheap­er in anoth­er store.”

You need to remem­ber that Google is a rival, and seek to cut them out of the deal in future wher­ev­er you can.

Dixon Jones, Marketing Director, Majestic

Dixon JonesLast year I pre­dict­ed a move towards inte­grat­ed online, offline, and mul­ti-touch ana­lyt­ics. It’s hard­ly a trend, but I wasn’t the only one to sug­gest it (Ammon Johns and Erin Ever­hart to name just two). It is still com­ing – in many ways it’s already here, with the inevitable back­lash of Apple vol­un­teer­ing ad block­ing soft­ware.

But now SEOs have big­ger prob­lems. Machine learn­ing and Google’s Knowl­edge Graph devel­op­ment will make rank check­ing much less reli­able and will reduce the cor­re­la­tion between vis­i­bil­i­ty in search results and traf­fic to and through your web­site.

Truth­ful­ly, web­sites are becom­ing a small­er part of the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing mix. It isn’t that vis­i­tors to the web­site are declin­ing, but savvy dig­i­tal mar­keters are try­ing to win hearts and minds of users before they reach the web­site and, in many cas­es, the user nev­er even needs to go to the web­site.

This sim­ply makes the need for mul­ti­chan­nel, mul­ti-touch attri­bu­tion more acute than ever if we are ever to under­stand our user’s jour­ney and mind­set.

In terms of pure search, this will mean more empha­sis on opti­miz­ing for Face­book, for Ama­zon, or eBay, depend­ing on your busi­ness mod­el. Oh, and Apple Search? Let’s see…

Ryan Jones, Manager Search Strategy & Analytics, SapientNitro

Ryan JonesOne trend will be mov­ing from big data back to small data. As SEO matures into “real mar­ket­ing,” brands will focus less on van­i­ty met­rics and more on action­able SEO data that helps dri­ve con­ver­sions.

SEO will con­tin­ue to be less about the algo­rithm and more about under­stand­ing what the user is try­ing to accom­plish. The con­cept of accom­plish­ing tasks will be big.

If your site is based on show­ing facts or pub­lic domain infor­ma­tion, it will con­tin­ue to lose traf­fic. How peo­ple search is chang­ing, it’s no longer about words on a page – it’s more about actions or “verbs.”

Sites that under­stand that user intent and help them “do some­thing” will be clear win­ners while sites that are mere­ly infor­ma­tion with ads will con­tin­ue to lose out.

Julie Joyce, Owner, LinkFish Media

Julie JoyceThe biggest trend we’ll see in 2016, espe­cial­ly for big brands, is that they’ll start being every­where. They won’t just pub­lish con­tent on their own sites, for exam­ple. They’ll cre­ate amaz­ing con­tent that is host­ed only on an app or as a guest piece on anoth­er site.

As peo­ple start to con­sume con­tent from sources oth­er than just the SERPs, it’s going to be crit­i­cal to be able to bring users to you through var­i­ous plat­forms, like Face­book and Insta­gram.

Big brands need as many avenues of traf­fic as pos­si­ble. They need to inter­act with con­sumers all over the place and pay atten­tion to where their audi­ence goes.

If you’re push­ing recipes, for exam­ple, you’re prob­a­bly going to have greater suc­cess with Pin­ter­est, Insta­gram, or Face­book than you would if you pub­lished them on LinkedIn. It might seem obvi­ous to say that, but you’d be sur­prised at how many peo­ple aren’t real­ly think­ing about that.

Krista LaRiviere, Co-Founder & CEO, gShift

Krista LaRiviereSEO now stands for Strate­gies for Earned and Owned with a focus on long-term dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty and smarter con­tent mar­ket­ing. With this in mind, mar­keters in 2016 will need to con­tin­ue with all of the tra­di­tion­al SEO best prac­tices, plus be aware of two trends impact­ing the exe­cu­tion, mea­sure­ment and ulti­mate suc­cess of a web pres­ence or indi­vid­ual con­tent cam­paigns: influ­encer mar­ket­ing and off-site ana­lyt­ics.

On the exe­cu­tion side, an opti­mized con­tent mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy designed to beat the com­pe­ti­tion will focus on con­tent dis­tri­b­u­tion, ampli­fi­ca­tion, and audi­ence devel­op­ment through influ­encer mar­ket­ing. From find­ing the best influ­encers who share a tar­get audi­ence, to man­ag­ing con­tent cre­ation and ampli­fi­ca­tion, to track­ing which influ­encer in which chan­nel is the most impact­ful to your brand – dig­i­tal influ­encer mar­ket­ing is key.

On the mea­sure­ment side, it’s off-site ana­lyt­ics. With 67 per­cent of a prospect’s jour­ney occur­ring off-site, brands require, but are lack­ing, insight into engage­ment and inter­ac­tion of their exter­nal con­tent assets.

A recent Google’s patent fil­ing fur­ther con­firms the impor­tance of off-site con­tent for rel­e­van­cy and trust of a web pres­ence, as well as the behav­ioral trend prospects are demon­strat­ing by con­tin­u­ing to inform them­selves in social and oth­er off-site pres­ence points. This trend makes it dif­fi­cult for stan­dard ana­lyt­ics pack­ages to rep­re­sent the full dataset.

Influ­encer mar­ket­ing (a sig­nif­i­cant dri­ver of off-site con­tent) requires influ­encer ana­lyt­ics. Plat­forms and tech­nolo­gies are start­ing to address this gap.

Martin Macdonald, Head of SEO, Orbitz Worldwide

Martin MacdonaldSince 2007, Google have declared every year, the “year of mobile”.

In April (2015) we also went through the “mobi­leged­don” update that proved to be any­thing but a mas­sive shake­up that Google told us it would be.

Despite all this, we’re for the first time fac­ing a new real­i­ty that must be dealt with, along­side desk­top search. Almost every traf­fic report we’ve seen towards the end of the year, par­tic­u­lar­ly around Black Friday/Cyber Mon­day has shown mobile and desk­top traf­fic to be at near par­i­ty.

This alone should be enough to re-pri­or­i­tize mobile SEO along­side desk­top, but it doesn’t end there.

Big brands typ­i­cal­ly have native Android and iOS apps, and the recent moves by Google to live stream unin­stalled apps direct­ly to con­sumers phones, in a pseu­do-VPN envi­ron­ment, along­side full app index­ing, opens up a new fron­tier.

Typ­i­cal web­sites have always strug­gled to match con­ver­sion rates, and under­ly­ing usabil­i­ty on small screened devices. These restric­tions have nev­er pre­sent­ed as big a prob­lem in native apps, where we can tai­lor the user expe­ri­ence with much greater finesse.

There­fore, for any brand that rely on a cer­tain amount of organ­ic search, and (like most) have con­ver­sion issues with that traf­fic – get­ting your app streamed direct­ly could be a mas­sive game chang­er, and will re-focus SEOs beyond the web, and into native apps, in a way that hasn’t hap­pened to date.

Roger Montti, Owner,

Roger MonttiThe obvi­ous answer is mobile. But it’s not mobile. Mobile is a part of larg­er and more impor­tant trend.

The impor­tant trend for 2016 is focus­ing on user expe­ri­ence. User expe­ri­ence is increas­ing­ly deter­min­ing whether a site is going to be ranked for mobile search. Focus­ing on user expe­ri­ence can lead to remark­able improve­ments in rank­ing, con­ver­sion rates, social shares, traf­fic, and sales.

The phrase “user expe­ri­ence” is ref­er­enced 23 times in Google’s Qual­i­ty Rat­ing Guide­lines. These guide­lines are used by human qual­i­ty raters to cre­ate a ref­er­ence set of qual­i­ty judg­ments that can be used to train algo­rithms to scale the job of rat­ing the qual­i­ty of a web­site, like the Pan­da algo­rithm.

Human qual­i­ty raters are also used to eval­u­ate the suc­cess of algo­rithms. At the heart of these clas­si­fiers, which are used to clas­si­fy the suc­cess of the algo­rithms, is the phrase “user expe­ri­ence.”

User expe­ri­ence is one of the key qual­i­ty sig­nals used by the human qual­i­ty raters and by the algo­rithms. That’s what the page lay­out algo­rithm was all about. It’s at the heart of Pan­da.

To under­line the algo­rith­m’s focus on user expe­ri­ence, the new mobile sec­tion of Google’s qual­i­ty rater guide is called, “Under­stand­ing Mobile User Needs.”

It’s not about fast down­loads, asyn­chro­nous scripts, or remov­ing ren­der block­ing scripts. Those play a role, but a role is one part of a larg­er whole.

When you align your web and mobile strat­e­gy to user expe­ri­ence mod­els you will be a good deal ahead toward scor­ing bet­ter on the qual­i­ty sig­nals that algo­rithms today are look­ing for. User expe­ri­ence is deeply embed­ded in the algo­rithms of today and no doubt more so in 2016.

Lee OddenCEO, TopRank Online Marketing

Lee OddenMar­keters can hypoth­e­size year after year about what com­pa­nies should do in order to win at SEO, but the obfus­ca­tion of actu­al cause and effect by Google of any sin­gu­lar­ly use­ful tac­tic is hard­ly fuel for a reli­able pre­dic­tion. From RankBrain to Pan­da penal­iza­tions, SEO can seem a lot more like a game of algo­rithm whack-a-mole than mar­ket­ing that gen­er­ates rev­enue.

So, what should com­pa­nies do to win at SEO in 2016? They should start by focus­ing on the thing that tac­tic-agnos­tic mar­keters have always relied upon: cus­tomer cen­tric­i­ty.

Think about it: If Google’s pur­suit of deliv­er­ing the best answers in search results is pri­mar­i­ly based on con­sumer behav­ior and pref­er­ences, then why should­n’t your mar­ket­ing and SEO?

Of course there’s tremen­dous impor­tance on the tech­ni­cal side of SEO, top­ic demand and sig­nals that point to con­tent. Before all of that, win­ning with SEO requires cus­tomer insight and plan­ning. It means under­stand­ing cus­tomer behav­iors in terms of:

  • Infor­ma­tion dis­cov­ery (desk­top, tablet, mobile, search, social, influ­encers, sub­scrip­tions)
  • Con­tent top­ic and media type pref­er­ences (yes — key­words, text, images, video, long or short form, facts, sto­ries)
  • Trig­gers that inspire tak­ing action (tri­al, demo, sub­scribe, share, inquire, test, con­sul­ta­tion, pur­chase, refer, advo­cate)

Know your cus­tomers and opti­mize accord­ing­ly. Google is after the same cus­tomers with their ads, so make sure your con­tent is opti­mized for click as much as it is for place­ment.

Does it still make sense to use search data to inspire con­tent, site archi­tec­ture, pro­mo­tion and link attrac­tion? Of course it does. What about tech­ni­cal SEO to solve site per­for­mance, dupli­cate con­tent and opti­mal crawl­ing? Yes again.

But at the same time, focus on what makes cus­tomer tick. Use SEO to make it easy for cus­tomers to do what they want to do and you’ll find your­self less dis­tract­ed by shiny SEO tac­tics of the past and focused instead on cus­tomer acqui­si­tion that dri­ves mar­ket­ing per­for­mance in the future.

Chuck Price, Founder, Measurable SEO

Chuck PricePen­guin 4.0 is com­ing in 2016 and it’s going to rock the world of organ­ic search. More than a year has passed since the last Pen­guin refresh. Web­mas­ter trends ana­lyst Gary Illyes was quot­ed as say­ing “The new Pen­guin update will make webmaster’s life eas­i­er a bit and for most peo­ple it will make it a delight.”

In Novem­ber, it was dis­cov­ered the algo­rithm was still unfin­ished. A few weeks lat­er, on Decem­ber 3, it was report­ed “With the hol­i­days upon us, it looks like the pen­guins won’t march until next year.” The new algo­rithm could make life eas­i­er for “most” peo­ple, but that still leaves anoth­er 49.9 per­cent at risk.

Google now has reams of user-gen­er­at­ed data con­cern­ing spam­my links. You and I refer to this data as a dis­avow file. There’s no ques­tion that good links get dis­avowed every day, but the sheer vol­ume of spam link data that is shared with Google would place these links as out­liers. Fac­tor in machine learn­ing, like RankBrain, and there’s a whole lot of links that could poten­tial­ly be ren­dered impo­tent or tox­ic overnight.

Google has been dis­count­ing the val­ue of spam­my links for years, and upped the ante with Pen­guin mak­ing class­es of links “tox­ic.” I sus­pect the new algo­rithm will take the evo­lu­tion of link val­ue to the next lev­el – plac­ing a pre­mi­um on seman­ti­cal­ly relat­ed links. Rel­e­vance will replace PageR­ank. I believe this will become par­tic­u­lar­ly evi­dent in 2016.

The biggest Pen­guin 4.0 win­ners will be major brands that attract scores of edi­to­ri­al­ly links nat­u­ral­ly. Small­er com­pa­nies that use con­tent mar­ket­ing to attract relat­ed, edi­to­r­i­al links will also be “delight­ed.”

The biggest Pen­guin 4.0 losers will be brands that con­tin­ue to abuse guest post­ing as a way to manip­u­late rank­ings. Com­pa­nies that mar­ket them­selves as SEOs, but sell noth­ing but spam; black hat SEOs, and their unwit­ting clients, that rely on pri­vate blog net­works.

Matt Roberts, Chief Strategy Officer, Linkdex

MattRoberts1The recipe for 101 SEO remains sim­ple and unchanged. Cre­ate con­tent that match­es key­word intent. Put the con­tent inside rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, com­ple­ment­ed with smart tech­ni­cal SEO, then know why peo­ple would link and find ways of mak­ing it hap­pen. Giv­en the sim­plic­i­ty of this, why aren’t more web­site more opti­mized? For exam­ple, why don’t more web­site have an opti­mal amount of con­tent?

When you explore this you dis­cov­er that there are lots of rea­sons. Most of them have less to do with know-how and more to do with pol­i­tics, resources, and effort.

I see tech­nol­o­gy help­ing with this a lot going for­ward. I pre­dict that 2016 is going to be char­ac­ter­ized by data, machine learn­ing, and soft­ware com­ing togeth­er to take more of the strain out of “best prac­tice” SEO to allow SEOs to spend more of their time doing more cre­ative and team ori­en­tat­ed mar­ket­ing tasks.

Dave Rohrer, Founder at NorthSide Metrics

Dave RohrerLike every­one that makes “pre­dic­tions” on what the trends will be I had to go and read what I said last year just to see how far wrong or on the mon­ey I was. Ver­dict: not too shab­by.

I spent the first four months of 2015 at an agency where I worked with very large brands, and while some were look­ing to the future, I can’t say they all were. Since April, I have been run­ning my own small one man shop. In work­ing with com­pa­nies of dif­fer­ent size, I noticed some sim­i­lar­i­ties in how they approach con­tent mar­ket­ing.

The thing is, no mat­ter the size of the com­pa­ny or the qual­i­ty of the con­tent pro­duced, you still need to do one thing: mar­ket your con­tent mar­ket­ing con­tent. I have start­ed to say this more and more, and hope­ful­ly peo­ple will do it more in 2016, but we shall see.

So to all those cre­at­ing great con­tent, do remem­ber that this is not your “Field of Dreams”. If you build it, the traf­fic, links, and sales won’t just come with­out you doing some work to pro­mote it. You need to mar­ket your con­tent mar­ket­ing con­tent!

Kristine Schachinger, CEO & Founder, The Vetters Agency

Kristine SchachingerIt seems like we say the same things most years, but sad­ly sites are becom­ing increas­ing­ly poor­er at deliv­er­ing the results they could be pro­vid­ing their site own­ers.

While spam was once Google’s largest focus, user expe­ri­ence has become almost an equal cross for sites to bear. As time goes on, Google only con­tin­ues to increase that focus.

Yet even with the new algo­rithms that strict­ly address usabil­i­ty, sites are get­ting more unus­able. We com­mon­ly see sites becom­ing more a plat­form for adver­tis­ing rev­enue than for user engage­ment and we reg­u­lar­ly see page sizes rang­ing from 5MB-20MB and tech­ni­cal SEO almost over­looked.

Google is clear on all these items. They want you to pro­vide a bet­ter user expe­ri­ence. Sites that do this well will be reward­ed. Sites that don’t risk being deval­ued.

So if you want to get ahead in 2016? Make sure your ads don’t vio­late Google’s page lay­out spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Cre­ate pages that down­load at under a MB or two, and get a tech­ni­cal site audit see what else is hold­ing your site back.

Next, make sure you add schema to your site. With the con­tin­ued expan­sion of the knowl­edge graph Google is going to be putting more empha­sis on your schema mark-up and if your com­peti­tor is doing it bet­ter than you, they will win the organ­ic race. This is no longer a “what if”, it is a site must.

Final­ly, be care­ful of over­look­ing your organ­ic search traf­fic for social media refer­rers such as Face­book. Face­book and oth­er social media traf­fic come from closed eco-sys­tems that want your mon­ey. Although they hold a large place in the expand­ing realm of organ­ic vis­i­bil­i­ty, that traf­fic can also all but dis­ap­pear at a moment’s notice with no chance at recov­ery. Leav­ing you with less rev­enue and you in need of a much larg­er adver­tis­ing bud­get.

So don’t over­look your organ­ic search traf­fic. It may seem with the addi­tion of Google AdWords spaces and the increas­ing breadth of the Knowl­edge Graph Google organ­ic vis­i­bil­i­ty has decreased to a point of being futile, but this is just not the case. Google organ­ic is still a wide-open play­ing field across many long and mid tail terms and dif­fer­ing ver­ti­cals.

Don’t for­sake your organ­ic vis­i­tors, who stay longer and vis­it more pages, for the short-term sat­is­fac­tion of a site that relies on a pre­dom­i­nance of say, Face­book vis­i­tors. You need both, but you need organ­ic search as much if not more.

So many sites fail in these three basic areas, if you start 2016 ear­ly, with improved user expe­ri­ence, the addi­tion of schema imple­men­ta­tion, and bet­ter organ­ic opti­miza­tion you will have a very hap­py year end. Maybe even a bonus or two.

Addi­tion­al note: Google Pen­guin is com­ing out in ear­ly 2016. If you see a large drop in traf­fic after it is released, get to an expe­ri­enced site recov­ery audi­tor quick­ly. Do not wait, do not pass go; the longer you wait the worse it will be.

Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing,

Grant SimmonsI’m a mas­sive believ­er in the “next screen,” whether that’s kiosk, vehi­cle, or wear­able tech that empow­ers users on the go with rel­e­vant and valu­able infor­ma­tion. SEO mar­keters need to con­sid­er the user expe­ri­ence on these screens as just as impor­tant as mobile was influ­enced by the “mobile-friend­ly” update ear­li­er this year.

Mobile” is no longer just a smart­phone or tablet, it’s a com­po­nent of user con­text, like loca­tion, pri­or behav­ior, device, cur­rent behav­ior, inter­ac­tion method and/or a host of many oth­er ele­ments the search engine will use to improve their search results, lever­ag­ing the feed­back loop of user SERP inter­ac­tion to improve the algo­rithm (uti­liz­ing the machine learn­ing of RankBrain to help deci­pher user intent from user input and con­text).

What does this mean to search mar­keters? Con­tent with­out exper­tise, intent con­sid­er­a­tion, and under­stand­ing of con­text will find it increas­ing dif­fi­cult to show up in results, because more focused con­tent will bet­ter sat­is­fy the ques­tions users are ask­ing. Key­word research in the tra­di­tion­al sense will be use­less and usurped by crowd­sourced “real-peo­ple” research and site usage data.

Brand – i.e., An enti­ty: (per­son, orga­ni­za­tion or com­pa­ny) a focused sub­ject mat­ter or top­ic expert (defined by social, link, online / offline graph) – will be every­thing and fur­ther affect rank­ing algo­rithms and click-through rates. So SEO prac­ti­tion­ers will part­ner with or take on dig­i­tal PR, brand­ing and/or mar­ket­ing agen­cies to build a top­ic-focused dig­i­tal foot­print. We’ll be the con­duc­tor of the mar­ket­ing orches­tra, the cap­tain of the dig­i­tal ship.

Bill Slawski, Director of Search Marketing, Go Fish Digital

Bill SlawskiOne of the biggest trends for 2016 will involve the search engines rely­ing more upon struc­tured data found on web­sites. Many sites have adopt­ed such markup; but many oth­ers haven’t yet, and it could be a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage to those that have fig­ured out how to do it well. It could make a dif­fer­ence in how sites are dis­played in search results on both mobile devices and desk­top com­put­ers.

Using the right markup can:

  • Give the search engines more pre­cise infor­ma­tion about the goods and ser­vices that you offer.
  • Help make rat­ings and reviews stand out.
  • Draw atten­tion to events.
  • Make con­tact infor­ma­tion for your busi­ness show up in search results.

Appear­ing strong­ly in knowl­edge pan­els and in search results can make the dif­fer­ence between whether some­one vis­its your site, is impact­ed by your brand, and choos­es to do busi­ness with you.

Nichola Stott, Owner, theMediaFlow SEO Agency

One of the most impor­tant areas and grow­ing in strate­gic impor­tance in 2016, is the area of UX as it dove­tails into SEO, par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of per­for­mance opti­miza­tion. Fac­tors like site speed, UX by device, and con­tent deliv­ery become more impor­tant to search engines because of tech­no­log­i­cal advances.

Plus, users are becom­ing more sophis­ti­cat­ed and more dis­cern­ing in terms of sites we fre­quent and the expe­ri­ence we expect to be deliv­ered cross plat­form. For many such rea­sons we’re see­ing an increas­ing need for the inclu­sion of what may tra­di­tion­al­ly be seen as UX developer/performance audit­ing tasks also com­ing under the remit of the tech­ni­cal SEO audit process.

Sec­ond­ly (and some­what hope­ful­ly) we sus­pect 2016 may be the year that busi­ness­es spend more strate­gi­cal­ly on con­tent activ­i­ties. While there’s always a place for inter­est­ing blog con­tent that is pro­duced by top­ic and prod­uct experts par­tic­u­lar­ly in inter­est­ing nich­es, there’s also a lot of dross that has been churned out by “vol­ume” agen­cies, in recent years.

We pre­fer to work with larg­er bud­gets on high­er qual­i­ty, small­er vol­ume con­tent pieces to gen­er­ate more impact­ful results. Find­ing great ideas that match the brand val­ues and USP can be so much more engag­ing than churn­ing out con­tent for con­tent’s sake.

Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Consultant, SearchBrothers

Kaspar SzymanskiRight now an online busi­ness’ suc­cess in organ­ic Google search is huge­ly deter­mined by page speed. While this is no news, page speed’s weight as a rank­ing fac­tor seems to have deci­sive­ly grown as back­links lost their impor­tance in recent years. This trend will grow and mag­ni­fy in 2016.

While mini­fi­ca­tion or gzip­ping tend to be wide­ly accept­ed and most­ly applied already, devel­op­ers will now focus on squeez­ing out the last few per­cent in order to make sites load uber-fast. HTTP/2, resource pre­load­ing and pre­con­nect­ing are some of the meth­ods that will embraced by the SEO indus­try and e‑commerce com­mu­ni­ty in 2016.

Hav­ing said that, SEO remains com­plex and there are no sil­ver bul­lets. Speed will be a deci­sive win­ning fac­tor in organ­ic search for over­all well opti­mized sites. That inevitably includes great on-page opti­miza­tion.

A lot of busi­ness will direct their resources in 2016 to audit­ing in order to get their on-page SEO in order and get a head start in the race.

Jose Truchado, CEO, at Loud Voice Digital

2015 has been one of the fastest chang­ing years in the SEO sec­tor. Although we try to pre­dict search trends on a year­ly basis, search behav­iors that dic­tate how search engines evolve may prove that year­ly strate­gies are no longer viable. Instead every busi­ness needs to be able to adapt rapid­ly, or even bet­ter, to pre­dict how peo­ple will be using search engines in the near future.

2015 was the year where mobile claimed the crown of search­es, sur­pass­ing those made on desk­tops. 2016 will be the year where search assis­tants such as Google Now, Siri, and Cor­tana will start dic­tat­ing how we inter­act with search engines.

Ques­tion words such as: Who, What, Where, Why, and How are a com­mon denom­i­na­tor in many of the search­es we per­form today and that is because search engines are clos­er to emu­lat­ing how we inter­act with oth­er humans than ever before. So for­mat­ting your infor­ma­tion in order to answer those ques­tions when­ev­er pos­si­ble will be para­mount in any SEO strat­e­gy

Wear­able tech­nol­o­gy, such as smart­watch­es, are one of the fac­tors that are accel­er­at­ing this type of search and in 2016, as they become more pop­u­lar, see­ing peo­ple ask­ing ques­tions to their watch­es will seem more and more nat­ur­al.

I talked about this two years ago in a con­fer­ence in Brighton, at that time I had the first ver­sion of Sam­sung’s smart­watch and I remem­ber being too embar­rassed to use the already exist­ing voice capa­bil­i­ties of the watch; today I find myself often ask­ing my watch “Ok Google, What is the weath­er going to be like this week in Lon­don” or “what’s exchange rate between USD and GBP” because I’m to lazy to get my phone out (I’m still a geek for doing that but less so than two years ago). Talk­ing to wear tech­nol­o­gy for more com­plex task such as book­ing a restau­rant or a hotel will be a com­mon thing in the next cou­ple of years when brows­ing on wear­ables has devel­oped even more.

If hav­ing a mobile ready site was not one of your 2015 objec­tives, then that would be your pri­or­i­ty num­ber 1. What will be dif­fer­ent in 2016 is that it will no longer be just about hav­ing a mobile ready site; hav­ing the infor­ma­tion on the site for­mat­ted for how peo­ple inter­act with mobile devices will also be piv­otal for any suc­cess­ful SEO strat­e­gy.

Opti­miz­ing for local search, using micro-for­mats, and index­ing of mobile app pages will also see their impor­tance increased. With hav­ing to serve infor­ma­tion to so many types of screens and devices search engines will give pref­er­ence to those sites who serve snip­pets of infor­ma­tion that they can under­stand and man­age bet­ter.

Bas van den Beld, Marketing Strategy Consultant

To be suc­cess­ful in SEO in 2016 mar­keters should first of all stop chas­ing Google. Google is chang­ing and is mov­ing towards becom­ing more of a per­son­al assis­tant than a search engine. As an SEO we need to deal with that.

Too many SEOs are focus­ing on when the next Google update will roll out. Instead they should be work­ing toward get­ting ready where it mat­ters.

A part of an SEO’s job will still be “old fash­ioned” SEO, mak­ing sure every­thing works as it should be. It just won’t be on the more gener­ic terms, it needs to be on a lev­el that is much more per­son­al to the searcher.

With com­pe­ti­tion grow­ing and search get­ting more per­son­al, the SEO needs to get clos­er to those they are tar­get­ing. Get­ting a grip on the con­sumer jour­ney they are in and opti­miz­ing to be there at the right stage of the jour­ney. In SEO in 2016 you need to be there when it mat­ters.

Martin Woods, SEO Consultant, SALT

This time last year I made sev­er­al pre­dic­tions about the direc­tion of SEO in 2015, and sev­er­al of those came true, based on the SEO cam­paigns my agency has been involved with.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant has been a shift towards project work for larg­er brands, for more pre­cise deliv­er­ables from SEO com­pa­nies. While ongo­ing base SEO retain­ers make sense for reg­u­lar repeat month­ly sprints of work, such as tech­ni­cal audits, we are more com­mon­ly being asked to pro­vide ‘lay­ered’ projects on top of this, accord­ing to mar­ket­ing cal­en­dars. This has been the case for sup­port­ing in-house SEO teams, as well as when we are sole SEO con­sul­tants involved on projects. I see this trend con­tin­u­ing into 2016.

Sec­ond­ly, the scope of what is con­sid­ered to be with­in the remit of “an SEO” is grow­ing every year, as search engine algo­rithms become more and more com­plex. Toward the end of 2015 news emerged that Google was using a machine-learn­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem called RankBrain to help sort through bil­lions of search results — prob­a­bly to deliv­er ever more rel­e­vant results. This sug­gests that 2016 will see an increas­ing shift toward per­son­alised results, based on real AI, rather than gener­ic met­rics.

2016 is also flagged as the year when two key noto­ri­ous spam algo­rithms — Google Pen­guin & Google Pan­da — will be incor­po­rat­ed into the rolling algo­rithm. Busi­ness­es should cer­tain­ly be putting more focus on stay­ing on the right side of these algo­rithms, through reg­u­lar ongo­ing audit­ing of link pro­files, fol­lowed by the updat­ing of dis­avow files. Also they should be pay­ing close atten­tion to index bloat, and to low qual­i­ty pages in the search index.

Last­ly, many of our clients are mov­ing toward imple­ment­ing edge net­work tech­nol­o­gy for var­i­ous rea­sons — specif­i­cal­ly around increased secu­ri­ty (SSL, DNSSEC, and DDOS) — which all have SEO impli­ca­tions, as well as using pow­er­ful CDNs for opti­miz­ing deliv­ery. We recent­ly looked at the risks/rewards of using this type of tech­nol­o­gy in a case study on Cloudflare’s impact on SEO. I pre­dict that tech­ni­cal SEO in 2016 will increas­ing­ly cham­pi­on this tech­nol­o­gy as web­site secu­ri­ty con­tin­ues to impact organ­ic search.

The experts have spo­ken. Your turn. What do you think will be the biggest SEO trend in 2016?

Danny Goodwin

Written by Danny Goodwin

Managing Editor, Momentology

Danny Goodwin is the former Managing Editor of Momentology. Previously, he was the editor of Search Engine Watch, where he was in charge of editing, content strategy, and writing about search industry news.

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