Search In the New Year: Understand the Scope of Search Engine Optimization in 2016

By Michael Keating

Stay on top of these search engine changes in 2016 to boost your rankings and make your website more relevant.

Google’s prime goal of delivering the most relevant answers to a search query won’t change in 2016.

However, a few changes in technology and Internet user behavior will prompt some fine-tuning to search engine optimization strategy.

Understanding these will help you make the right decisions for your business or team.

Read on to see some of the biggest areas of focus in SEO for 2016.

Related Article: 6 Toxic SEO Habits You Should Stop Today

Mobile Is Making All the Difference

Many mobile users have switched to verbal search phrases since they’re speaking into their phones rather than typing into a keyboard.  These verbal search phrases can differ from written ones because the spoken query contains more errors and colloquialisms.

One way to make sure a business shows up in the mobile search results in the era of the spoken query is to use structured data or “rich snippets” in website code. Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo collaborated to create schema.org, a markup for HTML that improves the way your page displays in the SERPs. It adds signals around important pieces of metadata that send better signals to Google given a garbled query or one that uses colloquialisms or errors. Ensuring that your website contains these rich snippets will bounce you out ahead of competitors in 2016.

Pleasing the search engines doesn’t stop with a better coding structure. To appease their own on-the-go users, search engines want any company’s information to be easily accessible across all types of devices.

Search engines want to provide the best answers AND do so at their users’ convenience, whether he or she is in the car with a phone, in front of the television with a tablet or at their work desktop. Google has made it clear that websites without a smartphone and tablet-friendly interfaces will drop in the rankings, and most digital marketing agencies and businesses have seen this warning come true. Once in the realm of art and conversion, website design now drastically impacts search optimization, too.

This demand to redesign a site often seems unfair as a website overhaul can be pricey. If customers are using smaller screens, however, it only makes sense that businesses should meet them there. After all, studies from large advertising agencies including Nielsen and MDG Advertising reveal that a mobile search has a 61 to 80 percent chance of resulting in a sale for local businesses. Google’s switch to displaying the top three results for local search rather than its prior seven indicates its focus on the mobile user as well.    

Despite the mobile takeover (the smartphone is the most widespread device in the world), most businesses, particularly smaller local shops, have not converted their websites to mobile-friendly design. If you’re not sure whether your site is mobile friendly, Google will make it clear with its “Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.” DEnter your web address and within seconds, it tells you whether your links are set too closely together if the text is too small to read on a phone, and whether or not your mobile viewport is set.

Related Article: The Value of the Keyword: Why It Matters In Content Marketing

Content Evolution in 2016

Content boosts SEO and rankings by attracting backlinks from quality websites. Search engines see the backlink as a vote of confidence or respect for the article/website. The more and better backlinked a website, the higher it rises in the ranking and better visibility it gets.

Despite the popularity of video and images, content will always have a place in effective search engine optimization. Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research tells us the average customer reviews ten pieces of content before buying. Other studies tell us that the content consumption habits of the B2B consumer enables him or her to be 65 to 90 percent certain of which vendor they will patronize before making the first call.   

Up to this point in time, companies have scrambled to get some content, any content, out there. With their teams in place now, they will start delivering more robust, quality content to their audiences. Also, they will better segment their audience to deliver more personalized content to each. These moves are designed to increase their backlinks and overall SEO efforts.

With the rise of low-cost, easy-to-use video platforms like Periscope, Instagram, Blab, and Vine, companies will replace a portion of their written content for video. These videos will start appearing in a blog and social media posts/ product pages, and will eventually overtake the written word as the dominant form of content.  Google, itself, is now experimenting with video ads in search results.

Social Media and Search in 2016

How social plays into search can be tricky. Google search experts Matt Cutts and Jon Mueller have both said that social signals do not play into the ranking. Maybe not directly, but further exploration shows they do in a roundabout way. A social presence drives traffic to pages and traffic is the fifth most important factor. After all, the more people who view and share your article, the higher the page ranks.

Further, Google treats each social media post as a page for search, but the sheer volume of content prevents it from getting every last tweet or post. Still, most experts agree that in 2016 more posts on social media channels will get indexed by Google and other search engines.

Getting an outside opinion helps.  Search powerhouse Moz’s 2015 search ranking factors report finds social signals are the ninth most “correlative quality” or important factor for high search rankings. Moz researchers cannot get beyond the Google castle walls to get the exact formula, so they run correlative studies. They study the amount of social activity compared to a website’s ranking and other factors to make their determination of how social impacts SEO.

Google is certainly aware of the importance of social to buyers. Forrester’s Lori Wizdo explains that, for every piece of content a prospective B2B buyer consumes from your website, they go elsewhere for three more. They get this content from social media, review sites and searches. If buyers make decisions using social media, Google must take that into account. Finally, social’s relevance to search engine optimization is still a matter of debate, but we conclude it has an impact. 

Related Article: How One Utah Moving Company Conquered Local SEO—and You Can, Too

App Optimization Will Surge in 2016

With so many accessing the Internet through mobile, a company’s app code becomes more critical than ever before. Search engines want the app code to be crawler friendly and will more closely examine “deep links” that point toward specific app pages. Every medium sized and larger company should consider investing in their own app.

The ways the search engine’s approach ranking websites will inevitably evolve and change. Stay on top of these changes in 2016 to boost your rankings and make your website more relevant.

What SEO changes did you make in 2015? What do you plan to do in 2016? Let us know in the comments.

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