2016 SEO Trends

SEO saw quite a bit of change in 2015, though much of its core remained the same.  Links and keyword targeting remained important, though the means of acquiring those links and the types of content may have changed.

With the so-called “Mobilegeddon” update arriving to much fanfare (and little effect), updates to Google’s content quality algorithm along with changes to Google’s local results and the ultimately unfruitful hope of Penguin going real-time, 2015 had its share of ups and downs.

Looking forward to 2016, we, of course, know that Google can make changes without much notice – changes that can drastically modify the game. However, we can make some educated guesses as to what’s coming in the future, and how we might want to modify our own practices accordingly.

1. Keyword Targeting: Intention Above All

It’s no secret that the days of simply looking up keyword phrases and making sure to enter them into your content three or four times are over. More accurately, in addition to doing those things, keyword targeting has become idea targeting. Google’s algorithm has become sophisticated enough to establish relevance not only through the presence of particular keywords but through the presence of related keywords within the content. For example, if you are writing about the New York Giants, you might also reference the Mara family and the Meadowlands.

This may be particularly important considering that 2016 could very well be the rise of voice search. While voice search has been around for a few years, it has been gaining prominence each of those years. Further, while the use of Google voice search has typically revolved around traditional Google searches, voice is also making its way into apps, meaning 2016 is also the year of deep links (within apps) and, if you haven’t already, app development.

2. Link Earning and Deep Links

Link building will, perhaps, always be around. The traditional method of building a piece of content and doing manual outreach to sites that have linked out to similar content in the past is still a tried and true method of link building. That said, it is time to double your efforts in link earning. In 2016, there are three types of links:

  • Earned links: Links built through the creation of high-quality content.
  • Implied links: Brand mentions and citations which, according to the 2014 Panda patent, carry weight in terms of rankings.
  • Deep links: In 2016, these take on much more importance, as deep links can point into and out of apps, which Google can crawl and give credit for. As mobile continues to overtake desktop (though there is talk that the days of mobile cutting drastically into desktop are over) deep links will grow in importance, as app development becomes more affordable and commonplace.

3. It’s Finally Time to Create that App

You’ve been putting it off, and for good reason. In years past, app development has been cost-prohibitive. Companies with smaller marketing budgets have been putting app development off because of the cost and the idea that apps are simply not for their company. The fact is, however, that apps create new opportunities, both in terms of link earning and messaging. Apps are crawlable, and Google has been crawling them for years. Therefore, if you can get a link within an app, that link counts as much as any similar text link. Furthermore, up to 89% of time spent by users on their phones or tablets are spent using apps. No matter how well optimized your site is for mobile, the simple act of asking users to access your site through their browser in order to access your product or service can be off-putting to your base.

App development can also provide a boost to your organic performance above and beyond earning a deep link. To an increasing degree, Google has been displaying apps in organic SERPs over the past year or so. While this might not necessarily mean your site would rank better for the long tail phrases that matter most to you, there is a branding opportunity here. Even if the presence of the app as an organic SERP result does little for the proliferation of the app itself, it does take up valuable real estate in those branded SERPs. With ads, rich answers, and local packs taking up more and more of that first page, any search result you have control of in a branded search should be something you invest your time and money into.

4. Local Search Rises Again

Not to say local search was ever dead. Far from it. However, many SEOs saw it as a checklist of tasks rather than a complex strategy. Simply finish the list of tasks and local SEO was taken care of… time to tackle some long-tail! 2016 should change all that, as with the continued rise of mobile and (especially) voice search, mobile SEO is vitally important. According to Google, “50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on computer/tablet did the same.” With that in mind, along with continued advances in geo-location and geo-fencing, consider this: if most sites take the easy way out for their local search optimization, imagine the results that can be gained by taking local seriously in 2016.

At the very least, make sure your local business schema markup is properly implemented. This allows Google to show the physical location of your business, and it’s something over which you have complete control.

5. Content Video is King

It used to be that you could say “Content is King” and everyone knew what you meant. Your pages all had the “correct” keyword density. Your title tags and meta descriptions were optimized, and, if you could help it, there were no spelling errors. At the end of the day, “Content is King” meant that what you wrote mattered. Now, if someone says “Content is King,” my first response is “And what is content?”

Today, content runs the gamut from written landing pages, to a podcast, to a video, pin, Vine, Snapchat, etc., and they all have their place. For 2016, though, it’s truly time to start focusing on your video content. Whether it’s a 30-second explainer video (which, depending on the quality you need, are extremely affordable) or a full national commercial, video is vitally important to the long-term success of your company, and that’s not just conjecture. According to this study by Omnicore, by 2020 video will make up 82% of all consumer traffic.

6. Writing Still Matters… but So Does Size

If you’re trying to write content, specifically evergreen content, that you want to rank well for a long time, size matters. It’s simple – up to a certain point, the longer the better when it comes to written content. There has always been, and likely will be, too much concern over the “perfect” length of a piece of content, and it’s always best to consider what is reasonable for your subject. If you’re writing a page on Derek Jeter’s batting average from 1997-2000, maybe a 2,000 epic isn’t the right choice. On the other hand, if you’re writing on the cultural significance of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” maybe go for something a little longer.

With that said, longer articles tend, on average, to do better; 1,200 to 1,500 words seems to be the sweet spot, and in fact we can get more detailed than that. According to Searchmetrics’ 2015 Ranking Factors, Google tended to prefer pieces of content from 1,140 to 1,285 words long. This doesn’t mean anything less or greater has a better or worse shot at outranking similar content, but it is a good indicator that, when creating content, perhaps combining ideas or fleshing out concepts might be a great start to creating what both Google and your users consider to be high-quality content.

7. 2016: The Year SEO Doesn’t Die… Again

Undoubtedly people have written about how the future of SEO is its inevitable death. That semantic voice search and smart assistants will render SEO dead if it hasn’t died already, and some will say that 2016 is that year. The fact is, though, even if people speak searches into their watches or their glasses or an implant in their skin, there is always going to be a process whereby an algorithm determines the best answer to that searcher’s query. That will not change in 2016 or in the foreseeable future, and for that reason, the practice of ensuring your business is, more often than not, the “right” answer to that query, SEO will remain alive and well.

We just have to be willing to adapt, and in that respect, 2016 should be like every other year.

Matthew Holden is a co-founder of Holistyk Marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency located in upstate New York. A company comprised of experts who have worked both in the agency world and part of marketing departments large and small. Holistyk Marketing has a reputation for approaching digital marketing from traditional angles, creating the best of both worlds.