In 2015 Google has made a lot of work for the future, The seo-nerd looks back and at the same time looks at the prospects of search engine optimization in 2016.
For it’s already clear that the major themes of 2015 will keep us busy also throughout the next year: Mobile friendliness, user experience and RankBrain.
The seo-nerd dares a look at what the SEO year 2016 will bring.
Search Engine Optimization 2016: The mobile trend will be continued
Already in January 2015 Google sent notifications to internet publishers informing them about their bad mobile usability of their sites. This posting action was the start of the biggest Google update of all times until then. Despite the routine to never open up about changes in the algorithm Google announced for the very time in history an update in March. Since 21st April 2015 “Mobile friendliness” is an official ranking factor.
Google reacts on the continuous triumph of smartphones that way. More and more users want to access sites from any device. In May 2015 requests from mobile devices were more frequent than desktop ones for the first time. The shortly after the mobile update by SEOs predicted “Mobilegeddon” did not happen, though. However, if a site was not redesigned in a mobile-friendly way consequences soon were to follow by the end of the year. Over half of the mobile-unfriendly sites lost visibility. There are other methods to design a sites mobile-friendly, the best one, however, is Responsive Design, which is also recommended by Google. That the usage of internet becomes more and more mobile has extensive, but only vaguely recognisable consequences for search engine optimization.
- Apps are quite neglected field in SEO, for instance. On smartphones, almost nothing can be done without these small helping programmes.
- Often smartphone users rather use an app than searching something over the Google query. For companies a well-made app is a chance to become more independent from Google. At the same time the competition increases in app stores as well, of course (namely Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store). How website owners can set themselves apart from others better in the future is surely one of the prospective themes in search engine optimization.
- Also connected to the mobile theme is an increase in speech recognition software. It changes the way how users search for products and information. The classic keyword is always complemented with whole phrases more often. Already now Google records a growth in W question (who, what, when, where, etc.). It’ll be worth more and more in future to offer more text and more content with a suitable answer for such search phrases.
- To what extent backlinks still play a role for the ranking is a topic of discussions in SEO circles again and again. Studies by Moz and Searchmetrics clearly demonstrated that backlinks are still important ranking factors in 2015, as well. Good backlinks stemming from strong sites and approved by Google are therefore still useful. It’s also clear though: the mobile trend continuously represses the meaning of backlinks (further reasons are to follow below). For links on smartphones are rather annoying than useful. Subsequently they should be treated with care and dealt with in a specific way only.
Google understands users and sites better and better
Since August 2015 Google is part of the new technology and future company “Alphabet”. Behind the renaming is more than just a symbolic action. The Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin opened a gate with “Alphabet” for a concert that doesn’t only deal with the internet, but literally with all areas of life – from A to Z. Lighthouse projects like the self-driving Google Car is only the beginning. In the Alphabet labs utopias like eternal life is already being researched.
The search engine Google will keep its central role in the concern in foreseeable future, as it seems. Google is still the cash cow of Mister Page and Brin for the time being, after all. Correspondingly, it’s taken care of and being further developed. Only when it works first-class, the soaring plans of Alphabet can only be realised. As a result the algorithm of the search engine was intensively modified in 2015. Already shortly after the announced Mobile Update strong fluctuations occurred in the SERPs worldwide in May. Since the observed correlations didn’t really make sense, there were quickly rumours about the Google Phantom Update II in the SEO scene.
The name hinted at the ghost-like nature of this update. Only gradually a conclusive picture could be drawn. It obviously was about a quality update, dealing with the core of the search algorithm. Sites with sparse or better said, not suitable content slipped down the rankings. Only in late autumn, it was clear what really was behind the dubious update: the RankBrain. In a nutshell, it was about a self-learning system that matches intentions of search inquiries with possible search results. RankBrain works so well, that Google has named it as the third most important ranking factor (probably behind content, backlinks or user signals).
Google has made another important step with RankBrain to a search engine focusing on the semantic search. It disguises the idea that Google wants to apprehend as precisely as possible what intention a user links with a query. The difference is enormous when looking at previous approaches. Google became successful with the idea in the beginning, that sites that are recommended by other sites for a topic through links. This backlink strategy works until today. But it is quite rough and vague. With the updates from the Berliner SEO Zoo, the Panda, Penguin and especially since switching to the Hummingbird algorithm Google has sensitised the search engine more intensely, so to speak, for the real needs of the users.
For search engine optimization this change to a semantic search engine means nothing less than the end of simple recipes helping move the sites up in the ranking. Search engine optimization in 2015 and in years to come will mean to adjust more and more to the needs of users.
User Experience will become even more important
Since end of November / beginning of December there is again a lot of movement in the SERPs. Searchmetrics already talks about the Phantom III Update. The discussion was heated up by the Google Guidelines 2015 published just before for Quality Raters. Quality Raters are selected persons, who test Google search
results on their quality. The guidelines of these tests were published for the first time in 2015 by Google in full length (until then only short or leaked versions were made public). The guidelines particularly point out the intention of search requests. Whether a site is evaluated as good or bad becomes very much dependent on the intention of query. Interestingly, this knowledge out of the Guidelines goes in line with the shifts in the SERPs.
The winners of visibility are, for instance, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, at the moment. They carry a heavy load with them for search engine optimization: they are by default full of duplicate content (same or similar explanations repeatedly found on various domains). The Google algorithm doesn’t just plane off this factor but recognises the users’ intention. As user you consider duplicate content in dictionaries actually quite useful. If more than one source confirms the same then this proves the correctness of the information.
The negative ranking factor – Thin Content – doesn’t automatically lead into Google’s off-side any longer. Product sites can rank on top without texts. This depends more than before on the intention of the user. If only the product is searched the site can do without any text, as well. If the search is coupled to purchase advice (keyword + “what to look out for”, “good”, etc.) then the text should be detailed and precise.
Sites with keywords as brands have lost again (as with Phantom III already). Google assumes with those by now, as it seems, that users like to be directed to the site of the brand or their social media sites. Google makes life harder for affiliate sites this way as it already has been for them in the past months.
Prospects: Search engine optimization 2016
- Since Google recognises the intention of a search request better and better, there won’t be any generally applicable SEO strategies any more. What works for one domain might not work for another one at all. Site owners have to find out themselves in future, whether their customers/users like to get quick information or if they’d like to be informed thoroughly (or maybe even both).
- The trend to see search engine optimization as a part of extensive online marketing is being continued. Who manages to build a brand for their own site will benefit in an SEO perspective from this in the future.
- Mobile stays a big topic. Surfing behaviour on smartphones calls for fast and especially matching answers. Google accounts for that already now with emphasising the user intention in search requests. Site owners should make their sites “responsive” for all devices. Furthermore, it can be recommended to utilise apps, that should be found easily on App stores, as well.
- It’ll be interesting to observe whether space will get limited in the SERPs. An indicator for this is that Google uses Knowledge graphs and Direct answers more and more frequently. This, of course, has to do with the aforementioned stressing on the user’s intentions. Often, a picture and a few details are enough when a celebrity is being looked up, for example. In the USA sites have been discovered that only displayed four natural results. If this will prevail the competition for the first ranks will get tougher, of course. On the other hand, Google has tested a SERP this year, that shouldn’t be limited to pages, but can be scrolled down as much as you wish. Since the trend with Google is in the direction of diversification one cannot say for certain that both varieties won’t be an option, depending on the type of query.
- User signals as well as Social signals gain even more significance. Google and Twitter like each other again also officially since 2015. And Facebook links are retrieved from many search requests for a long time already. The ascenders in social platforms are clearly the image networks Pinterest and Instagram in 2015.
- User signals offer Google crucial cues for the intention of search requests. Therefore search engine optimization should not cease to keep
the bounce-rate as low as possible and the visiting duration preferably long also in 2016.