How to win at SEO in 2016: what can we learn from 2015?

16 December 2015

How to win at SEO in 2016: what can we learn from 2015?

5 of the biggest SEO trends in 2015, and our top 3 tips for SEO success in 2016

Digital marketing scaremongering became rife as 2015 evolved, from the looming mobilegeddon announced early in 2015, to the drastic growth of ad blocking going into overdrive later in the year. But what did it all mean for SEO?

The Biggest SEO Trends in 2015

1. Mobilegeddon’ finally meant ‘the year of mobile’

Digital marketing professionals have been banging the mobile-first drum for years. In terms of platforms, Facebook are the only ones who have really been living and breathing a mobile-first proposition. It was time for Google to get up to scratch. Cue mobilegeddon hysteria. Exactly the way to strike fear into any brand, without a mobile optimised website.

  • Let’s be honest, by 2015, it really is time to have a mobile optimised website
  • After all, more than half of UK searches are via mobile
  • In reality very few sites were affected by the update – this was just one ranking factor of the hundreds we know Google use
  • So this should be loud and clear: you must provide a good mobile experience. As a minimum your consumers are at least researching via mobile, even if they aren’t buying

2. SEO became tougher than ever

Throughout 2015 it became significantly difficult to gain ground in the organic search space. This will certainly be continuing into 2016 and beyond. Search is ever-evolving, and Google’s new audience-centric focus is possibly the greatest drive in this change. With that in mind, Google continue to ‘enhance’ search results, which means non-paid space is shifting further and further down the results page.

Some major changes:

  • Local search experimentation
  • Google selling products on behalf of brands, particularly in the travel space
  • Instant answers (more on this for next year’s predications)

3. Local SEO took the lead

Again in line with Google’s audience-centric shift, Google local search listings have continued to evolve, and the search giant is constantly testing the layout. For any brand with bricks and mortar locations for customers, local SEO is essential. Why?

  • From a branding perspective is it important to provide the right information to customers and potential customers
  • Local listings can give you the edge over competitors, which can mean an increase click through rate
  • They’re free! But probably not for long, so get your local listing right now

4. Less about rankings, more about value

Not necessarily new for 2015, but it does seem to have been more widely accepted this year, that rankings are not a tangible KPI for SEO. With less keyword data, and more personalisation than ever before, the focus simply must shift from keywords to audiences & engagement. Understanding how your audience search will always be essential, but think categories over keywords. Why?

  • Results vary based on users’ locations, device and search history – so there’s no need to get hung up on the rank of one particular keyword
  • Understanding which of your landing pages are receiving the most organic traffic gives a clear signal as to the sorts of themes audiences are searching to reach your site
  • SEO is about driving relevant traffic to your website to help you increase your business’ revenue (not rankings) – so your SEO strategy needs to be built around traffic and conversions

5. ‘Content is king’: finally taken seriously

Just like ‘the year of mobile’, ‘content is king’ is another typical digital marketing cliché. For years this has been a widely accepted slogan in digital, further championed after Google’s Panda algorithm update in 2011. In 2015, we saw a broader adoption of the importance of content and content marketing:

  • Gaining relevant and quality links has long-been an essential factor in making SEO gains
  • The rise in the adoption of content marketing is a game changer in creating quality content to naturally earn those links
  • Content marketing is an essential piece of the SEO puzzle, and budget must be portioned accordingly – not only for effective SEO of course, but for every marketing channel

Three tips for effective SEO in 2016

1. Ad blocking will mean SEO is more important than ever: prioritise organic

Investing in SEO has never been more necessary than today. With the rise of ad blocking, sparked by iOS9’s software update in September 2015, it is thought that digital advertising reach is reduced by around 30%.

How to plan your digital activity with this in mind

  • If less cut through is achieved with the likes of display, other methods must be considered
  • Investing further in organic channels such as SEO and content marketing is a long-term option
  • Native advertising isn’t impacted by ad blocking, it’s a great compliment to organic efforts and will help brand reach and awareness
  • The integration of SEO and digital PR is essential to create great content that will get results

2. More platforms will play into decisions: optimise for the web

The debate of if/how social media plays into SEO factors is likely to continue. But something that is certain is that Twitter will continue to be featured in search results more regularly in 2016.

What you need to know:

  • In February Google indexed 0.6% of tweets, by June this was 3.4%
  • Twitter accounts with higher authority/more followers are more likely to have tweets indexed
  • Encouraging Google to index your tweets means that you could increase your organic search engine real estate
  • Focus on publishing real-time content that audiences will be seeking, such as posting breaking industry news
  • Amazon should also be considered – 42% of ecommerce purchases begin with a search on this platform, so don’t just optimise for Google, optimise for the web
  • Synergy across all channels, particularly PR, SEO and social media, has never been more vital

3. Google will continue to get smarter: give search engines the right signals

As the audience-centric approach develops by the day, the likes of instant answers and conversational search will grow. This aligns with the evolution of technology which is leading to an increase in voice search, and in turn conversational search. Google are preparing for this with a new artificial intelligence tool as part of their algorithm, Rank Brain. A few tips to help you capitalise on this trend:

  • The Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013 encouraged brands to think about voice search and asking questions – don’t let this focus slip, it’s still highly relevant for your onsite content
  • Rank Brain is a new part of the Google algorithm that was added to Hummingbird, to place even more focus on semantics and understanding user queries through artificial intelligence
  • Defining a topic through use of Q&A, within your content, is more likely to give rank brain a clearer understanding of semantic relevance to queries. This may increase your presence in organic search results

SEO will always be a fast moving industry, it’s the nature of the beast and it’s what we love about it. The overarching theme of 2015 was unquestionably the audience-centric approach, led, of course, by the search giant themselves. We can be certain this will continue into 2016 and beyond, so if you only take away one tip for your strategy next year it’s this: provide the best experience you possibly can for your audience, by giving really clear signals of what you’re all about, at every opportunity possible.