SEO is a field that is always evolving, difficult to predict, but absolutely essential when deploying a digital strategy. Marketers and SEO experts find themselves continuously baffled with algorithm changes, Google updates, Google penalties and more. In the past, SimilarWeb has tracked LinkedIn’s SEO success story, Wikipedia’s Google penalty, and the effect Google’s new Panda algorithm had on keyword search. SimilarWeb data can help SEO marketers stay ahead of trends to decide and deploy an effective plan of action.
To help us better understand what’s in store for the SEO world in 2016 we asked 17 of the biggest experts one simple question:
“In your opinion, what is the one most important thing that SEOs should focus on in 2016?”
“In my opinion the most important thing for SEOs to focus on in 2016 is improving the quality of user experience on their web site(s). Google is using a variety of methods (including machine learning techniques) to measure how satisfied users are with pages they visit after completing a search on Google. I believe that Google has its own data that tells them that higher user satisfaction with search results leads to more revenue for them.
Greater user satisfaction with a web site can be quite subtle though. The highest possible direct response conversion rate does not necessarily mean higher overall satisfaction. It’s important to also make the effort to provide a great experience to people that are not ready to buy right now too.
For example, some people may be in research mode. They may want how to information. They may be checking the company out, and comparing it to others before making a decision later. Or, they may want to buy other things at the same time. For example, someone looking for oil may also be looking for an oil filter. Or, for windshield wipers because they plan to replace those at the same time they change their oil.
Ignore this trend at your peril, or enjoy the fruits of it by getting out in front of your competition that hasn’t figured this out yet.”
“I would say in 2016, new trends would be around AMP (accelerated mobile pages), keep up with being mobile friendly and HTTPS might become more important. But the most important thing would be what I said above.”
“It’s hard to pin down our entire, evolving industry into one thing, but if I had to narrow our job in 2016 to just one word, I’d say “awareness”. SERPs are changing, and we’re still laser-focused on very small sets of keywords and a tiny microcosm of metrics. Meanwhile, verticals are expanding, Knowledge Graph is expanding, Google is pulling answers from our own sites, paid search is evolving, and mobile and desktop are diverging. Open a browser once in a while and see what your competitive landscape actually looks like – what are the new opportunities you might be missing, and what does ranking #X really mean? Maybe you’re focused on the wrong keywords and the wrong metrics, and it’s time for a wake-up call.”
“It’s time to tear down the mantra that “Content is King” and state the obvious truth: the user is queen, and she rules the universe.
The user is more important than your content and, in fact, more important than Google itself. Google is but a single source of traffic, whereas the user lives on Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, BuzzFeed, the New York Times, ESPN and more.
The simple fact is that Google has been chasing the user for years, while we’ve busied ourselves chasing Google’s algorithm. We’ve fooled ourselves into a sense of accomplishment. Cut out the middleman! Let’s pursue the same user-centric goals that the search engines themselves pursue, so that we may win the game more easily. These include:
Earning the click. We’ve seen ample evidence this year that SERP engagement (e.g. metrics like click-through rate) play into various search and social algorithms, while at the same time it’s become increasingly difficult to stand out in the SERPs as Google claims more and more real estate and strips organic listings of distinguishing features like review stars and authorship. Classic search snippet optimization by delivering great titles, descriptions, rich snippets–while also taking advantage of new SERP features like Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)–will be essential for success in 2016.
User Experience. As web pages become bloated over slow mobile networks, and people spend increasing time online, simple user experience hacks such as improved load times, mobile-friendly experiences, and clear layouts are more important than ever.
Task Completion. So many SEOs fail to think beyond the initial click. It’s what happens after the user clicks your result is where the magic happens. We need to remember that every website visitor wants something. Your success is determined by how well you deliver that something. This is the idea behind task completion. Though evidence is limited, there are strong suggestions within the search world that the better you are at task completion for a specific keyword search, the better you may rank for those queries.
Answering beyond the question. You webpage isn’t meant for a single keyword query, and there’s no way through keyword research that you’ll be able to anticipate all the questions or tasks your visitors seek. Websites that succeed don’t only answer the query, they answer the questions the visitor hasn’t even thought to ask yet. Do this, and you’ll keep the visitor around longer, and be more likely to gain their attention next time.
To summarize, make content subservient to the user. Focus on user-based actions and intent. Satisfy the user way beyond the keyword click, and you’ll be on the road to success in 2016.”
“User experience. As a SEO, if you focus on creating the best product, content or even service for a user, you’ll increase your rankings over time. Search engines want to rank the best sites at the top and if you put the user first, eventually your rankings will climb.”
“This might sound counter-intuitive. But the best SEOs learned this long ago… Focus on collaboration with content creators. Leads come from traffic. Traffic comes from rank. Rank comes from links. Links come from relationships. Relationships come from collaboration.
If you work backwards from your desired outcome, you’ll realize that the best use of your time is in finding, connecting with and collaborating with people who create content. Social media makes it easy to find and connect with people. But the best SEOs go beyond social. They reach out, they send email, they pick up the phone.
Here are the three main ways to collaborate with content creators:
Ask for a contributor quote
Include them in a roundup (like this one!)
Do a deep-drive interview with them
Once you’ve included them in your content, they are more likely to include you in their content. If you want to get something, you have to give it first. So use your site as a networking tool, connect, collaborate and fill your content with the voices of others. This is the path to reaching all of your SEO goals.”
“Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). This project is a move away from mobile SEO as we know it. This isn’t reliance on responsive design or M. subdomains. This is handing over the tactical mobile keys to Google. It’s about careful consideration and whether this is right for your site and brand. There are a lot of unanswered questions right now too around tracking, analytics and even monetization. As usual there’s a big scramble for BETA testing spots amidst promises from Google however we’re advising specific brands wait until the excitement settles down and the opportunities specifically defined. It may very well be an excellent way to promote mobile content but for now more information is needed before JIRA tickets are created.”
“It’s not a one size fits all solution in 2016. If you’re a larger publisher or retailer I’d be looking strongly at both AMP and structured data (JSON-LD). If I were a SMB I’d be focusing on reviews. In the background, everyone would benefit from refocusing on the basics – in both technical and on-page optimization.”
“For 2016, I see several things that SEOs need to focus on. While mobile was important last year, it is the standard now so we need to make sure our sites and client sites are mobile friendly. This year, for 2016, I believe that SEOs need to focus on a more holistic approach to SEO and internet marketing. This means that we spend time doing not only on-page SEO (make sure sites are SEO friendly), but off-page including social is extremely important.
For 2016, it’s about getting eyeballs to view our client’s content and their sites. It’s not just about getting a “quality link” or a link from a “quality site”. Those links, those social media mentions have to drive traffic to the client site. If they don’t then there may still be value, but not as much as content that’s being shared and engaged with by users.”
“In 2016 Keyword Phrases and Keyword data will be critical to success. With the limited real estate in Google and great focus on presenting results that match searchers intent, Marketers need to take a more mature look at their keyword data and truly understand how that relates to the needs and wants of searchers. This insight will impact content creation, optimization efforts and paid search budgets and where to spend your efforts. Focusing on highly relevant keywords in the correct phase of the buy cycle along with ensuring your snippets and content aligns will yield more incremental sales than nearly anything you can do in 2016.”
“Esse Quam Videri – “To be, rather than to seem”. SEOs need to focus on strategies that actually improve their sites rather than simply make them appear to be better. Take a step back and look at your competitors. What would it take to make your site objectively better than theirs? Faster? Richer? More thorough? More engaging? Then, once you have done that, once you are confident you have the best site, you have your pitch. Every competitor’s backlink is now a target, because you have the best pitch – why are you linking to the second best site?”
“I think SEOs should focus on evaluating the state of their overall website design and by connection, UX. Is it best in class in your space? Is it the same as others? If it’s the same, one update by a competitor could put you in a deep 2nd, and we know what that does to search traffic.
Because a redesign is so time intensive, it’s something that will likely take you three-four months to complete, if you’re lucky. So if you think you’re on the fence, you probably should jump over the fence. You’ll leap ahead of your competitors and that improved design+UX will put you in a place to better focus on the micro elements – like really good content, that is improved dramatically by the framework around it.”
“The most important thing that SEOs should focus on in 2016 is creating great content. Create content that answers questions better than existing search queries. Put time and effort into it. Use multiple forms of media. Be the best answer. Make it easily findable and shareable. Have it serve a purpose.”
“In 2016, SEOs should focus on search experience optimization. Keywords, rankings, technical SEO and content are not enough. The additional focus should be satisfying the user search. That’s what Google wants and also what the user wants. Survey users to understand intent and measure success. Analyze keywords from Search Console to see if there is a mismatch between user intent and your website. Monitor and improve UX metrics. Your search visitors should never have to go back to Google to continue their search. Succeed at this and your SEO will prosper!”
“In my opinion, the one thing SEOs should focus on in 2016 is truly understanding their client’s customer’s online journey to purchase and the role organic search plays in their funnel. Depending on the product or service being marketed, organic may be first, last touch, or somewhere in the middle. From research to purchase, knowing where the channel typically falls can help you be strategic about your messaging and calls-to-action. Using web analytics tools, we can also use this information to show the value in our work via different attribution models e.g. how organic contributed to any micro or macro conversions for purchase paths that span multiple channels.”
“I’m a big fan of this semantic approach, how Google is picking up content these days. Let me give you an example of a keyword – “how to bake a cake” – Type it and what you will see is that the first result containing Answer Box. Content is taken from most relevant website with recipe of how to bake a cake. Google know that website presents in Answer Box is to teach you or me how to bake a cake, so the semantic, artificial intelligent approach will be a big thing. And to be in that Answer-box is a huge thing. CTR will jump over 20% – 30% and You still can rank in normal, organic results (so You can lock two spots in SERP instead of one).”
How accurate were our 2015 SEO forecasts? Take a look back at last year’s prediction to find out: