SEO in 2016: 31 SEO experts reveal what the next year has in store for us.
Last updated: Feb 23, 201718 Comments
Do you want better SEO results in 2016?
With time running out for 2015, businesses all over the world are wondering how to steal a march on their competitors over the coming months.
SEO is commonly perceived as a marketing strategy with a landscape that’s constantly changing. What’s more, SEO is often an overwhelming subject matter that’s full of jargon and misnomers.
So the issue of how to approach SEO in 2016 is a massive problem for many business owners.
The burning issue is, what do we really need to work on with SEO in the next 12 months?
To answer this question, we reached out to 31 of the most talented and knowledgeable SEOs for their help.
We asked them one simple question:
What will be important for SEO in 2016?
We collected up all their thoughts and insights.
And there are some clear and consistent themes in their answers below, not to mention some super-valuable tips.
From content promotion to schema markup, we’ve got it all covered.
Read on to discover each expert’s unique view on SEO in 2016.
You can either skip to your favourite person using these quick links or grab a coffee and start scrolling.
(Responses listed in the order they were received.)
SEO in 2016 will be a case of more of the same.
Google's been VERY quiet since rolling out Penguin in 2012. Any why wouldn't they be? Link spam is on the decline and the results are better than ever.
So at this point, Google's simply turning the dials to make the algorithm slightly better. I don't foresee any major changes from Google in the near future because there's no reason for them to make any.
As unexciting as this might sound, SEO in 2016 will remain to be about content, keywords and backlinks.
With SEO in 2016, it will be a case of having the same approach as 2015... focusing on a really good user experience.
Sites with great user experiences tend to rank better in the long run. If a user finds what they are looking for on your site and they don't keep bouncing or hitting the back button to the SERPs, your rankings should go up over time.
Based on the recent Google algorithm updates, it's obvious that SEOs should focus on user experience in 2016 and beyond.
Search engines have their way of knowing how users interact with a particular website, giving them insight of its quality as a whole.
Positive UX is not just a flavor-of-the-month strategy; it is integral for good SEO.
SEO is only going to get more important in 2016, but it will continue to look less and less like ‘traditional’ SEO.
As Google continues to apply machine learning, social signals and more sophisticated measurements regarding quantifying quality, the big SEO victories will come from accurately identifying and filling consumer needs with high quality content.
Google has always been clear that their algorithmic innovations have all been targeted towards best helping consumers find what they’re looking for.
Therefore, smart SEO operations will align their efforts with the big search engines and earnestly seek to understand their customer's needs at each stage of the consumer decision journey and adequately fill them with the appropriate types of content.
After all, there’s no better way to optimise for a platform than to make sure your key goals align.
The biggest single change for SEO in 2016 is hard to predict, but there are some different things that we can anticipate:
1. The increasing use of Smartphones for search, and therefore increasing use of voice commands using natural language search.
You can see more about how voice search will expand in this study published by Google.
2. The continued expansion of rich answers in Google’s search results.
Google will expand upon Knowledge Graph based results (such as the answer to ‘how many quarts are there in a gallon’), as well as results that they extract from third party web sites (such as the answer they provide to ‘how to reset an iPhone’).
In February, I published a study on Google’s rich answers, and we will soon publish an update. These show dramatic expansion of Google’s rich answers in less than one year, and more of this will come.
3. You can also expect that more and more brands will expand into content marketing as a way of developing their reputation and visibility online.
Many of them will do this badly at first, but some of them will do it very well.
In this environment, it will be critical to focus on creating real demand for your products and/or services, to build your reputation and visibility, and to increase the quality and experiences offered by your website(s) and apps (if you have any).
For most marketers, SEO in 2016 will look a lot like the SEO of today.
But smart brands looking to win at content marketing will spend more time better understanding their audiences and, most important, their would-be audiences.
These are the people who would be interested in your product or service if they were aware of it.
To find these people, wise marketers will move beyond keywords and Google Analytics analysis, focusing more of their energy on being more strategic and less tactical:
- They'll harness user intent and semantic search to be where their audiences are when they need them, with information they can immediately benefit from.
- Instead of focusing solely on content, they'll devote resources to creating solutions to big problems faced (such as product strategy and building effective teams) by their customers and would-be customers.
- They'll view SEO as a subset of the tools needed to thrive in online marketing, whereby they'll fashion solutions that involve branding, PR and communications, in addition to content strategy, mobile technology, technical SEO and local SEO.
In 2016, I'm convinced that the strategic marketers will begin to pull away from their tactical-only counterparts.
I believe that Google is refining the Panda algorithm, most likely via machine learning, to get better and better at promoting sites that are genuinely useful and helpful.
In the past, a mediocre site could still rank well if you were good at finding ways to manipulate Google.
However, in 2016 and beyond, the sites that will perform best are the ones that truly are the best sites to show to users.
I do believe that things like good quality links and great on-site SEO are always going to be vitally important.
But, if you and all of your competitors are doing all of the right things in terms of on and off page SEO, the winner is going to be the site that offers the best experience for users.
I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that ‘relevancy’ matters when your end goal is achieving results through SEO.
I’m talking about everything: your title, meta description, header tags, website content and links.
If you’re able to focus on creating the most relevant content, it will get you phenomenal output in the long run.
At the same time, over-optimisation for your target key phrases must be avoided.
Along with this, I feel that Google’s on-going updates in their algorithm(s) will make it a little more difficult to rank your website when your only focus is ‘link building’.
I still see a large number of companies considering ‘link building’ as only primary factor in SEO – that’s ultimately harming them.
As we all know, content has been king in SEO the past year and even more so this year. I think in 2016 that the need for content will grow, but more so, the need to creativity and variety in content.
That means both the style and intensity of research, brilliance, uniqueness in content will be in high demand; and also, companies won't be sticking to just one format or type of content deliverables.
I think we'll see the growth of things like publishing interactive infographics, audio content like podcasts and blog transcriptions, and more long-form and highly researched blogs.
Having a great presence on social media will be even more important for brands: social engagement will factor more in rankings as Google gets smarter in the year ahead.
For general SEO content, I think more use of long tail, natural phrase keywords in content will be important as searchers narrow down more and more what they want to find.
And as Google does continue to get smarter, only the best content (the most researched, unique, informative) will rank at the top of SERPs.
Every year, there seems to be a big push toward a new focus for SEO and 2016 will be no different.
Back in 2014, the focus was on growth and the impact of content marketing. In 2015, it was how mobile became a mandatory piece of the optimisation stack.
So what can we expect from 2016? I envision it as the year that semantic search becomes the focus for search engines, SEOs and marketers across the board.
Semantic search, being focused on ranking intent over exact match, has already become a pretty big deal. But the fact is that we are still in the early days of its growth. Some specific changes I see coming next year include:
1. Improved search engine support of semantic ranking models, including enhanced matching via Google’s algorithm and adoption of the approach across the other major search engines like Bing, Yahoo, etc.
2. A huge growth in voice search, which is a natural follow on to the massive growth in mobile searches we already see in 2015.
3. Better predictive matching from all search engines based on search history, location, and other factors that are already being used by some search engines.
Imagine the possibilities when ‘search engines’ manage to evolve into ‘prediction engines’. This enhancement is not far off, and I think it’s coming sooner than many may realize.
All of these factors revolve around improving search relevance and user experience, and I for one am excited to see where it takes us.
I think 2016 will see:
1. The ongoing ‘rich media-ification’ of the search results. More and more visual media is showing up in the search results — video, reviews and suchlike. The marketers that figure out how to appear in the rich media results will increasingly grab traffic.
I did a study on the impact of rich media on CTR that describes the phenomenon in more detail that you can read here.
2. The ongoing move to content-centric marketing: Google continues to put a great deal of resources into finding and rewarding good content vs. rewarding those who take shortcuts.
It will become increasingly important that Marketers have a cohesive and comprehensive content strategy vs. ‘an SEO strategy’ if they expect to have longevity in the search results.
Deep data will be extremely important.
Data fuels everything in SEO and the need to use data more effectively for liberating SEO specialists is going to be massive in 2016!
This ‘liberation’ means that SEO experts can focus on tasks that need specialist (and human) expertise, rather than continuing to be (often reluctant) data scientists.
When you combine targeted expert focus & machine-to-machine learning (robots taking on more of the work that they should be doing), the face of SEO will change for good.
A HUGE element of this is the use of data to drive content decisions.
If data is the fuel of SEO decision-making, content is what connects every actionable insight to an end result.
The perception of content needs to change from an often supportive role to an imperative and more prominent one.
I think that SEO in 2016 is likely to be the same as it was in 2015, but with some additional information to note of course.
Every now and then, we always hear something new from Google. Some of important news to mention was the mobile device compatibility, phantom update and even the Panda update.
So for me, it would be usability.
Think about it, if you keep you on focusing to promote your website in social media, ads campaign, in search engines and the like, none of them would matter if the experience of the traffic you drove to your website are not happy with your website.
In fact, I have written a post about in on my blog so if you are interested to know more about improving user experience, this might give you some insights.
SEO started with content and very simple technical analysis. That was the only way search engines really looked at SEO.
There were a few simple factors that were easy to reverse engineer and even simpler to manipulate.
Over the years this has become much more complex. There are far more technical issues to deal with now – site speed, mobile compatibility, support of structured data, social meta tags and duplicate content, to mention a few of the most important.
Also, with the Panda updates, optimising content has become much more complicated.
The evolution will continue in 2016.
Site speed, mobile compatibility and duplicate content in particular are factors that I believe will continue to have a great focus in 2016.
Faster websites with perfect mobile usability will rank better. Websites with little or no duplicate content issues will make for better indexing and enjoy more predictable results.
As a funny side note I do believe that we will see more cloaking in 2016.
Maybe YOU will not see it but there will be more - less of it will be filtered out by the search engines.
This is due to the ever-increasing dynamic nature of the web.
It simply makes it harder than ever for the search engines to identify – and maybe they don’t even care as much as they used to because they did manage to scare off most from using cloaking (except the few that know they really don’t filter it much these days).
As a result of simple technical issues and content being very easy to manipulate, search engines started to look at links as a better quality factor.
For a few years that was a very pure signal. Today it is not. It is in fact very polluted!
In 2016 we will see more and better filtering of ‘unnatural links’ and more emphasis on authoritative links.
But it will be an uphill battle for the engines.
Links that should count will be discounted and poor quality links that should not work will still work.
In 2016 you will still be able to get away with much of the same nonsense that we have seen in the past. It may not always work as well or as long as it used to, but I do not believe we will see the end of it anytime soon.
This is one of the reasons I believe search engines – and especially Google - will begin to focus more and more on ‘user engagement data’.
They collect this data primarily from Chrome and have plenty of it. This data is much more pure than any other quality data and much harder (although not impossible) to manipulate.
The biggest challenge for SEOs when dealing with user engagement data is:
1. We do not know for sure which data Google is or will be using. Right now we
only know they use bounce data but I suspect they already use more.
The fact is: they have the data, it is very strong and a pure signal of quality - Google is not stupid.
So I see no reason they would not use all this data much more. It’s just a question (for them) of figuring out how to use it the best way.
2. For most of the user engagement data, we cannot benchmark out data against competitors. We have to use absolute factors and experience across sites and industries.
3. Typically, SEOs have not been able to deal with the site issues that influence user engagement data. We will have to fight to get access to that with clients. We will have to teach them the importance of this!
There is a need in the market for good benchmarking and competitor comparison tools for user engagement data. I doubt, however, that we will see much of this in 2016 – but hopefully in 2017.
I've always said that if you build a great product that's search friendly and content that people will enjoy, your SEO strategy will be able to stand the test of time.
We've seen this be the case with our clients at Visible Factors, our internal projects, and companies I've advised.
Trends wise, I think being able to use Content Marketing to fuel SEO will be more important than ever.
In 2016 not much will change from 2015.
The focus will be on creating high quality content.
If anything, the main change will be the constant treadmill upwards all SEOs must account for - that is, the increasingly higher standards for content that will only get more stringent as the years go by.
In 2015, it's ok to be good - by 2020, the standards needed to rank on competitive SERPs will be extremely expensive and difficult to surpass.
Specialisation will matter more and more. Links will remain the big drivers of rankings, but your ability to grab a niche (and possibly others, later) will determine whether your overall SEO effort sinks or swims.
As more businesses hang their shingles online, Google gets more companies and services and products and information to choose from and to cherry-pick for the SERPs.
Searchers know that, too, which is probably one reason about 15% of the queries Google gets every day have never been typed into Google before.
Just as some little-known species go extinct every day, new online niches get created every day.
The traffic in a niche tends to be of higher quality. People who type in long tail search terms tend to know what they want, and are past the tyre-kicking stage.
Sure, the volume is lower, but you’re more likely to get a customer. (Not to mention also a ‘long click’ and maybe a passively earned link.)
It’s easier to rank in a small niche. Sometimes you don’t need many or any links to rank well.
Basic on-page work can do the trick. It’s like an SEO time machine that takes you back 5-10 years.
You still need to bring your A-game and create great content on your site and try to build a name for your business in other ways, because eventually more people will crowd your niche and ranking in it might not be so easy anymore.
But that’s always been the big promise of SEO: it gets the ball rolling. You use it to build your business, but don’t build your business entirely on it.
In 2016, I’d rather be the guy who makes buttons for shoes than the company that sells the shoes. I’d also rather do the SEO for the guy who makes the buttons for the shoes.
What's important for SEO in 2016 is the same thing that's been important for SEO the previous 10 years, and that is being a business that provides solutions to problems.
If you are filling the need in whatever given industry by being the solution to the questions that are being asked, the problems that are needing to be solved, the information that is being searched for, you will succeed.
If you do this, you can build a community of people that will keep coming back and eventually become brand ambassadors. If you can't figure this out, eventually your business will die.
Next year will be really pivotal.
Because it's time to decide whether you will become Google's slave and buy ads from them or create free content for them, or, in contrast whether you change your approach and embrace holistic popularization.
Buy ads as Google's slave? What am I talking about? Already you can become a Google Partner and flaunt the badge on your SEO company site when you buy enough Google ads each month. Then you can suggest your visitors that you have a special relationship with Google that will boost their organic rankings.
Many SEO agencies have gone the paid Google Partner route already.
I don't buy Google ads. I'm not a taxi driver - I teach you how to drive yourself, or rather how to get traffic to your site.
Many people in the SEO industry have no problem with such a conflict of interest though. Some have it and thus they abandon SEO altogether and only buy Google ads.
The other "choice" you have is to create free content for Google. They can scrape and display it on Google.com as their own. The searchers do not even need to click through to your site anymore. You work for Google for free.
Not getting paid for your work is one of the main tenets of the slave definition. This phenomenon is called "rich answers" most probably because Google gets rich quick with all the stolen content.
Read more about this here.
By 2016 we might have almost 100% of ‘rich answers’. Then so-called search results and links to third party sites will be redundant.
Both above "choices" are about losing your independence. Both ways make you lose organic traffic. Either you need to buy ads or you need to give up your content to let a meager number of Google users trickle down to your site.
Some marketers are enthusiastic over the ‘opportunity’ you now have to get your content used on Google.com but it's the same brand evangelists who already tried to extol the virtues of Google authorship markup or Google+.
I'm not trying to convince you to become a trooper of the Google empire.
My point is that you can popularize things, people or ideas first so that Google has to display information about them in their search results. I've already explained it in my 'SEO Has Evolved - It's About Popularization Now' article.
You have to become popular to literally force Google to make you findable via their tools whether it's ‘search’, Google Now or their answering machine.
This way you don't even need a website people click though to as long as the searchers get the rich answer to follow your advice, buy your product or use your service.
Search engine innovations have turned from drastic changes to more of the bells and whistles improvements, and I predict that will stay consistent in 2016.
I also predict that more and more of the SERPs will be entirely paid/sponsored results in the upper-fold.
Things like the shell-shocking, SERP-morphing, algorithm updates (Panda, Penguin, etc.) will continue to occur, but as always, only those participating in black hat tactics will need to be concerned.
When it comes to SEO in 2016, it's still going to be all about content - however, not about content creation, but instead ‘content promotion’.
While content is extremely important for the immediate and long term success of every web site or blog, it's the actual promotion, social shares and links back to the site that are going to make it rank higher in the search results.
Always keep in mind... if you don't rank on the first page of Google for your target keywords, there is really no point in ranking at all.
To help with this process, I recommend creating content that is better than your competition, easily shareable and also has the potential to go viral and referenced on other relevant sites.
I also recommend looking into guest blogging and gaining some powerful backlinks and branding by writing for other top sites within your industry.
What will be important to me in 2016 regarding SEO is BRAND.
Earned links have always been important, increasingly so these days. By investing in the emotional attachment the consumer has towards your brand, it will deliver an improved ROI when it comes to ranking in search engines.
We can clearly see that a business or a product that already has a strong brand is able to rank more easily than one that does not.
The search engine results pages have matured in such a way as to factor in how people feel about a brand. The search engines are not yet completely responsive to this issue, but they are increasing the brand factor within the SERPS.
This aspect is more nuanced than pure SEO as it involves the emotions and feelings of people and to increase the way people feel about a brand is a completely different skill set.
It's more advertising than coding, more about the story than about the algo.
Bring on the brand.
Three things will be important for SEO in 2016:
(Not necessarily in that order.)
In 2016, we will see a bigger need and even more focus on mobile usability and high quality content.
With the percentage of mobile users increasing and the demand for quality content. These two areas need to be focused on a whole lot more.
Thinking about it, pretty much everyone has the technical side covered; it's the mobile usability and quality of content that many still lack.
SEO in 2016?
Networking and connections.
Content is king but without anyone in your network to read, like, share, link, retweet, and actually consume that content, it's not worth a dime.
You can spam your way to the top of the SERPS all you want with fake links and social signals, and there's plenty of fake ‘crowd search’ going around to boost your CTR, but at the end of the day it would be wise to focus on building a real audience and network of people to share your content with.
The balance between co-citation & co-occurrence and link profiles will be the ultimate weapon for achieving high Google rankings. Whoever tries to avoid branding will likely have to suffer significant consequences and penalties.
Maintaining a high-quality link profile with branded links, original content, citing authoritative links and relevant keywords will be crucial.
The best approach will be to receive and create a natural flow of backlinks to all inner web pages rather than only to select targeted pages or the homepage in SEO 2016.
We have launched a lot of content this year and actually learned a lot about rankings this more consistently.
In 2014, our content was really hit or miss - we had little control over what would work and what would not work. In 2015, we have refined a process that allows most of our content to be a hit both on social media and on Google.
What we have discovered is that content launch and initial promotion is everything if you want to do well in Google.
The times where you could just hit publish and hope for the best are behind us and if you want to consistently rank for the keywords you are targeting, you need to put a content promotion campaign in place.
The more your content gets shared and talked about, the better it will do. For example, our How to make money blogging case study now ranks #1 to 3 for the very competitive keyword "how to make money blogging" without actual link link building at all.
All we did is put together a solid launch and promotion plan and the few editorial mentions it picked up together with the loads of social signals it generated and sheer content length got it to rank for one of the most competitive keyword in the industry.
Another thing that Google puts disproportionate amount of weight on these days is actual content length.
If you want to rank, add a lot of content to your page, and I mean a LOT of content. 5000+ words pages perform best for us.
Schema markup. As per the recent survey from Raven, only 20 percent of the sites are currently using schema!
And according to the Moz Expert Survey, the impact of structured data in SERPs is going to increase. By looking at this information, I understand that in 2016 more webmasters will mark up their data in 2016.
Also, less will be more.
By next year we will see marketers produce less content but more quality content.
Most marketers will understand that producing content everyday is not going to earn them the required traction or links. It’s only the valuable and well-researched content that will help them earn the links.
Link earning and outreaching will become the primary way to earn links.
2015 has seen 3 types of marketers:
1. Those who understood the concept of link earning.
2. Those who stopped doing SEO (the ‘SEO is dead’ type of marketers).
3. Those who are still using shady link building activities
2016 will see movement, as marketers in the second and third categories start to understand that they should be in the first section.
I absolutely believe in delivering quality and promoting the content (by outreaching) and the results are awesome.
I think in 2016, more webmasters would understand its significance and shift towards link earning!
I think that user experience and its rank correlation will devour budget and attention.
Also, that predictive search using ever-more extensive data about personal affinities, interests, habits and preferences will further fracture SERPs to be almost entirely customized to the individual.
Audience insights will start to overshadow Keywords as the best targeting tactic for paid ads.
Social advertising will become much more competitive, and costs will rise. Worse, the requisite activity levels to chase markets and break through will take a toll.
Bigger budgets will win, as agility, targeting and creative insights become so time-intensive that they fatigue the SMBs and smaller agencies.
Mobile-first will continue to attract design, development and ad budgets, as ad costs will rise while mobile audience share will continue to outdistance desktop and tablet use will flatten.
Monitoring analytics, user tests and audits will become routine for competitive domains.
Content length will go on splitting to the two extremes - ultra-short for social messaging and mobile presentations - and over 2,000 word tomes with plenty of how-to usefulness.
Self-driving Google cars will be tested in select municipal markets.
The cars will be free, while every inch of the interior and exterior is covered with static advertising, and the windshield and side windows continuously run animated and video ads.
Bids for this 'rolling stock' ad inventory will start low, as serial ads and programming start to develop.
Programmatic (display) ads will start to eclipse AdWords text ads. Concept will be king, as creativity becomes the primary differentiator for visual ads.
Public distaste for native advertising will start to grow, as reader-jacking mounts.
Use of ad injection and pay-per-view ads (wherein illicit ad networks use browser hacks or toolbars to overlay their own ad inventory on top of legitimate paid ad placements) will grow, but lost revenues and security issues will start to focus industry and watchdog resistance.
The most important thing to do for SEO in 2016 is the same as it has been since Panda and Penguin came out, and truthfully even before then if you were playing the long game.
It's making and promoting content that is useful and usable to your target audience and making sure that it's accessible.
I've observed some recent trends, especially in presentations and discussions at digital marketing events and Twitter chats.
The users' ability to block ads at an alarming rate continues to underscore the importance of organic SEO.
As mobile results increase, being on the first SERP is no longer good enough.
In that tiny screen space, you need to be in the top three (or local and well-rated) and Google will begin to send you to businesses your friends frequent.
For 2016, focus on: increased mobile usage and mobile UX, investment in organic search/content over PPC, and strategising for those long tail keyword search results.
So there you have it.
Some pretty amazing info there, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Thanks to this post, there’s no reason to worry about SEO and how to take your website to the next level in 2016.
Thanks so much to the 31 SEO experts who agreed to take part.
They’ve offered some awesome opinions and several really helpful, actionable pieces of advice on how to tackle SEO in 2016.
Here's another useful post on SEO that you might like to check out:
What aspects of SEO are you going to focus on in 2016?
Let us know by leaving your comment below.