Top 10 SEO Trends for 2016

How people use the Internet is changing, and SEO experts must evolve to stay relevant. Last year was defined by the rising importance of mobile website optimization — and while that trend will continue, expect social media, apps and Google advancements to make increasingly large impacts on the SEO industry.

Google WordleHow people use the Internet is changing, and SEO experts must evolve to stay relevant. Last year was defined by the rising importance of mobile website optimization — and while that trend will continue, expect social media, apps and Google advancements to make increasingly large impacts on the SEO industry. Technology is moving at breakneck speed. That’s great news for ambitious businesses, but bad news for folks who’d prefer to maintain the status quo.

Looking ahead, we predict these 10 SEO trends will set the tone through 2016:

1. Quality video content will become more valuable than written content.
Content is king, right? Until now, written content has been the gold standard. Going forward, though, video content will become increasingly important, and 2016 may be the year it surpasses written content. That’s because video content — which can take the form of videos, animations, dynamic infographics and more — is much more engaging and shareable than text.

Not only are videos taking over social media and many of the most popular apps, but Google is also experimenting with embedding video ads within search results. The bottom line is that social media and mobile devices are the driving force in online interaction, and social media prioritizes user experience over traditional SEO signals. That’s why video may get a leg up.

2. Search queries will change as more people search the Web by speaking into their phones.
When searching Google for running shoes, a person might type “running shoes men” or “trail running shoes” into the search bar. But that same person would likely make a completely different query if speaking it aloud: “Find running shoes for men in Seattle.” Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now — the digital assistants that are built into new smartphones — are changing the nature of online search queries. As a result, content that contains more colloquial and conversational long-tail keywords are more likely to be rewarded by Google’s ever-evolving algorithms.

3. Social media posts will be indexed by Google.
If you didn’t already believe that social media would profoundly impact search results, then you should believe it now. Google has already started to display Twitter and Facebook content in mobile search results. More social media platforms are expected to be similarly indexed throughout the next year, highlighting the importance of strong social media marketing to go hand-in-hand with SEO optimization efforts.

4. Deep links on apps will become as important as deep links on the Web.
Apps are tailor-made to thrive on mobile devices, and it’s not hard to believe that people may eventually use apps more than they visit websites. This is why Google started indexing apps, and it’s why more apps will be indexed throughout 2016. App developers can take advantage of this trend by creating sharable deep links that can be easily viewed and shared. Deep links are highly valuable for website SEO, and deep links on apps could soon be just as meaningful.

5. Local search results will become even more focused.
The proliferation of smartphones with GPS apps is driving search results to be increasingly local. Now, people have smart watches and other wearable gear equipped with that same technology. That’s why local searches are expected to become even more hyper-local as the year goes on. Want to find the best Italian restaurant near you? Coming soon, search results won’t be optimized by just city and state — they’ll be optimized by your street, neighborhood or district.

6. Real-time updates to Google’s search algorithms will keep webmasters and SEO experts on their toes.
Google usually rolls out its algorithm updates in large chunks. However, Google may start launching real-time updates to its Panda and Penguin algorithms, which were implemented to weed out thin and black-hat websites from the search rankings. Webmasters and SEO experts who already go the extra mile to stay ahead of the curve may not be significantly impacted by real-time updates, but nobody will be able to rest on their laurels if Google ups the frequency of its algorithm adjustments.

7. Top organic search positions may have diminishing returns.
Until now, a top ranking in organic search results guaranteed hefty amounts of traffic — but that was before standard results competed with video ads and social media posts for clicks. As Google places more dynamic and engaging content along with its top-ranked results — and as other search engines eventually follow suit — then those once formidable rankings may experience diminishing returns. This highlights the need to diversify SEO and social media efforts heading into 2016.

8. Google’s rich answers will make websites with unique or proprietary information more valuable.
Did you know that Google responds to more than one-in-three search queries with a rich answer? These automatic answers to people’s search queries appear to the right of the organic results, and they can completely negate any need to visit actual websites. Not only is this bad news for websites with content that’s readily available anywhere, but Google is working hard to make rich answers even more thorough. That said, websites containing unique or proprietary content could benefit greatly from rich answers, which typically include links to their sources of information. This is one more way for quality content producers to create success in SEO campaigns.

9. Page load optimization will matter more than ever.
Pages that load faster rank better in Google — that’s a known fact. In addition, large websites that load slowly may not be completely indexed by Google’s bots, effectively wasting your SEO efforts. But there’s more. Snappy, properly performing landing pages are more likely to gain traction on social media, while under-performing websites are more likely to have high bounce rates. Advertisers will also find that slow-loading landing pages are also prone to higher costs in Facebook because of the platform’s emphasis on quality user experiences.

10. Mobile website optimization will surpass desktop optimization.
Mobile Internet usage outpaced desktop Internet usage more than two years ago, and since then search algorithms have been shifting to reflect users’ priorities. We predict 2016 will be the year that mobile website optimization in certain industries will matter more than desktop optimization for overall SEO strategies. It’s not just website presentation that’s driving this seismic shift — it’s also the rising importance of apps and social media. Expect mobile optimization to not only surpass desktop, but to eventually leave it in the dust.

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How Evolving Mobile Behaviors are Raising the Stakes for Marketers

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

If anything, the division of the mobile smartphone space into iOS and Android, as well as demographic and usage patterns on these platforms, means that targeting and developing effective mobile experiences just got a whole lot harder. But this is translating into more options for mobile marketers in 2012.

When you look at actual user behavior on smartphones, you might wonder how the mobile web would effectively fit in at all. The focus for both iOS and mobile users is on app usage versus mobile web access. Apps have become so successful that they’re moving us away from the web in general. The reasons are rather straightforward:

1. Curated content apps have become primary experiences. Whether public or ad supported, curated content sources (e.g., NPR and The Wall Street Journal) have found the niche within application environments that move users away from the web and directly toward branded experiences they trust as either primary or authoritative sources of information.

2. Excerpted content typically satisfies curiosity. Even more popular apps don’t necessarily translate to more mobile web activity. This has always been the fear with content syndication in general, but combine it with a preference for a more focused and curated experience and you get a further erosion of mobile web traffic.

3. The ease of use and established reliance on app stores. The effectiveness of the app store model combined with mobile context to include desktop environments further reinforces the shift from the web search route as a first stop for function resources.

Websites are driving traffic to apps instead of presenting a mobile-optimized version of themselves. Many sites could take advantage of users visiting via mobile device to optimize their experience. Instead, you should drive them to download apps that provide a specific or focused subset of content and functionality. Focus on creating a controlled and curated environment for experiencing content.

Further complicating matters are the differences in demographics and behavior between iOS and Android users. Android users tend to be heavier app users than iOS users (by a significant percentage), according to recent Fiksu research.

According to a recent Hunch.com survey, gender balances, income levels, age ranges and other important segmenting criteria also differ significantly between audiences. Certainly there’s enough to merit taking a closer look at these considerations when designing mobile experiences for these platforms. Android adoption rates make it clear that supporting Android isn’t an option; it’s a requirement in order to reach as broad a mobile and tablet audience as possible.

Tablets are an important area where the mobile web, and the higher percentage of mobile web usage among iOS users, comes into play. Tablets offer a superior web browsing experience. In addition, differing usage patterns and behaviors mean that tablet-based experiences can be deeper and richer than mobile-optimized executions and will track close to desktop browsing.

What does all of this mean for mobile marketers and advertisers in 2012? Android’s broader audience and superior mobile ad performance will make it a focus for mobile display advertising efforts. Apple’s advertising formats are of primary interest within the context of specific applications where their inclusion and application usage merit the investment. In-app advertisement effectiveness becomes even more critical to understand and measure in this context, as those investments tend to be higher than broader mobile ad networks buys.

Social platform mobile integration efforts need to be watched closely. Emerging apps and potential ad integration capabilities are key focal points for marketers already heavily invested in social platforms or for those looking to leverage location-enabled social networks more heavily.

Tablet and touch-optimized experiences via the mobile web will be critical to support the heavier skew of browser usage among tablet owners. Give specific consideration to the ability to leverage touch-enabled HTML5 implementations and the superior browsers offered by these platforms.

2012 will certainly be the year when marketers’ attention will be firmly focused on mobile, but in reality that represents separate and to some extent distinct experiences — e.g., mobile apps, mobile websites and tablet-optimized versions of both.

There’s an Ad for That

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

According to eMarketer, mobile ad spending in messaging, display, video and search is expected for the first time to top $1 billion in the U.S. this year, showing the highly fractured nature of the mobile ad market. Research from several mobile ad network providers shows the difference in performance between approaches and resulting user behaviors, with expanding ads performing extremely poorly in terms of clickthroughs versus simple animated banner or video ads. Adding to the challenge of choosing the right approach and setting expectations of performance is the sheer number of ad formats and networks available.

Consider Context
Don’t just think about how and when users are exposed to ads on their phones, but also where they are and what they’re doing at the time. This establishes a complete picture of the context for the ad. Some formats don’t make sense in a broad variety of contexts, therefore a critical consideration would be to ensure that whatever network you’re using offers this type of contextual placement in addition to other targeting options.

There are real differences when considering advertising in apps vs. mobile websites. While casual web surfing on a mobile or tablet device would support the use of display ads to reach an audience, in-app behavior is distinctly different from surfing. This means that even if in-app advertising is available, you need to carefully consider its effectiveness during real-world app usage and the overall impression it would give users encountering it in a particular context.

Consider the following: Do mobile users really need or want a banner ad consuming valuable screen space in the apps they frequent most? It’s this total picture of context that should be the driving consideration for design, placement and expectations of performance. Even if ads aren’t currently available in that location, the ability to leverage background application processing or emerging geo-fencing options allows marketers to take advantage of what would normally be a missed messaging opportunity.

Let’s consider in-ad gaming for mobile, specifically ads during active gameplay. Even at a load screen, would you really expect an ad to drive a clickthrough? Would it do anything but generate an ad impression? As a gamer, I’m not likely to click if I’m stealing a few minutes during the day for a casual gaming session to relax before resuming my day. However, seeing that ad still works for branding purposes as past data suggests.

Mobile is Actually Local
The reality is that the mobile device is inherently local, which needs to factor prominently into planning a mobile campaign. While mobile users are unlikely to be surfing and clicking on banners while walking within the proximity of a nearby coffee shop, you can use technologies such as geo-fencing and background application processing on mobile devices to offer them $1 off an oh-so-satisfying latte. This example makes a strong case for carefully considering branding versus direct response versus promotional programs. It definitely reinforces the importance of context.

Where this gets even more interesting for advertisers is in the ability to exchange data and share interaction points for local, geo-targeted ad or promotional models. If a loyalty or transaction app is already installed on a consumer’s phone, and it enables proximity notifications through access to the device’s location, a retailer can let five other retailers within walking distance leverage this trusted channel to provide truly localized messaging opportunities at a premium.

They can even support a performance-based model, which could accurately determine if the consumer subsequently walked into the establishment. This is all no more complex than any self-service ad model in place today, with legal and privacy concerns addressed via proper disclosures and notifications during installation and/or activation of the app.

Display advertising on mobile obviously isn’t going away. The sooner you realize that it’s not the web as you know it today, stop trying to force current ad models into current mobile platforms, and that context is key, the sooner you’ll be able to generate not only results you can brag about, but returns clients can truly appreciate.