Personally, I blame the general population. Everyone wants to point their finger at Google and say they're the ones to blame for the constant battle. But when it comes down to it, you need to admit -- sure, Google seems to have all the power, but these changes are ultimately a direct reflection of what Google believes the end user wants. It's the online users, the consumers, who are driving these changes. Google might be the one implementing and enforcing them, but can you blame them? Their main priority is to give people what they want. Curse them all you want, but really it's the impatient, demanding internet users you should be pointing the finger at.
Most (if not all) of the changes we're going to see this year, or have seen already, can be directly attributed to Google aiming to please their users. We've reached a point where people no longer want to see a long list of blue hyperlinks when they pose a question on Google - they want to see the answer to their question. They want a reliable solution from Google - not more information. That's simply too much work.
So what are the major changes we should expect to see in 2016 and beyond?
Here's what I have found and I'd like to know what everyone else expects to see coming too.
Creating and distributing quality content isn't something new, but its level of importance is. This is now one of the largest factors in getting your page ranked well on the search engines. They have the ability to scan your URL for keywords, dig into the tags from your images and check your content to see what you're writing about. These are the important factors; it's not about pushing out the most content or having the most keywords. They are looking at the structural components, and then taking into account how long people stayed on your site, what they did on it, and if they shared it on social media. These are the variables that need to connect with the site and what scream to the search engines, "We found quality content!"
The exposure you get from social media will continue to be important. Now one of the factors considered for your ranking, it's important for businesses to invest in having a social presence. When people are sharing your content, it signals to the search engines that your content is good, valuable, and worth reading. This shows Google that people like and want what you're putting out there. From the other side, when people share your content, this will cause your website to get increased traffic. Social media sharing has the power to significantly impact the results of your SEO, and the benefits are plenty.
Mobile optimization will continue to be a trend, but I hope we've reached a point where businesses are finally paying attention to the consumer experience, rather than just focusing on having a mobile version of their website. That might be the trend this upcoming year -- we're no longer optimizing our mobile sites, but we're optimizing our mobile sites to ensure we provide the absolute best customer experience. It's no longer good enough to have a site that displays nicely on mobile. In order to keep mobile customers happy, you really need to put yourself their shoes. Something as simple as requiring a person to type in their address can be enough to derail the purchase. Take those extra steps to remove any barriers, and make purchasing as easy and painless as possible. This is what consumers expect in 2016.
If you're not sure whether your site is optimized for mobile or not, Google can tell you with their mobile-friendliness checker.
I won't lie, I too felt for s short period that back links just didn't matter anymore. But it turns out, they still do. The importance may not be as high, but getting quality backlinks to your content continues to be an important part of SEO. The main thing to understand in this area is that backlinks are not created equal. For something to actually benefit you, the backlink must be coming from a site that has high domain authority.
While keywords have been the foundation for all SEO campaigns, it's safe to say that your strategy in 2016 can no longer remain the same. Long-tailed keywords that transition into natural language are where you need to focus. Previously, you would do your keyword research and use the selected terms within your content as often as you could get away with. Now, your approach needs to be different. Google is focused on understanding customer intent. They are using keywords and trying to interpret what the consumer actually wants to find, and understanding natural language is a huge part of this. So those long-tailed keyword searches are what you want to weave into the natural language of your content. This is the new keyword research.
While this may seem obvious, given the fact that we're talking about organic search traffic, it's really not that cut and dry. Many businesses and marketers continue to buy links or cram their preferred keywords into their website as many times as possible. But guess what? No one buys it, especially not Google. Because Google is prioritizing giving consumers what they want, it's more important than ever that you don't raise the alarm bells with inauthentic or outdated tactics. Everything you do must to appear natural and genuine. When you're creating content, the search engines can tell if it doesn't make any sense. Creating pointless content around terms you want to optimize for will only hurt your site's ranking. While getting quality backlinks is important, you can't go out and buy them. Well, you could, but Google would know. Your focus should be on creating quality content that your readers will love and want to engage with. Don't try the other tactics to increase your organic reach, because you can't trick Google or the readers.
So all this says to me:
Create quality content that your consumers will love, and weave natural, long-tailed keywords into your content. Ensure your customers have a phenomenal mobile experience, and get active on social media. Create content that is SO good that other great sites want to link back to it. Don't be fake or try too hard. Just be awesome, and eventually you'll get rewarded.