SEO is a constantly changing field filled with strategists adapting to changes in the way people use search engines and changes to how Google ranks valuable content online. As we ring in the New Year, we also ring in a few of these new SEO modifications to old strategies and a brand new ranking algorithm from Google. Here are the four things you need to know about SEO in 2016 in order to have a successful year online.
Impact of Rankbrain
One of the biggest potential game-changers out there in the SEO world today is Google’s new AI ranking system Rankbrain. It is estimated that Google experiences over Three Billion searches per day, 15 percent of which are entirely new, never before seen queries. Preivously these new queries were overseen by human methods, which would determine the best ways to align them with relevant content. Now Google’s Rankbrain is designed to make search results more efficient and learn as it goes on how to respond to the brand new searches Google faces daily. Google is planning on integrating Rankbrain into Hummingbird as a search algorithm and search strategists are already hypothesizing as to what this could mean for the field of SEO in 2016. Although the specifics of Google’s current search algorithms are largely shrouded in secrecy there are a few things we do know.
Firstly, Google has more than 200 rankings signals that are weighted at different levels of importance to determine how pages are ranked (i.e. keywords on a page, bolded words, headers etc.). Even though Google will not release an exact list of all their signals they have said that Rankbrain will be listed as the third most weighted signal overall, making it a powerful new component. Since there are over 200 ranking signals and Rankbrain is not replacing them, it likely means that a lot of the previously successful methods of optimization, such as keyword optimization, will remain relevant but the value of Rankbrain should not be overlooked. Secondly, since Rankbrain will be working based on past learning, it is likely that it will start to link complex search patterns making long-tail keywords more valuable than keyword stuffing. For this reason, SEO strategists need to start looking into language semantics and valuable content instead of quick shortcuts to higher rankings.
Value of Long-tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are becoming increasingly effective tools of SEO strategists and you can expect that to continue to be the case for SEO in 2016. With new systems being unveiled, such as Rankbrain, pages with the most number of an individual keyword will no longer be rewarded with rankings. Instead well-integrated, long-tail keywords and semantically linked keywords will become more valuable. People searching for a used car on Google are not just going to search “used car” because that is way too vague. Instead they are more likely to search “Blue used car in Toronto” or “Used four door Honda Civic.”
Keyword research completed in 2016 needs to take into account long-tail keywords and location modifiers for their optimization in order to deliver better organic results. Search strategists should structure content around topics of interest to their audience, instead of developing articles around an individual keyword. One way of doing this is through Latent Semantic Indexing – which focuses on semantic links between phrases in order to optimize a page for multiple related and relevant terms. It should also be noted that an added benefit of optimizing pages for specific long-tail keywords is that users who click on your page are more likely to convert. Take the above example of “used four door Honda Civic” – that query is very specific in its intent so having content properly optimized to showcase used four door Honda Civics is more likely to bring about a conversion than a page simply optimized for “used cars.”
Importance of On-Page SEO & Optimized Content
Content found on the Internet is becoming increasingly detailed and competitive. Now anyone can seek out answers to their everyday questions with a few keystrokes and most of those individuals are not looking past the first page of results. Let’s take a look at a relevant example from Google. One of the most searched for topics of 2015 according to Google was “Star Wars.” So far that topic has seen over 155M searches, (it is still growing), and the top query is “What order should I watch ‘Star Wars’?” Consider for a moment how competitive page rankings would be for the top Star Wars terms. The question now becomes how does someone who has a movie review site get their content on the first page of those results? One strategy that should definitely be used in 2016 is through on-page SEO.
It is currently estimated that the average number of words used in the top ranking content on Google ranges from 1,140-1,285. Through a further examination of top ranking content it was found that almost all pages had a meta-description and over 80% of the results had an optimized H1 tag. What this means for search strategists in 2016 is that no only do you need to make valuable, lengthy content but it is also important to optimize throughout your content. So someone looking to rank for “Star Wars” is likely going to examine popular long-tail keywords like “order to watch star wars films” and integrate that keywords into not only their content, but their H1 tags, meta descriptions, page titles and URLs.
Quicker Mobile Page-Load Times
Mobile optimization is something so crucial for SEO that it almost should not be mentioned in a guide on what to know about SEO in 2016 because it should have been done in 2015 . That being said, one area that should be improved upon in 2016 is page load time. The top ranking pages on Google take 1.16 seconds to load on a desktop and 1.10 seconds to load on mobile devices. When it comes to e-commerce sites this is even more imperative because slow load times can leave to abandoned shopping carts without a purchase. In fact Walmart found in 2015 that for every second they shaved off their page-load times they experienced a two percent increase in conversions.
Ensuring faster mobile-load times will make your site more mobile-friendly, something Google is currently rewarding pages for in its algorithm (and conversely penalizing un-optimized mobile sites). If you do a page-speed test on Google and find that your load-speeds are not up to par, here are a few ways to reduce your mobile load time:
- Remove redirects on mobile sites – these can add on frustrating seconds
- Minimize images – find ways to integrate creative content without bogging down mobile servers