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What does 2016 have in store for SEO?

The experts have already summed up 2015, let's see what the crystal balls reveals for the year ahead.

Moving towards the 'no-search' future

Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi

Mobile will overtake desktop, where it hasn’t already, in 2016 and that means more voice searches and smart assistants.

It’s been said that Google’s ultimate goal is to build the Star Trek computer; something you instruct or converse with as you would another person, or which anticipates your needs as normal person would, and while we won’t get there in 2016 we will reach a point where the once lofty goal becomes something the mainstream masses could believe in.

In SEO terms this “no search” future means audience engagement strategies that include proxies like smart assistants.

For example, it might mean making sure your content is preferred by Facebook M (Facebook's virtual assistant) so it’s the match suggested by that smart assistant.

Or it might mean supplementing SEO content campaigns with a paid media spend to ensure that your fresh content is recommended by Google Now as a “popular in your area” suggestion.

More mobile voice search will lead to the 'no search' future

Integrated SEO more important than ever

Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi

As the SEO sphere of influence mushrooms to include new technologies and platforms, it will be increasingly important not to run the channel in an isolated silo.

SEO won’t be replaced by storytelling, content marketing or another fad – brands will always have search engine objectives – but it does mean that access to experts in social, biddable media, affiliate, paid search, outreach and CRM will be paramount.

These experts will need to recognise that, while SEO makes heavy use of data, the very best SEO is also, in part, instinctive – just as a good headline writer or artist is.

Page one to transform through AI

Jon Earnshaw, CTO at Pi Datametrics

Two things that we are likely to see more of in 2016...are SERPS interactivity as well as more answers revealed within the results themselves as Google continues to expand its Knowledge Vault. 

Interactivity and guidance built on what others have been searching for combined with a greater understanding of intent (Hummingbird and AI together) and acquired knowledge will see Google itself becoming the expert rather than the sites it gathers its knowledge from.

This is likely to result in some real-estate changes on page one with doorways (snippets and blue links) increasingly giving way to answers and knowledge.

Pages two onwards are likely to remain largely unaffected. Paid search will clearly benefit from this. 

This in turn will change our relationship with Google as it continues its transition from a collection of doorways into more of a helpful intermediary on our journey through life; there for us whenever we want, acting in part as an algorithmic gatekeeper, only sending us on to websites when it has either completed its work or exhausted its knowledge.

gatekeeper's house sign 

Machine learning diversifies search

Will Critchlow, founder of Distilled

On both desktop and mobile, we expect to see natural language and machine-learning-driven search continue to grow in prominence.

As a result, we expect to see marketers using split-testing more and more for SEO purposes as ranking factors continue to diversify. 

I talked about this at SearchLove London and gave more of the context about why this is important - and how to do it.

Penguin to become real-time

Nick Fettiplace, SEO director at Jellyfish

Google’s Penguin algorithm is likely to also create a fair amount of chatter in early 2016 – so brace yourselves! 

The forthcoming Penguin update had originally been slated for late 2015, however Google announced recently that it would be delaying the roll-out until early 2016.

The algorithm was first introduced in 2012 to combat black-hat link building tactics, however it received much criticism due to the large time gaps between updates, which meant that sites that had been penalised but had subsequently cleaned-up their acts had to wait many months before experiencing any kind of recovery. 

The reason why the SEO community has so eagerly awaited the forthcoming update is because it will see the Penguin algorithm transition into becoming ‘real-time’.

When we consider that the last official update was in October 2014, we can really understand why this step by Google is being regarded as a massive leap in the right direction.

penguin encounter

Multimedia recognition to improve

Ruth Attwood, SEO Consultant at 4Ps Marketing

Voice recognition and natural language processing is only going to get better.

I’m also hoping that we’re going to start seeing other multimedia elements catching up in that regard – things like more advanced image and video recognition.

The pace of technology development in that area is very exciting and has some potentially huge implications for how users search as well as the results they might see.

Blurred lines between web and app 

Will Critchlow, founder at Distilled

App search is going to continue to grow in both influence and complexity.

The introduction of app streaming by Google (well in advance of when we expected that to happen) blurs the line between mobile web and app and will enable it to continue blurring the line in the search results.

app streaming

Competition between platforms, not search engines 

Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi

It’s not all Google. Baidu and Yandex will continue to hold court in their regions but it is hard to see either making much progress into the West in 2016.

The battles between Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are likely to influence market share more than direct search-on-search competition. Yahoo will try and push into premium digital but will struggle.

Schema to go from strength to strength

Nick Fettiplace, SEO director at Jellyfish

I’m still surprised at the number of big brands and websites that are not utilising this type of mark-up. In fact, I’m surprised by the number of people who still ask “What is it?”. 

It’s all about making your content stand out from the crowd – and, Schema is an essential part of fulfilling that objective.

schema markup

Don't forget, Google can and will mix it up

Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi

Lastly, in 2016 we should remind ourselves that Google crunches numbers and trends. What worked in the past might not work in the future if that’s the decision Google’s number crunching comes to.

For example, if Google or Bing starts to algorithmically detect that the majority of beauty bloggers publish too much advertorial content with too little disclosure, then links from those blogs might become a negative quality signal rather than a positive one.

This means that 2016 is open for some big changes and advances.

Jon Earnshaw, CTO at Pi-Datametrics

One thing we know for sure is that Google is going to keep on trying to improve the quality of the SERPS through numerous updates, be they algorithmic, infrastructure or otherwise.

As Google strives to satisfy its four key tenets of trust, authority, relevance and quality the SERPS will become a friendlier, more helpful place.

If you're interested in learning more about SEO, see Econsultancy's training courses.

Ben Davis

Published 14 December, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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Daniel S, SEO at www.seofix.com.au

I'm assuming real time penguin would have to crawl all links and determine which ones are good, automated and bad. So does this mean we should expect a quicker recognition of good back links and quicker updating of page-ranks amongst all websites?

over 1 year ago

Ben Hawkshaw-Burn

Ben Hawkshaw-Burn, Co-Founder at PurpleFruit

Interesting to read this in May, nearly half way through the year. Especially as Google did indeed 'mix it up' and got rid of Adwords on the right hand side of the search engine results page. It's interesting to look at the affect this may have had also to try and predict what Google have planned for us next!

12 months ago

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