It’s a little bit of a long post, so if you’d like to skip through the sections, here’s a bit of a contents page:

Our reflections on SEO in 2016

Before I started writing this post, I put out a short survey to the Silverbean office, for the search team to get their teeth stuck into. It was basically to see how we thought SEO would pan out this year, by ranking the most influential SEO trends in 2016.

Here are the results…

Search Trend 2016
Mobile Optimisation 1
Useful Content 2
UX 3
Local search 4
Schema 5
Content Hubs 6
Backlinks 7
Voice search 8
A changing SERPs 9
Real time penguin 10
Digital Assistants 11
https:// vs http:// 11
Social signals becoming stronger 13
Keywords, keywords, keywords 14
Other 15
Video Content 16

As you would expect with the release of “Mobilegeddon” in the April of 2015, and the continual shift in strategy by Google to mobile, saw mobile optimisation top the charts.

This was closely followed by Useful Content, which here at Silverbean has very much been our mantra over the past couple of years. So much so that we created our very own useful content checklist (shameless self-promotion!), which might come in handy for your planning next year.

Down at the other end of the scale, Video Content, Other and Keywords were deemed to be the least influential ranking factors of 2016. A good few years ago now, Video for SEO was starting to gather a little bit of momentum.

The introduction of the Hummingbird search algorithm got us thinking more about quality content, and naturally Video was in the discussion. However, since then the interest has waned, and it dropped off our peripheral as an SEO tool and ranking factor.

What actually happened to SEO in 2016?

Reactive SEO

Historically, Google have been about as transparent as a loaf of bread, with regards to their algorithm changes, new products and just general tomfoolery.

There was a slight blip in 2015, when they announced the Mobilegeddon months in advance, however they were back to their old tricks again very early into the new year.

2016 looked to continue this trend of SEO’s having to be reactive, rather than proactive, with core ranking algorithm update being released over the weekend of January 9th-10th 2016, only to be confirmed at 3 days later by Googles official Twitter spokesman, Gary Ilyes.

We have seen slight improvements from Google on this in recent months, often alluding to changes before they happen. However, SEO remains for all intents and purposes a reactive industry.

Annoyingly, this is one of the things that keeps SEO so interesting, but it’s incredibly infuriating. The best bet to avoid future penalties and keep up to date is keep checking MozCast for any fluctuations and of course, keep reading our blog.

Real-Time Penguin and other algorithm changes

Moving into the back end of 2015, there had been a lot of discussion around real-time Penguin, and we finally saw the implementation almost a year later.

There were a couple of teething problems, but the roll out happened in September 2016, with the Penguin Algorithm being “baked” into Google’s Core Algorithm.

In terms of the algorithm itself, very little actually changed. There were no major rule updates, so providing you hadn’t been implementing any ‘Black Hat’ SEO strategies in the months leading up to the update, there’ shouldn’t have been much of an issue for you.

There was a new algorithm update implemented too, which was affectionately known as Google Possum, which affected Local Search results. The main purpose of this was to diversify the local results and also to prevent spam from ranking.

Mobile Optimisation: AMP & Mobile First Indexing

One of the biggest buzz terms of 2016 was AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages. These were intended to deliver super-fast page load speeds for sites that were very heavy on content.

Whilst there has been a relatively slow adoption rate, after the initial surge (in December 2015, Google reported 16,000 new AMPs a day), AMPs lower bounce rate, improved organic visibility and UX is looking to go from strength to strength.

2016 also brought about the notion of Mobile first indexing, where Google have said they’re beginning to experiment with this:

“Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site”

Personal Assistants: Echo and Home

Something that somewhat snuck up on us this year has been Personal Assistants and Voice search. The surge started with the introduction of Google Home and the Amazon Echo, who are currently at loggerheads over their first forays into the Personal Assistant market.

This space will only get more crowded with Microsoft inevitably entering the arena along with a host of other smaller companies.

Google Cards and the ever expanding Schema

The expansion of Google cards from the knowledge graph, to including real time tweets, Local updates and the comparison of products has also been important in 2016.

The introduction of these new cards, highlighted the move towards Google Home.

Schema also got a bit of a revamp too, highlighting its ability to influence the SERPs.

Changing face of SERPs

2016 also brought about a shuffle down the SERPs for organic searches. The shift from Sidebar ads, to additional ads above the fold meant organic search have continued their decent down the SERPs.

SILVERBEAN’S PREDICTIONS FOR SEO IN 2017

Much like the 2016 evaluations, the search team completed the survey to see how we thought SEO would look in 2017, by ranking the most influential SEO trends. Obviously, one thing to bear in mind: this is just a snapshot of the search landscape.

Search Trend 2017 Ranking Change
Mobile Optimisation 1 0
Voice search 2 6
Useful Content 3 -1
Schema 4 1
Local search 5 -1
UX 6 -3
Digital Assistants 7 4
Content Hubs 8 -2
A changing SERPs 9 0
Backlinks 10 -3
Video Content 11 5
https:// vs http:// 12 -1
Real time penguin 13 -3
Keywords, keywords, keywords 14 0
Social signals becoming stronger 14 -1
Other 16 -1

most-influential-search-trend-of-2016-vs-2017

As you can see, there’s been quite a lot of fluctuation between 2016 and 2017.

Voice search, Video content and Digital Assistants have seen the biggest climb, with an increase of 6, 5 & 4 respectively.

The increase in Voice Search and Digital Assistants is hardly surprising given the recent release of the aforementioned Google Home and Amazon Echo. However, it’s a slight surprise “Video Content” increased quite so much, however this could be due to a number of factors…

  1. I fear it was treated a little harshly in 2016, which could result in 2017 being it’s more natural position.
  2. The interest in the real time Penguin update may have taken a search marketer’s attention away from content and onto links last year, resulting in diminished perceived importance.
  3. There appears to have been a bit of an explosion in popularity, meaning search engines might sit up and take note of video after a couple of years in the shadows.

Looking at the biggest fallers; Real Time Penguin, Backlinks and UX all have fallen 3 positions. There is a direct correlation between the diminished importance of Penguin and Backlinks, as the penguin algorithm impacts spammy/black hat link practices. So whilst last year, everyone was rushing to make sure their backlinks were in check, this year (hopefully) they should all be in tip top shape.

UX may well have been impacted by the raise of the digital assistants and voice search. The ability for search engines to crawl and read the website for answers, appears to have taken rank over the user experience at the moment.

However, on the flip side, with mobile optimisation topping the chart, it could be that people have included UX in their thoughts around this.

Predictions for SEO in 2017

Taking into account the Search Team’s responses, here are our predictions for SEO in 2017.

Mobile will continue to dominate

The use of mobile phones in our day-to-day lives has increased beyond all recognition, even if you look back just a decade ago. Our lives revolve around the things. We call, take pictures, message, play games and most importantly, in the SEO industry, we search.

We search for…

  • Answers to questions in pub quiz (Naughty naughty!)
  • Reviews of a product whilst we’re in a shop
  • Local traffic updates
  • News articles
  • Life hacks
  • How to make the perfect cup of tea
  • Why does the Queen of England have two birthdays?
  • What’s inside a tennis ball
  • Who are the best digital marketing agency in the country?

You get the picture. They’re incredibly important devices in our industry and as they have become a primary source of information, Google have looked to instill upon us the importance of having a mobile friendly site.

The introduction of AMP towards the back end of 2015, saw a cautious introduction and adoption rate. 2017 is the year they will really kick off.

“I think it might be towards the end of 2017, but I believe AMP will be one of the biggest changes to web performance we have ever seen. Google is all about UX and the faster pages (that are hosted by Google) will take precedent (on mobile) over those that are just mobile optimised. I know e-commerce pages look pretty shabby as it stands, but 6-12 months is a long time in digital and I can imagine the AMP landscape will look very different come December.” – James Mechan

Another prediction is that 2017 will see a Mobile Friendliness Algorithm update. The importance of mobile is paramount, and the furore around “Mobilegeddon” was a prime example of this.

However, I think this was just a warning shot by Google, as the reported impact of the roll out was relatively minimal. The new update will start to have a greater impact on the state of search and the mobile first indexing experiments they are currently running will be the basis of this update.

Basically – it was just the start of things to come, so, if it isn’t already, Mobile should be a big focus of your digital strategy for 2017.

Adoption of Voice Search will increase throughout the year: Introduction of Google Home and Amazon Echo, Snippets

Voice search has long been at the tips our finger in the form of Siri, Cortana and Android Voice Commands, but it was seen mainly as a novelty. Shouting “Talk dirty to me” at the monotone Siri was as far some of you got.

However, the more functionality voice search has picked up, the more we have begun to understand its true capabilities.

Image shows personal assistant Siri answering a question

The recent introduction of Google Home and Amazon Echo is home-age (see what I did there?!) to the practicalities of voice search. It’s likely that the initial scepticism and novelty factor will quickly wear off.

“I think 2017 will become the year when some of the social stigmas of using voice to interact with a device breaks down. I’ve personally been using voice search a lot more than I’d ever anticipated.

Getting comfortable with using voice search in the comfort of your own home seems like it could be way in which the general populous are exposed to the technology” – Stephen Shaw

We’re predicting that in the near future, Voice search will begin making inroads to challenging text search.

As a result of this, featured snippets will also become increasingly important in 2017.

Featured snippets will become much more prominent and available for wider types of information. More and more SEOs, agencies and companies will see the benefit in these and actively look to rank for them” – Jack Nottidge

Traditional tactics will diminish in importance as Search Engines look to Engagement, Relevance & Usability measures

One trend that kept appearing when discussing amongst our team was the continued diminishing of “traditional SEO” tactics. The likes of Keyword Stuffing and hammering your site with dodgy backlinks is long gone.

Moving forwards, there will be much more reliance on the intent, relevancy and usability signals. As we’ve been saying for quite some time here at Silverbean, USEFULNESS is paramount.

“Pulling on the old SEO strings is likely to be less effective in 2017, if you’re not ultimately providing the user with what they want in an easy to user friendly fashion.” – Martyn Addison

“I think the ability to game rankings as was once possible is just no longer doable with the host of user engagement metrics Google has access to. There are so many other ways for a user to reach your site (search, voice, mobile, schema and social) that even if you get a shoddy product to rank well in traditional desktop, the other user signals won’t keep it there for long.” – James Mechan

Machine Learning will change how Search Engines “think”

Although Gary Ilyes has stated Machine Learning “will not take over the core algorithm”, it’s obvious that it is growing in importance. With RankBrain already viewed as the third most important signal contributing to the result of a search query, it’s clear to see it has some clout.

The notion that machine learning will play a much bigger part of how a Search Engine Marketers/Content Marketers will implement new strategies and tactics, is one that should be taken very seriously and throughout 2017 will only be consolidated.

In the past, search engines looked at the explicit or verbatim query and responded with content with the most similar content. Now we as Content Marketers and SEMs must aim to provide users with all the information they are looking for.

How we use data and analytics will begin to change

The dawn of Big Data saw many of us struggling to understand what to do with this deluge of information. Nonetheless, we continued to get our hands on as many facts and figures as possible in a way that had begun to suffocate its effectiveness.

As it has become more commonplace with Start Ups, SME’s and Multi-Nationals all beginning to make the most of the tech available, companies have looked to improve the amount of data passing through their analytics systems.

My prediction is that 2017 will see the continued rise of “Refined Big Data”. With businesses looking at the quality of their big data compared to the quantity. This is epitomised perfectly by the quote below.

“It’s time to swap the telescope view for a microscope” – Rob Edwards, The Drum

There’s also another reason for this refining of big data too. Although not happening next year, the notion of the General Data Protection Regulation which is set to be let loose in May of 2018, is certainly something to be aware of. The idea that this will tighten the collection, use and retention of consumer data across the EU means 2017 is the time to start the burdensome task of changing processing in the cumbersome corporate giants.

2017 will be the end of Digital Marketing

Not necessarily SEO focused, however I felt it pertinent to at least mention. But yes, 2017 will be the end of the digital marketing.

This may sound incredibly weird coming from a digital marketing agency, however I’m referring to the term digital marketing in the wider sense of marketing, as I feel it is no longer a silo by itself.

Increasingly when companies refer to their marketing activities, they are referring to digital too. It is no longer a separate tool, it is very much part of their overall marketing strategy.

“To talk about digital as some kind of separate entity is to not understand it. Our lives ARE digital is not a thing, it is simply a more flexible, response and efficient way to do business.”

There is too much talk about roles: digital job titles, digital strategies”. Digital is not something that needs a job title. This perpetuates the myth that it is a singular, siloed thing. I find some of the terminology that is used incredibly frustrating” – Former CMO for Virgin Media, Jeff Dodds

So there you have it. A look back at 2016 and how that will impact SEO in 2017.

What is great about these trends and prediction posts is how it prepares us for the future. Meaning Silverbean will be able to make plans to overcome potential hurdles and adapt to our clients’ needs and the ever changing face of the industry. Be it from mobile search updates, to new technical wizardry, we’re ready.

If you want to find out how Silverbean can invigorate your search strategy in 2017, feel free to get in touch!