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The State of SEO in 2016

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More than a year has passed since our last SEO update, so it’s time to take a look at some of the SEO changes which have happened over the last twelve months. Here are some tips to take your optimisation game to the next level!

More Mobile Visitors

Yes, the number of mobile website visitors is still on the rise (just like last year). No surprise there. Still, we all need reminding to optimise websites for mobile users. There are two things to look out for:

  • Mobile friendly test: use Google’s mobile friendly test to analyse your website and see suggestions on how to optimize it for mobile users. 
Google Mobile-Friendly TestGoogle Mobile-Friendly TestGoogle Mobile-Friendly Test
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
  • For a more visual analysis, take a look at Google’s Resizer tool and see how your website fares on common device formats.
Google’s Resizer
  • Page speed optimization: 4G is great, but not everyone has fast mobile internet all the time. Optimizing the loading time of your site is vital for mobile users, and will give you a small ranking boost. Under the the Network tab of Google’s web inspector, you can throttle the network speed and mimc page loading under various connection types:
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Google’s web inspector

App Deep Linking

With the rise of mobile users Google started to focus on app indexing; leading to the development of app deep linking. App deep linking allows users to link to a specific page within a mobile application. These pages are then indexed and ranked (though only by Google mobile search).

What does this mean for SEO?

Quality links can boost the authority of a domain or page. When Google indexes apps, it’s safe to assume that the links inside these apps will count as well. Creating an app can therefore become a link building tool.

Is it worth developing an app simply for the purpose of link building? Probably not. But it can help you take up more search result real estate on mobile devices. More visibility will likely mean more visitors.

Note: app indexing requires some changes to your code. You can find the instructions to enable Android and iOS app indexing here: https://developers.google.com/app-indexing/introduction

Voice Search

Voice search is becoming more and more widespread. It’s available on smartphones (Siri, Cortana, Google Now) and you can even use it on desktops and laptops.

What’s remarkable about this trend is the change in search queries. As we use natural language in voice search, queries become longer.

For example, with text-based search we might type something like “weather Antwerp”. If we use Cortana, Siri or Google Now, we might say “what’s the weather in Antwerp today?”

We often use question keywords for voice search, such as “how”, “who”, “where” and “when”. Marketeers can use this information to understand the way customers interact with their brand. Are they having trouble using your product? Are they looking for opening hours? These insights help create a user-friendly content structure and website.

Switch to https

Backlinko analysed over 1 million search results to see which factors correlate with high rankings. They noticed that websites that use https had a reasonably strong correlation with first page Google rankings.

This correlation was expected; Google has been using https as a ranking factor for some time now.

Should this be a priority on your list? That depends. Switching to https can take a lot of work and it’s easy to make mistakes. Furthermore, SSL certificates can cost up to a couple of hundred dollars per year.

However, as Cory Simmons pointed out, services such as letsencrypt.org make the process much less painful (and free).

When setting up a new website, it can be worth making the effort.

User Behaviour

Research has shown that search engines also take user behaviour into account. They use the bounce rate and time on site to judge the effectiveness of a page.

Take a look at the following examples:

Tim wants to make lasagne. He starts looking for recipes online and clicks on a search result. The page has a sub-par photo of lasagna and a short list of cooking instructions. Tim returns to the search results after five seconds and tries a different site. There he finds step-by-step instructions with clear photos and even a video. He spends two minutes reading the recipe, bookmarks it and finally closes his browser window.

Which page do you think search engines prefer?

The first site could be interpreted as being a bad match, because Tim clicked on the back button after only five seconds. However, he didn’t return to the search results after the second page. For search engines this is a signal that the info is relevant to the user’s query, and thus receives a ranking boost.

As Michael James Williams discussed recently, high bounce rates shouldn’t always be read as a sign your website isn’t working. But the takeaway lesson here is that you should always prioritise high-quality content. With high-quality content I’m not only referring to the words on the page. It’s also linked to the information architecture, visual style and user experience. Great web design and great content make users happy and thus improve their engagement and your rankings.

Rich Answers

SearchEngineLand reported in february 2015 that Google displays rich answers for 19.45% of all queries. Here’s an example of a rich answer:

Rich answers are snippets of information that answer the user’s question directly in the search result pages.

This can have a positive or negative effect on your website. First of all, rich answers provide extra visibility. The question is whether these users will click on the blue link and visit the page. For some search queries, such as the one above, they might do this in order to learn more about the subject. For other queries, the rich answers gives them all the info they need. Try to search for “what is the highest bridge in the world”. The answer card shows the name of the bridge, height and location. You see everything you need to know, so there’s no incentive to visit the scraped page.

Do you want to take advantage of rich answers?

There’s no definitive guide on how to make your website show up for these kind of answer cards. But these steps might help:

  • Identify a simple question.
  • Provide a direct answer to this question.
  • Offer extra value added info.
  • Make it easy for users to find (good on-page SEO).

Bye Bye Right Hand Ads

You might have noticed that Google killed right hand ads in search results. From now on, we’ll only see ads above and below organic results.

Why Google chose this route, we don’t know. Perhaps they want to standardize their advertising options (there were no right hand ads on mobile devices). Or maybe they want to make room for more rich answers.

This change will undoubtedly have an influence on the click-through rate. Just how big the effect will be, is guesswork at the moment.

Google AMP

Since last month Google search results have included highlighted links to websites built using “AMP” (Accelerated Mobile Pages) architecture. AMP uses existing open web technologies, adding to some and changing others, suggesting syntax such as the rather funky <html ⚡>. The idea behind it is to improve the open web experience; making pages more performant, accessible, and giving advertisers a practical, trusted way to continue what’s a pretty important income stream.

It’s early days for AMP, but with participating websites being given a little green flash in SERPs, it’s clear Google are willing to reward those who make the leap.

Read AMP Project: Will it Make Your Sites Faster? for more information.


Well, that’s brought us up to speed again. To summarise, here are some things to look out for in 2016:

  • Use a mobile-first approach
  • Focus on user engagement
  • If possible, switch to https
  • Enable your app for deep linking
  • Take advantage of answer cards
  • Keep an eye on AMP
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