Search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the most dynamic fields out there, and ranking factors are rarely the same day to day - nevermind year to year.
The trick is staying ahead of the curve and optimising your website for what’s to come, not where we’ve been. The proactive approach will result in a superior user experience for your visitors and shield you against penalties from the major search engines as the algorithms are tweaked to stamp out devious tactics and spammy content.
In this article, we are guided by the results of Moz’s Search Ranking Factors, based on a survey of more than 150 leading search marketers, in combination with extensive correlation data compiled by Moz’s Data Science department. The most recent results, announced in August 2015, are a comprehensive look at the most influential factors that help/hurt a website’s visibility in Google and other search engines. The survey measures the most influential ranking factors on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highly influential.
If you plan on rethinking your SEO strategy in 2016 (and you should), here are the most important factors to consider moving forward.
Quality over quantity
Only a few short years ago, all you needed to rank was to have some content on the page. It didn’t matter if the content read like it was written by a monkey playing Mad Libs, you were probably safe. That has slowly changed over the years as Google’s algorithms were adjusted to better account for the interests of searchers.
Think about it. If you end up on a page with 250 words of gibberish that doesn’t address your search query at all, you’re going to return to the search engine results page to find a better answer. Think of what you’re looking for as a consumer, and that’s what you need to provide as a business. Less is never more in this case, and (as you might imagine), worse is never better.
This has been a slow process, with the expectations for quality steadily growing more stringent. In 2016, high quality will be the minimum standard. According to the Search Ranking Factors survey, page-level keyword and content-based features (7.87/10) are judged as the 3rd most influential ranking factors behind only domain-level and page-level links. This is primarily driven by the content relevance and quality. Page-level keyword-agnostic features (6.57/10) are tremendously important and include content length and readability.
“Quality” can be a vague word, so let’s break it down into component parts.
- Original. This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand that copy/pasting content you like from elsewhere is a recipe for ranking disaster.
- Length. You can have a high-quality piece of content that is only a sentence or even a few words (like a compelling tagline), but for our purposes quality written content is 1,000-2,000 words.
- Well-researched. Do your homework and back up your claims with links to authoritative sources.
- Enjoyable user experience. The page should be focused, uncluttered, fast-loading, and pleasant to look at and explore.
- Sharability. Finally, the page should be worth sharing on social, which feeds into another top 10 ranking factor, page-level social metrics (3.98/10).
In 2016, the importance of quality content will only continue to increase. According to Moz’s report, 81% of the search experts surveyed predict that the analysis of a site’s perceived value will increase over the next 12 months. 67% of respondents also believe that the readability and usability of a page will be an increased ranking factor in 2016.
The writing is on the wall, and if you aren’t investing time, effort, and researching into creating quality content you’re doing it wrong.
A mistake we often make is assuming content = words. In 2016, we’re going to move beyond the written word and realise that content is a multimedia effort. Yes, this includes regular site content and blog posts, but it also means infographics, video, live streams, podcasts, SlideShare presentations, ebooks, guides, images, case studies, checklists, webinars, social posts, and more. A varied content portfolio will dramatically simplify content marketing and outreach to land SEO backlinks.
Expanding your content creation efforts to include these other forms of content has two distinct advantages.
- Increase engagement. Everyone has different preferences. Person A may prefer to load up an ebook on their Kindle and read during the morning commute on the train, while Person B prefers to watch short YouTube videos that are funny and straight to the point. Taking a multi-pronged approach to content creation means you can reach a larger audience in a format that is more likely to draw eyes and drive engagement. According to Search Ranking Factors survey, engagement and traffic/query data is the 4th most influential ranking factor (5.88/10), and 36% of respondents predict that social signals will increase in importance as a ranking factor.
- Repurpose content. The other major advantage to investing in different forms of content is that it allows you to repurpose content. What starts as a 1,000-word blog post can be distilled down to a short and visually appealing infographic, or expanded into a 45 minute webinar that serves as a deep dive into the topic at hand. You don’t have to start from scratch with your brainstorming, research, or outlining, so it saves a lot of time while still providing great content.
Remember to keep the best practices of SEO in mind when creating and promoting multimedia content, such as optimising all fields to drive traffic back to your site and improve visibility in SERPs. When it comes to video, don’t forget that YouTube itself is a search engine – second only to its Alphabet-mate Google in terms of search volume.
When it comes to optimising your multimedia presence don’t neglect analytics. Reporting and measuring mechanisms will allow you to tweak and adjust your campaign to better achieve your conversion/traffic/branding goals. As the space becomes more and more competitive, everything you can do to gain a slight edge becomes all the more valuable.
Online presence optimisation
At present, all of the energy is directed toward search engine optimisation. This is because search engines have a dominant position in the online world and they act as a gateway to the rest of the internet. There will be a lot of changes in terms of the search engines in 2016 – improvements to voice/image search, de-emphasis of keywords in place of topics, prioritisation of conversational search queries, and so on. However, the most interesting shift will be adapting to the way we use the internet now.
The shift to mobile has taken a strong hold – in May 2015 mobile search officially passed desktop search in terms of volume for the first time in history. This shift is accounted for as a ranking factor of increasing influence: according to the Search Ranking Factors survey 88% of respondents predict that mobile friendliness will matter more than ever in 2016.
Let’s explore an example of the shift to mobile and non-traditional search behaviour. A typical user uses their iPhone to open Instagram and search for their friends profiles. They head to Facebook and use the search feature to see the trending discussion about the election. They open Pinterest and search for a stylish new pair of winter boots. They watch a live stream of a video game battle on Twitch. They do all of this on a mobile device without even opening a browser or using a traditional search engine like Google or Bing.
You need to adapt your SEO strategy to align with the way users are searching and engaging now. That’s why we call it online presence optimisation. You need to have a clean, organised, thoughtful, and brand-appropriate presence everywhere. Consistent messaging is absolutely vital. You also want to make sure you are leveraging these different platforms to achieve your overall campaign goals – to drive traffic, increase leads, or generate exposure.
Google will still continue to be a monolith, but you also need to diversify your efforts to account for where search is going, not where it has been in the past.
SEO as we know it will never be the same, but that’s a good thing. Now the focus is increasingly about providing a high-quality consistent product across multiple platforms instead of wasting our days tinkering with shady ticking time bomb black-hat tactics. Ultimately this will result in a better experience for the user and ensure more sustainable and replicable success. If you don’t want to get left behind in 2016, you need to take a proactive approach and reformulate your SEO strategy with all of these best practices in mind.