With 2015 nearly over, it’s time to look back on all the changes, successes, and failures you’ve faced in your SEO strategy and prepare for what’s coming in the future. It’s hard to say exactly what Google, Bing, and other search providers have in store for 2016, but if recent trends and budding technologies are any indication, next year could be a rough one if you aren’t prepared for it.
Fortunately, you’ve found this article and you’re thinking ahead. You’re anticipating these problems before they occur, and you’re readying yourself for what lies ahead. As you ramp up your strategy for 2016 and beyond, keep your focus on these five likely SEO problems to crop up:
Facebook’s Instant Articles are just the beginning of the trend. Two things are happening that exacerbate it; first, users are becoming more reliant on apps than webpages in browsers, and second, app platforms are doing more to keep users in-app for as long as possible. Accordingly, more apps are going to work harder to embed content and keep users occupied as long as possible.
For some publishers, this is a great opportunity—you can provide content where your users consume it easiest or most often. For the average search marketer, however, this presents a confusing conundrum—do you seek new in-app publishing opportunities, or stick with what you know will be indexed properly? As usual, the best course of action is to hedge your bets. Keep as much onsite content as you can, and dabble in the new medium of in-app content until the trend settles and you can identify which is objectively more favorable for your brand.
After Moz and BuzzSumo released their million-piece analysis earlier this year, it became clear that the gap between “good” content and “bad” content is only becoming wider. In their survey, 75 percent of all content on the web got zero links and zero shares, leaving only 25 percent of all content having any significant effect for a company’s rank. If your content is “average,” therefore, you can only expect a return on 25 percent of your investment.
User tastes are growing more sophisticated—they’re expecting more from their online content. If you want to survive, you need to step your content up to the next level. All of your pieces need to fall within that 25 percent of quality, and that means investing more time and more effort into your content campaign. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary if you want to remain effective.
Social media doesn’t affect your search rankings directly, but it does hold a lot of power over the potential of your strategy. Many of us rely on social media as a free way to reach thousands of new readers with our content, but thanks to some recent changes by Facebook and Twitter, all that could change in the next few years. Facebook is slowly reducing the organic visibility of corporate posts, and Twitter is reducing the amount of information available to businesses, all presumed to be efforts to increase company spend with each respective platforms. That means all that extra visibility you count on could dwindle or disappear—unless you’re willing to start paying for it.
Google’s recent search rater’s guideline document detailed the importance of know queries and know simple queries, which can be answered with a few short snippets of text. Working from the Knowledge Graph, these rich answers are becoming more and more popular. By next year, they could start poaching some of the organic traffic you receive, as users will get their answers directly. The old saying “if you can’t beat them, join them” applies here—instead of finding ways to work around rich answers, make sure it’s your content that gets featured. Answer potential user queries succinctly and accurately in the body of your content (you can always elaborate later)—this will get your answers more visibility for know queries, and get your brand more exposure to compensate for the loss in organic traffic.
RankBrain is Google’s latest update, pairing with Hummingbird to better understand the semantic function of user queries. It’s a machine learning algorithm, which means it can update itself as it learns more about what users do and don’t need for specific queries. My guess is Google’s long-term plan is to introduce more of these machine learning algorithms so it can do away with the massive manual updates of yesteryear. This is good, because it means fewer major shakeups, but it also means you’ll likely be subject to sudden, unexplained, unpredictable jostles in your rankings. Because these algorithms update themselves constantly and indefinitely, you won’t be able to get used to a ranking for long.
It’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty how SEO will develop in the coming years. All we can do is look at the trends of the past few years, combine them with the emerging technologies of tomorrow, and make reasonable assumptions about what’s coming down the line. Prepare for these problems in advance—at worst, they won’t come to fruition and you’ll end up wasting a few hours of effort, but at best, you’ll overcome these challenges far faster and more efficiently than your competitors, putting you in a key strategic position.
Above all, it’s in your best interest to remain flexible. The more adaptable you’re willing to be, and the more changes you anticipate, the better you’ll be able to respond to the inevitable market fluctuations to come.