2015 was a big year for SEO as Google announced new rules and implemented top-secret algorithms. 2016 will prove to be just as dramatic as the pressure mounts for sites to be more agile, safe and credible. Dix & Eaton’s Senior Advisor and SEO specialist, Linda Groendyke, offered us her perspective on what’s hot… and what’s not – and this list of the top trends for 2016.
1. Mobile Madness
Last year, the total number of Google searches on mobile devices surpassed those on desktops. Not long after, Google announced mobile as a search priority, and that it would penalize the ranking of websites that weren’t optimized for mobile devices. This announcement caused a flurry of new websites to appear with responsive design and the now-ubiquitous scrolling screens. This year, the penalties will likely stiffen in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for non-conformity to mobile rules. For example, page title tags can be up to 70 characters long for desktop standards, but only 55 characters for mobile. Likewise, meta descriptions can be up to 156 characters for desktop, but only 118 characters for mobile. What does this mean? It means that even if your tags and descriptions abide by desktop rules, you could still be hurt on mobile rankings. As more and more searches happen on mobile devices, Google will place more emphasis on meeting mobile standards. Don’t think it’s important? Many established companies have increased website traffic by 10 to 20 percent by making simple adjustments to these mobile rules.
Key takeaway: Desktop search is no longer king, so make sure all your tags and descriptions meet mobile standards to avoid penalties and gain position in mobile SERPs.
2. Lighten Up
The beginning of a new year is when we try to lose a few pounds and get in shape. The same should go for your website. Believe it or not, Google looks at “page weight.” Page weight has to do with the amount of code on a page and image size, which both impact the page load speed. Google will reward sites that are agile and nimble, especially if the page size falls below 400K, which is well below the average of 2.2MB. When pages are “heavy” they can load very slowly, especially on mobile devices, and Google penalizes those sites by pushing them down in the search rankings. Recent studies show page weight increased 16 percent in 2015, continuing its upward trend. Not healthy. Shortening the code by eliminating extra copy and extraneous images – especially in combination with fixing tag and description lengths – can increase traffic substantially.
Key takeaway: Find out the size of all your website pages, then work to get them back in fighting shape.
3. Safety First
E-commerce sites have been making sure their website URLs begin with “https” for years, with the “s” being for “secure.” But did you know to use that same structure with informational sites as well? Google blogged about HTTPS being a ranking signal in 2014. Now we’re seeing the “https everywhere movement” taking hold. Google has announced in the past that it will give more PageRank to encrypted sites. But the latest word is that it will soon display a red “x” next to an unsecure Web address in the Chrome browser. This will give a visual cue to a website visitor that the site is less credible and potentially suspect. There is no reason not to secure your site, whether you are selling cellphones or seeds, or describing ball bearings or beads.
Key takeaway: Better safe than sorry.
4. Fear the Panda
It’s said that Google makes up to 600 algorithm changes every year with most of them unannounced. For long-term, ongoing updates, Google announces them and gives them names. In 2011 Google introduced a set of changes called Panda, which was intended to reward sites with high-quality content and penalize sites with low-quality content. Here’s a great cheat sheet on what makes for good content. Google typically ran the algorithm periodically, giving websites a holiday to house poor content and time to fix it. Well, the vacation’s over. Recent news, confirmed by Google, indicates Google has incorporated Panda factors into its core assessment. While industry experts don’t believe Google is continually applying new assessments in real time, the algorithm will be run regularly now, perhaps even daily or weekly. What can you do? Assess all of your pages for meaningful length, remove duplicate copy, check for spelling and be sure you’re providing value to the reader. When you have high-quality content, those finding it tend to be closer to your ideal targets.
Key takeaway: Write better content to get better rankings…and better visitors.
5. Keywords Are Dead (Just Kidding)
Back in 2011 Google stopped providing the keywords used for search. There are popular workarounds that help, but it’s hard to learn exactly how your site is being found. This lack of visibility, coupled with newer important algorithms Google uses to determine ranking, have caused many a previously sane digital strategist to proclaim, “keywords are dead.” Well, they’re not. The words are still a primary element Google uses to determine ranking no matter how fancy their algorithms get because people still type keywords into the search engine. Once you determine which keywords are most likely driving traffic to your site, those words need to appear on your site. Does a keyword need to appear 15 times on every page? No. But if you know a word or phrase is important, you should use them. For example, if you want people to find your 55-gallon steel drums, you need to use those words on your website. Why would you stop paying attention to the most frequently used descriptions for your products or services?
Key takeaway: Keywords are alive and well and living on your website (hopefully).
So, there you have it. Five of the hottest trends thanks to SEO expert Linda Groendyke and some great in-depth articles.