Every year, as online marketers, we go through the same thing – SEO is changing, and companies from all sectors need to think about how they are going to adapt their SEO and online strategies. SEO won’t change – good content and good links are how it’s done. Maybe this is more about how Google will change.

Most good SEO’s know that Google toys with us – marketers trying to influence (manipulate, ahem, it) and a lot of info it releases or suggests may or may not happen. I suppose it’s their way of staying one step ahead of some very intelligent SEOs & online marketers to prevent exploitation.

But, in order to do what we do best, we need to take everything into account (whether we believe it or not, or implement what they say). So, for SEO in 2016, we might see some significant changes. Google has, and will continue, to become more than just a search engine by reducing the need to actually visit websites, and we can expect to see the continuing rise of image and video content.

Phone Search
“Hello, is that Google? I’ve heard that I can search quicker and get better results if I have a mobile compared to a desktop. Also, can you tell me where I can get mobile?”

Let’s take a look at the big changes you are going to have to contend with this year.

More Direct Search Answers in 2016

Google understands that when we are on the move, we do not have time to enter a query and choose a website to find our answer. This is why it is going to increase the number of direct answers in 2016.

In other words, if you ask it a question, you type the query, and the answer appears in a box at the top of the search results. It already happens for a limited number of queries, and is the latest in search engine innovation. Alright, it might not cover absolutely any question, but if you have something on your mind, you’ll be able to get the answer straight away. This is a serious worry for website owners, as it means users will not click-through to websites, meaning a drop in traffic (and, the other consequences this brings including, less readership, Adsense clicks, contact and so on).

Currently, only 4% of all questions asked gain a direct answer, so there is a lot of space for Google to expand in this area.

Here’s the good news and the bad news about direct answers:

If your business is based on providing data you didn’t own, such as an encyclopaedia, you are going to be in direct competition with Google. Good luck with that one. Specialised search engines are going to suffer because Google is now encroaching their territory.
Most searches cannot be turned into a direct answer (at least not yet), so multi-step searching will still reign supreme. Local businesses can welcome this change simply by becoming the answer to any direct questions. Primarily, that is what websites are there to do: answer questions (as well as offer products for sales and be portals to other forms of information)

As you can see, this change can be good or bad, depending on which sector you are in. Some businesses may have to change their whole models, but for the majority this is a positive change designed to help them.

Voice and Mobile Searching

Speed is everything. It’s SEO’s, web designers and advice from Google that recommend that sites need to load in under two seconds for a single page (Google expects 0.5 seconds) or it will affect ranking factors, and associated loss of visitors and so on. There’s a good recent post at Hobo Web that discusses this.

Now, it’s Google increasing the speed of searching. Most interestingly of all is the incorporation of voice searching from a mobile device. Speak into your mobile device and the question will appear in Google. This is where direct answers will become even more potent and important.

Research shows that people are mort likely to use voice search when they are looking for something local. For example, they may ask, “Where’s the nearest coffee shop?” or “I need the number of a local taxi company”.

Google will provide an answer, but you have to make sure it’s your business that appears at the top of that list of results. The answer lies in local SEO. It has been on the cards for a while now. Local SEO is important because Google is determined to provide a personalised search experience for all.

Improve your local SEO efforts and concentrate on creating a foothold in your local community; if you are a local, land-based business of course.

The Process is Complete…

Over the last few years, we have seen a steady process of mobile dominance. In 2016, this process continue. Mobile devices (in some countries) have surpassed the number of desktop devices using search engines ( See this great article by Danyl Bosomworth for more on this). As expected, this will continue to increase as the years goes on, and desktops searches further decrease in number.

What will this mean for SEO, though?

It will mean that if you already have a responsive website you will (should!) experience a little SEO boost. Google will (or should) hammer those of your competitors that have not yet made their sites responsive. If you are the company without a responsive website, though, be prepared for a significant drop in your rankings. 2015’s  “Mobilegeddon” pandemonium that ensued didn’t impact as much as many in the industry thought (particularly website designers wanting to capitalise on this from website owners on the fear of dropped rankings – but to be fair, Google did indicate a drop in rankings was inevitable). I would expect responsive websites to continue to improve in the rankings. Good post on Mobilegeddon on Search Engine Land here.

The Main Takeaway

The main idea you have to get used to is that Google designed its search engine for users, not for you: website owners, businesses, SEO’s, web developers). I’m aware that this is a controversial statement! Businesses and websites are secondary to the people entering those search queries.

While it can appear as if Google is constantly trying to make your life difficult, the behemoth is only responding to what users want. You should see this as a helpful indicator for what you need to do to better meet your customer’s expectations for SEO in 2016.