SEO in 2016: The Year in Review

December 29, 2016 Other

What will SEO 2017 look like? To determine this, we must first look back. 2016 was a rude awakening for many of us. As we fought to rank within determined parameters, developing techniques and strategies that worked, Google got smarter. And soon we were scrambling to undo and redo our sites to remain competitive. And some of us were passive and got left behind. 2016 was a year of practical fixes and adaptation. The year of the User Experience. Let’s look back at 2016 SEO changes as we look forward for what what’s next in Inbound marketing and SEO 2017.

Penguin 4.0

Penguin is the affectionate name for an algorithm update launched in 2012 to reduce the ranking of sites that were considered to be spamming their way to the top. Link farming, buying links, keyword stuffing, etc. to artificially seem more important and relevant than they actually were to searchers became a very bad. Violators were hit with penalties that killed their rankings for months, then years. Periodic sweeps completed by Penguin would seek and destroy. But Penguin was only run periodically which meant newer sites could take longer to move up appropriately and spammy sites could rule the day in between sweeps.

2016 saw a major update to this spam defense system. It became real time. Pages are constantly be assessed by this tool, indexed and penalized/freed in due time. Penguin also began to flag and penalize sites on a more granular bases, affecting specific offending pages and not the whole site.

Possum

Possum launched in the second half of 2016 will likely continue to be that standard in 2017. It affects local SEO. The goal of the algorithm is to diversify local  results and reduce the ranking of local spam. With this update business whose physical address was outside their primary service area got a boost based upon proximity and not just what town they are physically located in. This had previously been a problem because businesses often serve the “surrounding area” and yet they would not rank for their keywords in the suburbs or towns they regularly served.

Possum also implemented a filter to filter out multiple sites that share a common address or affiliation. Before someone could have taken over page one with multiple ranking sites. They’re still there but less visible.  

Local SEO is more customized than ever before based upon where the searcher is located. If you enter a key phrase in Atlanta you will pull up a totally different list than someone in Dallas. The closer a searcher is to a business, the more refined the search will become. When you are further away, you will see a broader search result. If you are checking your ranking in a certain city or suburb, you must now set your search location to that city to see what the locals will see.

More Mobile Friendly

As more and more people do everything on mobile devices, a site’s design and readability being conducive to mobile became paramount. And mobile continues to rule the day.

Key Words Joined Associations

Keyword density is less important. Now readability is what you want. The placement of key words in logical places like the first paragraph and in headings has become important along with using long tail key words (key phrases). Using complementing words and phrases that can be associated with each other adds authority to your article in the eyes of Google. Smarter algorithms means that Google isn’t blindly showing you sites based upon a word. It is able to read between the lines at your intent. If your type “best restaurants chicago” you may get sites that do not even have this phrase in them. Rather they are critics and customers sharing great restaurants that you will probably want to try.  Google knows that this is more helpful than pulling up a bunch of sites where the restaurant put “best restaurant” on the page to bring you there if you search. So more than ever, those reviews matter.

The Quality of Quantity

Not only longer key words but also longer content began to dominate in 2016. The prevalence of 300 to 500 word spammy articles diminished as Google began to favor longer content around 700-1000 words, seeing it as a more capable to deliver authoritative information that the searcher was looking for.

The Quality of Quality

Google is continuing to find new ways to favor quality over…well… everything else. The goal of search engines is to deliver what the searcher wants. And this is what Google seeks to deliver. To survive the more than 500 algorithm changes expected in SEO 2017, we’ll need to be more customer-focused, delivering our target audience the information they are really looking for and not relying on tricks to get them to click on, like or share our pages. As Google learns and develops it becomes more organic and natural. And this may just mean that we can go back to doing what we do best, reaching customers by delivering a quality product and experience.

Jordan Stella

Customer Success Specialist at UpCity
Jordan Stella is a digital marketing expert & SEO specialist with a proven track record of creating actionable traffic for businesses both large and small. In his free time, he likes to: make ambient electronic music, read obscure beat poetry, enroll in courses on coursera for the hell of it, cruise on his longboard, & push the boundaries of hipsterdom.