The search and content marketing world has undergone some major changes during 2015. The stage has been set for a shift away from producing content for its own sake. Instead, there is a trend towards the use of search and social data to guide content creation. This development will be a critical part of boosting engagement for brands and helping their content attract the desired audience.
Although the content itself has a central role to play in the conversion of customers, the importance of the more technical side of search optimization should not be overlooked. The industry maturation has also impacted where brands need to focus their efforts on the behind-the-scenes tasks that help to drive content forward and into the limelight.
Here are five SEO trends brands should pay close attention to as they move into the New Year.
Mobile apps are likely to become an increasingly significant factor for search and brand exposure in 2016. The year 2015 already saw mobile searches overtake desktop searches, and the use of mobile apps has been growing. These apps are going to become essential for the mobile user experience.
Any doubt about the importance of apps can quickly be put to rest by noting that 52 percent of all time spent on digital media is consumed by mobile apps. Also, 42 percent of all mobile sales generated by the top 500 merchants came through mobile apps.
To keep customers engaged with the brand, these apps need to be optimized. Well-designed mobile apps should align with the organization and the brand message that you are promoting.
Remember that when people are searching for apps in the app store, they are just going to be seeing the icons with minimal information. All images used with the apps, particularly the icon, need to be visually engaging and encourage people to click to learn more.
As the app begins to find users, make sure to keep an eye on the ratings and reviews. If customers start to complain about any particular errors or usage struggles, then correct the problem right away and let people know that the issue has been addressed.
In 2015, Google announced the usage of their new machine-learning system, known as RankBrain. This A.I. technology has been designed to better understand the intent of searches. Google says that it has been particularly helpful when the search engine faces a query it has not seen before. This ranking factor has quickly become prominent, as the search engine giant claims that it is the third most important ranking signal in their algorithm.
These developments indicate that A.I. is likely to become an even more significant factor in 2016 and beyond. As Google and the other search engines are able to better incorporate machine learning into their algorithms, they can potentially develop an intelligent algorithm that can learn what customers are looking for and maximize their user experience by showing the best possible sites.
On a technical side, to anticipate this development, brands will need to focus on structured data. Structured data markup, such as that found on schema.org, helps websites communicate with search engines by precisely describing what is on the page rather than leaving it up to the spiders to interpret. This helps search engines display the website more accurately.
In the past, missing or inaccurate structured data markup could usually pass by unnoticed or with a minimal impact on brand performance. As the search engines become more intelligent, however, they are likely to also become more dependent upon this extra data — failure to do it correctly will have a greater impact on site success.
When using the schema.org markup, brands should always use Google Webmaster Tools to make sure the markup has been used correctly. The Structured Data Testing Tool will make it easy for brands to ensure that they have added everything accurately.
Brands should ensure that their markup has been used throughout the site consistently — particularly for rich content, such as videos on the website. Structured data markup will help ensure that rich snippets appear whenever possible, such as in video search results. This can increase the click-through rate for the site by making it look more appealing on the search engine results pages.
In 2016, engagement will take center stage. On the competitive content battleground, brands have to focus on increasing engagement to keep visitors interested and coming back to the site to progress towards conversion.
Site features, such as the layout, will be an important part of rising above the noise of the modern content battleground. When customers have trouble finding the information they need on a website, they are likely to just click back to search results. An estimated 50 percent of potential sales are lost because customers cannot find what they seek.
Ensuring that the site is optimized for visitors and conversions means primarily that it is easy for customers to navigate. Examine your site data and see how visitors are reacting. Are there certain pages that are not being visited? Are there high numbers of people who click on several different pages in rapid succession, only to then click off the site? These people were looking for something in particular but could not find it.
To counter this impact, you need to look at how your site is organized. Make sure that subcategories are easy to understand and navigate. Drop-down menus can be very helpful because they help to minimize clicking for the visitor. Consider adding an internal search, particularly for e-commerce sites, to help customers find what they need even easier.
Keep in mind that site layout and optimization also applies to mobile. To do this properly for smart devices, you need to make sure you understand what your customers do on the site. For example, providing the brand’s contact information and a click-to-call button up front can be very helpful. Look at your mobile data to better understand what customers are doing on your site and make sure that your mobile pages are ready to maximize the on-the-go user experience.
The first big Penguin update in over a year is anticipated to hit within the next few weeks. This update has promised to clean up link struggles that have been plaguing websites since the last Penguin release in 2014. This impending update has many people on their toes, wondering how this will impact link building.
Brands should be making sure that they are in a position to take advantage of this update and not get hit with penalties that will get the New Year started off on a bad foot. This means taking a careful look at the current link profile. Look for anomalies like sudden spikes in the number of backlinks for your page.
It is also important for brands to focus their efforts on earning backlinks that will have a positive impact on the page. Keep in mind that links from reputable websites, the ones that would positively impact a backlink profile, will be ones that need to be earned.
Solid websites know that linking to other websites will be like a vote of confidence for that site. These websites will only link to pages that they feel meet the quality and value that they provide for their own visitors. Building a quality backlink profile, therefore, means focusing on:
On the flip side, brands should also review their backlink profile to identify any potentially problematic links. If you spot any spam sites linking to your page, disavow them through Google. It is not worth the risk of having these in your backlink profile with the new update coming.
The year 2016 is likely to see maturation in online marketing as success becomes less defined by a website’s ranking and more about the overall online presence of the brand. The website will need to be well integrated with the rest of the online platforms, especially social media.
Facebook in particular has been working on developing a better search experience for users, and it is likely to become increasingly sophisticated in the coming year. That means brands have to be prepared to optimize their online presence on social media. This will become particularly significant with the growing importance of mobile apps, like the Facebook App and the YouTube App. Customers will likely use these with an increasing frequency, which means that the content posted on social media needs to be ready for these searches.
This optimization process requires paying close attention to both the posts made and how the profiles themselves are completed. Businesses should make sure that they describe themselves as completely as possible within the About Us sections. Use vocabulary that customers employ and data-backed keywords. The posts should incorporate high-quality images and engaging text. Use the Open Graph Protocol to maximize your control over how your content appears when posted to Facebook. Make sure that articles included are mobile-friendly. Link posts across the different platforms, such as including links back to the website and blog.
Overall, stop thinking of website development and social media marketing as two different entities. They should instead be treated as a two parts of the brand’s overall web presence.
As the online marketing industry continues to grow and refine itself, marketers are likely to feel the pressure as they struggle to stay on top of the latest developments and ensure that their search and content marketing initiatives perform.
2015 has been an exciting year as the industry has developed, and the next year also seems to have many new trends in store. I look forward to seeing what other exciting developments evolve over the next 12 months.
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