Google SEO Ranking Factors 2016
By Lauren Belle @ Open Umbrella
2016 is a New Year and, as with any New Year, Google normally manages to hurl significant curve balls to Webmasters, SEO companies, Digital agencies and business owners alike. We know that in the last four years the search engine landscape has evolved drastically and with Penguin 4.0 looming, you need to ensure that you have covered all bases to ensure no downfall in rankings in 2016.
Based on Open Umbrellas analysis of 182 websites including new websites, large corporate websites and the ones in-between to give it a fair spread, we have found the breakdown of important SEO factors to equate to roughly:
From our study you can see that links still own the lion share of Google ranking factors and will probably continue to do so for some time. If using the above as guide to help you decipher how to bolster your SEO efforts in 2016, remember to take care of the smaller and less time consuming tasks first. By smaller, less time consuming I am talking about ensuring you have labeled up your pages with correct title tags and descriptions, and ensuring your landing pages are suitable for a user to navigate through (think about call-to actions and conversion rate optimisation) â€“ once you have your site search engine friendly, you can then begin your journey on the more larger tasks at hand.
Below we have summarised the top 7 factors from our research with some ideas on how you can future proof your SEO efforts in 2016.
1) Link Building / Link Acquisition
Links. Oh how we love to hate them (but we know we need them)
Given that Googles Penguin 4.0 update is looming which looks specifically at your link equity associated with your website, you need to ensure you have a sustainable and realistic link acquisition plan. This is more important in 2016 than ever before to get right. We know Google takes a no-mercy approach to dodgy link tactics, so lets look at what we should be doing to ensure no nastiness in 2016.
Review your current link acquisition strategy and then crosscheck how you are currently obtaining links with Googles quality guidelines. If you feel that (honestly) you are not adhering to these guidelines, its time you had a real think about the future and just how sustainable your strategy will be. If you feel like you are flying under Googles radar then its high-time you stopped and looked at the advances in Googles link spam filters, they will eventually come knocking and when they do, it can bring a whole world of hurt!
We always encourage people to audit their link profiles regularly and if you find some links in there that are unsavoury then make use the disavow tool. If you eradicate the problem before Google finds it, you will be A LOT better off.
Heres something to NEVER forget: When you do start producing incredible linkable content, you will find that you no longer have to weave your way through sponsored link dross and nabbing the next 2.0 schema, the links will come naturally and most importantly, effortlessly and most importantly, this kind of link acquisition strategy is what the big G LOVES a great sign to influence rankings in 2016, no?
2) Content Creation is becoming more and more invaluable.
We know that Google has now integrated the Panda algorithm into its core ranking signals which screams FEED US MORE QUALITY CONTENT! and this is something that everyone (and we mean everyone) should take a lot of notice of.
Long gone are the days where the odd post will suffice, if you want to be competitive in the search space, you really need to start showing what you and your brand can do and are capable of. Constantly brainstorm to get fresh content published once or even twice per week, research your niche, find out what peoples questions are, what are their gripes? What makes them tick? If you can do this regularly it will inevitably increase user engagement and, by keeping the freshness factor, you will find yourself climbing the Google ladder in no time (and getting those precious links discussed in the previous section wink.
3) Title tags
A pretty simple task that packs a nice little punch when it comes to serving up results in the SERPs. I cannot even recall how many times I have encountered websites with nonsense title tags and yet, they are a fundamental identifier for Googles spiders to crawl and decipher what is relevant to serve up the user from its indices.
Have a thorough audit of your site, look at all title tags and ensure that they are well written and relevant to the corresponding landing page. Think of Google as a map, Google cannot pinpoint you on the map without the correct references â€“ title tags are the same, so get auditing and get found.
4) Landing Page Optimisation
Here, I have to reference one of my favourite pieces on landing page optimisation. I love this piece so much Iâ€™m not even going to write about it. Head on over to this article by Oli Gardner on Moz.com, its a fantastic read. Especially if you find the concept of conversion / landing page optimisation a little mundane.
5) Mobile Responsiveness
Those of you that are an old git like me will remember WAP which is short for wireless application protocol; or what I like to call, wildly, abhorrently, pointless (I found it incredibly frustrating), but it was the stepping stone to what we have come to know (the transition to GPS/GRPS/2G/3G/4G etc). For those that do remember WAP, will know that it was very difficult to navigate most websites and abstracting data quickly and efficiently was like trying to fly a kite with a Boeing 747 on the end of it until the last few years with the evolvement of the Gs
Mobile search is now a dominant force in the search space and, Google of course now give weight to websites that are optimised for mobile which makes sense given that mobile search is so prevalent. If you are not sure that your current website is mobile friendly, check out Googles tool https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/. In the event that your current website is NOT responsive, this is something that should be addressed as soon as physically possible. It will have a direct impact on your rankings, but I think more importantly, is has a drastic impact on your users experience, which in turn can do damages to your brand.
Get that website responsive!
6) User Experience / Usability
There are a limited number of direct variables that Google can take into account when deciphering the authority of a given website (links, site structure, keywords etc) However, through looking at how users engage with a website and utilising machine learning, Google can make a monolithic number of intuitions about any given website and the users experience. These will essentially provide indirect but still measurable benefits to a sites external popularity, which search engines can then use to interpret a signal of higher quality.
As an example, say you typed a query into Google, found the results and then clicked one of them. Google will monitor whether you clicked the result and perhaps clicked back after to return to the result page which indicates that the page served was not useful to the user so you can see how landing page optimisation and various other elements to do with making pages better onsite is so crucial.
To ensure that you are providing the best user experience, you will need to look at various elements (especially content and how you specifically tag and label pages). A really good indicator at a low-level to see how users are finding their user experience on your site is to look at your Google Analytics check out your bounce rate and source mediums / keywords. The correlation here will give you an idea whether or not people are finding what they want on average or whether they are clicking off straight away. If it is the latter, try to identify why. Look at call-to-action, content and various other elements that would may turn the user off. If you can nail this one, then the rest will follow.
7) Social Signals
Finally, one of my favorites that I personally believe will continue to become more of a ranking factor by 2017 and its one we personally as a company try to integrate into every campaign â€“ Social Media!
Lets hold back for a second though and drill down as why I personally love Social Media and the answer is simple. I love the reach.
I love the expanse and ease of access I have to any target audience I choose. If I deliver a piece of content for a client, I know I can outreach in a matter of minutes to editors across the social landscape to engage them with our clients content (and companies can definitely do this directly with key influencers).
One of the main resistance questions I get and by resistance, I mean people who say I do not know what to do on Facebook and Twitter, is, why would anyone want to engage with (enter boring industry here) and the truth is, there is a social following for EVERY interest.
Need proof? Check out this article: http://www.news965.com/news/news/clean-public-toilet-your-bare-hands-cleanse-your-s/nZfnz/ This is a Facebook group that meet regularly to clean toilets with their bare hands to cleanse the soul and you are worried about someone engaging with Office Supplies?
The point is, if you create incredible content and share across social networks with the RIGHT demographics in 2016, you will find your networks and engagements WILL grow. Sit down in 2016, find out what groups already exist by researching your keyword on Facebook or other social media networks and once you have found them, join! Get in there! Listen to their conversations then hit them with a post you know they cant resist and VOILA! Linkability, credibility, rankability Sorted.
So, SEO in 2016? Not changed drastically from 2015, however, we will need to see what kind of monster Penguin 4.0 really is and how our sites react. I will probably find myself writing another article in a few weeks with Ranking Factors Re-visited. Stay tuned, folks.