The False Dichotomy of Ever-Changing SEO

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alex2

New beginnings...

 

For most people, new beginnings are scarce. This is because we tend to be terrified by change, clinging tightly to the warm embrace of comfort & stability. Comfort is a pot belly. Stability is blending in at work. 

 

New Beginnings are the opposite. They signify big, meaningful change: a new career . . . divorce . . . emigration . . . having a child.

 

Regardless of context, new beginnings tend to have one thing in common: people plan them. We give new beginnings thought; we Tweet about them as they approach and, despite our fear, we are comforted by this sense control.

 

Not in SEO.

 

In SEO, new beginnings have been unrelenting - and largely unwelcome - over the last 13 years. From Cassandra - the algorithm update that first took the fight to spammers way back when Google looked like this - to her evolutionary great grandchildren, Panda & Penguin, SEOs have felt the impact of new beginnings more than almost any other industry. But have we really changed? Sure, no one is having success with link networks or comment spamming anymore, but did anything in 2105 really force us to change?

--- 2015: ANOTHER DOOMSDAY PREDICTION ---

 alex1

Most marketers will be familiar with the term “Mobilegeddon.” After all, it was one of a only a handful of updates EVER that Google announced in advance, which led to mass speculation about the extent of its impact.  

HYSTERIA ABOUND!

On February 26, 2015, Google announced it would expand its use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor, resulting in significant changes to the search results. The immediate reaction was that of Y2K-level panic as brands and agencies scrambled to project the potential damage to their web visibility and online revenue. Algorithm updates had caused uproar before, but that was mostly confined to digital marketing circles. Mobile was crossing into mainstream news. Even my mum mentioned it to me - she'd heard about it on local radio!

 

The thing that baffled me, though, was it was hardly a surprise to most SEOs. After all, Google had been giving preference to mobile-friendly sites for years and most reputable SEOs had worked on moving their clients onto optimised platforms well before 2015 even began.

PANIC TRAIN DRIVEN BY BIG MEDIA (SHOCK!)

 “[The Mobile Update] is expected to have an impact bigger than the previous two algorithm updates Panda and Penguin, which affected 12% and over 3% of search results respectively.” – The Guardian
“The update is still expected to cause a major ranking shake-up. It has even been nicknamed ‘Mobilegeddon’ because of how apocalyptic it could be for millions of websites.” – Business Insider
"Come April 21, a lot of small businesses are going to be really surprised that the number of visitors to their websites has dropped significantly. This is going to affect millions of sites on the web." – Sky News

Tut...tut...tut...

HOW IT REALLY WENT:

Mobilegeddon came and went with far less tumult than many were anticipating; however, it did have a noticeable impact on sites that had failed to heed the warnings.

 

Citizen journalism forum Reddit.com lost 27% of its overall visibility, while flash-heavy songlyrics.com lost 26%. One quick look at these sites is all that’s required to see they’re not optimised for mobile, so it’s unsurprising they lost out. In the case of Reddit, it may have been a a pragmatic decision weighing its size and familiarity to current users versus the risk of lost presence.

 

Oddly, Google seemed to penalise itself, with google.es losing a whopping 67% of its visibility.

 

In all, Mobilegeddon affected a total of 5% of search results and was not a huge news-maker.

NEW BEGINNING LEVEL:

2/10. Mobile friendliness was always a logical step for Google, and good SEOs were prepared.

--- QUALITY MATTERS ---

Google rolled-out the Quality Update in numerous stages throughout 2015. It began in May as webmasters noted significant changes to the search results. Initially, Google wouldn't confirm or deny any algorithm update, which led to speculation of a Penguin/Panda hybrid update. The change was initially dubbed the “Phantom Update,” since it was so mysterious. Eventually, though, Google came clean and announced the changes were to do with a heightened emphasis on the quality of search results.

 

Google has been striving to provide the best possible answers to users’ queries ever since its inception. However, Google has stepped up these efforts in recent years by placing extra emphasis on user signals like bounce rate and time on site as ranking factors.

 

The quality updates, though, are more impactful than previous efforts. They have targeted sites with inadequate or irrelevant information and penalised sites that do not provide quality answers to users’ queries. Many sites impacted had created a lot of content in order to improve their organic visibility. In years past, the more content you had, the more often you could use your target keywords without compromising the flow of the content. A great example of this is Simplyrecipes.com, which uses long intro content at the top of its recipe pages in an attempt to maximise keyword use:

NEW BEGINNING LEVEL:

1/10. Good SEOs have been preaching content strategy for years.

--- 2016: SOME (NOT SO) BOLD PREDICTIONS ---

1.     Google will step up its efforts to keep searchers on their real estate by continuing to expand instant answers and by developing ventures like Google Flights & Shopping (easy one)

 

2.     Organic ads will account for fewer clicks than ever before as they get pushed below the fold by a continually-developing search result and as ads become less differentiable.

 

3.     A storm is brewing around ad-blocking software – that we know for sure – and I predict a number of well-known websites follow Forbes.com in restricting their content to ad-blocking users (me and you).

 

4.     I predict we will not see see any high-profile penalties, nor any land-shaking algorithm updates in 2016. I have no rationale for this beyond a hunch and the fact I think the SERPs are pretty clean nowadays...

 

5.     I predict SEOs still doing traditional outreach will struggle more than ever in all verticals to get follow links. This prediction comes partly from experience in the fashion vertical, in which it has become infinitely more difficult over the past 12 months to achieve follow links since the bloggers now hold all the power. Ask for a link, get outed on Twitter. I see this happening across more and more sectors and don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

 

6.     Businesses still won’t use Schema tags, despite the relative simplicity and measurable benefit of using them…

 

7.     Manchester United will finish 3rd in the Premier League

 

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @ALaingSEO