Year in Review: What We Learned About SEO in 2016

At last—you’ve crossed off the final day on your cat-themed wall calendar with a bright red marker. As you settle into your comfy chair, the ball in Times Square begins its descent, marking the end of one year and the beginning of another. You swirl a cold, bubbly beverage in a tulip glass, listen to the bubbles fizz and pop, and you think back on the last three hundred and sixty-six days. Your thoughts turn to loved ones, accomplishments great and small, and several close calls. Finally, you think of all the things you learned about SEO in 2016. You smile.

Let’s take a look at the biggest news about SEO in 2016 and see how we can ring in the new year.

Year in Review: What We Learned About SEO in 2016

The Mobile-First World is Officially Here

Growth, growth, growth—that’s all we ever hear about the mobile market these days. So it shouldn’t have surprised us to realize the mobile-first world we’d been heading towards had finally arrived this year. But it kind of did?

It didn’t come crashing down on us (like Mobilegeddon was supposed to). No, instead we woke up and realized the mobile-first world was already here. It was all around us; it was in every pocket, it was in every purse. And starting next year, it’ll be in the search results.

Google’s intent to split mobile and desktop results was inarguably the biggest announcement this year regarding mobile. Although Google originally stated it would occur “within months,” we saw a little movement only a few weeks later. We get the feeling the mobile-first split will happen earlier rather than later. We also saw many new types of ads get announced specifically targeting mobile users. If you’re not mobile-friendly yet, it’s now or never.

Here are the biggest stories that ushered in this new era of search:

Google Got Good and AMPed

AMP is a mobile topic, but we felt it deserving of its own section. Google launched a veritable crusade against slow mobile pages with Accelerated Mobile Pages. For each new change they implemented, we had plenty to report throughout the year.

Since the release of AMP on February 24th, we saw Google make tweak after tweak. We saw AMP change up the search results, watched them spike unexpectedly, and got plenty of help from Google on making them work better for users. News about AMP pages quieted down as the year went on, but with the hope of a ranking boost still shining bright, we still have a reason to get AMPed. AMP still presents us with an opportunity to get our mobile sites in front of customers’ eyes. As long as that sticks, we’ll continue playing Google’s game.

All the AMPed up news in 2016 is right here:

Google Home is just one of the digital assistants that are changing local search.

We’re Relying on Digital Assistants More Than Ever

This year, typing proved to be too much for us. A large number of us have started using digital assistants to learn the things we really need to know. We figure, why expend the tremendous effort to move our aching, fleshy digits when we can utter the most basic glottal incantation to unlock the mysteries of the universe? (Or order a pizza?) Just slide that neural needle right into our spinal column, we’re ready to go full Matrix.

We’ve been consulting Siri (and Cortana to a lesser extent) for a while now, but as of this year that roster has expanded. Google Home, a smart speaker to rival Amazon’s Alexa, was announced in May and released in November.

Why all the love for digital assistants? They’re pretty much at the larva stage for our future robot overlords. Digital assistants let us use conversational language to perform search queries. We can ask them questions as we would a real person, and we’ll get an answer in response without even having to grok a search result. That’s how digital assistants could improve local search. With SEO moving in a more intent-focused direction over keywords, digital assistants may provide businesses with a significant edge. That is, if we can harness their power and figure out how to use them to our advantage without making Google mad.

Here’s where we first covered Google Home:

Google Penguin 4.0 released. It will be rolling out in real-time as part of Google's core ranking algorithm.

Google is Experimenting with Algorithms, Search Results

We like to imagine Google has a giant chalkboard somewhere. Emblazoned upon it are all its algorithms, and its employees are constantly erasing and rewriting them as they think up new ways to mess with us. Except now that RankBrain, Google’s machine-learning AI, has become such a prominent part of Google, it can’t be a traditional chalkboard though, can it?

Here’s what we do know: Google runs experiments constantly. They want to improve the user experience and get those links clicked, clicked, clicked. So we in SEO always pay attention to even the slightest change in rankings. This year we saw Penguin baked into Google’s core algorithm and running in real-time. Although we’ll miss the fanfare that accompanied the previous three Penguin updates, we won’t have to wait anymore for our rankings to update. Pretty good trade, in our opinion.

We also got riled up over a local fake-out update everybody called “Google Possum.” Local rankings went in flux for a bit, becoming more prominent or even disappearing based on a number of factors. We thought it was a significant update, even if it didn’t get a “real” algorithm name.

We also wrote up a guide to surviving Google’s algorithm updates. We haven’t seen the last of Google’s algorithm changes, so we thought it prudent to come up with some advice to follow.

Relive all the algorithmic goodness we had this year:

The Times Square ball drops; the crowds cheer. You kiss a loved one, tip back your tulip glass. The tune to “Auld Lang Syne” comes to mind; you mouth the words you know and hum the rest. The melody is still on your lips as you head toward the bedroom. It will be a good year, you can feel it.

Whew! That’s all we’ve got to say about SEO in 2016. Now, as we look toward the future, we’ll keep in mind the lessons we learned and use them to make our SEO campaigns even better. We hope you’ll join us.

Have a Happy New Year!

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