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SEO Lessons Learned in 2016

October 21, 2016
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2016 was a big year for SEO. From the most recent Penguin update to that mysterious update back in May, this year definitely kept SEOers on their toes! With all of these algorithm changes, SEO professionals have constantly been checking and shifting their strategies to accommodate the latest updates. We asked our SEO experts what changes or updates they’ve seen in SEO strategy over the past year and how they are preparing for the new year.

Nicole Grodesky (Senior SEO Strategist):

“Semantic search optimization is critical for your on-page SEO strategy. It’s essential to trim your content like a Bonsai tree to create content on your page that is highly relevant. RELEVANCY is the goal! Your business messaging needs to be relevant to your topic/service/product offering based on user search patterns.

Related: How to Assess Your Current SEO Strategy

Knowing your industry’s search habits, queries, and relevance is critical to gaining authority in the eyes of Google. Knowing this helps build relevancy and the overall authority of a page on your website and your overall relevancy within a niche market. Each page, every product page, every service page, every blog post, should follow this strategy.”

Antonio Johnson (Head Of SEO):

“Alignment of digital strategies across all channels is becoming more and more vital to marketing success. As search moves closer to emulating and predicting human intent, digital marketing, and SEO more specifically, must take a holistic approach. We are seeing clear signals of this with the unveiling of RankBrain and its eventual integration into the search algorithm, as well as the diminishing effect of techniques that gamify or take advantage of the search landscape. No longer should SEOs ignore the complementary marketing channels and should strive to become cross-channel strategy gurus.”

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Bill Wilkinson (Director Of SEO): 

“Click through rates are now more important than ever in 2016. CTR was previously only suspected to be a means to get more traffic from your existing rankings by optimizing to receive more clicks with the same amount of impressions. However with the significant introduction of RankBrain, click through rates are more important as studies have shown that this element has a direct impact on organic rankings.”

Kendall Brennan (Senior SEO Strategist): 

“For ecommerce sites specifically, we saw that “do follow” product review links negatively affect a site’s performance and can even lead to a manual action. Product reviews still have a lot of value, but it’s important to ask the site publisher to add a “no follow” tag on the link back to your site to ensure that your site is safe from any penalties.”

Sarah Stevens (SEO Account Manager): 

“Penguin – as everyone in the SEO community has been waiting for (some patiently) for the past 2+ years. As links and content are the top two ranking factors Penguin operating in real-time and as part of the core algorithm is HUGE. Previously, if you had a poor backlink profile your entire site would be impacted.

Related: 5 Signs Your SEO Strategy is Falling Flat

Penguin 4.0 is more granular and impacts individual pages which potentially makes it harder to identify causes. Plus spammy links are now devalued vs. demoted. Of note, we saw that primarily desktop results were impacted while mobile results remained consistent. This could be related to an update we expect to see later this year/early next year…. Catch our upcoming 2017 SEO predictions for more info.”

Sean Dilger (SEO Project Manager):

“Keyword research is still highly relevant today. User intent and how search engines understand the query are important, always ask yourself will the user find the content on the page useful and interesting. Google also made a significant change to its SERPs by extending the length of titles and meta descriptions. Title tags increased from on average 60 to 70 characters. However, this may be a test by Google and could change at any time.”

Austin Mahaffey (SEO Account Manager): 

“Context became an integral capability of the core algorithm through the RankBrain update. SEOs need to feed the algorithm the knowledge it wants from every angle. Syncing up strategy to include consistent keyword focus across on page and off page SEO will allow for Google to find more pertaining to the subject. The Rank Brain update is great for those searching because they will be receiving better written, more granular pieces, but more difficult for the SEO because they need to become hyperfocused on the topic at hand. Those willing to do the work will be rewarded. also, paying attention to search intent when choosing keywords is going to be a very important part of the research process.”

Nick Slettengren (Partner & Founder): 

“In the latter part of the year we have seen a new penguin update that is more frequent and runs in sync with Google’s ranking algorithm. As a result, proper linking strategy has pushed to the forefront of best SEO practices. While links have always been important, we are now seeing webmasters and marketers needing to take up serious offensive and defensive strategy positions.

Related: Keyword Research Best Practices

Offensively the links need to be in content and extremely relevant to mean anything to the search engines. Defensively link portfolios or links associated with your particular website need to be tracked and evaluated for quality assurance. Then when undesirable links are determined, using outreach techniques to have the webmaster take them down before using the disavow file in GSC is ideal for faster results and sustaining current organic rankings.”

David McCutchan (SEO Coordinator): 

“Keyword Planner went through an update that affects the availability of accurate keyword search volume for lower spend accounts, it would be useful to check multiple sources to obtain precise search volume.

Keyword research and implementation techniques continue to hold importance in 2016.  As Google’s algorithm continues to become more sophisticated in determining the relevance of your content, having the right amount of pertinent keywords strategically placed throughout your content is more important than ever.”

Britney Schroeder (Director Of Content Marketing): 

“This year on the content side of things we’ve shifted our strategy to reflect the need for more comprehensive content ecosystems. Where in the past we focused on optimizing each piece of content individually, we are now optimizing our content within each holistic cluster. With this in mind we are looking to better support our overall SEO optimizations and strategy by building out content that answers those informational queries but links up to our related transaction pages. This pivot reflects the continued emphasis being placed on content and the desire to establish our clients as thought leaders in the space while boosting overall rankings and transactions.”

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