2016’s Seven Biggest SEO Trends (And How Marketers Should React)

Since the earliest days of the internet, the competition for organic traffic has been intense. There are, after all, a finite number of people out there, and they can only visit a certain number of websites.

Marketers are often thrown into this fray, expected to drive more and more viewers to websites of all shapes and sizes (in addition to the 57 other things we’ve got to get done this week). So, it’s really convenient when someone like Moz’s Rand Fishkin pulls together a handy list of trends in organic search.

It’s even better when he adds action items that we can start incorporating into our SEO strategies, which is exactly what he did at Content Marketing World this year.

For those who weren’t able to attend, or just need a reminder of these insights, we’re proud to present Rand’s seven biggest SEO trends of 2016, and how marketers can best deal with them.

SEO Trend #7: Google’s Still Growing, But Others Are Too

Yes, Google is still the 800-pound gorilla of searches, but it’s by no means the only primate in the jungle.


If you’re in the ecommerce business, you should be concerned with how your products perform when people do searches on Amazon. Anyone trying to market in the hospitality, travel, or tourism industries needs to spend time optimizing their presence on Yelp.

And the list goes on.

Not sure which search engines are right for your SEO efforts? Take a peek at where your competition is getting their organic traffic using a tool like Similar Web.

Keep in mind that your tactics and content types need to customized for each site and audience that you’re trying to reach. There’s no “one size fits all” approach in modern SEO.


Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Don’t ignore search engines just because they aren’t Google.
  • See where your competition is getting their traffic.
  • Apply different tactics to reach audiences on different sites.


SEO Trend #6: Google Works to Answer Simple Queries Directly

If Google can provide a searcher with an answer inside their search results, they’re becoming increasingly likely to do so. If you can get your result to appear as the answer, you can earn a higher percentage of clicks, but the other results on the page will see a sharp decline in their CTR.

Consider what simple questions you could answer with your content, and optimize like mad to try for that answer spot.

And, when choosing keywords, it’s now vital for marketers to consider possible click through rates. If your terms tend to return a cluttered page with lots of media results, live news and tweets, and/or maps, you may be better off looking for a term that offers your result a better chance to stand out.


Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Consider potential click through rate (CTR) when choosing keywords
  • Think about how you can use SEO to get into featured snippets for a big boost in CTR



SEO Trend #5: Keyword Data is The Worst

Accordig to Rand, the keyword data that we can get is now “more obfuscated, less reliable, and less accessible” than ever before.

You can get more precise data by using tools like Moz or SEMRush, or by paying to run an Adwords campaign (this unlocks more exact data in Google’s keyword explorer).

Failing the use of a third-party tool, use the numbers you get from Google as relative comparisons only. (Google Trends works really well for this, as you can see in the shot below.)

They aren’t absolutely accurate data, so don’t treat them as such.


How to react: Don’t use google’s volume numbers as absolutes, only as relative comparisons; google trends; for the best data you’ll need to run a campaign

Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Don’t use Google’s volume numbers as absolutes, only as relative comparisons.
  • Google Trends can help you choose between two related terms.
  • For the most accurate data from Keyword Explorer, run an Adwords campaign.

SEO Trend #4: Twitter has replaced Google+

Twitter is now Google’s primary social result, with only a few Google+ elements remaining in search results when you’re logged in to your Google account.

Additionally, tweets often dominate real-time results, with Google using engagement and recency to determine which tweets to display.

Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Pay attention to how Twitter influences the SERPs you care about.
  • If you have a Google+ following at all you should keep posting there.
  • But if you haven’t started using it there’s no need to start now.

SEO Trend #3: Non-Traditional Ranking Approaches Can Work Wonders

Although the variety of results appearing in SERPs can hurt CTR opportunities, they also mean that there are more non-traditional ways to get into Google’s results than ever before.

Rand reported that Moz’s data showed that only about 3% of results show the old-school “10 blue links”:


The rest look more like this:


Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Analyze which types of SERPs appear most for the keywords you care about.
  • Create content targeted to appear for those kinds of SERPs.

SEO Trend #2: Searcher Intent Trumps Keywords Match

Like just about everything else in digital marketing, SEO has gotten more complicated. Now we need to be concerned about matching searcher intent first and foremost, but keyword use remains a must-have.

Put another way, keyword matching is table stakes in 2016. It’s no longer a competitive advantage.

Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Match your content to what searchers are seeking.
  • Follow all these requirements for modern on page SEO:
    • Intelligent keyword use in page title, meta description, URL, and top few paragraphs (just as before)
    • Use of related topics to indicate the content’s relevance
    • Serving keywords with matching intent together on one page
    • Thorough answers/solutions to the searcher’s query
    • Unique value over what other sites in the SERPs offer

SEO Trend #1: Machine Learning and Engagement are Google’s Future

Google is already using machine learning via Rank Brain, even though they admit they don’t fully understand how it works. Eventually, algorithms built by machines will replace those that engineers hand select.

That means that we need to be very, very concerned with how people interact with our websites after they click on our results in the SERPs. If users abandon our site to perform another search and/or click a different search result, machine learning algorithms will penalize us.


Key Marketer Reactions:

  • Focus on signal:noise ratio – don’t let bad pages drag down a good site.
  • Serve multiple searcher intents, not just your own interests
  • Make UX a cornerstone of your SEO:
  • Authoritative, comprehensive content that’s uniquely valuable vs. what anyone else in your space provides
  • Speed, speed, and more speed
  • Delivers an easy, enjoyable experience on every device
  • Compels visitors to engage, share and return
  • Avoids features that annoy or dissuade visitors

SEO in 2016: The Complication Continues

There may be a time when a trend report like this one tells us that we can relax, that there are fewer signals influencing how our sites perform, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.

Until that happy time, marketers need to continue closely monitoring their keyword choices, on page engagement, competition, and backend website technology, all while consistently producing genuinely outstanding content that searchers want to click on.

It’s a good thing that marketers are experts at managing rising expectations, because that seems to be what we’re facing in the near future of SEO.

(You can see the full Slideshare here.)


Other Articles You Might Be Interested In:

get the agile marketing styles ebook

Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

Leave a Comment