For most digital marketers that are in the realm of Search Engine Optimization, 2015 was a memorable year. With more Google algorithm updates than I can count on both hands, it continuously encouraged web-masters and digital marketers to adhere to Google’s policies and best practices. For those whom are newer to the world of SEO, or for those who simply just forgot, I will briefly go over some of the updates and their impacts. The reason I stress the importance of these updates is because they will help shape the future of SEO and how your SEO strategies should be changing in 2016. Recap of Google Algorithm Changes in 2015 Google continuously updates the internal workings of its algorithm, and the changes are rarely announced or experienced on a wide enough of a scale to warrant it to be newsworthy. 2015 can be summarized by 5 major updates, which I have listed in order from most to least recent. #1. RankBrain Released on October 26th, 2015, RankBrain is Google’s brand new AI (artificial intelligence) which helps Google rank search queries it has never seen before. Much like in regular conversation, many users search using colloquial terms or phrases, which Google may not recognize. RankBrain’s machine learning allows it to better interpret these search queries to return the most accurate results possible. Google also stated that RankBrain is the third largest factor in the Google ranking algorithm. We do not officially know what the first two most important factors are. #2. Panda 4.2 The Panda update was released on July 18, 2015, and it affected 2-3% of Google’s search queries, a statistic confirmed by Google. This updated was believed to have been rolling out for several months, as webmasters were reporting large and unsuspecting fluctuations in website traffic and rankings until October. #3. The Quality Update (Phantom 2) On May 3rd, 2015, a mysterious and unannounced update, dubbed Phantom 2, hit the web. The quality updated targeted websites which has poor quality content, poor user experience (pages filled with ads, click bait articles, thin content pages, etc), websites with syndicated content and directories. Even bigger media outlets like HubPages were not safe from this update due to poor quality content, and lost 22% of it’s traffic overnight. #4. Mobile Update (Mobilegeddon) On April 21st, what the media and industry dubbed as Mobilegeddon, was arguably one of the most standout updates of the year. This update received a lot of general media attention, as Google announced the coming of this updated two months prior to its release. The update was aimed to improve the search results by favoring websites which were mobile friendly. In actuality the update ended up being less fearsome, as a study by Moz would suggest. #5. Unnamed Update An unnamed and unconfirmed update on February 4th, 2015 had a lot of people talking. The update seemed to have mostly targeted branded terms and e-commerce sites. One of the examples of changes were changes in misspelled brand names. Google adjusted for this error, as previous to the update, pages and websites that used the misspelled brand name in their URL and content, would rank above the official brand pages. The Evolution of SEO Strategies in 2016 After watching the landscape of SEO change over the span of last year, I have put together a list of what are 5 of the most essential elements in every SEO strategy for 2016. Acquiring High Quality Links Having a high quality back-link profile goes without saying, when it comes to any SEO strategy. With the inevitable Penguin update rumoured be rolling out at the end of January, the industry speculation is that this update will hit websites harder than any other penguin update before it. Any sustainable SEO strategy should focus on quality of links vs. quantity, from authoritative and industry related websites. Examples of the types of links you should be focus building in 2016: Guest Blogging Broken Link-Building Resource Building Industry Articling Media Outreach Whenever I build a link I look at it this way. Will this link bring any quality referral traffic to my site, and potential leads/customers? If the answer is “Yes”, I will proceed to try to acquire that link. How to Acquire High Quality Links in 2016? 2016 is definitely the year in which you will have to refine your email outreach strategy, and understand what works and what doesn’t work. Acquiring high quality links is all about building relationships in your industry. This study will give you research data on best email outreach practices for link-building, to use in 2016. Quality Content You’ve probably heard this saying a thousand times before “Content is King.” However content in 2016 has become so oversaturated in the most competitive niches that content alone will not be enough. Recent Google updates have started to put a higher emphasis on how rankings are affected by user behaviour. Improving your content so that users spend more time on page and don’t bounce back to Google’s search results will show improvements in rankings over time. Digital marketing specialist Brian Dean recently commented on how he has monitored the affect of user behaviour on his own website’s rankings. How to Create Better Quality Content? Create resources which your visitors will truly find useful. Make sure you’re content is targeting the right keywords, and it’s answering the right questions. If you are not confident in your own ability to create the right content for your users, invest in hiring copy-writing professionals to do it for you. Don’t neglect your sales funnel, and make sure you are using internal linking properly so that users can follow a flow of information throughout your websites leading them to an end goal conversion, whether it’s a sale or email subscription. Working on your conversion rates will lower your bounce rates, which will help your rankings, and ultimately help you achieve your business goals. Mobile Friendliness In 2015, mobile Google searches officially exceeded Google searches from desktop computers. Not only does that indicate that your business needs to be mobile friendly, but also because of the mobile friendliness updated back in April of 2015 now plays a role in your rankings. How to be Mobile Friendly in 2016? The simplest way to become mobile friendly is by using one of the top Content Management Systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and using a responsive theme. Updating your website for mobile friendliness is no longer an option, but rather a necessity. Don’t know if your site is mobile friendly? Google has made it simple to check with this simple tool. Website Security If your website collects delicate customer information or collects emails it would be best to have the best website security. Not only will your visitors be glad you are protected, Google can also detect malware, viruses and other issues with websites, which will negatively impact your rankings, without you even knowing. How can I make my Website Secure? In 2014, Google announced that SSL certifcations, and now websites with HTTPS, have a slight edge in rankings. In the last 2 years security has become a more important ranking factor. Protecting your site doesn’t stop there. If you are running on any of the top CMS’s such as WordPress, installing plugins such as the free WordFence or Sucuri Security plugins can keep you protected from brute force attacks and malware. Social Signals Without a doubt social sharing has been having an increasing impact on rankings. In May of 2015 Google and Twitter struck a deal that Tweets would be re-introduced in SERPs. Tweeting out a link to new content could reducing indexing time for your post by up to 50% since Google is more likely to crawl Twitter before your new post. Based on a study by Search Metrics, social shares have a significant correlation to ranking in Google’s search results. Google+ takes the crown as the most impactful social signal, followed by Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. How to Gain Social Signals in 2016 2016 is the year where you will need to develop a Social Media strategy. For starters make your content easily share-able, installing plugins such as Sharaholic for websites which run on the WordPress CMS is a great way to entice shares. Engaging people on social media and sharing your content with them is the best way in making your content visible to new users. Conclusion I have seen many online marketers and business fail because they do not incorporate a fully comprehensive SEO strategy which revolves around link-building, content, technical aspects and social media. Whether its lack of budget or lack of knowledge, 2016 should be the year you change your approach. Images: ”Author’s Own“ ______________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. Would you like to write for us? An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator.