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The New Year is right around the corner – it’s a time when companies take a look back and try to determine what went right and what went wrong and how they can apply those lessons to the next 12 months.

A lot of things happened throughout 2015 that will affect how marketers deliver results throughout 2016. Most notably, mobile devices surpassed desktop computers in online searches for the first time, and that is unlikely to change at all as smartphone penetration in the U.S. is predicted to reach nearly 90%. At February of this year, it was at about 75%, and it just keeps growing.

So the SEO forecast for 2016 has to start right there.

1. Mobile First

We use mobile devices for everything. When we want to learn something, find something, and buy something, our attention goes straight to those devices.

Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing, talked about this during the SLC|SEM conference held this year. He said that a lot of big companies are failing to do everything possible to reach an audience that relies heavily on their mobile devices. He also warned that search engines are completely agnostic on the issue of whether a company is bleeding away their mobile potential. So if a smaller company wants to step up and fill that gap, they’re fine with that.

He also pointed out that any company who is just now saying: “I think mobile is going to be important,” may already be too far behind the curve to catch up.

It’s also important to note that Google announced that mobile devices were the main source of its search traffic, which means it’s going to continue to put more weight on websites that are optimized for those mobile devices.

If you don’t have a mobile friendly website now (or at least a plan for one), you’re going to have a hard time staying ahead. 2016 has a lot more potential if you’re targeting those mobile customers.

2. Schema Markup

Schema has been around for a while, but its importance continues to increase.

This is a markup language that you can use on your website to structure and highlight important information so the search engines will spot it and deliver it to users. The language was founded and maintained by the big search engines, which should hint that this is something they want to see, and yet too many businesses don’t bother with it.

Search engines are trying to parse absurd amounts of data, and they want to provide users with better results that are more immediately useful. Consumers want driving directions, phone numbers, hours of operations, photos, and more – and they want it right now. If they don’t have to click on your listing and search through your website to find your phone number, so much the better. On the other hand, if they see some great reviews of your product, that’s just one more reason to go ahead and click the link.

This is particularly important as local search becomes more important (and effective) throughout 2016. The Google Places/Businesses section that appears in the results is showing fewer on the front page than it used to, so you have to make it easy for the search engine to want to show your business.

3. Email is Still Effective

We talk a lot about holistic approaches to marketing, and that kind of “big picture” is going to be even more important in 2016. That means you can’t ignore several marketing tools and avenues to get the best results, including email marketing.

Email has a bit of a poor reputation, but stats say it’s still extremely effective. In fact, customer acquisition via email has grown significantly. In this study, it had quadrupled in the 4 years leading up to 2013, and in 2015, 60% of marketers said that email is a critical enabler of products and services (up from 42% in 2014).

Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Where the old “spamming anyone and everyone” technique should have died a long time ago, many companies still try to force it to work. Personalized promotional mailings are far more effective. They have 20% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates that non-personalized attempts, showing that a little work can generate a lot of interest.

It’s also important to note that this is connected with the mobile first perspective. People can, and do, check their email on their phones several times a day. It makes it more likely that they’ll open your email on their phone.

4. Human Optimized SEO

Driving traffic is great, but SEO needs to go beyond that in 2016. It can’t be just about driving traffic, it has to be about task completion. That means optimizing your website to encourage real people to take an action.

Currently, a lot of companies and agencies focus on what “we” want and lose track of what the customer actually wants.

So, where SEO has traditionally been about discovering and optimizing certain ranking factors: unique content, link structure, title tags, etc. we need to realize that the user is a ranking factor, too. How long do they stay on your site? Are they bouncing out or are they completing tasks? All these things are going to have an impact on rankings.

There are several ways to address this:

  • Provide supplemental content
  • Answer all the questions customers have, before they even ask them
  • Optimize for the keywords people use, not the keywords you want to rank for
  • Use rich formatting
  • Consider shifting paid marketing to social platforms since that’s where a lot of people are paying attention

5. Quicker Penalties and Faster Forgiveness

Google confirmed that the next Penguin refresh will be happening soon, probably at the end of the year, and that it will add a real-time feature. In other words, as Google discovers links that have been removed or disavowed, it will immediately process the discovery and adjust its impression of the website accordingly.

The good news is that if your website is under penalty, there’s a better chance of restoring your rankings much faster (since you don’t have to wait for the next refresh for the search engine to realize that you’ve cleaned up any problems). So penalty recovery can happen much sooner.

Of course, Google’s real goal is to spot questionable links and immediately penalize the offender. That means companies that were relying on quick boosts or “grey” areas to provide better rankings won’t be able to get away with the same behavior.

So what does this mean for 2016? Mostly it means that sudden drops in rankings can happen at any time, not just during random algorithm refreshes. So you need to keep a close eye on how those rankings are faring. More than that, it means that linking strategies have to be solid and natural so they won’t incur the wrath of the search engines.

Start Early

2016 is just around the corner, and there’s no time like the present to start planning for the upcoming year. These trends will have a huge impact on the success of your campaign, so make sure your plan your strategies accordingly and start making the necessary changes as soon as possible.