Searchmetrics’ Shyam Dattani on search trends for 2016

Dec 21st, 2015

We asked Shyam Dattani, a digital marketing specialist at search insights provider Searchmetrics, his views on the biggest search trends for 2016

How will the search landscape change in 2016 and what will this mean for marketers?


Search marketing is an industry that undergoes almost constant change. In the last 4 years alone, Google will have made approximately 2000 tweaks to its algorithm; and that’s being conservative.

These changes mean that marketers have had to adapt to their constantly evolving environment by changing what they look out for, how they analyse potential and what they deem to be high quality marketing.

Is the role of mobile going to evolve over the next year?

For me personally, 2016 is almost certainly going to show a continued growth in mobile search, and for that reason a growth in technologies that buoy that growth.

In 2014 mobile search overtook desktop search for the first time and the worldwide smartphone market grew 13.0% year on year in 2015 Q2. I predict that this growth will continue as smartphones  and internet access become more accessible to the masses and untapped markets.

As mobile usage grows, Google has had to adapt to the increase in mobile searches. With mobile searching comes voice searching. Voice search, eg, Siri on iOS, Cortana on Microsoft and Google Voice on Android phones has already changed the way in which people search on their phones.

There was a time where we would type a broken phrase into Google and then reverse the words if the search didn’t yield the results we were looking for. Nowadays people simply talk to their phone and ask full questions. These questions are essentially converted to a long tail keyword search. As a result, I see an increase in long tail queries and as a consequence marketers will need to adapt to this.

Search marketers need to think of SEO as search experience optimisation instead of search engine optimisation… this means paying close attention to the data

User experience has been high on Google’s agenda lately; how will this continue to develop?

Content on page will need to address the search intention of the user, eg, FAQ pages which answer the plethora of questions surrounding a key topic/user intention. Landing pages that directly address what the user wants as opposed to just attempting to be optimised for the search engine.

For Google to understand if the user intention has been catered for it must first understand exactly what the user intention is through the search phrase and also understand what the landing page is showing. In order to do this Google has improved and will continue to improve the Hummingbird Algorithm. With this algorithm, Google now has the ability to understand how different searches could have the same user intentions or even vice versa, where the same search can have differing intentions based on other factors such as the device or location of the search.

Google now has the ability to understand how different searches could have the same user intentions or even vice versa

This means that search marketers need to think of SEO as search experience optimisation instead of search engine optimisation. Optimise for the user experience and the intention of that user. What does that user want to see when they search what they search? What information around that topic could help them? Do they want information? Are they looking to convert?

This optimisation boils down to the content on the page and whether it answers the user’s need or if it is just trying to game a search engine.

Earlier I mentioned how Google now has the ability to understand where the same search can have differing intentions based on other factors such as the device or location of the search. As mobile searches have grown, location and device have become more important. Mobilegeddon, as it was nicknamed, was Google’s warning to make websites mobile friendly, a key clue to the fact they were focusing on mobile.

How can marketers capitalise on the mobile trend?

In 2016, Google will look more and more at supporting information when serving search results. If you are searching for “Thai food” at home or on a desktop Google will more than likely serve you recipes for Thai food. If you are on the move and on your phone Google will pick up on this and more than likely find you a local Thai restaurant. Marketers need to leverage this and use it to their advantage. When strategising, they need to think about the user journey from a mobile user perspective and the differing journey from a desktop user perspective.

What does each user actually want? How do they differ? How can we optimise for both? Can we use structured information or schema markups? Do we need to serve a completely unique mobile site? Are we mobile ready? Does our page cater for the short attention span of a mobile user?

Google also has another trick up its sleeve to help with mobile search and that is personalisation. This is where Google is using information about you, eg, sites you have visited, phrases you have searched and products you have looked at to tweak the results it shows you. This is a lot harder to plan for with search alone but allows you to take into account a more multi-faceted approach to digital marketing where you can target the user in multiple channels.

With all these algorithm tweaks it is clear that Google is very focused on the quality of its search results. For this reason they are also said to be updating the Penguin 4.0 algorithm to be a live algorithm. Penguin was originally an algorithm that focused on the quality of links and punished those domains that were seen to be “gaming the system” by drastically bringing down their search visibility, either by way of a manual or algorithmic penalty.

Tweet in which Google’s Gary Illyes confirms the next Penguin update will be real-time

What will be the impact of the Penguin refresh?

The current Penguin algorithm has a lag in how quickly it finds a problem link, and also a lag in how quickly it assesses the recovery. This in turn means there is a lag in how quickly your lost visibility returns. With Penguin 4.0 Google is expecting to have a minimal lag, which means bad links will be assessed quickly but fixes will also allow quick recoveries. So, in short, a year with lots of fluctuations.

For marketers this means paying close attention to the data. Where are the new and lost links? Is there any negative SEO? What is the visibility of the site looking like? Where are the drops? Both proactiveness and reactiveness are key.

My last twist in the tale for 2016 is the growth of Apple search. iOS is already showing landing pages for terms typed in the search field, particularly for brand terms and you can bet they’re not using Google to do it. Consequently, I can see brand searches begin to fall, in Google’s data at least.

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