Google & SEO Recap : 2016

In an ever-evolving and agile landscape, search engine optimisation has many ebbs, flows and trends. Like the rankings on SERPs, there were fluctuations, a few algorithm updates and the continued rise of mobile usage. As the industry continues to develop, it’s pertinent to reflect on the major changes of the last year.

Is SEO still alive?

According to a study that was reported by Search Engine Land in 2016, companies spent over $65 billion on Search Engine Optimisation in 2016 which will grow to almost $80 billion by the year 2020!

These stats simply laughs in the face of those rumours circulating the internet that “SEO is dead”. It’s fair to say that future proofing your business with strategic SEO is still not only on-trend, but essential.

More algorithm updates that you can poke a smart-phone at

algo-updates-2016Google’s infrastructure is a constantly changing beast. With around 500 changes to the algorithms every year, 2016 has been subject to a few that could be considered ‘major’. Here are four of them:

Penguin 4.0

Named after a rather gentle bird, Penguin took the noble role of devaluing bad links, rather than penalising them. The second phase of the two-part implementation was the ‘recovery period’where the mercy of the great Penguin 4.0 was shown through re-evaluating sites that had previously been punished by its precursors. This allowed a second chance for websites that had since undertaken measurements to rectify themselves by using proper Google protocol to make themselves legitimate again.

A less appreciated creature, the Possum update was never officially affirmed by Google. Of course, those keener in the eyes for SEO noted a significant swing in local pack and Google Maps results in early September. Columnist Joy Hawkins from Search Engine Land noted that the primary objective for the update was to “diversify the local results and also prevent spam from ranking as well”, and was the biggest change to the SEO world since Pigeon (another suspicious animal) was released in 2014. Possum was deemed a fitting name since affected business owners thought their listings had disappeared, when in fact they have just been filtered – i.e. they were just playing possum.

Mobile-friendly algorithm boost
On May the 12th, Google launched its addition to the previous development ‘Mobilegeddon’. Though a thoroughly unimaginative name, the update impacted search results through further validating mobile-friendly sites, making mobile searches a more integral part of modern Googling.

Divided Index
With Google’s new focus on mobile-friendly operations, come November, Google announced they had been playing with a mobile-first index. This means the algorithms that Google has in place are starting to go down a track where the mobile version of a site’s content will be prioritised in page ranking in order to “understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in [their] results.”

Speaking of algorithm updates….. the rise of AI influenced a major one

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more integrated with everyday systems, and we continued to see a rise in usage in 2016. From search engines to product orders to in-house systematics, automation is fast becoming the efficiency solution of future business. ANI, or Artificial Narrow Intelligence, is put into such practices to assume repetitive or algorithmic tasks; not only easing work flow in human labour, but achieving what can only be possible by surpassing humans in both speed and accuracy.
True artificial intelligence is where a computer has the ability to think like a human in terms of ‘learning’ capabilities. Though science fiction seems to embellish the extent of this parallel, AI could, in theory, become this sophisticated in the future. This is so prevalent now that 2016 brought us RankBrain.
RankBrain is a segment of the overall algorithm Hummingbird that dictates, through a series of complex human-like judgments, how a page is ranked and filtered through the Google search engine. RankBrain is not responsible for the entire filtering/ordering process, but is simply the ‘intellect’ that teaches itself, adapts, and decides which pages are the most relevant.

Mobile and smart-phone usage continued to dominate trends

Google has been heavily on the back making sure their search engine is catering to the rise and rise of smart phone usage. Just like Mobilegeddon update (mentioned above), the AMP Project was also lunched in 2016 to improve the user experience for mobile searchers.

Looking forward into 2017

From the updates and changes mentioned above, it would only be fair to predict further updates and changes to come. RankBrain will likely grow in its artificially intelligent ways, and have a bigger part to play in future algorithms – meaning we will need to think smarter about content and links, and how they interact together. Mobile usage will most likely continue to build.

As Google becomes more complex, with more factors, trends, data, pages, algorithms, coming through constantly; we will find a larger separation between those SEO ‘specialists’ who know their stuff, and those who don’t. Because of this increase in complexity, it will become very apparent which websites are implementing high quality SEO, and which aren’t.
Bring on 2017!