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SEO – Past, Present and Future SEO – Past, Present and Future

SEO – Past, Present and Future

Where has 2016 gone? We’re reviewing the major SEO developments of the past year and how they impacted search rankings. What ranking factors are dominant now? Last but not least, we predict where SEO is going in 2017 and how it will impact you and your business. You’ll want to read on if you want your site to feature at the top of Google rankings in 2017.


A full year has gone by and if you missed it, here are the major developments that occurred in SEO land during 2016.

  1. Mobile-friendly – Google increased the importance of being mobile-friendly in its algorithm for mobile search rankings. This was deployed on 12 May 2016 and means that they are placing even more importance on your site being mobile compatible.
  2. Links – known as Penguin 4.0, this update was rolled out to devalue bad links vs. penalising sites with bad links. This is an adjustment to how they treat bad links to your site and saw a much quicker update to rankings if you performed any clean up to your link profile. The Penguin 4.0 update was rolled out on 23 September 2016.
  3. Local listings – an unofficial update that was also rolled out in September 2016 was to the local listings and map results. The change was to diversify local listing and map results so that users got more better listings. This removed redundant listings (i.e. multiple practitioners from the same business) and customised results based on the user’s location (people searching from outside an area got wider map results).

These were the major changes along with 500 other algorithm updates made throughout the year.


So where are we now?  An annual study of ranking factors performed by Searchmetrics details the various ranking factors and how they have moved over the last year. The top 3 findings were:

  1. Content relevance – Put it simply, the relevancy of content is determined by how well it answers the questions that users have. Increasingly, site engagement signals such as time on page, bounce rate and click through rate will help Google understand which content is the most relevant to users.
  2. Backlinks – Given the increase in content relevance as a ranking factor, Google is placing less reliance on backlinks. The main driver of this is the increased use of mobile usage and mobile search. Mobile users rarely link to URLs but often like or share URLs. Despite the trend, backlinks is still a major factor in determining rankings.
  3. Technical – Technical factors such as load times, file sizes, encryption, mobile-friendliness, internal links, etc still underpin good rankings. Without it, no matter how good your content or link profile, it will be extremely difficult to achieve good rankings.


Looking to improve your rankings?  Make sure you have the three areas above in order and you’ll likely see results.  What’s in store for 2017 and beyond?  Nobody knows for sure but given what we’ve seen so far, here is what we think.

  1. Artificial Intelligence – Google has already increased it’s reliance on its artificial intelligence engine. As machine learning improves, this factor will only increase in its importance.  Google will better be able to determine user intent and therefore the relevancy of a website’s content without the need for tonnes of high quality backlinks. What this means for you is to focus on your target audience’s key questions and intent when they are performing searches and creating engaging content that provides them with the answers or the information they need.
  2. Customised search results – ranking factors will differ for different industries. Gone are the days where the same ranking factors apply across the board. Further integration of machine learning will mean that Google’s algorithm will simply adjust itself as it learns. This will allow it to deliver greater customised results to users. What this means for you is understanding your industry and your target audience in what matters most and focusing on optimising those factors to get the greatest results. For example, social and user signals might be the main area of focus for a retailer of shoes vs. local reviews and links will be more important for a doctors practice.
  3. Mobile first – We’ve all seen the rise of mobile devices in our own lives and how Google has adjusted to the growing pervasiveness of these devices with the increased weight placed on mobile-friendliness in its search rankings. Well, this will only continue. This is in reaction to the fact that mobile searches has exceeded desktop searches and Google’s search results are indexed based on desktop versions of websites. To address this, Google has announced that it is testing a mobile-first index. What this means is that it will develop its search results based on mobile versions of websites instead of desktops. Although it hasn’t deployed it yet, it is a matter of time before search results will be based on mobile versions of your site instead of desktop. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of your site, we would highly recommend you get your act together and develop one.

Not sure if our predictions will eventuate but all signs are leading to the above.  If you think the above doesn’t apply to you, think again.  According to AdWeek, 92% of business purchases start with search whilst 81% of consumers perform research online before buying.  As high as those percentages are already, we think they will only increase and only the weighting of various factors will change.

If you need help getting your SEO in order for the upcoming year, give us a call at (02) 8211 0668 or email us at [email protected].

Michael Lam

Co-founder of Cornerstone and web junkie, Michael knows just how to diagnose your online problems and remedy the issue. An online enthusiast who believes in technology as an enabler of growth, Michael worries about all the details so you don't have to.

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