SEO, Links and Google’s Penguin Dance for 2016


Search engine experts around this time of year always make bold predictions of what trends and changes we’ll see in the SEO industry and how the ranking of our web pages will be affected.

Admittedly, in the realm of experts who make bold predictions about anything, those who specialize in SEO are a bit timid. That’s because when they gaze into their crystal balls, mostly what they see is Google, and the giant in online searches isn’t eager to tip their hand too early.

Penguin Update Pending

Google continues to make strenuous efforts to rank highly those Search Engine Results Pages that emphasize valuable user experience, and punish those websites who use paid links and keyword scamming to hook in unsuspecting visitors.

This year, SEO experts are eagerly anticipating the release of the latest version of Google’s Penguin algorithm. The original release of Penguin was a dagger aimed at the heart of search engine scammers. It didn’t merely devalue bad links. It labeled them as toxic, requiring webmasters to remove those links, conduct a link audit and disavow any links considered spam. Even if webmasters obeyed Google’s dictum, it would take a while, sometimes a very long while, before a Penguin refresh would return a website to Google’s good graces and preferred search ranking.

The new version of Penguin is to be released any day now, if the experts are to be believed, and there are indications Google has already been conducting live tests on the Web. Penguin hasn’t been updated for more than a year, and was supposed to be released by the end of 2015. Google, however, announced it was delaying the release until after the holidays.

The key change in the new release is spam link forgiveness in real time. Webmasters who have run afoul of the Penguin algorithm but have cleansed their sites of spammy links will see their sites return to approved rankings quickly rather than having to wait as long as months for Google’s forgiveness. If you’re one of those webmasters waiting to hear about your SEO parole, your wait may soon be over.

Walk This Way, Talk This Way

2015 was the year of Mobilegeddon, when Google search results began penalizing sites that weren’t optimized for viewing on mobile devices. This was a big thing for web designers as they converted sites to become responsive, making them easily viewed on any device, from desktop to smartphone. As the number of mobile searches grew, Google wanted to be sure they were sending viewers to sites they could actually see and interact with effectively.

For sites that changed to become responsive, Mobilegeddon went by rather smoothly. But the change isn’t over yet. The way those searches are worded are changing, as search engines are receiving an increasing number of queries from digital assistants, such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now. The result is a more complex search query. When you type a search query, most often you use a minimal number of words, like Pizza Kalamazoo Now. Say that out loud and you sound like Tarzan in an old Hollywood movie. But if you pull out your smart phone, you might say, Siri, find me a pizza joint near here that’s open, and make sure it has anchovies as one of the toppings.

Spoken queries are resulting in a new type of long-tail keyword. Web pages with content that is more conversational and colloquial can end up with higher rankings in mobile searches. It’s a continuation of Google’s trend emphasizing contextual matches over finding a few common keywords.

Social Media Finds Its Place in SEO

Search for news items, and you’re as likely to turn up a link to a Facebook posting or Twitter feed as you are the New York Times. And news items as reported on social media are likely to be turning up more often in 2016.

Social media platforms are becoming more heavily indexed and readily available to search engines. Social posts will be ranked by their user value, similar to that given an independent web page. What’s the difference between a social media post and a web page? That’s becoming less clear all the time as the line between the two blurs even more in search engine results.

If you’d like to explore SEO predictions further, here are a few other forecasts:

Forbes: The Top 7 SEO Trends That Will Dominate 2016

MOZ: 10 Predictions for 2016 in SEO & Web Marketing

Econsultancy: SEO trends in 2016: What do the experts predict?

Tom Chmielewski serves as Treasurer of the InterCom board. He’s a writer, editor and publisher with his own firm, TEC Publishing.