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International SEO: 2015 review – 2016 predictions

How have developments in international digital marketing affected your business in 2015? We take a look back over the past twelve months to review some of the changes, new challenges and events which have influenced the way we work, and also make some predictions for 2016.

2015 saw a lot of changes to the major search engines which had a significant impact on client strategies and tactics. In this post we’ll look at the developments that affected international SEO and highlight some potential changes for 2016.

Mobile friendly: Yandex, Baidu and Google

There was a lot of talk in 2015 about mobile and Google’s change to the algorithm. The mobile friendly update, known in many circles (but not by Google) as Mobilegeddon. This change led to Google ranking sites which are ‘mobile friendly’ more highly than those which weren’t. Generally, this meant that sites which weren’t mobile friendly did not perform as well as those which were.

There were also changes to how mobile websites are treated in Baidu. The launch of the Ice Bucket Update means that sites which don’t offer a good mobile user experience are actively penalised. This includes sites with a lot of advertising, pop-up windows and those sites which push an app download for mobile users.

Yandex, Baidu and Google all now show a “mobile friendly” message in the search results too.

With the dramatic increases in mobile internet usage and in particular the high number of users worldwide who are using mobile devices for e-commerce transactions this move towards mobile friendly websites will only continue in 2016.

Less and less people are using desktops as we all get used to using the internet on the move. We would expect to see more moves towards mobile friendly algorithms and a push for the importance of these sites by the search engines as they seek to improve the mobile user experience and reflect this trend.

Search engines are also moving towards a better understanding of apps and app usage with indexation of app results coming up highly in the changes made. We’ve seen statistics which show that users spend a high percentage of their time in apps and not on the mobile web – with some studies saying that over 80% of time is spent in mobile apps.

As a result of this, in 2016 it will also become more important than ever to consider findability within other mobile search mediums such as apps. This could mean anything from making hotels and restaurants more easily located in apps such as TripAdvisor, to making videos findable on YouTube and music more findable on apps like SoundCloud.

App Optimisation

Talking of app usage, 2015 really saw app optimisation take off. This is sure to be a large element of content discovery in 2016 when app usage will continue to be a strong influence on user behaviour. In the year ahead, it will be important to consider how your app is optimised. There are two elements to app optimisation which need to be considered.

The first is to make your app findable in the different app stores around the world. This process involves ensuring that your app is well optimised for search but also that it’s being downloaded and also reviewed by users.

The second is about making apps easier to use. More and more publishers are using apps to publish a mix of content and listings within apps. To help your app stats and usability it is important to ensure your app has a quick load time, the user experience is good with easy to find content and you provide social sharing options.

Links

We saw a lot of activity on the link building side of the algorithms in 2015.

Yandex continued its move away from Google at the beginning of the year as it rolled out changes to its algorithm which removed links from the list of ranking factors all together. However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this change was reversed. In April 2015, Yandex announced it was not only reintroducing links to the algorithm but adding penalties for sites with bad links pointing to them. A response to the fact that there were lots of issues with links within the pool of Russian sites which historically had added to the number of forum, link network and directory links considerably.

As a result of this change, September 2015 saw Yandex implement its first link penalties to hundreds of sites. In 2016, we expect to see Yandex continue to roll this update out and take action against more sites which have a high number of low quality links pointing through to them.

Google continues to crack down on spam and there has been a lot of talk that it will be launching a new Penguin shortly which potentially will end web spam. We’re a bit dubious of the new Penguin update’s ability to do this but with rumours stating that this update will roll Penguin into the main algorithm making updates for bad quality links more frequent and less dependent on news releases of Penguin. Google has stated that this update will roll out in 2016 as it won’t be finished in time for the end of 2015.

Baidu is a little bit further behind Yandex and Google in terms of dealing with websites which have poor quality links. However, we have seen Baidu taking steps in the last few years to move away from quantity as being the only measure of a link’s value.

Further predictions for 2016

We’ve been hearing rumours for some time that structured data is going to form a stronger part of the algorithm in the coming months. The rumours result from a patent filed by Google relating to structured data and search. This is one which isn’t going away and Google seem to be moving towards using structured data to ensure the search results its serving are more useful for users and delivering unique content in the results.