Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
There is never a shortage of articles about predictions for the new year, and the same holds true where SEO is concerned.
Here is my list of predictions for 2016 — four in all — that will affect local SEO. Review them and start making plans to address the upcoming changes.
1. Mobile Usage Will Continue to Grow
2015 saw the urgency that Google created around its move to a separate mobile algorithm, commonly referred to as “Mobilegeddon,” which let us know we had to make sure our websites were mobile-friendly.
Actually, we didn’t see any significant changes regarding traffic, so it was as if Google cried wolf. The mobile sky didn’t fall, and I didn’t hear any horror stories about websites losing tremendous amounts of traffic, including sites that weren’t completely mobile-friendly.
Even though Mobilegeddon didn’t affect a lot of websites, it did create awareness around the fact that consumers are using their mobile devices more and more, for almost everything, including looking up local business information such as the name, address, phone number, and hours of operation. That means, if yours is a local business, showing up in the mobile search results is critical and will become even more so in 2016.
What can you do now? Perform an audit of your business listings. It’s pretty simple to do and takes just a few minutes. My article, “N, A, P.: The Most Important Letters in Local Search,” provides details on how to conduct such an audit.
2. Google’s Organic Rankings Will Rely on Social Media
In 2009, Google instituted a 10-year plan — which it only admitted to publicly in 2012 — to integrate social media data into its organic search engine algorithm.
As the inclusion of social media continues to grow, it is imperative that you integrate social into your marketing plans if you have not already done so.
We have three more years left until the plan is complete, so I estimate that Google relies on social media about 70 percent now. As the inclusion of social media continues to grow, it is imperative that you integrate social into your marketing plans if you have not already done so.
While, as a local business, you don’t have to spend all day on social media or hire a full-time social media marketing employee, you should post updates regularly and respond to those who contact you via social channels promptly. (Google considers activities such as social engagement, comments, and website visits to be ranking factors.)
3. Google’s Local Listings Will Become Paid Listings
This is probably the first time you’ve heard this prediction so it may sound very bold: During 2016, Google’s local listings — the Google My Business listings — will become a pay-to-play offering.
I’m not sure how Google will implement this or even if it will continue offering free listings, but I fully expect it will start monetizing Google My Business listings this year.
What can you do now? Start budgeting for this. Put some extra money into a “rainy-day fund” so that when it does happen you’ll be prepared and not lose traffic coming from your local listings.
4. Google Will Update Its Link Algorithm
I predict that Google will update the Google Penguin algorithm, which deals mainly with low quality, unnatural links from other websites to your site, during the first Quarter of 2016. (It’s been at least a year since we saw a major link update from Google.)
Previously, Google had to “turn a switch” to start the update manually. It has been a one-time process and either your links were deemed unnatural and low quality and your website’s rankings suffered, or you weren’t affected. This time, it will be different.
Ideally, Google will turn the new Penguin link update into a “rolling update,” integrated into its main algorithm.
Ideally, Google will turn the new Penguin link update into a “rolling update,” integrated into its main algorithm. If that happens, you will be able to get any unnatural and low-quality links that point to your site updated or removed and then only have to wait a short while until Google reflects those changes.
What can you do now? Review all of the links to your website and decide if each is natural and of high quality, and then remove or disavow those that are not.
Related article: 2 Ways to Clean Up Low-quality Website Links
These four predictions will have an enormous impact on local SEO — particularly my prediction that Google My Business listings will change to a pay-to-play type of service.
As a result, organic listings will become more significant, especially as they relate to mobile search results. If you have yet to take care of your website’s low quality, unnatural links, do so now, as the Google Penguin link update may still cause your site to experience some additional losses of search traffic.