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January 13, 2016

43 Reasons SEOs Can’t Fear Change: 2016 Digital Marketing Predictions

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There’s a word for fear of change: metathesiophobia. The way search, media, technology and consumer behavior change from week to week, it’s not a phobia that SEOs can afford to harbor.


Bruce Clay is joined by Duane Forrester, David Szetela, Cindy Krum, Eric Enge, Larry Kim, Maddie Cary, Dan Petrovic, Richard Baxter, Marcus Tandler and Andre Alpar in sharing annual digital marketing industry predictions.

Instead, digital marketers race to get ahead of competition, ahead of algorithm updates, and ahead of upcoming technologies with early adoption and forward-looking strategy.

Where to start? Right here. Bruce Clay, Duane Forrester, David Szetela, and invited digital marketing rockstars have shared their 2016 predictions for the online marketing industry. What will you do with this foresight into the year ahead?

Read on or jump to predictions by:

  • Bruce Clay – 20-year SEO veteran calls out apps, millennials, and local search revenue as drivers of change.
  • Duane Forrester – HTTPS, podcasts and search from Facebook and Amazon make an appearance in this former Microsofties predictions.
  • David Szetela – Facebook, Instagram and Bing display are big winners in the “Pay-Per-Click Marketing: An Hour a Day” author’s picks, but read to find out who he bets against.
  • Cindy Krum – With mobile changing everything about digital marketing, you’ll want to read this mobile tech expert’s take on 2016.
  • Eric Enge – SEO scientist and co-author of “The Art of SEO” sees machine learning, personal assistants and wearables in the future, but whether going up and down, you’ll have to read to find out.
  • Larry Kim – What will be the biggest game changer this year according to the 2015 Search Personality of the Year Award winner? Hint: It starts with F and ends with R … ?
  • Maddie Cary – U.S. Search Awards 2015 Young Search Professional of the Year dubs 2016 the year of removing resistance with PPC predictions to back it up.
  • Dan Petrovic – The international SEO’s predictions echo a familiar theme — content quality — backed by some interesting new research out of Australia.
  • Richard Baxter – In the UK, Baxter’s predictions center on technical SEO growth, the direction of SEO software and what makes content “work.”
  • Marcus Tandler – User experience is Tandler’s hot topic in Germany, with conversion optimization cooling off — read why.
  • Andre Alpar – The Berlin-based SEO’s predictions offer a helpful rule of thumb to multi-language businesses who must weigh the ROI potential of content in multiple languages.

Bruce Clay

(+BruceClay) President, Bruce Clay, Inc.


1. Mobile devices will surprise everyone with new wireless “attachments” rivaling the power of desktops, and by 4Q we will see an accelerated mobile use in the USA.

Until then it will continue to grow but not at the rate most expect. PC share will shrink as tablet and mobile dominate the space for quick information and location specific queries.

2. Google revenues will grow exponentially as they continue to place ads above organic results. For some queries there will be 4 or fewer organic results well below the fold.

3. Google will emphasize local results for all queries.

Local will allow Google PPC prices to increase as merchants will no longer appear outside of their specific region and are forced to purchase ads.

4. Apps that load web content will be the rage.

This allows users to have a favorite app, yet get the power of a website. Most users will find that “mobile friendly” is simply not enough.

5. Millennials will be influencing a massive web design surge.

The need for minimalistic design, performance, mobile support mixed with elegant features will drive most websites to a redesign. As this happens, the HTML source code sites will begin to fade, replaced by css and javascript intensive dynamic content. SEO becomes much harder.

6. We will see the demise of link building as a prime influence in SEO.

Link building will be replaced by on-page technical quality, amazing content, mobile friendly, peak performing pages. If the link is inappropriate Google will just ignore it.

7. Digital marketing becomes Internet advertising in order to survive.

The web ceases to be a gold rush, evolving into a pay-to-play space. The few sites gaining true organic rankings and holding them will be gold. The rest will buy ads.

Editor’s note: Bruce has published his annual predictions since 2006. Read his past predictions to see how keen his crystal ball gazing really is. I dare say his 2015 predictions are nine for nine, although we invite your judgement on No. 6 …

Duane Forrester

(@duaneforrester) VP, Organic Search Operations, Bruce Clay, Inc.


8. HTTPS will be much talked about in 2016 but little action will be seen with relatively few sites making the swap.

Security will remain a hot topic as consumers wake up to the ongoing data-theft problem, but businesses will be slow to make changes due to the inherent costs involved.

9. Mobile will continue to see growth.

Microsoft’s move with Windows 10 on a mobile device that can act like a larger computer/environment will see some traction for light-duty users. “Indestructible” and “waterproof” will be bigger marketing angles, so expect to see “tougher” versions of phones released, likely tied to some cool photographic features aimed at the vacation/adventure crowd.

10. Podcasts will see continued growth in popularity due to their ease of production/consumption.

11. AI (artificial intelligence) will be a much hotter topic across search in 2016.

This will mostly be driven by a detailed lack of understanding of what level of AI is in play within systems like RankBrain. Overall, more folks will gain understanding of the three levels of AI, deepening our understanding of what we see in SERPs. All AI are not created equally, so expect some companies to claim to be using it, even though the first level isn’t very advanced. And the third level (human-like) has yet to be attained and employed in a meaningful, public way. Expect to see this level gain more traction in 2016, but, ah…we better be ready!

12. Facebook and Amazon will launch actual search engines.

Well, maybe. Don’t they already have these? OK, this prediction is that in 2016 both of these rumors will pop to the top again, whether they are factual or not.

13. Bing will continue to grow while Google starts to see more leveling off.

14. Yahoo will get out of search.

15. Round-ups will finally, thankfully, retire.

But the spam from random people will continue.

Bonus prediction: I will learn to play the guitar. :)

David Szetela

(@szetela) VP, Search Marketing Operations, Bruce Clay, Inc.


16. Website owners will put more effort into reaching mobile search customers that use mobile devices as the first step of their “buyer journeys.”

As a result, apps, built-for-mobile sites, and responsive websites will take off. To prepare for this trend, digital marketers should implement mobile-friendly advertising such as using click-to-call ads and easy-to-digest content, such as shorter ad copy.

17. Advertisers will invest more money into Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook will become a viable direct response platform and advertisers will take advantage of its latest features, including retargeting, dynamic product ads, and custom audiences.

18. 2016 will be the year Bing Ads search and display traffic will be seen by more advertisers as a viable platform.

Bing Ads will finally have its own display advertising network capable of reaching target audiences based on behavior data from Windows 10 users and other search partners.  This will be fueled by the fact that the growing click inventory will be cheaper than Google CPCs. But take note: cheaper prices won’t last long, so make sure to purchase your fair share of Bing Ads while you still can.

19. 2016 looks grim for Yahoo/Gemini.

Direct response advertisers will stay away and digital advertisers will continue to see it as a second best option for native advertising.

20. PPC will be broken down into specific areas of expertise.

As ad platform products and features continue to develop and launch at a fast pace, individual PPC managers will have an even harder time keeping up with all aspects of PPC in 2016. Agencies will hire team members that specialize in those areas to act as resources for the rest of the agency.

Cindy Krum

(@suzzicks) CEO, MobileMoxie


21. I feel strongly that we are going to start to see more ChromeCast logos in Google properties — potentially directly in the SERPS.

Google has been focusing a lot of their talks on “video” and other types of media, and also focusing a lot of research on “cross-device behavior.”

22. Getting exposure in the ChromeCast app may become relevant for SEO.

ChromeCast automatically scrapes the Deep Linked video and music apps on your phone for content that it can aggregate, so you only have to go one place to see what’s on. Also, it seem seems very likely that video and audio content will eventually receive a rankings boost if they are integrated with ChromeCast, since Deep Linking is starting to be more seamless on iOS, and more prevalent on Android.

23. App Streaming may be the way of the future – especially for entertainment apps like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, etc, which already really work best on WiFi.

Why download the app when it is available from the cloud without wasting storage space on your phone? Streaming apps will hopefully make the app/web distinction less relevant, and save some developers from having to build/maintain both Android and iOS apps (finally!). Apps that can be easily streamed may consequently eventually be given an additional rankings boost.

24. App plugins will become more important.

Why develop an entire app when there is an existing app, with an existing audience, that already does most of what you need. We are already seeing this with keyboards and emoji libraries that can be added to your SMS app or Facebook Messenger. Why not make a Netflix Nanny that prevents your kids from watching more than an hour a day, or a Chrome App plugin that lets you take scrolling screenshots, ala Snagit on the desktop? (Somebody please make this one — I need it!!!)

25. I anticipate a consolidation in some Google properties.

I am not sure which way things will go, but Google Play, Google Music, YouTube, Google+ all seem to have some overlapping capabilities, and are sharing lots of data. Google is also really struggling with UX for people who have multiple Google accounts – I can only hope that they find a good way to manage that, so that all the services will work better together.

Eric Enge

(@stonetemple) CEO, Stone Temple Consulting


2016 will be a huge year in digital marketing, as there is so much going on. Here are some of my predictions.

26. The rise of content quality and user engagement as ranking factors will begin to be broadly accepted.

An increasing number of businesses will begin to invest in their overall site experience, and view part of the payoff of that as increased rankings and traffic.  More and more SEO agencies will correspondingly promote related services on their sites as a result.

27. The power of paid social as tool to drive content marketing campaigns will also become more mainstream.

Currently, only a small subset of the industry recognizes this, but the word will get out. This will cause more content marketing agencies (or SEO agencies) to offer paid social services.

28. Wearables will show a disappointing level of growth.

People will realize that they don’t find the functionality that compelling yet.

29. Personal assistants from Google, Apple and Microsoft will continue to battle through the year.

As these companies view those platforms as one of the most important land grab battles for the future of digital marketing. This will result in major new announcements from at least 2 of the 3 aforementioned parties this year.

30. Machine learning will become more mainstream as well.

The computing knowledge needed to implement these algorithms is become much more accessible, and the power of machine optimized algorithms is undeniable.

Larry Kim

(@larrykim) CTO, WordStream


31. In 2016, Facebook will open up Facebook Messenger as a service. Meaning, developers will be able to build business applications on top of messenger to enable commerce activities, which up to now, hasn’t been made generally available. For example, say you’re doing a group chat in messenger, you could order an Uber for a friend, and they could see your status in real time. Or say you’re an ecommerce company — your customers could subscribe to a live update of the shipping, and do future orders by just replying to message.

Facebook Messenger matters because nearly a billion people use it, mostly on mobile. Filling out those complicated ecommerce forms that were designed for desktops is so much harder than texting an emoji or using voice input. To say this is disruptive and transformative to mobile commerce is an understatement. What’s a marketer to do about this trend? A simple growth hack would be to start supporting Facebook logins on your site or apps, and collecting Facebook login IDs and/or mobile phone numbers as part of your direct response marketing efforts, so that you can target them later.

Maddie Cary

(@MaddieMarketer) Senior Client Manager, Point It Inc.


2016 is going to be the year of “removing resistance.” I think we’re going to see new features, ad formats, and campaign types rolled out that are streamlined and dynamic, as well as provide more data-enriched ways to target (and ideally convert!) searchers. A few ways I think that’ll play out throughout the year include:

32. More audience targeting in PPC

Keyword intent is incredibly important, but there’s greater power in layering it with high-quality audience data. I think PPC is going to follow the paths already carved out in channels like Display and Social, with Google and Bing likely launching more PPC targeting methods that are audience-focused

33. Removing steps in order to convert the mobile searcher

How many articles and studies have we seen over the last 1-2 years showing how mobile search volume is surpassing desktop? Yet why is it that it’s still difficult in many verticals to convert mobile searchers? I anticipate we’ll see search publishers take the Amazon route and start rolling out one-click options on the mobile SERP (like that Google mobile buy button) in order to shorten the conversion path and improve conversion rates, encouraging more PPC investment in mobile.

34. Increase in dynamic ad features

How else do you shorten the path to conversion? By showing the searcher what they’ve already expressed an interest in. Dynamic ad formats & targeting methods are going to expand further in 2016, and I think we’re going to get more ad building tools within the UIs to help further streamline that process for online marketers.

35. Growth of Shopping/PLA and available ad formats

SERPs are getting more visual, and therefore I think PLAs are the frontrunners for driving e-commerce growth through 2016. If you then start to imagine Shopping campaigns that incorporate layered audience targeting + mobile one-click buy solutions + dynamic ad formats…that could be the winning formula for notable PPC channel growth throughout this next year!

Dan Petrovic

(@dejanseo) Director, Dejan Marketing


The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Content production has been increasing at a phenomenal rate. The abundance of choice and easy of access of web content lead to changes in our reading habits. One specific phenomenon is the rise of skimmers.

An Australian-based study conducted by our team showed us that most people decide whether to read something within seconds of loading a page. This choice is influenced by a number of factors including:

  • Presence of quick answers
  • Scannable text structure
  • Design and aesthetics
  • Trustworthiness
  • Text size

The majority of our respondents admitted to skipping uninteresting parts when reading content or even only quickly scanning pages looking for quick answers. We’ve known this for nearly two decades yet few are getting their content format right.

36. Producing lots of “OK” content isn’t going to cut it in 2016. I believe we’ll see a lot of digital agencies adjusting their approach to content formats and keeping in mind that more doesn’t mean better.

I’d like to see Google reward innovation when it brings good user engagement signals. It’s time for them to start treating content behind tabs, accordions and other mechanisms for what they are designed for — great user experience.

Bonus predictions:

  • Penguin release will be mild and uninteresting.
  • Google will continue to aggressively push mobile.
  • Additional incentives will be offered to switch to https.
  • We’ll start seeing a smarter AI-based results, but will not be impressed.
  • New developments will be made on a personal assistant level involving two elements: email and voice input.

Richard Baxter

(@richardbaxter) Managing Director, Builtvisible


37. The demand for technical search expertise will increase significantly, especially in mobile.

Over the past 6 months we’ve seen a lot of development in the mobile influenced side of search. App indexing is now a standard part of most technical search audit recommendations, and as we progress into 2016 I’d expect to see more app only content in search results. This will include app streaming — enabling the use of an app without it actually being installed on your device. Put simply, the number of options available to marketers to drive traffic from mobile will expand, but will all require a great deal of technical discipline to get right. Over the longer term, we’re going to see the divide between desktop and mobile channel tactics expand.

38. SEO software companies are in for a transformative period.

The majority of the reporting and tracking tools we use today are going to need to provide a step change in their products to cope with mobile, mobile search results tracking, app traffic, traffic modelling and research. More emphasis on placement, channel, device, topic and targeting will be required by content marketers to provide more relevant content experiences to an oft content fatigued audience.

39. Anyone can produce content; 2016’s winners will be those who make that content “work.”

We’ve observed a large increase in examples of quite complex content production coming out of search marketing agencies, to the point where the ability to provide interactive content is no longer a USP. For our industry, I think 2016 will be a year of focused attention on what makes content “work”. This is a huge subject that doesn’t receive the coverage it deserves, and hopefully we’ll see the subject covered in more detail at this year’s search conferences.

Marcus Tandler

(@mediadonis) Co-founder and CEO,


40. I predict user experience optimization to be a dominating topic in Germany this year.

By now conversion optimization is an established tactic and within the standard repertoire of clever in-house online marketers and performance marketing agencies alike. Unfortunately, conversion optimization mostly focuses on single pages and almost always only on the last step of the entire customer journey. Attention needs to be shifted towards optimizing the whole customer experience. This does not only include the optimization of the entire customer journey but most importantly optimizing all touch points potential customers are having with the brand, including any social media platforms, as well as traditional marketing activity whatsoever. Personalization is key here, to enhance the brand experience and general user experience. Nowadays users expect a personal and individual attention — relevant content, at the right time via the right channel. No widely spread advertisement but rather authentic dialogue.

Andre Alpar

(@andrealpar) CEO, PerformicsAKM3 Berlin


41. Technical SEO grows in complexity and importance.

The plurality and diversity of options for technical SEO measures is growing faster than ever before. On top of that, topics that used more separate from SEO are becoming more interconnected with SEO. Here are some examples:

  • Web security: defense against spam / hacking
  • Privacy: HTTPS etc.
  • Server configuration and hosting: page speed
  • The complexity and non-transparency of search engine results: the keyword position tracking when all results are heavily individualized. There are also all kinds of special insertions and result representations

Technical SEO will definitely require investment in terms of effort and costs. It remains to be a potentially great differentiating factor for those able to adapt quickly while managing effort thanks to a sound technical infrastructure.

42. Links will still matter.

It seems during the last three or four years that some search marketers have adapted “links are not important any more” as their version of the claim, “SEO is dead”. All search marketers who realistically can grow their own and their clients’ organic traffic over many years know that this false prediction is far off and will stay so for at least another five years. Sure, there may be other off-page signals that can complement links e.g. the analysis of traffic via browsers, but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, there is no better off-page quality signal than a good link that drives direct traffic—and, ultimately, a large multiplicative of traffic via better positions in SERPs.

43. Drifting apart of content quality requirements.

This may be a trend that many do not see but we are confronted with it daily as we work in many multilingual and international setups in Europe. Investments per piece of content in large countries, or languages which are spoken in many countries, are growing rapidly. But this is not the case for smaller countries or less popular languages. Think, for example, of the many European countries with less than 10 million inhabitants and their own local language.

Also think of the varying search terms and topics. Where it makes sense to invest a lot in content in, for example, English, Spanish or German, it makes less sense to do so in Italian or Dutch, for example, and even less in Serbian, Danish or Swedish.

You have to then also find and adapt how you measure SEO success or ROI on content, etc. The aftermath coming out of this development has a massive strategic impact. For multiregional and multinational companies and the agencies that they work with, this is a huge and massively growing driver of the complexity of SEO.

Thank you all for sharing your predictions with us here. If you reading have predictions, comment away. We’ll be checking back with our assembled experts through the year to see how their predictions stand.

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19 responses to “43 Reasons SEOs Can’t Fear Change: 2016 Digital Marketing Predictions”

  1. Rahul Yadav @Bloggertipstricks writes:

    Its really amazing and helpful article, that makes the business people aware of the trending digital marketing technique for the upcoming year.

  2. Mike Chrest writes:

    Wow some of those predication are terrible, some are just dumb …..Mobile search will increase …..dduuuuuuhh

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Mike! I don’t see any predictions that are as shallow as that. In fact, Bruce has a mobile-related prediction that is rather specific: “Mobile devices will surprise everyone with new wireless “attachments” rivaling the power of desktops.” Wireless attachments? What that looks like is open to guesses and interpretation.

    Duane’s mobile prediction is qualified with some really specific predictions: ““Indestructible” and “waterproof” will be bigger marketing angles, so expect to see “tougher” versions of phones released, likely tied to some cool photographic features aimed at the vacation/adventure crowd.”

    David couples his prediction that advertisers will dive into understanding the mobile buyer journey with advice: “To prepare for this trend, digital marketers should implement mobile-friendly advertising such as using click-to-call ads and easy-to-digest content, such as shorter ad copy.”

    Cindy’s mobile predictions bring in tech that people really aren’t talking about today: ChromeCast and its possible influence on SEO rankings.

    I could go on. Growth of mobile is a given, but I’m rather impressed in intrigued by the specific details and directions that are portended.

  4. Bonas writes:

    I agrees with the prediction of Andre Alphard, CEO, Performics AM3 Berlin. I will improve my website and hope it can improve rankings in the future.
    However, it is still a mystery for SEO in the future.

  5. Akhilesh writes:

    Thanks.Its very helpful article .where you guys have covered all the points in your prediction ..these are not very specific but its really good to look over ..

  6. Dirk Argyle writes:

    Do you really think links will go away in the near future?

  7. Byan Casson writes:

    Some great SEO and mobile predictions. Mobile will continue to play a huge roll, but I do feel that some of the indicators are regional. In South Africa where mobile growth is substantial it may carry a greater weight in SEO than other countries where mobile is not as big.

    On the Spam issue, I do not see how Google can be so strict when their own Google Analytics product is riddled with referral spam (if Google cannot stop the spammers then how are we going to stop them)

    As my own prediction, I think that video will play a larger role in 2016, creating great content with a video uploaded to Youtube around the same topic (like a how to) is going to be considered valuable.

  8. lutfar writes:

    Hello, My first visit to your site, I have found your blog on the top seo blog list. Really good blog.
    By the way, I am lutfar just my new seo and marketing blog. I am a newbie and just learning !
    thanks for your great post !

  9. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Bryan — I think you’re absolutely right that different regions my have algorithms that weight mobile friendliness heavier due to how users are accessing the web. Are you located in South Africa? Along with South Africa, I’ve learned that much of Asia is in the same boat with being the main means for going online.

    You observe some true irony, regarding GA referrer spam and Google’s spam standards. I’m optimistic GA gets that ghost referrer problem sorted soon — it’s pretty ridiculous.

    And to your prediction — yes yes yes! It’s definitely a resolution of mine in 2016 to “think video.”

  10. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Dirk — to answer your question, yes, I believe that links will have less value in the future. Some of the SEOs I trust and respect the most (Bruce Clay, Duane Forrester, Rob Ramirez) have explained to me the benefit that Google stands to gain when they can replace links in the algorithm. That’s a short answer. Here’s a long answer, if you’re interested:

  11. Khaled writes:

    Great post, Virginia! Thank you for sharing.

  12. Ricky writes:

    Dear Virginia,

    Thank you for your review, it’s broaden my SEO knowledge. Looking forward to see you again and Mr. Bruce in SimiValley ;)

  13. George Williams writes:

    Excellent article Virginia. You might also like to take a look at this piece, which predicted Google’s rank brain and more, over two years ago. ~ Now we just need to adjust for real time data crunching :)

  14. Nikolay Stoyanov writes:

    Some of them are obvious choices. On the other hand, some of these predictions seem like wild speculations. Nevertheless, the best thing we can do at this point is guess. I hope that Google will not limit its results to local websites. In the end, internet is a global network which should relay information from all over the world. This way, if there is some interesting discovery in China or Brasil, we should get quick access to it. Hopefully, adds will not play such an important role.

  15. merry writes:

    Great post, Virginia!Wow! Your blog is very unique in every way, the tips and information in this article is great and reliable. Today’s Internet Marketing boom in all over the world. Its really amazing and helpful article, that makes the business people aware of the trending digital marketing technique for the upcoming year.

  16. Ryan PNR writes:

    I read all the 43 points to get to know what’s the experts are predicting. It’s really good that i have read it, i came to know many things which i wasn’t aware of. Some of the prediction was quite good and some was indigestible. Overall it was great article with lots of expert advice…

  17. Ed writes:

    Wow Virginia, this is an incredible article. You could have charged money for it. I loved all the expert insight. Thank you very much for the time, effort and attention to detail you put into this article.

  18. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Ed! I just compiled the article. I have a dozen true visionaries to thank for the predictions.

  19. Seo India Inc. writes:

    Really informative article. Digital Marketing is surely becoming an integral part of SEO in 2016. Social Media signals from important social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and especially Google Plus are really an important SEO signals which no search engine can afford to ignore.

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