A host of changes have swept the SEO landscape in 2015.

It’s funny, really, as what we considered best practice in 2013, is no longer what is looked upon as best practice today. But you’ve got to know where you’ve been, to see where you’re going. So we’ve looked back over the most talked about SEO developments of the last 12 months to determine what businesses need to consider in 2016.

Tweaks to ranking factors and shifts in potential visibility have been big news, but predicting Google’s priorities will give us a clearer picture as to what could happen over the next twelve months.

1. ‘RankBrain’

What happened?

Not much is known about it as yet but evidence of its presence can’t be denied. RankBrain is set to usurp PageRank’s throne and is a part of the bigger algorithm that takes search queries, interprets what the user is searching for, and then figures out how to submit that request in new ways.

What’s next? 

Greg Corrado, senior research scientist at Google, says: “RankBrain is one of the most important signals contributing to the result of a search query - forgetting about it would be as damaging to users as forgetting to serve half the pages on Wikipedia.”

2. Mobile Update

What happened?

Google has already been slowly shifting its results to reflect mobile user preferences over the last couple of years. However, 2015 will still be looked back on as the year everybody became fully aware of the ‘Mobile Update’, after the search engine giant pre-announced an algorithm update back in April.

What’s next?

After informing us that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites, data suggests that the impact this move had was short-term and much smaller than expected. However, Dr Peter J Meyers, cognitive psychologist and resident marketing scientist at Moz, says: “Google's push toward mobile-first design and their clear public stance on this issue strongly signal that mobile-friendly sites are going to have an advantage over time.” Watch this space…

3. Social Media

What happened?

Social media may still appear to have a minimal tangible role in determining rankings, but search engines are now working harder to incorporate social media posts in other ways: for example, embedding tweets in search results. The big change in 2015 is that social media is likely to now play at least an indirect role in influencing your rankings.

What’s next?

Social signals, such as users sharing your content or interacting with your brand, will play a more important role in 2016 and can help you rank higher. Social media will continue to be a valuable external channel in generating inbound traffic to your site. It’s also worth remembering that Cisco, the visual networking index, predict that video will account for 80% of global internet traffic by 2019.

4. The Local Three Pack

What happened?

The introduction of ‘The Local Three Pack’ (the three local listings Google chooses to display at the top of search engine results) was an important 2015 development - particularly for local businesses.

What’s next?

Local SEO changes will be massive in 2016, especially with the three pack requiring a click-through to a second Google page in order to obtain details like addresses and phone numbers. Searches will become more specific and work at a neighbourhood level rather than a city or region level. Google have said, “... this update provides people with more relevant information - including photos, reviews and prices - for searches that have multiple results for a given location”. So, reviews and local citations are set to become even more vital in 2016.

5. UX

What happened?

Following a ‘quality update’ that Google implied it made to its core algorithm back in May 2015 (originally called ‘Phantom 2’ and dubbed “the Google update that didn’t happen’), quality user experience has become a key part of SEO in 2015. Many experts believe that the new year will only accelerate that trend - with website design, build, site speed, usability and content relevance and value coming more into play than ever before.

What’s next?

“It’s just a giant whack across the board,” says Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages. Talking about the impact the update may have on businesses, the man behind the San Francisco-based company warned: “Imagine how hard it is to run a business when you see 22 percent of your traffic evaporate overnight…” Imagine, indeed.

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SEO 101: understanding Google's algorithms Confused about Google's different algorithms and its methods of ranking websites? Our quick guide may help.