The holiday season is a time we all tend to look back at the major events from the last year, at all the lessons to be learned, and the opportunity to set intentions for how we can be “better, stronger, wiser, richer” in the new year. Now is the time to apply those lessons and prepare your site for 2017.
For those of us in the business of building and powering winning websites, a lot has happened in 2016 to evolve web publishing, including the protection of content we create, how visitors find our websites and the speed in which consumers access the content they seek.
All of these advancements provide a strong message to digital experience developers on the critical importance of prioritizing site optimization going into 2017 to ensure the best possible consumer experience and to maintain your brand’s competitive relevancy.
Read on for the ten most impactful things that happened to the web in 2016.
The 10 most impactful changes to the web in 2016:
1. PHP 7 Became The Official Recommendation By WordPress
“When you upgrade to PHP 7, you are doubling for free in site performance.” — WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg during the 2016 State of the Word
In late 2015 the newest version of PHP 7 was released. Because of the increased processing efficiency of PHP 7 compared to older versions, WordPress sites migrating into PHP 7 environments will see major performance improvements.
While a mere 4.3% of WordPress sites are currently on PHP 7, it is now the official recommendation by WordPress.
To see if your site is compatible with PHP 7, try our PHP Compatibility Checker Plugin to detect what parts of your site (e.g. plugins, code, etc.) might need to be updated to move into a PHP 7 environment. If you’re a WP Engine customer, you can reach out to our support group for instructions on moving your site to PHP 7 on WP Engine.
Customers moving from another host on an older version of PHP to WP Engine in a PHP 7 environment have seen site performance improvements of up to four times!
If you’re looking to improve site speed, reduce bounce rates, increase conversion rates, and improve your SEO, try moving your WordPress site into a PHP 7 environment and get ready to own 2017.
2. Google Steps Up War On Unencrypted Web
Back in 2014, SSL officially became a ranking factor by Google, leaving millions of webmasters scrambling to learn how to turn their HTTP site into an HTTPS site. Even though SSL is an official part of Google’s ranking algorithm, the transition of WordPress sites to HTTPS has been a slow one. As of 2016, only 11.5 percent of WordPress sites use HTTPS.
Google recently announced that in 2017 they’ll officially start marking HTTP pages that collect sensitive data (e.g. credit card info) to be non-secure. This is part of their long-term plan to mark all HTTP sites as non-secure.
Here at WP Engine, customers enjoy free SSL on their accounts with Let’s Encrypt. For instructions on activating SSL on WP Engine, visit our easy to follow SSL support article. We’ll even automatically 301 redirect all your old HTTP links to HTTPS links so you won’t lose traffic from links outside your site or the SEO value those links provide!
“It’s not just about SEO. You should be caring about your audience and your viewers and providing that very simple layer of security for them. It’s not just that you want your own site to be secure and your own personal information to be secure — you also owe it to other people to ensure their information is kept secure.” — Nancy Thanki during her speech Let’s Encrypt! Wait. Why? How? at WordCamp US 2016
3. Google Shifts To Mobile-First Indexing
Image Source: Search Engine Land
Google is now using the mobile browser version of web pages instead of the desktop browser as their primary search engine index. It should be no surprise then that Google wants its results to represent the majority of internet searches today.
Additionally, mobile versions of web pages tend to have less HTML, making it easier for Google to crawl, store, and use your website’s content in their algorithm.
The bottom line for web developers is that the content in the mobile versions of your web pages are the content that Google is going to use to determine the relevance of your website. If you have important content that’s not visible on mobile pages, you’d better fix that fast or you could be watching your conversion rates spiral to the floor.
4. The Rise of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Image Source: Borg Communications
As web developers, we’ve been a naughty bunch. We bloat mobile web pages with graphics, videos, interactive ads and a whole host of load-time stealing elements that make users pull their hair out. In order to help improve this experience, Google has released Accelerated Mobile Pages.
AMP is an open source standard for creating schema style markup for web pages which can be used by companies like Google, Apple News, and others to show a simplified version of a web page that loads quickly for visitors.
As Google’s head of news, Richard Gingras aptly stated in an interview with TechCrunch, “It’s about making sure the World Wide Web is not the World Wide Wait.”
The AMP standard is still evolving and has a lot to be desired when it comes to forms, ecommerce, and other interactive methods of monetization; however, if you’re concerned about mobile SEO, news site optimization, or performing well on mobile, you should make sure AMP is part of your plan for 2017.
5. Google Announces Plan To Punish Sites with Intrusive Pop-Ups
In an effort to help users find content easier, this coming January Google will lower the ranking of mobile search results for sites that contain invasive pop-up ads.
This includes sites that show a popup that covers the main content, displays a stand-alone interstitial that requires the user to dismiss before accessing the main content, or uses a layout where above the fold portion of the page appears similar to stand-alone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
With a record-breaking $1 billion being bought on mobile devices on Black Friday 2016 alone, it’s probably in your best interest to make sure you protect your rankings in 2017 and lose the unnecessary pop-ups to visitors on mobile.
6. Facebook’s Instant Articles
Instant Articles is a Facebook feature first introduced in March of 2016. This feature allows you to load your content 10-times faster than a normal web page by using a customized mobile format. Many media companies have adopted Facebook Instant Articles to drive a better user experience and bring new waves of traffic to their site through Facebook.
For both Google’s AMP and Facebook’s Instant Articles, you are optimizing your site for their newsfeeds. Consumers gain a fantastic user experience, you gain preferential ranking, and there is a loss of control tradeoffs to consider when opting in. Our advice: determine what’s best for your business and your clients.
7. Optimizing WordPress Sites for Speed Got a Whole Lot Easier
With the addition of our first Performance Intelligence solution, Page Performance, we were the first Managed WordPress Platform to offer a web page speed tool integrated into the user dashboard.
8. Structured Data Drives Up Search Ranking
Structured data is nothing new in the SEO world. Since 2012 there has been a wide range of discussions on the topic and how it can impact a website’s rankings.
Over the years we have seen star ratings, author information, knowledge panels, and even the information you need in the search results. 2016 saw an expansion of this structured data usage, including even more information appearing directly in the search results.
For the SEO world, this was amazing news, because with the right structured data (and a little Google love) you could skip the rankings and get straight to the top of the search.
The knowledge panel (that sidebar on the right of Google with company information, maps, etc.) was how Google previously showed off your company’s rich data.
While this expansion was huge, it wasn’t exactly new. However, Google did use structured data to display information in an entirely new way with “Rich Cards”. Rich cards bring the rich snippet experience to mobile. Though not quite as in depth as rich snippets on the web, they allow users to apply filters to refine their search and highlight the data in beautiful, easily scrollable cards.
Rich cards use schema.org structured markup to display content in an even more engaging and visual format.
If you have clean-structured data (and Google love) a highlighted rich card will make your site highly visible at the top of Google, outside of the normal ranking battles, and can help drive huge amounts of traffic through to your website. If that wasn’t enough, expect big improvements in your click-through rates with your highlighted content.
9. WordPress Security Became A Huge Deal
In May 2016 the finance and political worlds were rocked by the release of the “Panama Papers” where tax dodging public figures had their dirty laundry aired to the world. Part of the vulnerabilities that led to the hack and subsequent release of the papers was attributed to an out-of-date plugin.
Just like the updates on your phone or computer, updates to your website’s software is equally important. Ensuring your WordPress core and plugins are up to date is a crucial part of your security strategy. To prep for 2017, make sure your plugins, themes and WordPress core are up to date with the latest security patches.
As developer Sean Keen of RedBlink said, “2016 showed us that WordPress is really really really popular, and at the same time really really really hackable if it’s not updated.” Of course, any software that’s not updated is hackable. However, 2016 really showcased the importance of keeping your website’s technology stack up to date.
Try services like Sucuri to help secure your site and recover in the case of a hack. If you’re on WP Engine, remember we also scan sites on our platform for known PHP vulnerabilities. We help block over 1.2 million attacks per day. In fact, in the last year, we’ve blocked over 1.6B attacks.
Unless you want your private company data to be the next Panama Papers, make sure security is in your 2017 planning.
10. REST API endpoints finally included in WordPress
In 2016 REST API endpoints were finally merged into WordPress 4.7, transforming WordPress from a monolithic application into a framework on which applications can be built. The REST API provides endpoints that make WordPress content, admin functions, publishing tools, and configuration available to any compatible application.
And why does it matter? Tom Ewer summed it up beautifully in his post “The REST API (And How it Could Change WordPress Forever).”
“This marks the final transformation of WordPress from its humble roots as a blogging solution to a full-featured application platform.”
What trends have you seen in 2016 that are shaping the way you think about development going into the new year? We’d love to hear from you! Please share in the comments below.