Search engine optimization best practices are always evolving, and this year is no different.
That’s why it’s important to know about the latest trends in Search Engine Optimization in 2021.
This year, it’s all about:
- An amendable user experience
- Creating a ton of high-quality content
- Mobile ready and fast page speed
- Acquiring links naturally
- Want more? Read the rest in the article or watch the video below:
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: It’s All About the Quality Content
Content will continue to reign supreme in 2021.
But simply pumping out content for the sake of having content won’t cut it.
These days, your readers – and Google – expect your content to be in-depth, insightful, and most of all, serve the needs of your readers.
In Google’s own words, your content needs to meet these basic principles to meet their quality standards:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Some of those are relatively straightforward: avoid any black hat SEO tactics and don’t use any clickbait or misleading titles.
But in order to meet Google’s quality standards, your content must first and foremost be created for your readers.
Here’s what your content needs:
It needs to be in-depth. That means aiming for long-form, 1,500-2,000 word posts that are thorough enough to completely cover a topic.
It needs to be content that can establish you as a thought leader. That means including your own analysis and takes on relevant subjects, and providing solid recommendations and advice to your readers.
And it needs to be different. It needs to set you apart from your competitors. That means you need to be aware of what your competition is putting out there, and a find a way to cut through the clutter – either by including more innovative strategies or even easier to digest, quality information.
Once you’ve found that formula for creating great content, the next step is to scale your content plan.
And, as always, be prepared to promote that content through paid ads, email automation, and social media.
Another note on content: though keywords are still important, matching your content to user intent is becoming more important than ever.
For example, if Google determines that a search query has purchase intent, then the results list will heavily favor e-commerce sites. That’s because the user is looking to buy something.
On the other hand, if Google determines that the search query is part of a research effort, the results list will favor sites with the best content.
Think about that as you optimize your site for keywords. Don’t just rely on the keyword itself, but ask what kind of intent the user would have when typing that keyword into a search bar. Then, produce content that matches that intent.
BERT & E-A-T Will Influence Content
BERT is a new framework that’s rolling out to all of Google’s indexed pages. It looks at certain metrics and user intent (intent has never been more important).
Make sure to analyze intent before even making your website (if you haven’t already)!
E-A-T (or expertise, authority and trustworthiness) will allow you to rank in some of those especially competitive niches.
From an author bio on page to sourcing facts and figures, more credibility is always a good thing.
Build Your Content Strategy Around What Your Customers Search For
Create content around what your customer is seeking, especially if it resolves their pain points. By doing this, you’re going to ensure your spot high on the SERPs.
You’re also getting them to click on your site, which can serve as a vehicle for conversions of every kind. From capturing email addresses to remarketing lists, the options are plentiful.
Update Your Top Content
You want to keep your most important pages up to date. If they drive the most conversions, you want it to stay that way…which means you need to keep up with the changing landscape.
Ideally, you’ll update your top pages on a monthly basis. For your secondary content, you can get away with refreshing on a quarterly basis. The rest of your content should get updated once a year at minimum.
By doing that, your results will prove that the juice was worth the squeeze.
Optimize Your Content for Featured Snippets
Back in the day, it was an SEO’s dream to reach the #1 spot in the SERPs. Now, you can Rank #0.
What’s the #0 spot? That’s the so-called “featured snippet” or the enhanced result at the very top of the organic results.
For example, Google “best cake recipes.” At the top of the search results, you’ll see a featured snippet from the Huffington Post entitled “Here are the 50 all-time best cake recipes, go on and have a slice (or four).”
As you can see, the snippet has more than just the title and description. It also includes bullet points, each of which is a different recipe.
The featured snippet makes it possible for people to learn something about their query without ever leaving Google. As is the case here, though, the snippet is usually just a “teaser” that tempts people to click through.
Added bonus: featured snippets are often picked up in voice search results as well.
Here are a few ways to land the coveted #0 spot:
- Get to the point – Avoid writing long, excessively wordy introductions before you start addressing the topic in the title. Instead, give your readers the info they’re looking for right out of the gate.
- Keyword research – Find keywords that your competitors aren’t using. Optimize some excellent content for those keywords. You’ll likely get a featured snippet.
- Use lists – As you can see from the “best cake recipes” example, Google loves to include lists in the featured snippet. Give your page a competitive advantage with a list that Google can easily parse and include in the snippet.
- Use FAQ’s – These are often picked up for the Featured Snippet, as they’re in easy Q&A form and tend to be quick and concise enough to capture in the snippet box.
Create Long-form Content
Not only should you create long-form content, but you should do so by including optimized images and optimized video.
Video is completely blowing up. On your long-form content for your top terms, you’re looking to build hubs of content. You want there to be lists, frequently asked questions, images, videos, and a solid internal linking structure to help build nuance.
Social Shares Are a Major Factor for Search Engine Optimization in 2021
You definitely want to get social shares in 2021.
You want to continue growing your social media communities and your engagement.
At this point, you can build an entire business model off of purely social media. But even if that’s not your thing, these social shares are a valuable marketing asset.
Your website gets indexed quicker, which means new blog posts and pages that get a lot of action will shoot straight to the top of the rankings.
Businesses use social because it works. It helps to:
- Increase customer acquisition
- Increase brand awareness
- Drive conversions (like leads, purchases and product inquiries)
PRO TIP: Say one of your pages has fallen down in ranking. Even if you’ve already shared the page on social in the past, you can share it again. Often, that will help it rank higher, quicker.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Link Building (& Scaling)
Links go hand-in-hand with your content plan.
In fact, Google has stated that content and links are its #1 and #2 ranking factors, respectively.
Makes sense, then, that building a quality backlink profile should be a key part of your SEO strategy in 2021.
There are a few types of links you’ll want to focus on.
Editorial links are backlinks that you earn because your content is so awesome. They’re not links you get from guest-posts or because you requested them from another webmaster.
That’s an additional reason why you need to produce amazing, relatable, shareable content. Because it will get you backlinks from other websites.
In fact, editorial links are the most valuable types of backlinks. You’ll likely notice that your rank goes up when other authors start linking to your articles.
Whitehat Acquired Links
When you do decide to pursue a backlink strategy, make sure that you play by the rules.
There are countless sites online that will sell you backlinks from private blog networks (PBNs). Although you might be tempted to take that kind of shortcut, you’ll be playing with fire if you do so.
Why? Because it’s a blackhat technique to pay for backlinks.
You can be sure that Google is on the hunt for those PBNs. Once they’re discovered, the links won’t pass any page rank, and you will have paid for absolutely nothing.
Even worse, though, you could find that your site gets penalized by Google. If that happens, all your SEO efforts won’t mean anything.
So do yourself a favor: only pursue whitehat links.
Pick 3-4 Different Linking Strategies
Linking strategies include unlinked mentions, website refreshes, local directories, industry study outreach or one of the many other options available to you.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: RankBrain
Rounding out the Top 3 in most important Google ranking factors is RankBrain.
RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning algorithm that helps it process search queries and match them to your content.
How does it affect your SEO strategy? You can think of RankBrain as a live person evaluating your content to determine if it’s a suitable match for a keyword.
And like a live person, RankBrain can pick up on keyword variations and implied meaning.
That means RankBrain will go beyond simple keyword placement sprinkled throughout an article and included in the title. It will look at the content itself to determine if it’s related to the search term.
Then, RankBrain will evaluate that content against other content online to determine where it should rank (hence the name).
Similarly, AI-focused neural matching was recently introduced, which can identify synonyms in your content to better understand how well that content matches with a search query.
For you, all of this means you’re not confined to a single keyword box. It means you want to include variations, synonyms, and related themes to signal to Google that you really know what you’re talking about.
Bottom line: produce quality content that’s optimized for your keyword – but not too optimized. Focus instead on including variations. RankBrain will take notice and reward you with higher placement in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
But naturally, RankBrain doesn’t help determine rankings based solely on the language in your content.
Dwell Time and RankBrain
Your dwell time metric is the amount of time people spend on your site. It will also affect your rank.
Though Google hasn’t officially stated that dwell time is a ranking factor, it does play into RankBrain.
If people click on a link to your site in the search results and bounce back in less than 10 seconds, that tells Google you weren’t offering what they were looking for. Your rank will drop.
That’s why you need to make sure of two things:
- Your content matches your keyword and meta descriptions
- Your content offers original, valuable info
When you break one or both of those rules, that’s when visitors decide to go back to the SERPs and look for something that’s a better alternative.
So this is a recurring theme: give your users quality content, and your rank will improve.
Click-Through Rate and RankBrain
Most of the time, when online marketers talk about click-through rates (CTRs), it’s about advertising.
Although it’s important to optimize CTRs for digital ads, it’s also necessary to optimize them for your links that appear in the SERPs.
Why? Because if your link appears in the #1 spot and nobody clicks on it, that tells Google your link isn’t relevant to that search term. You can expect it to get pushed down.
Although plenty of SEOs pay attention to ranking factors that get their content to the top spot in the search results, not as many focus on keeping their content ranked high. You need to be different.
This is becoming more important than ever, as Google continuously turns over the top of the SERPs to Knowledge Graphs, Answer Boxes, and Featured Snippets.
Go through your search analytics in Search Console. If you find that you’re getting sub-par CTRs, optimize your titles. Make them more relevant to your keywords, put more emotion into them, or generate a curiosity gap.
Give people a reason to click your link in the results list, and you’ll more likely get a great rank.
PRO TIP: Numbers work great in titles. That’s something to consider.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Mobile-First Index
That means the Googlebot will crawl your site as if it were using a mobile device instead of a desktop device. The bot will “see” your site through a mobile screen.
So if your site is user-hostile to people on a smartphone, tablet, or phablet, the Googlebot will pick up on that. Your site will likely suffer in rank.
The best way to prepare your site for the mobile-first index is to equip it with a responsive design. That means it will look great on a screen of any size.
However, it does not need to be responsive. There are all AMP sites being built, mobile subdomains other methods that also work.
Also, use Google’s mobile-friendly test to make sure that your site looks great for a mobile audience.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Make Sure Your Site is 100% Technically Correct
Technical SEO is admittedly the less glamorous side of SEO.
But it still has an incredible impact on your rankings.
One out of place element – anything from duplicate content issues to outdated sitemaps – could be a cause of rankings drop.
Going into 2021, it’s important to have someone adept in technical SEO to take a look at your site and ensure all there’s nothing going on behind-the-scenes that could hurt your search rankings.
There’s a lot to cover here, but I’ll go over some of the biggest technical SEO factors you need to be aware of – and on top of – in 2021.
Move Your Site to HTTPS
We’re getting to the point where it’s mandatory to have a website that uses the secure HTTPS protocol instead of the insecure HTTP protocol.
For starters, Google gives a bit of a ranking bump to sites that use HTTPS.
Beyond that, Google Chrome began marking all non-HTTPS sites as “Not secure” in July 2018.
If you have a website that you’re trying to position as an authority on a subject, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish that when Google Chrome users see “Not secure” in their browser bar as they’re reading your content.
Use Schema Markup
All the best websites use schema.org markup.
Why? Because markup gives Google information about the content that it might not have learned with its standard crawling algorithm.
If none of your content is using markup, it’s likely that your rank will suffer.
Search engine optimization 2021: Use schema markup
Also, markup makes it possible for Google to display relevant info about your content, services, or products in the search results. For example, if you Google “cake mixers,” you’ll see several links in the organic search results with star reviews. Google grabs those reviews by evaluating the markup schema on the page.
Ask yourself this question: which link are you more likely to click on the search results: the one with a high star rating or one with no rating at all? You’d probably pick the one with the high rating.
Structured data, by the way, will also help you rank with voice search and land a spot in the featured snippet.
Do yourself a favor: contact your development team and learn about the various markup options that are relevant to your site.
You want to make it as easy as possible for Googlebot to traverse your site. That’s why you need a sensible site structure. Here are a few best practices:
- Link to important pages from the homepage
- Arrange your pages in a tree-like structure based on categories
- Only link internally where it’s relevant
- Include breadcrumbs on your pages so that it’s easy for people (and bots) to navigate around
Here are a few site structure missteps to avoid:
- Huge link lists, like a hundred items under one menu heading
- A transparent attempt to link to every single inner page
- Making it difficult for users to go back without using the “Back” button
If you haven’t done so already, conduct a site audit. Get an understanding of your structure. Does it make sense? Is it easy to move around? Can users go back without using the “Back” button?
After your audit, contact your development team to make the necessary changes.
Here’s another one you can file under: “Make It As Easy As Possible for Google to Traverse Your Site.” Add a sitemap.
If you’re unfamiliar with a sitemap, it’s an XML document that’s a “map” of your website. Google uses it to find all of your pages.
Of course, it’s quite possible that with a great site structure, Google will find all your pages anyway, so why use the sitemap? Because a sitemap makes it easier for Google to find pages and index them.
In some cases, your site might be so large that it needs multiple sitemaps to list all the pages. That’s perfectly normal. In that case, all you have to do is upload the “parent” sitemap and Google will find the rest.
If you’re using WordPress, you’ll be happy to learn that the Yoast SEO plugin automatically creates a sitemap. You don’t have to do anything.
This is a big one.
So big that Google itself has incorporated page load speed as a ranking factor.
Which means that yes, if your site is loading a bit too slow, you’ll lose rank.
You’ll also lose rank. As a result, your content marketing efforts won’t reach as many potential customers.
Do yourself a favor: run your site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to make sure that it loads quickly.
According to Google, it’s difficult to determine the primary language when your page is using multiple languages. That’s why you need to translate everything when you’re moving a page to a new language.
In this case, “everything” includes the alt tags on images.
According to Google’s John Mueller, the text in an alt tag is viewed by Google as part of the page. So to stay consistent you’ll need to translate that as well.
Another astonishing fail from a lot of digital marketers: they don’t bother to put favicons on their websites.
Favicons are those little images that you see in the browser tab when you’re viewing a web page. They appear just to the left of the title.
For most businesses, the favicon should be the logo of the company. If that’s not practical, it should usually be a recognizable part of the logo.
Google has recently started issuing warnings to sites that don’t have a favicon. So you know the search giant takes those little images seriously.
Fortunately, many WordPress themes make it very easy to upload a favicon. All you have to do is create the 32×32 or 16×16 image and provide it.
If you’re unsure about how to do any of that, you’ll have to consult a professional web designer.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: AMP and AMP Stories
You’ve probably heard a thing or two about accelerated mobile pages (AMP) over the past few years.
For those unfamiliar, AMP website pages fast. That gives mobile users a better experience.
Google tends to favor user-friendly pages in the mobile search results. If your site takes too long to load, you can expect that it won’t rank well.
AMP can solve that problem for you.
But here’s the thing about AMP: it may not be sticking around.
In fact, Google may be getting rid of it altogether.
It’s still a good practice to implement as of now, just be careful it does not kill your conversions and be aware that you may need to switch back in the near future.
But on to better news.
Google very recently rolled out AMP Stories.
What are AMP Stories? Google describes them as a “mobile-focused format for delivering news and information.”
And yes, as you can imagine, they’re based on the concept of Snapchat stories.
So far, only high-profile news sites are allowed to participate in AMP Stories. It’s a good bet that Google will open the program up to other sites later on.
When that happens, boom! You have another opportunity to rank well for mobile users.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Optimize For Voice Search
That two-word phrase might define the next generation in search. According to comscore, a whopping 50% of all searches will be voice search by 2020.
If your site isn’t yet optimized for voice search, then now is the time to start rolling out your voice strategy. Here are a few ideas:
- Answer questions – A lot of voice searches are posed as questions. Create a blog post with a popular question related to your niche as the title and answer it in the content.
- Use conversational keywords – People tend to be more “formal” when they’re typing in a query. But when people talk, they’ll use a conversational tone. Make sure that your content is in easy-to-understand language. Write at a fourth-grade level, if possible.
- Make your content scannable – When Google can easily parse your content because it’s broken down into distinct sections, you’re more likely to score a link at the top of the SERPs. That content could also be included as a response to a voice query.
- Publish long-form content – Writing content of at least 2400 words that incorporates natural language processing (NLP) will help boost your voice search visibility.
- Keep content up to date – Make sure you are keeping your content updated and consistent (including photos, videos and infographics).
- Give your site a mobile-friendly makeover – We’ve already covered the importance of mobile-friendliness, let’s just put the exclamation point on it right here. A lot of voice search happens on a mobile device, so you need your site optimized for mobile search results. Make sure your site loads quickly on a mobile platform and is easy to navigate on a smartphone, tablet, or phablet.
On a similar note, optimizing for digital assistants will be extremely important as we move into 2021.
The addition (and extreme popularity) of devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo make it crucial that you optimize your site for voice. Remember, that means a focus on question phrases and natural language.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Prepare For Visual Search
Another cutting-edge development powered by AI you can expect to see gain momentum is the ability to perform searches visually.
More pressing, we’ll likely see images take up a larger portion of search results.
Google continues to shift more and more towards a visual search engine with the broader rollout of features like Google Discover and the ability to better understand and identify specific people and places in images and videos.
Search engine optimization in 2021 will include a shift towards more visual results
Google’s ability to more accurately identify context will likely lead to improved image search results. The search engine has also alluded to an updated algorithm that will more accurately rank pages with great content and great images.
For marketers, that means the heat is on to produce quality visuals along with their quality content if they want to stay relevant in the search rankings.
In fact, Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann once stated, “The future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords”.
Incorporate Video In Your Strategy
A better video strategy goes hand-in-hand with the move towards more visual.
Why? Because 55% of Internet users say they thoroughly consume video content versus 32% who say they just skim it.
Conversely, only 29% of users said that they thoroughly consume blogs. Almost half (43%) said that they skim blog content.
Video content is an excellent way to increase a visitor’s dwell time on a page. That’s especially true if the video takes a few minutes to watch.
The next time you post some content, browse through YouTube to see if you can embed some relevant videos. You might find that it helps your rank.
Evaluate the SERPs For Your Industry
Search results pages are looking a little different these days.
That’s due to the inclusion of SERP features.
SERP features are what we call any result in Google that isn’t a traditional organic result. These include Knowledge Graphs, Image Packs, Featured Snippets, etc.
And, as we discussed above, these often come in above the #1 organic result – making it extremely important to optimize for them, and not just the top spot.
But some of these features are made for specific industries, and it’s important that you understand which ones apply to you so you can incorporate them into your strategy.
For example, for those in the hotel space, users can plug “hotels in [location]” into Google, and pull results that look like this:
Search engine optimization in 2021: Evaluate the SERPS
Again, this appears above the organic results, meaning if you want the most eyes on your listing you need to be aware of and optimizing for the SERP features that best apply to your industry.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021: Run SEO Tests
A solid SEO strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Usually, it takes several tweaks to get it just right.
That’s exactly why running consistent SEO tests is so important. Well-executed tests can help you determine what’s effective, what could be improved, and what’s costing you unnecessary money.
There are no shortage of tests you can run, which include:
- Changing your title tags
- Testing content length
- Adding Schema markup
- Changing the meta description
- Split testing with Google Optimize
Want more? Check out my list of 24 SEO tests you should be running.
Wrapping Up Search Engine Optimization in 2021
This year, it’s all about quality, being technically correct and innovating, despite the challenges! Good luck in 2021.