What’s the purpose of a search engine?
A search engine allows users to search the internet for “content” using keywords.
The better the search engine gets, the more adequately it can deliver just that.
What’s this mean for you?
It’s this simple: the most relevant, high quality, comprehensive content will rank.
If only it were that simple.
The SEO industry is selective; it’s a digital form of bipolar disorder. What was all the rave yesterday is anathema today. If you don’t continuously adapt to its changes, your site will suffer tremendously.
In this article, I want to provide the crucial insights for SEO Trends in 2021, where it’s heading, what you can expect, and what you can do about it.
Undoubtedly some aspects of SEO are relatively concrete and don’t shift with the trends. Many webmasters focus on fixed trends. You can have a clear advantage by hyper-targeting the changes.
#1 – Optimize For Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is beginning to change the world and, consequently, how we interact with one another daily.
And, as you can imagine, it’s radically altering how people interact with online content.
Google’s A.I. algorithm, RankBrain, and more recently updated as BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations Transformers), is the sovereign of the SERPs. It’s a neural network-based technique using natural language processing (N.L.P.).
Google is now able to pinpoint the context of words in a search query.
BERT is the strongarm of Google that can grab rich snippets and passages from anywhere on your page. In other words, you need to start paying a lot of attention to the format of your content and the questions they answer.
Context is queen!
An h2 or h3 heading should emphasize each question. This type of organization helps BERT do its job. Simply put, context and relevance are more relevant than ever!
The A.I. industry will continue to grow, so as with all things, we must evolve with it.
There is already AI-powered software available at your disposal.
For example, Frase creates quick content briefs and rudimentary SERP analysis, amongst other things.
Wordsmith and SurferSEO help create killer content.
#2 – UX optimization
Research suggests that 70% of online businesses fail due to poor UX. Moreover, one study proposed that 88% of online shoppers don’t return after a bad experience.
UX isn’t just to appease BERT, it’s also just intuitive to provide a pleasing, profitable, and user-friendly experience for your audience.
How To Optimize UX?
- Make your site fast. The quicker it loads, the better it is for Google bots and users alike.
- Create an intuitive website design that helps users find specific functions. Make it as easy as possible.
- Embrace white space. Provide an easy to navigate interface, right fonts, and high-quality images.
- Always make user-friendly URLs (stick with your keyword) and sitemap.
- Saturate your site with top-notch visual aids; be an ever-present and relentless tour guide in their experience of your content.
Optimize Core Web Vitals
(3) What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are a metric that measures vital factors of overall UX on your webpage.
They are composed of three specific page speed and user interaction measurements:
- Largest Contentful Paint
- First Input Delay
- Cumulative Layout Shift
Page experience is undoubtedly a large bag of UX elements. To determine the page experience score, Google measures the following components:
- Mobile-friendly (is desktop a thing of the past?)
- Safe-browsing (malware-free)
- Lack of interstitial pop-ups
Core Web Vitals will constitute a considerable fraction of your overall page experience score.
Time to adapt and adjust and focus on the value we bring our audience via overall UX.
Of course, there are approximately 200 other factors that Google uses to rank sites in search. Core Web Vitals alone isn’t your silver bullet to position number one in the SERPs.
Let’s take a bird’s-eye view of the three elements of Core Vitals:
What Is The Largest Contentful Paint (L.C.P.)?
L.C.P. is the loading speed of the page from the point of view of the user.
It’s the measurement from click to the loading time of the page.
What Is First Input Delay? (FID)
So, you got your click to load time down pat. The numbers are glorious. What next?
First Input Delay measures the time it takes for the user to interact with your page.
Is it easy to navigate?
Enter stage left a solid menu, categories, tags, etc.
How would you rate the interaction?
Examples of interactions include:
- Choosing an option from a menu
- Clicking on a link in the site’s navigation
- Entering your email into a field
- Opening up “accordion text” on mobile devices
FID likely won’t affect many blogs unless said blog has a login or sign up page.
If this process is slow, then speed it up!
Cumulative Layout Shift (C.L.S.)
C.L.S. refers to visual stability.
How stable is your page as it loads?
C.L.S. looks at how much visible content shifted in the viewport and the loading distance of impacted elements.
If your site takes time for elements to “pop up,” this is a sign of high C.L.S.
How Crucial Are Core Web Vitals?
As I noted above, this isn’t a magic bullet that will catapult your page to the #1 position in the SERPs.
However, if you are #2 and the current #1 post has poor Core Web Vitals, this can give you the leverage to steal the #1 spot.
Your site can be fast, with a sleek interface, and provide a stellar experience but still suck.
Use the tool Google provides to check your Core Web Vitals. It’s very easy to navigate, if you have any questions leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.
Without high-quality content, your site will be like a yacht in a desert.
(4) Optimize Content
Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting. – Bill Gates
The fact that Google favors high-quality content is not news.
Anyone worth their weight in SEO salt knows that’s a pivotal ranking factor.
However, in 2021 you’re going to need to take this as seriously as a heart attack.
Content is king regardless of its form: written, video, audio, interactive, infographics, animated, etc.
A recent study conducted by OptinMonster, suggested 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers, while 86% of B2C marketers consider content marketing their crucial strategy.
Optimized content marketing can be best is described as the distribution of content that hits three main points:
Some essential tips are:
- Never stray from searcher intent.
- Stay original, allow SERP analysis to inform your content but keep it fresh and new.
- Always bring solutions to the main problems of the queries searched.
- Make your content reader-friendly. That said, speak the language of your audience, whatever that may be.
- As noted above, content is more than written form. Use videos, images, infographics, whatever can augment value on your site and better aid your reader.
- Always, when possible, provide step by step tips to resolve the user’s inquiry.
- Headlines are key. Make sure you hyper-target their relevance and intent (see How To Start A Successful Blog).
- Continue to update older content.
Additionally, it would be best if you always kept user intent in mind.
(5) Optimize Search Intent
Ahrefs produced a study that suggested that the organic traffic on one of their core landing pages increased 677% in six months by merely optimizing search content.
What Is Search Intent
Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe an online search’s purpose.
It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search, whether it’s something they want to learn, find, purchase.
It’s knowing “the why” behind the search query.
With RankBrain, BERT, and N.L.P. technology ever-evolving and improving relevancy is the ultimate lynchpin to success on the search engines.
If your response isn’t relevant or helpful to the user, it will end up unread and floating through the web with 90% of all the other irrelevant crap on the internet.
You can aptly describe the future of search in two words: Search Intent.
However, I’d argue That the most critical concept for crafting quality content search intent must form a robust alliance with E.A.T.
(6) What Is E.A.T.?
Brain Dean of Backlinko noted that E-A-T is Domain Authority 2.0. A pretty telling statement if you ask me.
E.A.T. stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
E.A.T. is mentioned in the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines by Google.
If E.A.T. doesn’t inform your content, it won’t find page one of Google.
If you want your content informed by E.A.T. (and you do!), keep in mind the following:
- Craft posts with a professional approach in regards to your industry, market, trade, or niche. The algorithm places a massive emphasis on this. For example, in the healthcare industry, you only see questions answered by doctors. Why? Because they’re the professionals in the niche. Understanding this is indispensable in 2021.
- Links continue to be crucial, with a greater emphasis on getting backlinks from high authority domains. It lends credence to your professionalism or authority.
- If you are not an expert in your niche, consider hiring one who can deliver relevant facts and proper research.
- Always keep content fresh and up to date.
- Get reviews and testimonials.
- Don’t be shy about flashing your credentials.
- Get a Wikipedia page (huge! Especially if you want to rank in google knowledge graphs).
- Demonstrate work that showcases your expertise to Google
In my opinion, long-form content is the best structure to showcase E.A.T.
(7) Optimize Your Long-Form Content
Long-form content gets more social shares, links, time spent on-page, and thanks to BERT enables you to rank a ridiculous amount of keywords.
It creates more proof of your authority and expertise in your specific industry and provides exponential networking, community building, and engagement opportunities.
Specifically, here are a few things you’ll get from one piece of long-form content:
- Ample material to promote
- A reason to get in touch with people in your industry, for testimonials, quotes, advice, etc.
- It increases your rankings in Google and enables you to target loads of keywords
- Statistically, long-form gets far more shares on social media
- Most importantly, you gain credibility and authority, and as you’ll see, probably the most critical factors to an SEO marketing strategy in 2021
As I noted above, long-form content can be saturated with keywords, particularly if you pay attention to long-tail keywords on your various headings and content structure.
(8) Long-Tail Keywords And Hyper Relevance.
Studies have shown that more than 70% of all web searches are long-tail keyword queries.
It’s not merely that they can outrank the competition that makes them optimal. Instead, it matches the users’ search.
Since this is how users search, there is already a heightened relevance for your content, and it reeks of user intent.
Since UX is becoming more and more crucial, chasing the tail has never been a more profitable enterprise.
How Can I Find Long-Tail Keywords?
- Use Google autocomplete and variations, as well as related searches.
- Target questions (e.g., “how to…”)
- AnswerThePublic.com is a remarkable tool.
- I often use KeywordShitter for variations.
- Browse for topics on Wikipedia, Quora, Reddit, Google’s “people also ask” feature, etc.
However, a focus on keywords doesn’t pack the same punch for your SEO strategy as it used to. Now, the focus needs to shift to entities as well.
SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, LongTailPro, and KeywordFinder are excellent keyword research tools but also offer competitive research, which can beef up your SEO strategy.
(9) Entity Optimization
Google defines an entity as:
“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable.”
An entity is a noun, and it’s a concept, so it doesn’t need to be a physical object. It can also be a color, a date, an idea, and more.
An entity is anything that is:
I’m going to explain why in 2021, we will no longer be confined to solely targeting keywords; we will not be shifting our attention to entity SEO.
An entity provides much-needed context to search queries. It reduces ambiguities and enables Google to answer a search query without even sending the user the webpage (e.g., rich snippets, discover, etc.).
Google’s knowledge graph has collected over 5 billion entities and 500 billion entities properties.
But considering the definition above, it is obvious they still have a long way to go because an entity is, well, anything.
Previously Google relied on Wikipedia and Wikidata to discover entities (which surprisingly is accurate) and now can find them on its own due to A.I.
The algorithm will soon categorize according to a web of connected entities and their relationships rather than purely using backlinks – much like everyday life.
Google now has an even better estimation regarding a company’s expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E.A.T.).
Consequently, entities and contextual search queries will determine what content ranks and in what order.
Incorporating Entities In An SEO Strategy
Here are some tips:
- Even though it uses other means, I recommend creating a Wikipedia page for your business and Wikidata if you have technical expertise.
- Create a Google My Business profile
- Have a vital content strategy: build content hubs, provide helpful content by creating clusters of content silos.
- As I will mention below, leverage structured data or schema markup
- In essence, do much of what you did when scaling backlinks and keywords, just much more targeted, and the content needs to be super high quality
(10) Optimize Structured Data
Structured data, better known as schema markup, is a type of code that makes it much easier for search engines to crawl, organize, and display your content.
Your schema markup is the language you use to communicate to search engines precisely what your content means.
BERT loves schema markup. Give that old chap what he desires!
Google offers you a Structured Data Testing Tool, so it’s a no brainer to familiarize yourself with the concept and how to apply it so your pages can start landing featured snippets (rich results) and the like.
A rich result is position #0 on Google.
Do you want higher C.T.R.s and a larger audience?
Do you want to increase brand awareness and grow the authority of your site?
Optimize your schema markup.
Additionally, SEO plugins such as Yoast, RankMath, All-In-One SEO, and SEOPress offer robust schema markup options.
There is no excuse not to do it; it’s just too easy!
(11) Optimize Local SEO
According to Chat Meter, local searches have increased 900% in the last two years. The icing on the cake is that 46% of all searches on Google are local!
Don’t allow that traffic to fall by the wayside.
If you want to start growing your Local SEO base, follow these guidelines:
- Create a Google My Business Account
- Optimize for voice search
- Cash-in on local keywords
- Take advantage of online business directories
- Develop content based on local events, news stories, and location-specific places
(12) Optimize Mobile
There are approximately 3.5 billion people with smartphones around the world. More than half of website traffic is generated from mobile phones.
Additionally, the research has further suggested that 96% of people use Google when they search mobile.
And to boot, Google ranks your page based on your mobile site.
Sure, they pay attention to our desktop site, but in 2021 if your site doesn’t meet the mobile standards of Google, it will be in for a world of hurt.
What Can I Do To Optimize Mobile-First?
- You can put a high priority on website speed (umpteenth mention)
- Be 100% sure your website is responsive.
- Keep in mind the simplicity of web design. Sometimes less is more.
- Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing tool for further recommendations.
(13) Optimize Video Marketing
Listen, over 1 billion videos are watched on YouTube daily.
That’s how massive this platform is. Thirty million active daily users and this isn’t even including all the videos watched on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
YouTube will likely become the most powerful marketing tool in years to come; it’s just an inevitable reality – people love video!
What’s this mean for you?
It means 2021 is the year of the video, and it’s time you use this as a powerful weapon in your SEO arsenal.
Here are a few tidbits to launch your video marketing strategy:
- Generate tutorials or demo videos with target user intent – always keep it extremely relevant to the search query.
- Further, optimize videos with SEO content (e.g., titles, meta-descriptions, etc.)
- Don’t forget to leverage powerful C.T.A.s
- The video’s start is the most crucial, but don’t be shy about ending in a big way – keep the selling jargon down, maintain a down to earth position, and personality sells.
(14) Optimize Voice Search
Voice search on mobile dominates 27% of the online population.
More than half of all smartphone users in the U.S. already use voice search technology, including 111.8 million people using voice assistance.
The numbers are too massive to ignore, and guess what?
In 2021 it will be even more costly.
Here’s what you can do:
- Voice search keywords are longer and conversational – however, with BERT, I contend these types of keywords are the route to go (hyper-targeted and relevant). For example, it’s just a typical question, “how long is the battery life on a new car battery?”
- Local listings and searches get priority.
- Make full use of conversational language in your content. BERT has rendered oddly placed keywords as an ancient practice.
- Leverage structured data guidelines and optimized content for rich answers (tremendous opportunities here!)
- Don’t forget to include F.A.Q.s for your pages and blogs.
(15) Optimize Data and Analytics Strategy
Data science provides valuable and in-depth insights regarding your website’s performance. Consequently, this data can help strengthen your overall SEO campaign.
To test the effectiveness of everything mentioned above, you need to leverage the data of your site.
In short, data science makes predictions about customer behavior and upcoming trends, using primarily analytics and machine learning.
If you don’t use data science, it’s unlikely you’ll understand your audience, be able to visualize campaigns and strategies, and craft targeted messages.
Analytics assist in verifying the URLs that are getting crawled, identifying referral sources, checking page load times, and overall page speed.
Moreover, you can see what pages are indexing. Not every page needs to be indexed, for example, static pages.
Analytics provides information on redirects, response errors, bounce rates, time spent on-page, and identifying spamming traffic sources that can potentially hurt your E.A.T. credibility, and a host of other essential factors for a strong SEO marketing strategy in 2021.
Don’t Forget About Link Building (A Word On Backlinks)
I wanted to conclude this article with some myths regarding link building.
A lot of nonsense gets pushed around on forums, social media, and the like; I want to clear away as much muck as I can so you can optimize your link-building strategy for 2021.
What Is Link Building?
If you don’t know what link building is, it’s the practice of building one-way hyperlinks (which we refer to as backlinks, inbound links, or external links) to a website to improve visibility on the search engines.
In short, external links are from third-party sources that point to your website. Conversely, internal links exist between two pages on the same website.
In my opinion, internal links have never been more critical because the useful internal links communicate to Google:
- Page relevance
- The relationship between various pages on your site (content hubs and silos)
- And the value of pages.
After everything I mentioned above, I think you can appreciate the importance of internal link building.
In terms of building backlinks, some everyday practices that you may be familiar with are:
- Content marketing
- Building useful tools
- Broken link building
- Public relations
- Email outreach.
The truth of the matter is that backlinks continue to be the most crucial SEO ranking factor.
It needs your attention if you plan to grow out your website and accrue organic traffic from Google.
If your site is brand new, you won’t even see the Google sunlight without first acquiring some links. Don’t be dismissive of the importance of outreach and link building.
As previously noted, Google’s algorithm is steadily changing and growing in sophistication, but backlinks are still indispensable at this point in the game.
In 2016 Google confirmed that backlinks and content are the two most important signals to rank websites.
I’d argue that as we move into 2021, the game hasn’t changed, but only the need for high-quality EVERYTHING.
Just like content, low-quality backlinks are about as helpful as a toothbrush with no bristles.
In reality, that type of toothbrush would destroy your gums. In like manner, low-quality backlinks will ruin your site.
Keep the same mantra in mind that you did with content: always super relevant and high quality.
PageRank & Other Metrics
PageRank is one of the metrics used by Google to measure backlinks and determine page value.
Back in the day, a PageRank Toolbar served up the data on a hot platter. It was glorious!
Unfortunately, PageRank has the appearance of fossil now, and I don’t think it has had an official update since 2013.
And the toolbar? It’s in the same abyss as MS-DOS and those socks that vanished from the dryer.
Nonetheless, it still appears to have a say in the rankings. Users are just no longer privy to their data. Don’t be quick to gloss over PageRank solely because the tool no longer exists.
Fortunately, several SEO saints have developed software tools and rolled out their authority metrics to fill the gap.
For example, SEMrush has its Authority Score; its score is based on the aggregate data:
- Backlink data
- Referring domains (quantity and quality)
- Follow vs. nofollow links pointing to the site (inbound links)
- Follow vs. nofollow links leaving the site (outbound links)
- The number of outbound links from each referring domain
- Total backlinks
- Referring IPs
- Referring subnets.
- Organic search data, including organic search traffic and keyword positions.
- Website traffic data.
It is important to note that Google’s algorithm does not use third-party metrics. So their accuracy can be debated.
The metric’s point is to help you measure your site’s authority against competitors and develop methods to improve your site’s visibility on the search engines.
Two other metrics used and trusted are:
The point is you want backlinks from websites with higher authority.
Higher authority equals higher quality.
Lower authority links aren’t necessarily low quality, but you want to make sure the URL isn’t spammy. I’ll get to this momentarily.
Moz even has a spam score to aid you in this endeavor.
The truth is that a higher number of backlinks correlates with higher rankings on Google. A study by Backlinko unequivocally confirmed this.
It bears repeating: It would be best if you had highly relevant and high quality links.
You want to avoid violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Any link that falls under the classification of a link scheme intended to manipulate results won’t do you any favors, and it’s certainly not a business plan with longevity in mind.
At any rate, let’s debunk a few backlink myths as you forge your SEO strategy for 2021.
4 Common Backlink Myths
- More Links Equals Higher Rankings
Yes, there is a high correlation between the number of quality links and higher rankings.
However, quality is the specific keyword that far too many overlook.
Don’t be a knucklehead and get caught up in the numbers game.
Always think quality, not necessarily quantity.
Low-quality links, let alone a high volume of them, can not only harm your site but utterly destroy it.
- Nofollow Links Are Garbage
Traditionally, the understanding is that nofollow links have the equivalent of zero impact on your SEO performance.
Yet, in 2019 Google announced that a nofollow link is a hint, not a directive.
I think it’s a big hint.
The more Google favors relevancy and high quality, particularly in terms of entity structures, it makes a hell of a lot of sense that even nofollow links from high-quality sources speak volumes.
Think about it: national journal publications and first-class news sources almost always apply nofollow to all external links.
Additionally, even nofollow links still send traffic to your site, increase brand awareness, and boost credibility.
SEMrush did thorough research on nofollow links and uncovered some remarkable data.
“Did that #1 ranked web pages on Google have an average of about 20%-40% no-follow links pointing to that page? Sometimes it is even higher. 3 out of 10 links are marked with this attribute links. Think about that. The link attribute that was supposed to totally kill all SEO effects, shows up a third of the time in #1 ranked sites.”
The evidence may be limited, but I think it’s safe to assume you should not discount nofollow links for your 2021 link building strategy.
- Buying Links is a Quick Way to Boost Your Rankings
Don’t buy links.
It’s a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
It can negatively affect your rankings, and penalization could result in the entire site plunging into search engine nothingness.
If you sponsor content, make sure you identify it by using the rel=” sponsored” attribute.
- High Authority Links Are All That Matter
I mentioned earlier that high authority equals high-quality links.
However, a high-quality link doesn’t necessarily mean it’s high authority.
To illustrate, Ahrefs can provide you the backlink data of the URL that is linking to you. This data will inform you whether their backlink structure is of high quality.
Besides high authority, another indicator of high quality is if the URL has a rich natural link profile.
A natural link profile includes links from different relevant sources of various ages and authority.
It is unnatural and unrealistic only to earn links from high authority sources.
In short, a high-quality URL is one with a solid natural link profile, and if this URL is also high authority, then you’ve struck gold.
Therefore, in 2021 I recommend making a targeted backlink strategy on high authority sources and URLs with robust natural link profiles.
I’m a firm believer that high-quality content, killer visuals, and overall excellent UX will result in healthy, wholesome and dynamically full-bodied natural links.
Wedge this slogan between your ears: always super relevant and high quality.
Whether you use Ahrefs, SEMrush, some other powerhouse software, or merely Google’s tools, SEO is getting more complicated.
Metrics are continually changing, and search engines are steadily evolving – you need the right data to keep your place or climb in the ranking.
So pay ridiculous attention to your data!
Even Sheen, Jimmy’s Neutron’s less-than-genius friend, gets it. “Never argue with the data.”