In the ever-evolving world of SEO, here’s 5 key trends that warrant your attention in 2021:
At its core, SEO focuses on the site visitor. People use search engines because they want answers. As a business, as a brand, your SEO focus remains constant: Can you be found? Can you offer relevant information? Is your information trustworthy?
Those goals are clear, but what does change are search engine algorithms, which are refined continuously. To keep your brand relevant and your site traffic flowing, you must adapt SEO practices to match those refinements. For 2021, here are 5 SEO trends you need to know.
1. Work on your Core Web Vitals
What is it: In May 2021, page experience signals will be included in Google Search ranking. Those signals are driven by Core Web Vitals, which Google defines as three measures:
- Load time of the largest contentful paint (LCP). LCP measures how quickly your main content loads, becomes visible, and therefore useful to the viewer.
- Interactivity tied to first input delay (FID). FID measures how long it takes from when a user interacts with your site (by clicking a button or a link) for the browser to respond.
- Visual stability for the user or cumulative layout shift (CLS). CLS measures how the visible portion of a website moves, but not in response to user interaction. An example is when you’re on a website, think you’re clicking on one thing, but the layout shifts mid-click and you end up clicking something you did not want.
What does it mean for you: The first step is knowing if you have a problem. Google makes this easy to discover with their Core Web Vitals report. The report details how your pages perform using actual use data. If the report reveals under-performing pages, you need to decide if those issues must be addressed. If you’re in a competitive space, fixing the issues takes on greater significance. Work with your web development team to improve these measures for a better page experience for your users.
2. Make mobile SEO a priority.
What is it: Core Web Vitals is all about the user’s page experience. Mobile SEO is an offshoot of that. Can your pages be viewed and interacted with as flawlessly on mobile devices as they can from a desktop or laptop? In 2016, Google announced its focus on mobile-first indexing and in 2020 its decision to use mobile-first indexing for the entire web. Now, the mobile version of a website is the first thing indexed and ranked, rather than the desktop/laptop version.
What does it mean for you: You need to be just as concerned about Core Web Vitals on mobile devices as you are for desktops and laptops. As for SEO, ensure consistency of content across every device type. Visitors should be able to access the same content on their phones and tablets as they do from their laptops. Most brands have mobile responsive sites, but if your site isn’t as mobile friendly as it could be, that’s an area to work on. With mobile-first indexing, your page rankings will take a hit if visitors cannot get the same information and page experience on every device they use.
3. You are what you E-A-T.
What is it: Hundreds of factors drive ranking on search engine results pages (SERP). Ideally, search engines return high quality results higher up in the SERP. E-A-T — expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness — plays a role in those rankings by rewarding more robust content. E-A-T is not new for 2021, but delivering better and more trustworthy content should always be a priority.
What does it mean for you: E-A-T plays a role in determining page quality determination, so conveying that through your content should be a persistent goal. Assuming your brand or business already has a solid reputation, there are additional concrete steps you can take to boost E-A-T. Add meaningful author bios to your content that include details about the authority and expertise of the writer. Make sure content is clear, direct, and answers the questions that visitors to your site have.
Link to other authoritative and trusted sites that your business and brand are affiliated with. For example, if you are a widget maker, noting your membership in the Society for the Advancement of Awesome Widgets may add weight to your content. Include a robust and easily accessible About page that accurately describes your company and its board, founders, or C-level executives. Include easy-to-find contact information because making it simple for visitors to contact you, ask questions, and receive answers builds trust.
4. View long-form content as the norm.
What is it: E-A-T and long-form content work hand in hand. Longer content earns more social shares and backlinks. When lengthy content (1,000+ words) is meaty, it boosts E-A-T. Of course, the drive toward long-form content is not new for 2021, but it’s also not going away. If you haven’t embraced this trend yet, it’s time. Enhance long-form deep dives by telling a story in multiple, complementary ways. It makes the content more engaging, and recognizes that people approach content differently and with different amounts of time they can spend on it. The well-rounded treatment of a topic can be a blog post, paired with an infographic, an original illustration or photographic, or with an embedded video.
What does it mean for you: There are a few easy and quick steps you can take to create longer content. Review current pages to see if any could be expanded. Look for expertise inside or outside your organization. Look for tap subject matter experts who can add depth and insights. Beyond written text, explore how to explain topics with video or graphics. Talk to departments within your organization that interact with customers and ask what questions they routinely hear that aren’t being addressed on your site. Don’t be tempted to add fluff for the sake of creating length. That can work against you by harming your E-A-T scores. Instead, dive deeper into a subject to answer fully what your site visitors have questions about.
5. Understand the intent behind the search.
What is it: It’s frustrating when you can’t quite find what you’re looking for via search. You adjust search terms hoping that will help. That’s a frustration Google now addresses through natural language processing (NLP). NLP uses machine learning to understand and process how humans actually speak. Google’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) improves its search engine by decoding the intent behind a user’s words so that more relevant results are returned from a query.
What does it mean for you: If you have a mismatch between the content you serve up and the intent of the site visitor, that can cause site visitor dissatisfaction when they don’t find what they are looking for. What you need to do is ensure your content and keywords match and deliver what users are looking for and want to know. Be aware when your keywords could hold multiple meanings and when the inclusion of certain words may make all the difference.
Here’s an example similar to one that Google provides in its discussion about BERT linked above. A user enters “2021 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” The “to” in that query becomes key. Using NLP, it makes sense this is a person from Brazil asking if they need a visa to visit the US in 2021. With that understanding, search results provide links to who needs a visa to enter the US and how they go about getting one. Be diligent in your keyword research ahead of time to ensure your content delivers what your site visitors want to know.
Refining your SEO approach will always be a challenge, but staying aware of algorithm changes and search trends can help ensure your visitors find what they’re searching for.