Another year, another list of what you should be focusing your search engine optimization efforts on. Below we’ve highlighted 13 things you need to keep in mind—and keep an eye out for—this year. And while not everything on this list is brand new to the world of SEO, it’s all relevant for keeping your SEO efforts up-to-date in 2021.
1. Core Web Vitals
First up is the new Core Web Vitals. Google has confirmed that in May of 2021, Core Web Vitals WILL become a ranking signal. Before you panic, wondering what this new ranking signal means, you should know that your site may already be ranking highly. Essentially, Core Web Vitals can be broken down into three parts: Loading, Interactivity, and Visual Stability.
- Loading – This is the Largest Contentful Paint for your website— essentially, how long it takes the main content on the site to load. You should already be trying to get your page to load as quickly as possible so this shouldn’t be anything new. But for the new Core Web Vitals ranking, you want to shoot for anything under 2.5 seconds. You can test your page using the PageSpeed Insights tool developed by Google to figure out where you stand.
- Interactivity – Similar to the Loading metric, this measures First Input Delay, or how long it takes the website to become interactive and usable. Again the Google PageSpeed Insights tool can help you out; ideally you want to be interactive in under 100ms.
- Visual Stability – Have you ever loaded a webpage, gone to click on a link, and have something else load on the page, pushing all of the content down, and making you click on something other than what you wanted? That is Cumulative Layout Shift, the last metric Core Web Vitals measures. This is the measure of how much content shifts on the page. You want a CLS of less than 0.1 and Web.dev has a great article getting into the specifics of Cumulative Shift Layout and how it’s calculated.
Put these three metrics together, along with the rest of your page speed efforts, and you’ll be on your way to higher rankings and well prepared for the Core Web Vitals ranking signal going live this year.
2. Semantic Search
Semantic Search is the methodology by which search engines are trying to change the way information is displayed by factoring in search intent and deciphering natural human language. Long gone are the days of simply gathering as many backlinks as possible or identifying what keywords you want and popping them into the site copy. Now, you need to understand what the searcher is really looking for and how your site can help them find that.
To do this, Google will factor in the user’s search history, location, spelling and other factors to try to determine exactly what they mean and show them the correct information. One example of this is if you search for food on your mobile device. You’ll see the closest open locations at the top. If you’re in New York City and Google “pizza” places, you wouldn’t want to see a pizza shop in Chicago
. (NY style is better anyway).
3. Google Passages Update
Passages are fairly new in the world of SEO but they’re already changing how search results are being displayed. This change impacts the display of rich snippets as Google is trying to make it easier for the end user to find the information they’re looking for.
You may have already noticed this and not recognized what it was. Have you ever googled something and clicked on the top result, only to have it take you to the page and then scroll you halfway down to a section of highlighted text? That’s the Passages update hard at work. Google took what you were looking for and brought you to the specific paragraph on a page that they thought would answer your search intent.
But, unlike the majority of the rest of this list, there isn’t a whole lot of work to be done for this one. However, it does highlight the importance of making sure your SEO is on-point so that crawlers can find this content and bring people to your site. It’s a great way for less “rank-able” content to get found if it matches user search intent.
4. Schema and Rich Snippets
While not new to the SEO toolbox, it’s still important to state the usages for schema and rich snippets. Google made a change in February of 2021 that dampened the use of rich snippets a bit thanks to the implementation of the Google Passages update.
Rich Snippets are everywhere you look when you search something. It can be reviews, upcoming events, recipes, FAQ pages, related searches—they’re all rich snippets. If you search for “Apple Pie recipe” you may see something that looks like this:
These are all rich snippets. The reviews, the cooking time, ingredients—all of these details come from schema. Schemas and structured data were originally a joint effort by some of the biggest search engines out there: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex. They worked together to create schema.org. If you don’t know how to code the schemas by hand, Google created their Structured Data Markup Helper to make the process a little easier. And if your website uses WordPress, there are several plugins that can do the work for you as well.
While Schemas and Rich Snippets on their own won’t make you rank better, they are more visually appealing to the searcher and can compel them to click through to your site.
5. Mobile Link Parity
Mobile Link Parity is the difference between the links on the desktop and mobile versions of your site. Making sure you aren’t omitting any links from either version and that the two are in sync is important to SEO and user experience. With Google evolving to mobile-first indexing, you have to make sure you aren’t hurting your rankings in the name of design.
For example, if your desktop site has tons of links in the header with drop downs and multiple menu items, you want to make sure that all the same pages and links are easily accessible on your mobile site as well. You don’t want the crawler bots to get to your (now mobile-first) site and not be able to find and index some of your content because you removed links from the navigation or footer. A recent study found that, on average, desktop pages have 61 links while their mobile versions only have 54. That’s a lot of content to be missing out on ranking when your site gets indexed.
6. Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E.A.T.)
E.A.T. is an acronym to help you remember how Google grades the breakdown of your page quality, or at least one factor of it. Google wants to make sure that the content users are looking at is not only relevant but credible, and that what’s on the page is factual and corroborated. Making sure your website exemplifies all three aspects of E.A.T. will ensure that it doesn’t drop in the SERPs.
- Expertise – Does the person/company writing the content have any expertise on the topic? Do they have training, certifications, credentials that makes them experienced enough to write on the topic? Thankfully, one of the easier ways to establish expertise is to simply continue to write content that highlights how knowledgeable you are in your area.
- Authoritativeness – Not only does the publisher need to be an expert in their field, they also need to be an authority in their field. You could know everything there is to know about a topic, but if you don’t professionally work in that field, speak at conferences, publish peer reviewed articles, or generally have influence in your industry, you don’t have the authority necessary to qualify for the “A” in E.A.T.
- Trustworthiness – Is the content you’re putting on your site credible? Is it factually accurate? Do you have sources backing up your claims? These all help categorize the trustworthiness of your page and are necessary to rank well for your topic—especially if your content falls under the Y.M.Y.L category (see #7 below!).
If you don’t believe us that E.A.T. is important and want to independently do some research yourself (see what we did there?), you can check out the Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines.
7. Your Money, Your Life (Y.M.Y.L.)
Y.M.Y.L is defined by Google as any site or page that deals with someone’s health, happiness, safety, or money. These pages and sites are scrutinized extra carefully by Google to make sure that they contain quality content and that they follow the E.A.T. guidelines. Bad information on these sites could severely impact someone’s health, finances, or well-being and Google wants to ensure that that doesn’t happen.
There are a few site and content development concepts to keep in mind when you deal with Y.M.Y.L. material.
- First, is your site well made, or is it full of 404 errors and broken links? Is it mobile responsive? Keeping your site fresh, up-to-date and clear of errors goes into Google Y.M.Y.L. guidelines.
- Second, is the site’s contact information easy to find? This is especially important for ecommerce sites. Having a clear method for users to get in touch with you goes a long way towards both Y.M.Y.L. and E.A.T. guidelines.
- Lastly, have you provided sources for your content and linked to other experts? Having links to peer-reviewed articles written by other respected members of your field shows the Google quality team that not only did you do the research, but that it’s backed by others in the field and corroborated.
8. User Search Intent
User Search Intent goes hand-in-hand with Semantic Search, which we touched on earlier in this post. When you search for something, it’s up to Google to interpret the meaning and intent behind your search. Similar to the pizza example before, if you search “Target,” you’re probably looking for the nearest store, and not a target you would find at a shooting range. Google knows this because “Target” is one of the most popular retailers and the chances of a user searching for it are far greater than them searching for a shooting range.
9. Video Marketing
Video has been expanding for a decade now with no signs of slowing down. With the way the world changed in 2020, video took another leap forward with not only the amount of content watched in our free time, but how we communicate and work. Creating videos for your brand or clients will be important this year as more and more people are at home consuming videos across the internet and on their phones. These videos can be transactional or informational in nature, and both will do well.
Aside from the sheer vastness of the amount of video consumed this past year, it’s also an opportunity to connect with your audience in a new way. People are moving away from long articles that take forever to read and are instead more interested in watching that same content. Having videos on your site is a crucial part of the buyer’s journey for customers and the practice can be a great way to convert new business. One of the best ways to utilize the videos on your site is to include a video transcript on the page. The transcript will be full of rich SEO content that is easily crawlable by the search engine bots to help boost your page even more.
10. Local SEO
This is an old staple in the SEO world, but one that people tend to overlook. Google My Business is essentially your business card on the internet. It contains all of the information someone would expect to find when searching for your business. It has a link to the website, store hours, phone number, images of the business, and user reviews.
Local SEO can also be done on your main site as well. If you have a physical address (or multiple addresses), add a location page to your site. Include your store address, phone number, hours, parking information, and link your Google reviews to those pages. You’ll also get a decent boost from adding a Google Map to your site for easy directions for your potential customers.
Last but not least, make sure your site is optimized for mobile traffic. More than half of Google searches are done on mobile devices and that number is only growing. People are going to be on your site looking for directions, phone numbers or other ways to get a hold of you. Make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
11. Voice Search Optimization
Voice Search Optimization is a newer tool in the SEO playbook, but one that should see significant increase in the coming years. Nowadays almost everyone has a personal assistant in their pocket, on their desk or night stand, or in their car—it’s as easy as talking into your mobile device or home smart hub. Any time you talk to that device, you’re using voice search. While it’s difficult to gauge the ROI on investing in optimizing for voice search, a few quick changes can make the difference for you and your customers.
Google My Business is your #1 calling card for optimizing voice search. Making sure that your listing is up to date and that the information is correct is crucial, as that’s what most of these voice activated searches are pulling. Have you ever found yourself asking your iPhone, or Alexa what the phone number of the local pizza shop is? The answer stems from the accuracy of your Google My Business listing.
12. Optimizing for Visual Search
Visual Search has been gaining popularity in the past few years, and shows no signs of slowing down in 2021. E-commerce companies can especially benefit from optimizing for visual searches, as their sites and products are already mostly image based. Visual search has been around for a while in the form of Google Images, where users type in a few keywords and Google spits out image suggestions with their SERPs. Now though, the market is changing with the introduction of Google Lens and other similar search tools. Even Snapchat now has the ability to search for products on Amazon that you see in real life and snap with your app.
Now that visual search is exploding and companies are starting to make proprietary apps to perform these searches, how do you optimize for it? For starters, make sure that your product listing has multiple images from various angles and perspectives. That will help apps like Snapchat and Google Lens better identify what they’re looking at and find your product. Another benefit to having multiple photos is that you can put different keyword variations into the metas of each photo. Using high quality images is another important optimization tool. If people come to your product page, and can’t see what they’re looking at, they’ll leave. The more that people leave your page immediately after clicking on it, the more likely Google is to flag your site’s credibility and hurt your search ranking.
13. Topic Clusters
Topic clusters are where you create a bunch of content that all centers around the same subject and links all the pages together. Think of a spoke and wheel design. Do you have a content idea that warrants multiple blog posts or pieces of content? It may make sense to create a topic cluster to properly expand on and detail all of the areas of your topic. Start with your main theme or idea and create a page about it. Outline all of the parts of your idea that you’re going to write about individually. This page will serve as your “pillar” or the foundation for the rest of your work. Then create the supporting or “cluster” pieces that go with your main pillar content.
And there you have it. 13 SEO ideas to get you started in 2021 and a great foundation to follow into the future. Curious how your site ranks? You can get a free site audit and get personal recommendations. Feel free to share this article with people you think could get good use out of it and please don’t hesitate to send in any questions you may have to Sean Wallace, Digital Marketing SEO Developer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.