Although it also brought lots of good things, 2020 was a year to quickly forget for most of us. So let us take a look at next year. For most sites, SEO in 2021 is not much different from the past couple of years: you still need to improve the same stuff, but you do need to set the bar higher and higher. Competition is getting fiercer and Google — and your potential customers — are getting better at recognizing true quality. Also, you need to take a step back to see if you are still reaching the right people at the right time. Search intent needs to determine your keyword research and content marketing decisions. Here, you’ll get a quick overview of SEO in 2021.
2020 is over, now what?
2020 was a tough year for many of us, but, hopefully, 2021 will be a more positive year. The pandemic broke a lot of our systems, but it also unveiled new possibilities. If we look at our industry, SEO, we see that the online world has made a pretty big jump. As people moved indoors, business moved online. Many people shopped online for the first time and many of them will keep doing that. There’s never been a better time to build an online business.
But it’s not just business. The web has always made it possible to present your creativity or to learn whatever it is you wanted to learn, but this accelerated in 2020. People picked up new hobbies, started sites to blog or to show off their photography, for instance. Everything moved online. This is expected to continue into the next year and maybe beyond.
So, with all these people waiting for your content — how would you use SEO in 2021?
It’s all about quality
2021 is all about quality. Improving quality across the board should start with determining what exactly it is you do. Evaluate your products and services, and the way you describe these. Have trouble describing what you do? Well, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board. Your product must be excellent, as there is no use in trying to rank a sub-par product. No-one would fall for that. A killer product needs a killer site and a killer plan to get that site noticed.
SEO in 2021
I could talk about the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning or conversational interactions, but I’m not going to do that. You should take note of these developments to see where search is heading, but for this moment, for most sites, it’s all about improving what you have right now. Site quality is key. Content quality is key. So, these SEO trends for 2021 is not hyped up stuff, but subjects we’ve been hammering home for a while. Remember Holistic SEO?
It’s all about mobile
First up, 2021 is the year mobile-first truly is the default. Since Google switched over to mobile-first indexing, it judges your site by how it works on mobile, even when a lot of your traffic is from desktop. Give your mobile site special care. You should test whether your mobile site works just as well as your desktop site. Is the structured data functioning and complete? Do images have relevant alt-texts? Is the content complete and easy to read? Make it lightning-fast, easy to use, and useful. 2020 had a lot of people experience mobile shopping for the first time and it looks like they will come back for more in 2021.
Improve site quality
If you’ve been playing this game for a while, you’ve been working on your site for a long time. Over the years, there’s been a lot of talk about all the things you really should focus on because that’s what the search engines would be looking at. Experts claim to know a lot of the factors search engines take into account to rank a piece of content for a specific term. That’s simply not possible. While nobody knows exactly what happens behind the scenes of a search engine, you can look back over a greater period of time to determine trends. One thing that always keeps popping up?
To win in SEO in 2021, your site needs to be technically flawless, offer a spectacular user experience and great content, targeted at the right audience at the right time in their user journey. And, of course, your site’s speed needs to improve. It also means incorporating and improving schema.org structured data, as schema.org remains one of the key developments for some time to come.
Let’s go over some of the things you need to focus on in 2021.
Page experience with the Core Web Vitals
As part of an effort to get sites to speed up and to provide a great user experience, Google announced the Page Experience algorithm update. This will go live in May 2021 and will give you another reason to put site speed front and center. Site speed has been an important factor for a couple of years, but it is going to become critical. If you can’t keep up with your competition now, you’ll soon find yourself having a harder time keeping up if you’re not speeding up your site. If one of your competitors becomes a lot faster, you become slower by comparison, even when you’re not actually becoming slower. Improving loading time is a lot of work, but as it might make you much faster than the competition, it’s a very good tradeoff.
To help you determine your focus, Google launched the Core Web Vitals — a set of metrics that help you get a sense of how your site performs. It also helps you to understand what to fix and improve.
Enhance the user experience
Page experience ties in with user experience. Is your site a joy to use? Can you find what you need in a jiffy? Is the branding recognizable? How do you use images? Improving the user experience is a sure-fire way to make your — potential — customers happy. Happy customers make happy search engines!
Untangle your site structure
Loads of sites were started on a whim and have grown tremendously over time. Sometimes, all those categories, tags, posts and pages can feel like the roots of trees breaking up a sidewalk. It’s easy to lose control. You might know that keeping your site structure in check is beneficial for your visitors, as well as search engines. Everything should have its right place and if something is old, outdated or deprecated, maybe you should just delete it and point it to something relevant.
This year, you should pay special attention to your site structure. Re-assess your site structure and ask yourself if everything is still where it should be or are there improvements to be made? How’s your cornerstone content strategy? Is your internal linking up to scratch? Are redirects screwing up the flow of your site?
Implement schema.org structured data
Structured data with schema.org makes your content instantly understandable for search engines. Search engines use structured data to make connections between parts of your page and the world around it. It helps to provide context to your data. Besides making your site easier to understand, adding structured data to your site makes your site eligible for so-called rich results. There are many types of rich results, from star ratings to image highlights, and search engines continue to expand this. Structured data forms the basis of many of the most exciting developments, like voice search.
Implementing structured data has never been easy, but we’re solving that problem. Yoast SEO automatically outputs a full graph of structured data, describing your site and content in detail for search engines. For specific pages, you can describe the content in the Schema tab of Yoast SEO. Also, our structured data content blocks for the WordPress block editor lets you automatically add valid structured data by simply picking a block and filling in the content. We now offer blocks for FAQ pages and How-to articles, with more on the way. In addition, we also have an online training course on structured data9 to help you improve your SEO in 2021.
There is a ton of content out there — and there’s a lot of new content published every day. Why should your content be in the top ten for your chosen focus keyphrase? Is it really good enough to beat the competition? Are you publishing unique, all-encompassing content that answers the questions your audience has?
Keep search intent front and center
Search intent is the why behind a search. What does this person mean to do with this search? Is it to find information or to buy something? Or maybe they’re just trying to find a specific website. Or is it something else entirely? Search engines are getting better and better at understanding this intent and the accompanying user behavior. Thanks to breakthroughs in natural language processing with BERT, search engines are starting to know language inside out. Of course, we can still help search engines pick the right version of our content. By determining the intent behind a search, you can map your keyword strategy to the specific intents a searcher has. Map these intents to your content and you’re good to go.
Re-do your keyword research
2020 was an impactful year for many of us and a lot has changed. Keeping this in mind, it’s high time to re-do your keyword research. There is bound to have been an enormous amount of changes in your market. Not only that, your company itself is bound to have changed. Not updating your keyword research is missing out on important opportunities. Read up on the research about consumer trends for 2021. After that, ask yourself these questions:
- What changed in my company?
- What changed in and around my audience?
- Has something changed in people’s language?
- What has changed in where people search?
Content is context
Context is one of the most important words with the SEO field. Context is what helps search engines make sense of the world. As search engines become smarter and smarter, it is becoming more important to provide them with as much related information as possible. By offering the necessary context about your subject and entities, you can help search engines make the connection between your content and where that content fits in the grand scheme of things. It’s not just content; the links you add and how you add these links also provide context that helps search engines. Also, Schema provides another way to show search engines what’s connected.
By mapping the context of your subject, you might find you have a hole in your story. It could be that you haven’t fully explored your topic. Or maybe you found new ways of looking at it, or maybe the pandemic threw you a curveball. Who knows! Stay on top of your topic and incorporate everything you find. Sometimes, it also means going back through your old content to update, improve or fix things — or delete stuff entirely.
Re-assess the content and quality of your most important pages
If you are anything like us, you have been at this game for a while and produced loads of content in that time. That’s not a bad thing of course, unless you are starting to compete with yourself. Keyword cannibalization can become a big issues, so content maintenance is a thing. Keep an eye on the search results of your chosen focus keyphrase. Do you have multiple articles in the top ten for a specific keyphrase? Is that what you want to happen?
To find out how you are doing, you need to re-assess your content. Is everything in tip-top shape? Do you need to write more? Or less? Maybe combine several weaker articles in one strong one? Content pruning is going through your posts to see what you can take out to improve the rest. Sometimes, the best SEO strategy can be not to write more, but to improve what you have!
Work on your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness
Now search engine can understand content, they are increasingly looking at the value of that content. Is it trustworthy? Who is the person claiming these things? Why should we trust the author? Is the author an authority on the subject? Google looks not just at the quality of the content, but also if that content can be assessed in a professional way. Especially for YMLY (Your Money or Your Life) pages, like medical or financial content, the trust and expertise factor is going to be very important. This’ll be a big part of SEO in 2021.
Keep an eye on passage ranking
Sometime in 2021, Google will incorporate a new way of ranking pieces of text found deep in long-form articles: passage ranking. This is a way to better uncover answers to questions in articles that have a slightly different main topic but where the answer is relevant to that query. Thanks to better language understanding, Google can uncover these valid answer and surface these in the search results. This means that you have a chance to rank more parts of your content for more questions. Just make sure that your content is paragraph-friendly, has a proper structure and makes good use of headings.
Hone those writing skills!
Quality content is well-written content. Quality content is original, in-depth and easy to understand. Search engines are getting better at determining the text quality of an article and make decisions based on that. Also, readers value well-written texts more and get a sense of trust from them. If content reads well and is factual and grammatically correct, it will come across more professional and people will be more likely to return to read more of your content. So, brush up those writing skills! We have an awesome SEO copywriting guide and an SEO copywriting course if you need help. If you buy Yoast SEO Premium, you get complementary access to all our SEO training courses — for one low price.
Search is on the move
As much as we’d like everything to happen on our website, it’s not. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing: your search engine optimization might need to happen elsewhere and not specifically in Google. For some searches and actions, search is moving beyond the website or social media platform. There are loads of devices that can answer a spoken question with a spoken answer. Devices that can book tickets for you or reserve a table. There are huge e-commerce platforms that seem to get the majority of product searches, not to mention all those app-based services out there. Visual search is also on the rise. Maybe these have value for you?
In just a few years, the stories format has concurred the world. These short-form stories offer a new way of communicating. Almost every social media gigant has its own version of stories, so it isn’t strange to see Google jump on this as well. In 2020, Google started pushing their web stories — an open version of the story format, built on web technologies we all know and love. After launching an awesome WordPress plugin to create web stories, Google started to include web stories in the search results and platforms like Google Discover. In 2021, web stories will be prove valuable for a lot of sites.
(Progressive web) apps
Links to apps are continuing to pop up in search, especially on mobile. Loads of sites bombard you with links to their apps on the home screen. Some services are app-only, like Uber. Apps are everywhere, even Google is now testing structured data for software apps. What’s more, Google is expanding its own homepage on mobile with the Discover app that suggests new content based on your interests.
Where’s an app, there’s a customer to reach. Uber might be the ultimate taxi hailing service, but why can’t a local taxi company replicate that? Apps offer another way — and sometimes better way — of reaching your audience. Depending on your product and market, it might be a good idea to look into apps. If you’re not willing to go down the native route, there’s always progressive web apps — which we’ll see a lot off this year!
Video is huge! And there’s no end in sight for the video boom. This year, we’ve seen the arrival of short-form content providers like Tik Tok and we’ve seen a number of enhancements in the way video get’s presented in the search results pages. You can count on it that video will only become more important. If you have the means, invest in video. Remember, it doesn’t always have to be flashy and professional — just make it heartfelt.
Traditionally, a lot of search happens not on search engines, but social media and other types of platforms. Now, these past years we’ve seen a steady decline in traffic and conversion coming from social media. Totally different platforms are taking their place. YouTube is a powerful search engine, as is Amazon. Plus, there’s all those short-form video’s going around. Maybe that’s something to attract a new audience? Also, did you see the meteoric rise of alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo? People are getting more privacy-aware, which is a good thing! Depending on the searcher and his/her goal, platforms like these are becoming increasingly important. Surely, something to think about!
A system for getting traffic with SEO in 2021
Now, if we’d recap all this, what does it all boil down to? We know it sounds easy when you read it like this, but this is what you should keep in your head at all times:
- A lot has changed in 2020, so restart your research and read up on consumer trends for 2021.
- You should have a fast, easily usable, technically flawless website with high-quality content that truly helps visitors.
- This website needs to be supported by a brand that offers high-quality products and services.
- Depending on your niche, this might also mean that you need an app strategy or a strategy for an external platform.
SEO in 2021: What’s next?
It’s easy to say that your site must be better than ever in 2021, because it’s true! Those ten blue links and rich search results are what it’s all about for most sites. The majority of traffic will still come from organic search. Social media traffic is down, conversational search is on the rise, but not big enough to put a dent in organic. So you have to keep improving your site in all the right places.
Of course, there’s a lot of other stuff happening at the same time and most of it concerns an ever-changing Google. Next year, we’ll start to see Google less as a search engine and more as a visual assistant — a person who lives in your phone and solves problems for you. And that’s what they want to get to. It’s been a promise for a long time, but now we’re starting to see it with all these rich results and answer boxes. This will be interesting to watch.
Have a great 2021!