What are you able to count on from search engine optimization in 2021?
30 second summary:
- The pace of advances in technology and the advancement in the SEO sector is not slowing down, and you should expect major changes and updates in 2021.
- Google has already announced two algorithm updates for March and May 2021.
- There are various trends for SEO in 2020 like UX SEO and feature snippets that seem to be gaining traction in the coming year.
Since the humble beginnings of the internet and online advertising, we have entered an era where the internet is an essential communication tool and online advertising is worth more than $ 400 billion a year, even more important than that of TV Advertising industry. The global pandemic has only accelerated this trend and brought more businesses online. So what can we expect from SEO in 2021? What trends should we look forward to? What changes will affect the industry? In this article, we are going to discuss the key trends that are likely to have an impact and will change the direction of search engine optimization in the coming year.
Direct changes to search engines
SEO is completely dependent on the major search engines, especially Google. Any changes to Google's approach, algorithm, and priorities will have a direct impact on search engine optimization in 2021. These changes result in billions in losses for some companies and billions in profits for others. It is important to be aware of the changes that are coming and to be best prepared for them.
# 1 page experience as a ranking factor on Google (May 2021)
As of May 2021, you should expect what Google calls "Page Experience Signals" to be a ranking factor. Page experience refers to the way visitors feel when they interact with the website. It is determined by a variety of attributes including mobile friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and others. These were ranking factors before, but they have become more institutionalized and work within the framework of the "page experience". In addition, Google is introducing Core Web Vitals as part of the "Page Experience". They are considered to be user-centric metrics that are used to attempt to determine the quality of the user experience. These user-centered metrics measure loading speed (Largest Contentful Paint), interactivity (First Input Delay) and visual stability (Cumulative Layout Shift). The first two points covered in Core Web Vitals are obvious. So it doesn't seem like a good idea to spend more time explaining them in this article.
However, the third point might confuse some people. Visual stability refers to how much the layout shifts and bounces around. For example, imagine if a button chases your mouse and bounces around when you approach it, it's an obviously bad user experience, and this variable is aimed at capturing that. The self-proclaimed purpose of adding an explicit ranking factor to the page experience is so that Google can deliver higher quality, more engaging content to its users. Given the variables that are taken into account, a website with a high page experience loads faster, is more interactive, more stable, more secure, more mobile, and much more. All of this together will admittedly result in a superior experience.
Be featured in top stories without AMP
Another purpose of introducing the new page experience ranking framework is to qualify non-AMP content for display in the Top Stories feature for mobile phones. This is one of the main ways that websites direct mobile traffic to their content. This could be a significant change that would disrupt the rankings of many websites on mobile. This change will also be rolled out in May 2021, making May a hell of a busy month for SEO professionals.
We need to be prepared for any drastic changes this algorithm change may bring. We may not be able to determine the impact at this time.
# 2 mobile-first indexing for all websites on Google (March 2021)
Mobile-first indexing is certainly not new; Google has been using it for more than several years. It was first introduced in response to a common problem: more and more people are using their phones to search for things and surf the Internet. The problem is that the mobile and desktop versions of websites do not always match in terms of content and Google usually only indexes one version which is traditionally the PC version. This creates a mismatch between the rankings on mobile devices and the content on these pages. To reduce this mismatch, as it became a growing problem with the increasing popularity of mobile devices, Google decided to implement mobile-first indexing. Mobile-first indexing refers to the practice of indexing the mobile version of the website in the Google databases first instead of the desktop version. This would accurately measure the amount of content on mobile sites and their relevance before showing the results.
However, moving from a fully desktop-first indexing scheme to a fully mobile-first indexing scheme would have been a big step. Because of this, it took Google years to make this change. First, webmasters were given the option to change their website indexing to mobile-first. Mobile-first then became the default option for crawling new websites. The final and latest update will be released in March 2021 when Google starts making mobile-first indexing the default option for all websites. This means that the way your website is indexed and the content it is viewed can change in March. It is difficult to predict how big the impact will be, but you should expect some instability.
Fortunately, Google has released a basic guideline to ensure the transition to mobile-first indexing goes smoothly on your website:
- Make sure your website's content is visible to Google crawlers and bots.
- Make sure to fill in all the relevant meta tags on both the phone and the desktop
Versions of your landing pages.
- Make sure your mobile website loads quickly by turning on delayed loading.
- Make sure you don't block any relevant mobile-specific URLs in your robots.txt file.
- While it is difficult to ensure identical content, you should try to have at least the same primary content in both versions.
- Check the alt tags of the image and video embeds.
Broader SEO trends
Aside from specific updates to the algorithms, we have prior information on some broader trends in the industry that will change the way we deal with SEO. Some of these trends have continued for years and are just accelerating, others are new. The most popular are discussed below.
# 1 Voice search is becoming increasingly important
Just five years ago there was practically no voice search. Still, the development and proliferation of Alexa, Google Assistant, and a host of other voice assistants in recent years have made voice search popular beyond our wildest dreams. According to data, voice search revenue will more than quadruple from just $ 2 billion to $ 40 billion in 2017 through 2022. This explosion in popularity presents opportunities and challenges for traditional SEO approaches. For example, with voice searches it is much more important to get to first position than with traditional text searches. Because of this, you need different approaches to take full advantage of this new, emerging SEO arena.
# 2 feature snippets and microdata
Google is trying to introduce more and more types of featured snippets on its homepage. These range from recipes to messages and tutorials. These snippets are designed to speed up the search for users and keep traffic on the Google website. Still, it is beneficial for websites to implement them as it gives you the opportunity to be featured, which would drive a lot of traffic to your website.
Of course, when featured, it doesn't always mean exponential growth in traffic, but data from Ahrefs shows it is very important! When featured, you get an average click-through rate of 8.6%, while the best “natural result” gets 19.6% of traffic. This is extremely impressive and shows that the featured snippet is stealing a significant number of clicks from the top position, which would give a click-through rate of around 26% for SERPs without a featured snippet. However, you need to be careful about how Google sets you apart. You should monitor your ranking, readjust your snippet, and optimize it for more clicks.
# 3 Non-textual content
In the next year we'll see an internet full of blogs and landing pages. and it's getting harder and harder to rank for notable keywords with decent traffic. Because of this, many SEO agencies are trying to expand their reach by diversifying the type of content they produce and publish. Infographics are one of the easier ways to build engagement and rank higher. Though even they have been overused in recent years. A more promising limit for 2021 seems to be videos. These can be uploaded to YouTube as independent content or embedded in your website. It will help you get more traffic from Youtube views which seems far less saturated than Google's traditional search engine. This doesn't mean it's any less important. YouTube generates $ 15 billion for Google every year. It is a platform that you cannot afford to ignore.
It's also worth noting that there are certain video snippets on SERPs that you can rank for just by video content. These video snippets are especially important for searches that start with “how-tos,” for tutorials, and other forms of education. These are prime properties that you could possibly rank for with a properly produced video.
# 4 UX SEO
Long gone are the days when SEO was all about meta tags and titles. These days, SEO is a complicated topic that combines expertise from many different fields from marketing to software engineering to creative writing to get the best result. A current SEO trend that is becoming more and more important is the UX SEO framework.
UX SEO refers to the practice of optimizing a website's user experience to get better conversion rates and engagement. Not only is it important that your website is visited regularly, but also that these visitors get in touch with your website. Success stories in redesigning UX are almost limitless. For example, ESPN found that just redesigning their homepage increased sales by 35%. There's no reason UX optimization couldn't be an integral part of your SEO strategy, and UX SEO gives you a framework to achieve it.
Every year Google makes more than 3,600 small changes to its algorithms, and every year trends emerge in this volatile sector that no one could predict. You need to be constantly updated to keep up with your SEO game. Reading an article about the trends for the coming year is not enough. Even so, I tried to make this article as comprehensive as possible. You should be moderately prepared for the challenges ahead given all of the trends I've presented here.
Adrian Kempiak is CTO at Neadoo Digital – SEO Agency. Adrian has been a tech enthusiast in the SEO industry for over 9 years. Consultations and audits for companies from different markets. Responsible for running global SEO campaigns for ecommerce stores and local SEO for companies worldwide (UK, USA, Australia, Spain and many more).