While we’re in the prime of Q4 in this crazy 2020 year, a lot of small business owners and marketers are wondering “what are the top SEO things I need to be focused on in the coming year?”
There has been a lot of buzz about Core Web Vitals from Google, we know the importance of mobile experiences is always evolving, developing high quality links remains a priority and creating content that connects directly with customers is always paramount. But how will these SEO topics carry into 2021?
We polled 10+ marketers and SEO professionals to get their take on the most important things to consider for the coming year.
Content Is Always King
Content is and always has been a priority. We saw this be the case in 2020 and it will continue to be a top priority for SEOs in 2021.
Spend More Time on Each Piece of Content Because It’s Increasingly Harder to Rank
“We’ve seen with the most recent Google algorithm update that many smaller publishers are struggling to get new content indexed. This has even affected our two most recent blog posts, even though our site has a Domain Authority (DA) score of 40 and we had no problems indexing any past content.
It’s clear that Google is favoring larger publishers, and so to consistently get new content indexed and ranking well it’s going to take a doubling-down on effort in content production. Make sure the content is at least as long as well-ranking competitors, it’s well-researched, well-organized and ideally written or edited by a credentialed source. Many business are going to give up on organic ranking in 2021 but those that stick with it will be rewarded.”
– Calloway Cook, Founder at Illuminate Labs
Build Topical Authority In Your Content
“Since its algorithm update back in May, Google is now favoring sites with high authority more and more. However, this doesn’t mean that smaller sites can no longer compete. The SEO tactic of building topic authority is now more important than ever in order to gain the edge over competitors.
By creating new and supporting content pieces on subjects that are similar to each other, and within the same topic, smaller sites can still become an authority on a per topic basis. This remains an effective tactic to feature highly in the search results for those topic keywords.. The trick is to also use internal linking between the relevant articles on your site with optimized anchor text. And by keeping internal linking between relevant articles, and with the use of optimized anchors, we can more easily build authority and topic relevance. The most important consideration when doing this, however, is to make sure you avoid topic duplication and keyword cannibalization.”
– Steve West, Founder at Entrepreneur Nut
Consider Content Format & Presentation
“Engagement metrics will continue to be a major player for SEO in 2021. Creating content that helps decrease bounce rate and increase dwell time and session duration will be key.
We’re going to see more and more brands using interactive content and videos, because of the value relative to engagement metric. Adding in quizzes, calculators, and games throughout a site, for example, can provide tremendous value and ‘SEO juice’. Brands that strategically use content forms that are known to keep consumer attention longer are going to have a huge advantage over brands that aren’t leveraging similar content types.
So, in essence, content is still king, but in 2021, it’s more so the content format and presentation style that give brands a competitive edge. Strong SEO will ultimately come down to successfully driving user engagement by using creative and interesting mediums to provide value and share information.”
– Kim Smith, Marketing Manager at Clarify Capital
Content will always be the number one priority for SEO. Marketers need to create authentic and engaging experiences to really drive results. As these marketers noted, the emphasis for 2021 should be placed on developing really high quality content not just for search engines, but for your site’s readers.
So, how do you know what content to create?
Keyword Research & Intent Mapping
Finding the right primary, secondary and tertiary topics begins with proper keyword research and understanding your audience’s intent. By targeting the right keywords and developing content based on your users, you are more likely to succeed in SEO and convert those visitors into customers.
How Will Keyword Research Change In 2021?
“In 2021, website owners should reconsider how they choose which keywords to target. Most SEOs will use monthly search volume averages to pick keywords, but COVID-19 has completely thrown off traditional search behavior in many industries. For example, searches related to “groceries delivery” in the US have risen from 9.3 million per month in 2019 to over 14 million in 2020. The reality is that in many cases, historical search volume averages are no longer accurate.
If you have access to paid tools that offer comparisons of search volumes pre-and post-COVID, use these to assess which keywords are still worth targeting and which need to be replaced in your SEO strategy.
If you don’t have access to these tools, don’t worry – free alternatives like Google Trends work almost as well. Monitor the change in popularity for your keywords in real time, and keep track of any emerging keywords in your industry where creating content to target them early may give you a run on your competitors.”
– Daniel Rawley, SEO Specialist at Twinkl
Invest In Understanding Your Audience
“Google is getting better at understanding what intent a search actually has and mapping results to that. Let’s say you’re looking for the best online course creation software, chances are you don’t need to know “what is an online course.” You’re already past that stage and want answers for your search intent versus having to wade through elementary, SEO-bait.
For content-led SEO, this means really honing in on who your target audience is and creating useful, valuable content exactly for them—while of course, having your technical SEO in order. It’s harder but ultimately should lead to better content and a happier audience.”
– Marin Perez, Director of Content at Kajabi
Use Search Intent to Direct Your Content
“Combined with passage indexing and BERT, 2021 is going to be the year of intent. Before we do anything else, we need to analyze the intent behind the search and determine whether that falls under transactional, informational or navigational and then work out how best to match that intent.
SEOs need to realize that not everything informational has to be an ultimate guide, as that’s not always what people want. Sometimes a video, step by step instructions with images, graphics, bulleted lists may be preferable. It frustrates me as a user when I’m looking for something specific, and I have to trawl through an ultimate guide of something I’m proficient in to find a very specific snippet of more advanced information. Thankfully, it sounds like my prayers are about to be answered by Passage Indexing, and Google will give me a hyper relevant passage. This shows more than ever that great content is what’s most important and will give the smaller businesses chances to compete with the big boys.
It’s well worth doing a content audit to assess if your website’s content truly matches the search intent and making it more useful to users where you can.”
– Jen Penaluna, Senior SEO Manager at Bigfoot Digital
Topics and intent will play a big role in being successful with Google. However, even with the best keyword research and content, your site will have trouble if it’s not dialed in from a technical standpoint.
Technical SEO & UX for 2021
Fundamental areas of technical SEO aren’t going anywhere in 2021. It’s still important to use tools like Screaming Frog or Botify to understand what’s happening “under the hood” of a website to identify broken internal links, missing alt tags for images, duplicated meta information, etc. But what other technical elements need to be the focus for the coming year?
Pagespeed Is Critical
“It is actually very rare to find a website that has got site speed right, even though there are huge benefits in doing so. By speeding up your site you will see your conversion rate and revenue increase and after about 6 weeks or so you will see your organic traffic start to rise.
Google even has a tool that shows you how much revenue you can make by increasing your site speed. And in an uncharacteristic gesture, Google has made available on Google Search Console a core web vitals report so you have the opportunity to get it right now before the update next year.
So I highly recommend being proactive now in preparation for the update, instead of having to fight fires afterward. Not only that but having a fast website is a current ranking factor and should be taken seriously regardless.
And there are a number of things you can do to speed up your site:
First, understand what your current speed is with a tool like GTMetrix, then I recommend installing a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache. Next, you need to optimize your images with tools like WP Smush, Shortpixel or WP Rocket. After that, you should consider lazy loading all your media and set yourself up with CloudFlare as a CDN.
If none of the above brings your site to a 3 second or lower load time, then as a last resort you need to consider switching web hosts.
But make no mistake, if you don’t invest in your time and perhaps a little bit of money in site speed you won’t keep up with those that do.”
– Matthew Woodward, Founder at Matthew Woodward
If you’re not already using free analysis tools like GTMetrix or Google Pagespeed Insights, start there and get a benchmark for where your site performs today.
A Good User Experience Is a Must
“Moving into 2021 we are going to see a much heavier emphasis on user experience.
Google continues to make strides towards improving their algorithm to better understand search intent to help improve user experience. We’ve seen this with RankBrain and BERT. Putting UX at the forefront of your strategy will help you get a leg up on the competition.
Many SEOs are stuck in the past where they continue to focus solely on onsite optimizations and link building. Those things are still important, but as Google continues to evolve, we must evolve with it. Make your website load quickly, make sure your content is formatted in a way that’s easy to scan. Include high-quality, meaningful images and graphics, and find ways to get users to better engage with your site. Don’t make your navigation difficult. Make sure content and pages are easy to find. This includes having a good website search feature.”
– Tonya Davis, Marketing Manager at ThoughtLab
Don’t Sleep On Core Web Vitals
As a relatively new introduction to Google Search Console, Google is forwardly telling SEOs that cumulative layout shift (CLS) and largest contentful paint (LCP) are highly impactful measurements to pay attention to.
“Despite years and years of ham-fisted attempts to expand SEO’s reach into other areas through poorly executed studies that usually prove that SEO professionals should leave statistics to the statisticians, SEO techniques haven’t changed much over the years.
However, 2021 is one of those rare years where Google has given the SEO world a massive heads up that something would indeed change. In May of 2020, Google announced a collection of new experiential metrics called Core Web Vitals. An expansion of the pagespeed metrics that have been around for years, Core Web Vitals also measures cumulative layout shift and first input delay, or basically, how long before the page is “stable” and how quickly it becomes interactive, respectively.
In the end, Google is still looking for website owners to create great content that people are already looking for on properly built, fast-loading, and mobile-friendly websites that attract links from other relevant web pages, and probably will be for years to come.”
– Jeff Ferguson, Partner at Amplitude Digital
Don’t Forget About Mobile
While the topic of mobile-friendliness and its correlation to SEO has been hammered on since ~2014, there are still websites out there that are not developed for mobile devices.
“Make sure your website is mobile friendly – you can run it through the mobile friendly test tool in Google Search Console if you’re not sure. Google began switching everyone’s websites to mobile first indexing in September 2020, which means that if your site isn’t mobile friendly you’re likely to see a drop in rankings and traffic.
You’ll need a responsive or mobile-first design where the content fits on a mobile screen properly, with easy-to-read text sizes and clickable elements, like buttons, being big enough to easily tap with a finger.
To make the most of your mobile traffic, also run some pagespeed tests with tools like GTMetrix and Pagespeed Insights. Slow loading sites have a negative effect on how many people convert from a visitor into a paying customer.”
– Hannah Wade, Founder at Hey You!
With a well-developed website consisting of great content and one that is technically proficient from its speed to its UX, what is left to a sound SEO strategy for 2021?
What About Links?
Some SEOs will tell you that link development isn’t part of an SEO strategy anymore, but the data continues to show that links are vital to a strong performing campaign. It’s one thing to have great on-page content to try to earn links, however, some industries require outreach and relationship building to establish a link portfolio.
Focus On Influencers & Relevant Publications
“In 2021, we will be focusing a lot more energy on outreach, both influencer and publication. We want to make our clients’ websites more visible, and working with influencers or publications with solid followings can allow us to get our clients’ websites seen by these new audiences. After successfully pairing one client with a local influencer, we saw just how valuable these relationships can be in nearly any industry.
With influencer and publication outreach, we have two main goals. The first goal is to get a link featured on a website with a good DA (domain authority) score. These links help Google better rank our clients’ websites. We get featured on high DA websites by creating great content that others want to link to as a value add for their audiences.
Our second goal is to expand our clients’ reach. If you are working with an influencer that has 100,000 followers, you are potentially getting your product or service showcased to those 100,000 people. Since these followers likely have a lot of trust in the influencer, they are more likely to trust that your product or service is as great as the influencer says it is.”
– Kevin Pike, President at Rank Fuse Digital Marketing
Get Creative With How To Acquire Links
From good old fashioned relationships with bloggers to pitching a free trial or sample of a product to someone in your niche, driving new links to a site can come in many ways.
“Maybe you enjoy conversing with people over email and you send a question, collect answers, and publish a roundup post. Then you ask each participant to link back to your post.
If you have a podcast, or want to start one, it’s an incredible way to drive backlinks. Send the show link to the podcast guest and ask them to share the link on their site. You can even make this an upfront requirement if you really want to ensure links come. Or, get creative to find another consistent way to drive new links to your site every month, without fail.
Enough backlinks to key pages and you will rank first on Google. Plus, the content you’re producing in roundup posts or podcasts, will start to rank on its own too.”
– Brian Robben, CEO at Robben Media
Revisit Your Current Link Portfolio
If you have engaged in a link development campaign in the past, revisit the results and see what worked best. You may also notice broken links exist, domain names could have expired or perhaps you are receiving links to a non-existent URL on your site. Some publishers may even change a link to your site from dofollow to nofollow, which could have an impact on rankings and SEO. These are all factors that play into SEO performance and this information should be reviewed regularly.
Start by checking links that Google Search Console reports and then decide if it’s a good idea to invest in paid link analysis tools.
If 2021 is anything like 2020, there will be a lot of things we really can’t plan for.
However, when it comes to search engine optimization, we know where to prioritize efforts into keyword research and intent mapping, developing high quality content that really engages users, ensuring a site is fast and technically sound with a good UX, and developing quality links to help visibility in Google.
What did we miss that you would put at the top of your list? Let us know in the comments!