Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital for anyone who owns a website and wants to drive traffic and make conversions. If you owned a land-based business, people might amble in off the street and you may even make a sale. However, the internet isn’t like the high street, and to find what you want, you need to use a search engine like Google or Bing. These search engines use a range of metrics and methods to evaluate websites and decide how relevant they are to a user’s search.
This means that the search engine will look at the content, optimization, user experience, mobile-friendliness, keywords, age of the web page and how recently it was updated. Every year it gets harder to be on the first page of Google searches as the metrics change and competitors tweak and update their sites to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Google has already announced a slew of new metrics based around user experience set to go live in May 2021, and there are other areas that website owners and developers need to be aware of. Here are 10 things to consider for SEO during 2021.
Semantically Related Keywords
It was standard for an SEO specialist to look at primary keywords to help a website’s search engine results. However, semantic searches will become more important in the near future. A semantic search is where Google or another search engine looks at a website and, instead of focusing only on matching keywords, also tries to interpret what the user is searching for.
For example, if someone searched for “roast chicken,” then semantically related words and phrases might be:
- Duck fat
- Homemade gravy
- Pork stuffing
This is because the search engine is trying to focus on the intent of the user and looks for phrases that are related. Having more of these related keywords will help your site perform better in SERPs. Consider your target users and write for them to optimize your content. Keyword research is crucial, and there are multiple tools online that can help with this particular area.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Many tools can offer suggestions to help you decide what you should be creating content about. These help by using AI to search for different topics – you can see what your competitors are doing to appear so high in search engine results. It is looking more and more that AI will be needed for success going into the future.
AI can also help you to optimize your content and conduct keyword research to rank higher. Google has implemented AI in the form of RankBrain, and this is part of how your website is rated. RankBrain is a machine-learning AI system that helps find websites that are relevant but do not contain the exact words that were searched for. Google has over 200 signals for ranking websites, and RankBrain is seemingly the third most important.
User Experience and Google Core Web Vitals
Google isn’t just looking at the keywords for a website and how relevant the content it is; it also wants to rate the user experience. It does this through new metrics called the Google Core Web Vitals.
If your website performs poorly, has a high bounce rate and is unresponsive, then you will fall down the rankings. This is possibly the single most significant factor for SEO in 2021.
There are three metrics or areas involved in the core web vitals and they all matter to your SERPs. They are known as:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
The first metric, LCP, determines how long it takes to load the first page. It only counts what is visible in the viewport and not below the line, and it should be under 2.5 seconds.
FID measures responsiveness: If a user clicks on a link, how long does it take for the website to respond? This doesn’t refer to the action being followed through, just the initial response, and, ideally, it will be less than 100 milliseconds.
CLS refers to how the content loads and shifts on the screen. Are the images loading and then shuffling down the screen, and content moving about? If so, there is a problem.
Failure to optimize a website for these new Web Vitals will mean a poor user experience rating and your website sliding down the search engine results.
Promoting your brand and website is essential for driving traffic and can aid in improving search engine optimization. Digital marketing is a good way to get a business off the ground and can be done by using a professional agency or an in-house team if you have the skills and talent available.
By attracting targeted audiences to your site, you will be much more likely to convert visits into sales. Digital marketing can help. Using SEO alongside social media and a content marketing campaign can help get you noticed and bring more visitors to your website.
It is more important than ever for your website to be mobile-friendly. Google has been looking at the mobile versions for the last couple of years and placing less importance on the desktop versions. In fact, Google is moving to full mobile-first indexing this month!
Of the total eCommerce industry, around half of all sales were conducted with mobile phones. This percentage of the market has grown every year and is predicted to continue. Additionally, more than 70 percent of people only use smartphones to access the internet and never use computers.
You should make sure your mobile site is responsive, as this will help with SEO and also improve loading speed. Your main priority is providing a positive user experience, so make sure you don’t have annoying pop-ups and that information is easy to locate. You can also use the free Google tool to see if your website is mobile-friendly – this will also give you pointers on where to make improvements.
Households are no strangers to virtual assistants, with Siri and Alexa installed in many homes. People have been using voice searches on smartphones for years, so it makes sense this area will only become bigger. Because of this web, developers will need to consider how voice searches will impact SEO.
People type searches one way but they speak them entirely differently. When considering key phrases, you will need to think about how people will ask a question: How much longer will the phrase be, and what words do people commonly use?
Research has shown that websites containing video content retain their audiences for a longer time. Customers are more likely to stay on a site with video elements. Visual images are stimulating, and videos are more likely to result in a sale than text and static images alone.
Making sure images are the correct size, resolution and filetype has long been part of SEO and will continue to be so. It isn’t enough just to be the correct size – they also need to be relevant to your site, high-quality and tagged with alt tags.
Alt tags should be relevant, unique and descriptive. Search engines cannot see images, so they need other ways to understand what is on a website. These tags help but so do the file names. Don’t just call your images a1.jpg and a2.jpg; give them relevant names that Google can understand.
The better the content, the more likely traffic will be driven to it. There is also some proof that longer-form content gets shared more often earns more backlinks, and therefore performs better on searches. However, this doesn’t mean just pumping out thousands of words. Quality, relevant content is important to SEO too.
You want to create content that occupies your audience, makes them return and ultimately converts into sales. Articles should make use of H1, H2 and H3 tags to break up the text and make it more readable. Links should be as unique as possible and point to relevant authorities. There are content tools that can help with recommendations on how long an article should be and what keywords to include; all you need to do is enter the search query that you want to be ranked on.
Local Search Listings
This area will become more popular as the need to find local products and businesses rises. Partly due to an inability to travel much in 2020, local businesses are more likely to be searched for on the internet than overseas ones. Because of changes to Google, this has led to a new phenomenon called zero-click searches. This is where, after a search is performed, the answer to the query is displayed at the top of the screen, negating the need to visit a website. For example, someone may search for the opening time of a local restaurant and the answer would appear at the top of the results.
There are many more areas that will be important to SEO in 2021 such as SERP analysis, predictive searches and featured snippets, but the areas listed above will be vital to developers. As Google refines its algorithms and changes its metrics, developers will need to keep up to speed if their sites are to remain at the top of the search results.