- 1. Artificial Intelligence Will Play a Larger Role in SEO
- 2. How Voice Search Will Impact Search Queries
- 3. Mobile-Friendliness Will Impact Search Rankings
- 4. Content Quality Will Still Be King
- 5. Content That Fulfils the Google EAT Principle Will Rank Higher
- 6. Long-Form Content Will Help Improve SERPs
- 7. User Experience (UX) Will Take Centre Stage
- 8. Featured Snippets Will Become More Prominent
- 9. Search Intent Will Matter More Than Keywords
- 10. Predictive Search Is Set to Improve
- 11. An Effective SEO Strategy Will Need to Include Video
- 12. Image Optimization Will Play a Larger Role in Search
- 13. Video Will Continue Flooding the SERP
- 14. Semantic Search Will Be Even More Prominent
- 15. There Will Be More Importance Placed on Semantically Related Keywords
- 16. Local Search Listings Will Play a Larger Role in SEO Strategies
- 17. Google My Business Will Be Essential for Local SEO
- 18. Zero-click Search Results Will Continue to Evolve
- 19. COVID-19 Will Leave a Lasting Impact
- 20. Data and Analytics Should Become Your Priority If You Want to Remain Ahead in Rankings
- Frequently Asked Questions About SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an effective way to attract consumers to your online platforms — if you use it right. SEO is constantly evolving and staying on top of the latest updates can be a challenge. However, it’s worth the effort: Some 70% to 80% of users focus exclusively on organic results and ignore paid listings. What’s more, some 28% of those searches convert, resulting in a purchase.
The opportunity to peek into a new decade is exciting. And daunting. Especially for a marketing discipline that seems to change as swiftly—and have its changes as strongly debated—as SEO. Over the course of the past decade, the SEO landscape has changed in many profound ways, often in lockstep with the introduction of new technologies, such as voice assistants, artificial intelligence (AI), and the rise and evolution of mobile experiences. Google and other search engines have played a central role.
Here are the 21 Best SEO Techniques To Know For 2021, including some important action items that digital marketers can begin working on today to stay ahead of the game come 2021.
1. Artificial Intelligence Will Play a Larger Role in SEO
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how people interact with online content. Google’s AI algorithm is especially worth noting. Unveiled a few years back, the algorithm — called RankBrain — plays an important role in Google’s ranking factors for search engine results pages (SERPs) results.
Greg Corrado, a senior Google scientist who helped develop RankBrain, has previously highlighted the tool’s unique ability to learn: “The other signals, they’re all based on discoveries and insights that people in information retrieval have had, but there’s no learning.” This presumably means that RankBrain will only improve with time, making AI a top SEO trend to watch.
So, the big question is, how do you optimize your SEO for RankBrain? While the search engine giant will not share details, experts believe that user experience signals are the primary determinant. These could include factors from click-through rate to time spent on page. You need to captivate and engage readers with useful, well-organized content. An on-page SEO checker can help you assess page strength based on points like readability, backlinks, and more.
2. How Voice Search Will Impact Search Queries
Thanks to innovations like Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, voice search technology has come a long way. As technology has gotten better, it has also gotten more popular. In fact, the percentage of households predicted to own a smart speaker by 2022 is 55%.
To optimize for voice search, consider your keywords. Identify longer phrases that people use in everyday conversation. Voice searches tend to do better with longer, more natural-sounding phrasing. When people type, they tend to abbreviate. For example, a person might voice search, “What are the new SEO trends for 2021?” but type the words, “new SEO trends 2021.”
3. Mobile-Friendliness Will Impact Search Rankings
In 2019, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing, meaning the search engine looks primarily at the mobile version of a website, considering this the “primary” version instead of the desktop version. This change makes sense, given that nearly 73% of internet users will access the internet solely via mobile devices by 2025. Check how effective your mobile site is with Google’s free mobile-friendly test. Next, peek at the “mobile usability” report in Google Search Console.
To make sure your page is user-friendly, you must ensure that Google can crawl your URLs, so make sure you do not have a “disallow directive” in place. Also, beware that Googlebot will not load content requiring user interactions, like clicking or swiping. You must make sure Google can see this so-called lazy-loaded content. Finally, ensure you use the same meta robot’s tags on the desktop and mobile sites.
4. Content Quality Will Still Be King
Many things will likely go by the sideway in 2021, but “content is king” is not one of them. Marketers love throwing this phrase around, but what does it mean? First and foremost, it is a reminder that “EAT”—expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness—still matters, especially for businesses that fall under the “your money, your life” (YMYL) category. In fact, some SEO wonks believe that the May 2020 Core Update from Google was something of an EAT update—that Google is signaling to the world that it cares a whole lot more about the quality of content than the authority of a given domain.
This has come in handy since the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the outbreak and subsequent lockdown measures, search trends reveal that coronavirus has been a huge topic of interest. And when people need reliable answers, updates, and facts for something as critical and potentially urgent as coronavirus, you do not want to be the company scrambling to meet this demand (and missing out on valuable search traffic as a result).
What marketers should do about quality content
This is the kind of approach that you can take on your own website. Namely, it’s time to consider the information that people are looking for and need first. As the emphasis on quality content continues to grow, now is the time to get a robust content marketing strategy in place for 2021. Here are some good places to start:
- Create buyer personas. We cannot stress this enough. The days of “spray and pray” are long gone. As a business, you need to understand your target buyer personas—their wants and needs, objections, and pain points—so you can tailor your content to each one accordingly.
- Conduct search intent research. We mentioned search intent before, but it needs to be a central consideration when it comes to content planning. Look at the search terms that bring visitors to your website—or terms that you would like to bring traffic to your website. What are those people really after? Answering this question is a great way to create content that aligns with what people are actually looking for.
- Build content in the formats your users actually want. Video might be all the rage, which is all well and good. But your target searchers might want a certain type of video, such as a quick vlog, webinar, or tutorial. Or perhaps they are looking for case studies and white papers. Create the type of content that they want to consume.
- Hire strong content and copywriters. Quantity and keyword density just won’t cut it anymore. The Google Search algorithm—and the people using it, for that matter—want more than a content mill or cut-rate content writer can likely provide. Hire experienced writers that can take topics deep (2500+ words), adapt to your brand’s style and tone, and understand your personas and marketing funnel. If possible, hire writers that specialize in writing for your vertical or business space.
5. Content That Fulfils the Google EAT Principle Will Rank Higher
Google has reiterated that content quality is critical for ranking success. But just what does “quality” mean to Google? Refer to the EAT principle: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. These factors help determine if a webpage has useful quality content. This principle is especially relevant in business niches that fall under the “your money, your life” (YMYL) label, such as health care and finance.
There are a few ways you can ensure quality content. First, create buyer personas, which let you understand what kind of content your clients value. Second, conduct search intent research, which helps you map out the consumer journey. Third, use this information to create content that fits the format that your users prefer. For example, if you are catering to teens, video is probably preferable. If you are catering to an older audience, video may be less appealing.
Finally, keep EAT in mind as you craft your content. Back up claims with statistics and facts. Link to reputable sites, such as “.Edu” and “.gov” URLs. Having authoritative sites link back to you is another way to prove that you fulfil the EAT criteria.
6. Long-Form Content Will Help Improve SERPs
According to our State of Content Marketing Report, long reads of 3,000-plus words get three times more traffic and four times more shares. They also achieve 3.5 times more backlinks than articles of the average length of 901 to 1,200 words. Start focusing on long-form content to achieve higher search rankings. That said, your content must maintain quality. The aim is to provide users with shareable information that keeps them engaged.
How do you achieve this? First, break up your content into sections with H2 and H3 subheadings to make it more scannable. Subheadings are especially important for mobile sites. Second, ensure that you link to relevant, authoritative sources with a solid authority score. Finally, ensure your content is easy to share. Include obvious sharing links at the headline and again at the conclusion so that readers can share with a quick click.
Our SEO Content Template Tool can help optimize your content for search. Enter the query you want to rank for, and you’ll get recommendations on content length, semantically related keywords to include, and a closer look at the top-ranking pages.
7. User Experience (UX) Will Take Centre Stage
What do we talk about when we talk about user experience (UX)? Well, the user, first and foremost. People. Now, we know that improving the experience for people once they reach our pages is essential—that’s UX 101. As it turns out, however, good UX will have a more prominent impact on search engine rankings going forward.
According to a May 2020 Google Webmaster Central Blog post, Google Search will now factor a sizable handful of UX signals into its rankings, including Google’s new Core Web Vitals. Here’s more detail from the Google team:
“Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centred metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads (so you don’t accidentally tap that button when it shifts under your finger – how annoying!).”
Did you catch it? User-centred metrics. With these updates to its search algorithm, Google is signalling its own greater emphasis on “delightful” web experiences for people—on things loading fast, being easy to use and find, and accessible across all devices and platforms. Sites that can deliver this calibre of user experience will be rewarded with better search visibility.
What marketers should focus on when it comes to UX
Coincidentally, these are precisely the areas we recommend focusing on as you consider your own site’s UX. It’s really an opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of your website’s visitors—to be rewarded in the SEO department for prioritizing good user experiences.
Fortunately for you, there’s now a dedicated Core Web Vitals report that you can pull through Google Search Console to get an idea of where your own pages stand from a UX perspective—against all of Google’s UX ranking signals—as well as suggestions on how to make improvements.
An example of the new Core Web Vitals report.
With that information in hand, we recommend giving your website a whirl on desktop, iPhone, and Android, and any other devices or platforms your users are likely accessing your site through. Are there any pages on your site that load slowly? Do you have pop-ups running that, however important to demand generation, are actually annoying and intrusive for end users? Finally, are there experiences that don’t translate well to mobile devices?
As with anything, prioritize content and content experiences that both create the most value for users and impact your business metrics most directly. Perhaps your product pages rank really well and are considered “cornerstone;” now might be the time to audit them from a UX perspective to make sure that you’re delivering the best experience possible.
Poor grades in any of these “user-centred metrics” not only degrade UX for your website’s audiences, but they can now hurt your search rankings, too. Remember, your website should be:
- Fast. Like, really fast, so that time to interactivity is so minimal that users don’t notice it.
- Free of annoying full-screen pop-ups. Marketers love lead gen, building lists, and expanding reach. So they love pop-ups, naturally. Users, on the other hand, can’t stand them—by an overwhelming majority. The Google search algorithm has been updated in response to this sentiment.
- Mobile-friendly and responsive across all devices and platforms. This includes smartphones and tablets, laptops and desktop computers. It includes iOS, Android, and Windows operating systems.
8. Featured Snippets Will Become More Prominent
Don’t panic. You won’t have to generate long-term content exclusively if you want to climb the Google rankings. Featured snippets, which were rolled out in 2017, are a sort of shortcut to gaining prominence in Google — and they’re very brief. Sometimes, when you type something into Google, you may notice a box at the top of the SERPs, above the actual results. That’s a snippet.
Scoring a featured snippet is a great way to get on that coveted first page of results. What’s more, snippets steal significant traffic from competitors.
Featured snippets show a chunk of information, often structured as a Q&A or brief bullet-point, how-to guide. There are also rich snippets, including images, star-based reviews, product prices, and similar bits of information. To create snippets, focus on question-based queries and relevant keywords. You can use the Google search function “people also ask” for inspiration.
9. Search Intent Will Matter More Than Keywords
While it is certainly part of semantic search, we believe search intent deserves a dedicated section. In 2019, Google rolled out its BERT update. While we encourage you to read Google’s summary of the technical nitty-gritty (natural language processing models, neural networks, etc.), suffice it to say that since BERT, the Google search engine has become much more “conversational.” Meaning, the Google algorithm can now interpret intent—say, to purchase something, for example, or find a location nearby—even from longer queries that use natural language.
Google is everyone’s new favourite chatbot.
Why is this so important? Well, first and foremost, it’s an evolution of the search engine experience to accommodate the growing popularity of voice assistants and voice search. People now speak naturally into Siri, or Alexa, asking questions and treating those conversational AI platforms like search engines—a kind of “touch-free” search experience. More broadly, the focus on search intent is a signal to the market that people prefer to search like they speak, and Google is adapting to meet this need.
What marketers should focus on with regard to search intent
What this means to marketers is that Google is far better at pinpointing relevant content based on a person’s intent when they searched. From an SEO perspective, that means focusing on just the top-of-the-funnel and short-tail keywords doesn’t cut it anymore—it’s just not how people tend to search anymore. Instead, people are searching with four different core “intents”:
- Get information
- Make a purchase
- Shop and compare products
- Get to a certain website
As Google points out, search intent is redefining the marketing funnel altogether. Here’s an excerpt from Think With Google:
“Stop marketing to the average: Be useful. People respond to brands that understand their needs. So, it’s important to optimize your media for both relevance to the consumer and lifetime value for the brand.”
Marketers should build content around a firm understanding of their audience’s intent and how their content might fulfil that need. As a result, researching top keywords you want to rank for as a brand, or that your target audience tends to use, isn’t good enough. Instead, dig deeper into the needs that these searches actually signal. Do people want to buy from you? Find your contact information? Get pricing information or a quote? Is there a particular question that people think you can answer? Start with a close examination of those typical customer journeys, with the understanding that no two journeys are exactly the same.
From there, we recommend that you:
- Write content aligned with your target customer’s intent. That means content that is written in clear, concise sentences and using natural language (the way people talk). If you sell eco-friendly tennis shoes, for example, and your prospective customers are researching products like yours, you’ll want to build content around the advantages of eco-friendly shoes, how they’re made, etc.
- Develop FAQs around natural queries and use schema for these FAQs to send stronger signals to Google that yours is authoritative content it needs to rank.
On your website, include FAQs that answer common questions and phrase them naturally.
- Consider the four intents and bucket keywords into these categories to help inform your SEO strategy. Ahrefs provides a great breakdown of keyword “modifiers” that indicate a certain type of intent.
- Research the types of content users want for a given intent. For example, if you’re trying to rank content for people with purchase intent, you might find that video overviews and reviews rank highly on the SERPs that you’d like your content to appear in. It could be landing pages or blog posts. But SERPs will reveal a lot about the kind of content people want based on their intent.
10. Predictive Search Is Set to Improve
Google Discover was launched in 2017, unleashing a new kind of search — one that does not even require a user query. Discover is another one of Google’s AI-driven tools. The content recommendation tool identifies user behavioural patterns over time and gradually learns these habits. With this information, Discover can identify the most accurate content most likely to interest the user.
Google Discover already claims more than 800 million active users. To appear, you don’t have to do anything special. If Google indexes your page, it will be included. Content is ranked based on algorithms inspecting content quality, and user interest. Although Google has communicated no precise factors, it seems that location history, browsing history, app usage, calendars, search history, and home and work locations are all relevant.
11. An Effective SEO Strategy Will Need to Include Video
Online video seems to be the way forward. YouTube has more than 1 billion users. If you aren’t creating video content, now is the time to get started. Not convinced? Here’s food for thought: According to Cisco, video is projected to surpass all other content forms in terms of consumption.
How can you optimize that video content, though? Make sure to optimize your video channel name and description. The description shouldn’t just be crammed with keywords but provide a user-friendly overview of what your channel is about.
Beyond this, keywords are crucial. For example, if you’re optimizing for YouTube, you can get inspired by the platform’s auto-complete feature. Start typing in your video’s topic and see what pops up in the search field, which is essentially a list of suggested keywords, telling you precisely what people on YouTube are searching for.
12. Image Optimization Will Play a Larger Role in Search
Visual image search has evolved drastically. It used to be that people could just look at images. In the future, people will be able to use images to purchase products, obtain information, and more. Google has long insisted on the proper marking and optimization of images, so it makes sense that this is part of their long-term plan.
If the images on your website aren’t optimized, take care of it now. Use high-quality, relevant images, and make sure to customize the file name, labelling the photo file so that it’s relevant to the content on the corresponding page. Use alt tags, which crawlers use to classify images. Finally, add images to your site map, where they are even easier to crawl. You can check out other posts where we discuss image SEO for more tips, too.
13. Video Will Continue Flooding the SERP
Search Google for just about anything these days and the first thing you’ll likely see on the SERP is a video carousel. Google introduced video carousels to SERPs back in 2018. Since then, video has only gained in prominence. When you consider the fact that the second largest search engine in the world is YouTube—also a Google entity—it all makes a lot of sense.
For strong indicators that video isn’t going anywhere, consider these statistics from a recent wyzowl survey:
- 85% of businesses use video as a tool in marketing, and 92% of marketers consider video an important part of their marketing strategy
- 87% of video marketers report increased traffic to their website as a result of their videos
- 96% of people have watched explainer videos about products or services
- 84% of people cite video as part of what convinced them to buy something
As those last two statistics indicate, this emphasis on video is really about user demand. For better or for worse, most people would rather watch a quick video than read a long article. It’s quick. It lends well to multi-tasking. It’s mobile-friendly. And the Google algorithm is evolving accordingly. Because where do people tend to engage with video most?
On search engines.
Year over year, people tune into more video content, and Google’s algorithm is evolving accordingly.
What marketers should do about video
This, of course, introduces another aspect of SEO that marketers need to focus on in 2021. This shift in preference toward video—both for people and search algorithms—means that it’s time for businesses to 1) begin planning and creating a lot more video content and 2) optimize their videos to improve search visibility, views, and website traffic.
Easier said than done. According to the same wyzowl survey, 20% of marketers say they don’t use video in their marketing mix because it’s too expensive. Yet, creating videos can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. Here are a few creative ways to begin creating video from what you already have without breaking the budget:
- Repurpose the top ten or twenty pages driving organic search to your site into video content. For longer-form content, break down key parts into separate videos that can stand alone for use in other channels.
- Conduct interviews with staff, customers, or thought leaders that your audience will find value in. You can also interview customers for case studies and use that video content as testimonial material throughout your website.
- Publish or repurpose webinar replays to your YouTube channel or website (or both).
- Repurpose podcast recordings into shorter videos on specific topics by laying audio from the interview over a graphical/illustrated/motion graphics video.
- Optimize your video content for YouTube SEO, including all titles, metadata, thumbnails, and so on. Make sure to optimize your videos for lazy loading, too, so that site pages with video don’t hurt your rankings because of slow page speed.
- Leverage live video through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Maybe key stakeholders or thought leaders in your organization can hold live fireside chats every week. Not much production necessary on these—this capability is built into each of these social media platforms.
14. Semantic Search Will Be Even More Prominent
People, and how people search for things on the internet, will be a central theme for most of these 2021 SEO trends. Semantic search is no different. To understand semantic search, let’s start with semantics. Essentially, semantics is the study of words, their relationships, and what those relationships mean in specific contexts.
Perfect for Google, right? After all, sifting through oceans of data to serve up the best results based on a user’s search query is sort of a search engine’s main job, right? In the context of search engines, “semantic search” is how search engines use all the data at hand to determine the context, intent, and meaning they need to serve up the most relevant and complete content possible.
An example of semantic search at work
Here’s a funny example of semantic search at its best. One of our staff members was at home over the weekend with a song stuck in her head. Well, the chorus. The only problem was that the chorus didn’t have any words—just a female vocalist singing “do do do.”
Now, the staff member knew that the song was from the nineties, so she typed in “90s song do do do” and, boom: the YouTube listing for “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega was right in the featured snipped—exactly the song she was looking for.
With every update, Google’s algorithm is getting better at understanding how we search and giving us the relevant information, we want—like obscure 90’s lyrics.
Again, it all hearkens back to delivering the best search experience possible by allowing people to quickly get the very best and relevant search results using natural language search terms. This is how search engines bring together lots of different info from disparate sources to construct knowledge graphs or snippets on search engine results pages (SERPs). Just look at the results for “semantic search”:
Semantic search is all about giving searchers the very best and relevant search results using natural language search terms.
What marketers should focus on with semantic search
Improving your site’s semantic search value requires ongoing attention—there’s no simple way to go about it. There are, however, simple principles your teams can follow as they plan for, build out, and update content for the 2021 content calendar.
It really comes down to how and why your users search. What answers, information, content, or even experience are they likely looking for? In our world, prospects, customers, clients, and partners turn to us for authoritative, actionable, rich content on the latest topics in digital marketing. Within that broad grouping, we have users with industry-specific questions and needs, such as healthcare. These are great starting points for us to determine our users’ intent.
As we build out our own content, here are the areas we focus on when it comes to semantic search:
- Develop content that answers your target market’s questions. Think frequently asked questions—and a question-and-answer format—only with far more depth. You might dedicate entire pieces of content to a particular question, answering the question at the top of the article (“what is semantic search,” for example) before diving into more detail.
- Write for people, not search engines. That means developing content that is to the point, concise and written in easy-to-understand sentences. Include bullets and lists that make it easy for people to skim and find the information they need. Finally, write naturally!
- Use structured data where it makes sense. Using a product, question, article, ratings, or review schema helps bots find and understand your pages with greater ease (which search engines happen to like, especially for use in rich snippets).
- Implement contextual internal linking on your website. Internal linking goes beyond creating logical click paths to related topics for your users. Done strategically, it creates a data-rich, well-structured map of related content around a central topic or search term. Says, John McAlpin, SEO Director at Cardinal, “Tools like InLinks can help SEOs automate this process of implementing schema and internal linking, but it will take a shift in understanding of how search engines understand data.”
- Optimize content for topics instead of keywords. One strategy is to build out clusters of valuable content around a high-level topic. A topic cluster around SEO, for example, might include subtopics dedicated to technical SEO, on-page SEO, and backlinking. As you build and optimize around topic groupings, you naturally build a nexus of related short-tail and longer-tail keywords, all of which lends well to better rankings. “We will have to focus on optimizing for topics, instead of keywords,” continues McAlpin, “and be as comprehensive as possible about those topics.”
15. There Will Be More Importance Placed on Semantically Related Keywords
SEO professionals used to focus on primary keywords as if they had blinders on. Now, we know secondary keywords are just as important. Semantic search and intent optimization will gain further prominence in the future. Google isn’t just looking at strings of words anymore. It’s analysing query context and trying to discern a user’s search intent, meaning that the more relevant information provided — via logically related primary and secondary keywords — the better.
We offer a comprehensive keyword tool to identify semantically related keywords and keyword difficulty to prioritize which queries you want to target first.
To truly address the semantic search, create content designed to answer a question that your target audience would pose. Optimize content for topic clusters instead of focusing solely on keywords. Finally, use structured data when logical. Most importantly, don’t write for bots but people.
16. Local Search Listings Will Play a Larger Role in SEO Strategies
When people think of the internet, they often think of its global nature. The fact is most people use search engines to find localized goods and services. They might be hunting for a neighbourhood restaurant, for example. Local SEO is important — and it’s evolving. This evolution is in part because of the rise of zero-click searches — which some SEO marketers are dubbing the new normal.
In a zero-click search, the user’s query is answered via the SERP itself. They thus don’t click on any of the ranking results. One reason for the rise in zero-click searches is the increase of featured snippets. Many zero-click searches are local searches that show the results on the SERP in what’s been dubbed a “local pack.”
How do you get your business into that local pack? Start by creating a Google My Business page. Having a strong backlink profile is also important. You can check what kinds of backlinks your competitors get for inspiration and target those yourself.
17. Google My Business Will Be Essential for Local SEO
Location-based search is built on a basic premise: when a person located in San Diego searches Google Maps for “street tacos,” they probably want to see results limited to their surrounding geographic area. (Street tacos in Philly are all fine and good, but …) While that search experience might seem straightforward from a user’s perspective, there’s a whole lot of content, data, and optimization that goes into it on the search engine side of things.
“1,000,000,000+ people use Google Maps every month.”
If local search is at all part of your digital marketing mix (assuming you have physical locations for your business, it absolutely should be), you’ll want to make sure your Google My Business listing is complete, rich with detail, and updated on an ongoing basis. Why? First and foremost, Google My Business optimization factors heavily into local search experiences. Engagement and activity on a GMB listing are strong ranking signals for Google, so the completer and more optimized your listing, the more likely your business is to show up in local searches.
Google knows that a mid-day search for tacos should show the searcher local options nearby where they can satisfy their craving.
And the demand for local search is … huge—more than a billion people use Google Maps every month and more than 5 million apps and websites use Google Maps Platform core products every week. That’s why Google continually releases new features for businesses to use, such as posts, new service and product options (including some specifically for COVID-19), and direct-to-customer messaging. They want to make it easy for the many people searching for …
- Phone numbers
- Company websites
- Reviews and ratings
… all of which can be found in a single Google My Business Listing.
Then of course there is COVID-19. During the pandemic, people are searching out local options around them, both due to lockdown restrictions and to support local businesses during what has been a difficult time to stay in business. People are checking to see if businesses are still open and if their hours or services have at all changed (especially restaurants). They’re checking out menus and ordering takeout. Google My Business is a high-visibility way to communicate these updates to any customer, new or existing, that is looking for you.
Use the Google My Business Dashboard to keep your listing up to date.
What marketers should do about Google My Business
A well-optimized Google My Business listing can persuade searchers to consider your business. It also sends valuable signals to Google, which can increase your local SEO rankings.
The first thing to do is to sign up, claim your business, and verify it through the Google My Business service, a process that can take a couple of weeks (they send you the final verification step through the mail).
Once your location is established and verified, go through your Google My Business listing and optimize every aspect of the listing that you can. Fortunately, Google makes this process very intuitive and straightforward: when you log in, you’ll be alerted to your profile “completeness,” as well as a plan for completing any outstanding information you still need to add, such as location, hours, phone number, and more.
Once your listing is complete, it’s time to be proactive by taking advantage of new aspects of the platform. You can:
- Answer FAQs about your products or services.
- Add weekly photos relevant to your business and customer base. These could be photos of your location or new menu items.
- Share regular business posts to announce new products, events, or specials.
- Create a site using the Google My Business website builder.
18. Zero-click Search Results Will Continue to Evolve
Do you notice a trend here? Updates to search algorithms, video marketing, SEO strategies—they’re all centred around what the end user wants. The same is true for so-called “zero-click” search results. As its moniker suggests, a zero-click search result provides all the information a person needs to answer their question or query—no need to spend any more time clicking through to a website.
Go ahead, search Google for “coronavirus” and look at the SERP. You’ll find a glossary on the left side with information about symptoms, statistics, and testing. You’ll get the latest local and national news. And you’ll get a localized map of outbreak intensity and case volume for your area. It’s clear that Google is determined to provide a one-stop-shop of authoritative information around what is a sensitive and serious topic.
This “one-stop-shop” search experience continues to gain prominence. As of 2019, zero-click searches account for more than 50% of all Google searches. And Google is getting really good at giving their users all they need on a single SERP page, through things like featured snippets, knowledge graphs, and video carousels. There are even eCommerce carousels now, allowing people to compare prices for a product from different retailers without having to click through to any one site. And duplicate listings, where a snippet holder would also earn the top spot in the traditional list of search results, are now a thing of the past.
Zero-click search results are getting better and better.
What marketers should do about zero-click search results
Increasingly, Google is doing its best to keep search traffic on Google entities like Google Search, Google My Business, and YouTube. The YouTube video carousel is a great example: not only is the Google algorithm arguably favoring YouTube videos for this prominent area on the SERP; but when users click through, they’re off to another Google property (YouTube).
The good news is that marketers can optimize and rank content for both zero-click search results and related Google channels. We’ve already covered the importance of regularly creating well-optimized video content, as well as the need for a complete and frequently updated Google My Business listing (for all of your locations). We’ve also mentioned schema, which you can create for all the “snippet fodder” that Google likes, such as FAQ, location info, and events. Keep an eye out for new structured data markup, which Google releases on a regular basis.
Zero-click search results are getting better and better and keeping searchers on Google properties.
Finally, remember that, while ranking for zero-click search results does help with your SEO and, potentially, your overall SEO performance, the experience is, by design, meant to make a click through to your website unnecessary. Keep that in mind and consider optimizing your website and content for keywords that actually bring you qualified traffic and conversions.
19. COVID-19 Will Leave a Lasting Impact
The Google Search algorithm is all about signals, and the company sent some pretty strong ones as the COVID-19 situation began unfolding in March 2020. For example, the company quickly stopped new Google reviews for a short period of time, both to protect businesses during a time when many were going under, and to ease the burden on its own overworked staff (see: Guidance for Businesses affected by COVID-19 for regularly updated information from Google). Google also released the May 2020 Core Update—a really, really big update—right smack in the middle of the outbreak. The update seemed to signal the increased favorability of high-quality, authoritative websites.
While things can certainly change in the future, these do feel like paradigmatic shifts for the world of SEO. If nothing else, they indicate that a behemoth like Google is willing to shape results in response to global issues—and that they likely will the next time some kind of global conflagration rears its ugly head.
What marketers should consider in the post-COVID-19 world
We hope that doesn’t happen, but it gives us marketers some guide rails as we plan for the coming decade.
First and foremost, we have to remember that we don’t know for sure if there will be a so-called “post-COVID-19” world. It could just be a world living with COVID. There’s a lot still to be determined, and many more chips are likely to fall.
What this crisis has done is to reveal blind spots and the general unpreparedness for a lot of organizations, some of whom have yet to recover. Moving forward, here are a couple of sound recommendations for marketers and SEO strategists:
- Develop a crisis communication strategy in collaboration with the corporate communications team. Remember, this isn’t a “how to rank for keywords in a crisis,” but more, “how to get useful, timely, sometimes urgent content in front of the audiences who need it.” If the information your audience needs is how to buy their next car during a coronavirus outbreak, so be it. But have a plan for communicating the details.
- Be prepared to quickly update your web properties. Your clients, customers, partners, and prospects will come out of the woodworks during a crisis. They’ll want information about how the crisis has impacted your product or service and, more importantly, how it has affected their relationship with your product or service. Are you open? Still in business? How have your offerings changed? The key is to get this information up on your website, Google My Business listing, and other web properties quickly in the event of a crisis—before your customers go looking elsewhere.
MedNOW’s homepage displays a popup describing their new COVID-19 rapid testing. By keeping patients updated on their response to COVID-19 and their offerings, MedNOW will drive more traffic to their website and to their locations.
- Think about how you can help. Can you offer complimentary services or products to first responders? Could your customer base benefit from a crisis-related discount? Companies like Ahrefs and Moz, for example, are making regularly paid courses free. Kaspersky is offering free endpoint antivirus software to medical organizations. A crisis is a good time for companies to give back, too.
20. Data and Analytics Should Become Your Priority If You Want to Remain Ahead in Rankings
Data science lets you understand buyers, visualize campaigns, and create targeted messages. Analytics can help you verify which URLs are getting crawled, identify referral sources, check page loading times, indexing, redirects, response errors, bounce rates, and more. You can also use data science to identify pages that you do not want crawlers indexing and pinpoint unusual traffic sources, such as potential spam sites (which will hurt your EAT credibility).
How do you capture all of this information? There are many SEO industry analysis tools out there. The SEMrush SEO Toolkit gives you the technology you need to tackle everything, from rank tracking to competitive research, on-page SEO, technical SEO, link building, and more. Staying on top of these details lets you see where you are succeeding and, just as importantly, failing. This method lets you address problems and continuously improve your web presence.
Frequently Asked Questions About SEO
SEO for Beginners
What does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, but what exactly does that mean? SEO is focused on bringing in website traffic through search result rankings organically (naturally), without paying for the traffic through ads. It’s important to develop a strong SEO strategy because the main source for website traffic is search. In fact, Backlinko states that “60% of all traffic on the web starts with a Google search”. The main goal behind incorporating SEO in your marketing strategy is to increase the number of quality visitors to a website through search result rankings, while keeping up with the algorithm changes and updates of Google.
What are the 4 pillars of SEO?
When you think of SEO, you might think it’s complicated because you don’t quite understand how it works and what specific tactics come into play. However, SEO is pretty simple when you look at it from a strategic level. The four key pillars of SEO that earned experts should always remember include the following:
Technical SEO: This is where you should start when it comes to your SEO strategy. Analyzing your website’s technical SEO will help you understand how well your content and keywords can be crawled, indexed, and explored by a search engine.
On-Page SEO: This pillar has a bit of a crossover with the first pillar, as you want to make sure your content is well-structured on your technically optimized site. Once you have analyzed the current status of your content, you can then begin to apply optimizations through keyword research to make it even better.
Off-Page SEO: Off-page SEO is also known as authority building or link building. Incorporating links on your site allows Google to better understand how relevant and reliable your content is, allowing you to generate strong organic rankings. The late Eric Ward (a.k.a Link Mosses) described link building in just a few words, “connect what should be connected” by creating content that is deserving of trustworthy links.
Content: If there’s one thing you probably already know about SEO, it’s that content is king. Creating valuable and consistent content on your site allows searchers to get their questions answered and fulfill their query goal.
What is the difference between SEO and PPC?
Although SEO and PPC are very different approaches within digital marketing, they work together to achieve the ultimate search engine marketing (SEM) strategy: SEO + PPC = SEM. Like we mentioned above, SEO is a natural way to improve your rankings and overall visibility to searchers and search engines by using organic content. On the other hand, PPC (pay-per-click) allows marketers to bid on the chance to show their ads in SERP, right when people are looking for a specific offer. With that being said, the main difference between the two is that traffic from SEO is free and traffic from PPC costs money (organic listings in Google vs. paid listings in Google). At IMI, our digital marketing expertise ranges from Earned Media to Paid Media, depending on the strategy that you’re looking to create. Understand how we approach quarterly strategies for our clients!
How long does SEO take?
When looking at any marketing deliverable or strategy, anyone buying on for a service is always wondering how long it will take to see results. It’s important to remember and express to clients in the beginning that SEO is a long term investment, and can eventually be your biggest traffic driver if you give it the time it deserves. SEO requires ongoing attention and is definitely not a one time thing. Your SEO strategy takes time, planning, and readjusting to achieve and maintain search rankings, ROI, and overall traffic growth. Whether you’re redesigning your site to be more SEO friendly or your updating your target keywords, each and every change you make can affect your SEO efforts by showing quantifiable results.
What is the purpose of links?
As we mentioned above, links are what make up the off-page SEO pillar. And link building for SEO can be one of the harder parts of the job. Basically you are searching the internet for other websites to link to your site in an effort to build referral traffic and establish authority. Even though this is a straight forward strategy you don’t want just any links, you want relevant and quality links that shows Google you are the authority on a certain topic.
Let’s use an example to talk about link building. Say you’re writing a blog for a real estate brand and the subject is “newest trends in the housing market”. It’s important to use both internal (links to other pages on your site) and external (links to other sites on the same industry topic) links. After this blog is published and gains some traction, now is the time to ignite your link building strategy. Find other similar blogs on the topic at hand and start reaching out and presenting your piece of content as a valuable blog on the subject. Once more blogs and websites are sharing and linking to your piece of content, Google can then better understand who has the authority.
What is organic content and how does it work?
When it comes to content, there are two general types. There is content with the purpose of putting readers into the funnel and then there’s broad content. Now let’s break it down. Content such as product pages, longform content, and white papers is content with a specific purpose in mind. You want readers to understand what your business is about, so they can continue moving down the buyer funnel to eventually purchase what you’re selling. This is what the client wants to hear. They want a clear plan for how content creation will make them money and how it will affect their ROI. This type of content is a necessary factor for SEO, but all in all, specific product content just doesn’t get shared. Google must be factored into the strategy.
On the other hand, there is broad content, better known as blogging. This is the stuff that the audience interacts with and the type of writing that helps Google better understand where your site should be placed in SERP. When creating content, whether that’s an infographic to help boost SEO, a blog, or even a video, you should adjust your mindset to position yourself within reader’s point of view. What will grab the reader’s attention? What type of content will make my website more searchable? What are the questions that the readers need answers to? What type of content is most likely to get shared? Once you find what your audience is looking for, it’s time to infuse your writing with SEO, specifically keyword research (which we will dive into a little later).
Ultimate purpose of content: Blogging allows your website to rank higher in Google SERPs, therefore increasing your visibility and traffic by reaching your target audience during the discovery phase in an overall effort to increase your business revenue.
SEO for Experts
How has SEO evolved?
There’s no doubt that the SEO role has changed over time. From Google putting a stop to spam and black hat techniques to the preferred user device shift. But what exactly is the main focus now? Let’s start with devices. In the past, SEO experts were focused on optimizing for desktop specifically because this is where the majority of traffic was coming from. However, mobile has quickly taken first place when it comes to the primary device. In fact, comscore reported that mobile consists of 65% of digital media time, and officially surpassed desktop in 2015.
Next, let’s talk about technical SEO. Technical SEO has always been there, and always will be an important part of the strategy. However, as the years have passed technical SEO has become much more of a requirement rather than an option. Not only are you keeping up with Google’s algorithms and tracking the changes, but you’re also keeping up with new factors that always come into play (page speed, mobile responsiveness, indexing, and more).
In addition to these changes that we’ve seen in SEO, we have also seen additional changes when it comes to planning for SEO such as, a crack down on link schemes, a rise in relevant organic content, the many changes made to SERP via Google Algorithms, and keyword research to focus more on placement rather than density.
What should your SEO roadmap look like?
When bringing on a new client, you might be wondering where to start and how to start crafting their roadmap to success, because an SEO strategy is necessary when it comes to generating organic and qualified leads. Before embarking on a new project, it’s important to think through your process and put a strategy in play. Below is a quick step-by-step guide that we use at IMI to create a high-level SEO gameplay.
Research & Discovery
SEO: Industry analysis, keyword research & mapping, and competitor analysis.
Content: Content audit and share of voice audit.
GOAL: Understand who your target audience is, what the competitors are doing, and what keywords are driving the conversation and dominating search result real estate. Here you can create a shared objective for both SEO and content.
SEO+Content: Quarterly strategy & roadmap. Here is where you take your research and discovery and put it into tangible tasks. Does the site need to undergo technical SEO changes? What does the current content on the site look like? Is local SEO in affect? What does the current link landscape look like?
GOAL: Align cross-channel support of strategy to combine SEO and content efforts.
SEO: Technical audit, on-page optimization, link opportunities, and consulting. This is where your strategy and planning comes to life!
Content: Content creation and publishing, along with promotions and influencer activations (if you have the budget for this).
GOAL: Enhance performance through collaboration and necessary deliverables.
SEO+Content: Monthly reporting and insights. This is where you can measure what you’ve strategically done for your client, understand what has done well, and decide what could still use improvements.
GOAL: Cross-channel performance and strategic recommendations.
What are some of the most significant SEO updates?
Let’s face it, Google is always switching things up and tweaking their algorithm. Because of this, the main role of an SEO’s job is to keep up and be aware of these changes. Throughout the history of algorithm updates, most of them go unnoticed and don’t require your full attention. However, there are some major algorithmic updates that you should always be aware of as an SEO expert:
Panda  : Poor-Quality Content
Penguin  : Keyword Stuffing, Spammy and Low Quality Links,
Hummingbird  : Contextual, Conversational, and Semantic Search
Pigeon  : Local Listings
Mobile  : Google Mobile Friendly Pages
RankBrain  : Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence
Possum  : Local Search Results
Fred  : Affiliate Heavy, Ad Centered, and Thin Content
If you’re still looking to familiarize yourself with additional changes that affect earned media, IMI SEO’s monthly blog addresses a good portion of the changes that we’ve seen when it comes to our practice.
SEO for Clients
Why can’t I just buy ads and skip SEO?
A common question asked by potential clients during the sales process is why they can’t just buy ads and forget about SEO. The answer, SEO and PPC work better when used together. Even though these verticals are addressed through different strategies, the efforts compliment each other. You can increase your visibility and exposure, keyword research (paid and organic) can be shared, best performing ad copy can help when it comes to creating an organic content strategy, and much more when it comes to department collaboration.
In addition to working well together, SEO and PPC both play important roles in the conversion funnel on their own while still working together. SEO creates awareness and interest through content at the top of the funnel, where as PPC tends to drive users to the bottom of the funnel to take action.
How do you report on SEO?
There are a variety of ways you can report on this digital marketing vertical. Since SEO is more of a long term investment, your insights can range from organic traffic to keyword ranking performance. Depending on where you’re tracking, Google Analytics tends to be the mothership of data pulling platforms. In addition to Google Analytics, there’s Google Search Console, SEM Rush, Google My Business, and other helpful platforms. When it comes to the most intriguing data, our team tends to report on the following:
Total Organic Traffic and Year-over-Year (YoY) changes
Organic Conversion Rates and Goal Competitions
Time on Site and Bounce Rates
Local SEO Performance (if applicable)
Landing Page Performance
Keyword Ranking Performance
Insights, Next Steps, and Recommendations
What should I know when it comes to organic keyword research?
The power of organic keyword research lies in how well you know your target market and how they are searching for your brand. Put yourself in the mind of the searcher. What specific words are they using? What questions do they ask? What device are they using for the majority of searches? Are you seeing any trends?
After you know who the target audience is, it’s time to dive into your research. Start discovering specific long-tail and short-tail keywords and how they are being used in content. Understand how often those specific terms are used in search to make sure there is enough search volume to make an impact. Then you can start strategizing and categorizing your keyword research to implement on your site, within your content.
What can SEO do for me tomorrow, next week, or next month?
In short, SEO puts your brand on the map. Remembering that SEO is a long term investment and it doesn’t happen overnight is key. When it comes to organic digital marketing tactics, you might not think you need it, but there are many benefits that prove you should. Organic search is most often the primary source of website traffic. This type of search is a huge factor when it comes to visibility, making it a critical component of the buyer funnel and ultimately encouraging users to engage or convert. Incorporating SEO into your marketing strategy not only helps organically, but it also helps other efforts included in your digital marketing gameplan. If you’re still not convinced, there are more benefits that support the organic efforts:
Increase in Site Visibility
Improve User Experience
Better Rankings in Search
Increase in Overall Website Traffic, Engagement, and Conversions
Increase Brand Credibility
Dominate the Audience Discovery Phase
SEO can and will make a noticeable impact as a long term strategy. As the market evolves, so should your SEO tactics. The more time, effort, and budget you put into your SEO strategy, the longer your site will be a worthy contender in the industry. Even though SEO efforts can’t be calculated in the same way PPC is calculated, it is still a quantifiable initiative. With the right analytics in place, any skilled SEO expert can piece the puzzle together and understand the connection between actions taken, performance, and growth.