2021 SEO trends
Another lockdown was announced at the beginning of 2021 for the UK, which means yet again people are going to be spending more time searching and browsing the internet. Google has made a number of impactful announcements in 2020 about the way we search and how businesses stay successful organically. Below we’ve had a look at what we think the main SEO trends will be in 2021 and how you can stay on top by developing your SEO strategy.
Artificial Intelligence in Search
Within the last year, Google has considerably improved the search landscape through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As users and website owners we should always be conscious of these developments so that we can adapt and tailor our organic strategy. Below we have provided some of the key additions Google has made:
Google has developed their experience to not just indexing web pages, but being able to index individual passages which result in supplying the user with an ‘answer’. These new AI updates will affect 7% of search queries, so it’s worth paying attention to! By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, Google can find the information you or your user is searching for. Understanding the search queries at a more advanced level allows Google to provide more ‘answers’ at an earlier stage of the user’s search journey.
In the example above, a question-based query was used and a search result was returned using passage-based indexing that connected two semantically relevant keywords in a longer passage which answered the user’s question/intent.
As mentioned above, passage-based indexing currently only targets 7% of queries (described by Google as “needle in a haystack information you’re looking for”) at this moment we are expecting the ranking algorithm/systems to develop in 2021 as it becomes even better at understanding the deeper context in passages of web pages and helping target even more queries across the globe.
- Passage-based indexing impacts ranking, not indexing - the use of passage-based indexing has no impact on the indexing of your site, but rather with the ranking algorithm Google uses. Generally speaking, search engine crawlers such as Googlebot are allowed to crawl the web and thus discover content which they then store in databases on Google’s servers (indexing). The ranking algorithm/system of Google will then take this stored information in the respective database and present it to users in a search engine results page (as demonstrated above). These ranking algorithms look at the intent of the query, relevance of page and usability signals (amongst other things) to determine the ranking position within search results.
- Signposting using headers - Search crawlers such as Googlebot have become excellent at understanding title tags and similar short phrases in content, but through the introduction of relevant header tags, we can enhance the page structure and add more context for search engines.
- Focus content topics to the section headers - Make certain the content and structure of the page match the query/topic that is intended. When adding content to web pages ensure it is holistic and logically fits in line with the topics being discussed. This can help search engines easily associate topics and keywords to one another.
Hum to search
You get a song stuck in your head, try to hum it to friends and no one has a clue what you're on about, can anyone relate? Of course, Google has a solution! With their new improved machine learning, they claim to be able to match tones to a database of identified songs through singing, humming, and whistling!
Hum to Search could be a vital part of the strategy for the music industry in 2021. This alternative method provides users with a different format for how they can access information across the search landscape. In 2021 leveraging this kind of strategy can help improve the visibility of music, for example for bands whose music is potentially not as popular, whose music is new and needs to be introduced to users, or perhaps if users hear a song they like and want to find out more about it.
As visibility increases for songs and artists, it becomes more important to review how your results are shown in Google and ensure that you’re making the most of the opportunities available. For example, leveraging different verticals that could be shown in the results (news, images, events, shopping etc), and encouraging users to engage by either purchasing the song or listening to it via platforms such as Youtube, Spotify, or Deezer. As the database continues to grow through 2021 the introduction of new music will only help strengthen the position of web site owners in search.
Google has been working on partnering with knowledge databases for some time to assist searchers in understanding advanced, statistical data more easily. At a time when data is such a big part of our understanding of issues, particularly during COVID-19 and the evolving health and education sectors, access to data has never been more important. Google is enabling users to investigate data without the need for expertise or programming competencies. The hours of trolling through data are over and Google is continuing to work to a more efficient and digestible process.
Data is becoming more important within search and is being presented and transformed visually in results pages by Google more and more frequently.
As discussed above, the knowledge databases are now accessible via common easily understood terms in search. For example, through the on-going coronavirus pandemic, we have seen how important data has become. A simple search around coronavirus cases in a particular area will populate a multitude of various charts and graphs using updated information aggregated from trustworthy public data sets such as Eurostat, Worldbank etc.
As data is continuously added, site owners and SEOs will realise the inability to rank well organically for these terms. Although many landing pages in search results will provide helpful and similar information around these terms, the public databases will visualise data which will allow the user to digest and consume the answer to their query more quickly. Therefore, negating the need for the user to visit any other landing page to get the same answer. Below we have provided an example of UK search results using the query [population of UK].
Website owners and SEOs should expect to see a loss in organic traffic (CTR, clicks) due to the growth of the databases described above. The understanding of these queries will only grow and Google will become more familiar with how to populate and associate these terms. In the long run, search marketers should turn to different strategies and avoid making optimisations for these queries.
Having a robust local SEO strategy for brands looking to get ahead and attain post-pandemic success will be essential in 2021. In fact, according to Google 46% of all searches have local intent. Brands need to ensure they are taking advantage of Google My Business or alternatives such a Bing Places and implementing a strong local SEO strategy utilising; local citations, reviews from customers and practising local keyword research. We’re confident this trend is going to continue to grow, particularly following the investment GMB has made in developing and evolving the resources and tools available; including COVID-19 posts, passengers, new promotional assets and more.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become crucial that businesses who have physical storefronts have a local SEO strategy in 2021. SEOs and website owners will know the hardships that have been faced through the turbulent times of 2020 and especially what it has meant for businesses as user behaviour changed.
Due to the various restrictions and regulations across the world, local SEO strategy has become one of the most important ways of facilitating communication with/converting your customer base. This includes learning how your business has been affected by COVID and how customers will be able to engage with your business during/after the pandemic.
Without a strong local search presence you are not only missing out on key local searches (remember, 46% have local intent) but you are effectively not fully maximising your businesses visibility and credibility within search. You are also allowing your competitors to dominate this key market without you.
Building out a local presence will ensure not only that you can improve your visibility through various search engines, but build a relationship with your customers through facilitating easy to find information about your business, how it can be found, and what needs to be done from a user standpoint to convert.
It’s important to note Local SEO is composed of a variety of different products, services, and initiatives that help encompass its strengths within search. Besides the standard Google products (maps and knowledge graphs), there is also Bing (Bing Places), Apple (Apple Maps), social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, as well as local directories such as Yelp and Foursquare. These are all considerations that need to be included within a local strategy in 2021 if you’d like to maximise the potential of local efforts within search.
If your resource is limited, make certain Google My Business is set up with your specific physical store locations, which will give you a good starting point for your presence within local search. Create a verified profile for Google My Business, and make certain that the following has been added to every individual physical store:
- Name, Address, Phone, Landing Page
- Hours of Operation
- Business Description
- Quality Photos
- Business Categories
- Posts (Used to inform customers about important events such as special operating hours)
Although Google My Business can be a good jumping-off point as highlighted above, all of the different local products/services mentioned above should be considered for all businesses that have physical stores to help improve their local presence and maximise their visibility within search.
Page/User Experience Signals
Google announced that starting in May 2021, page experience signals would be included within Google Search ranking. They would combine existing page experience signals such as https and mobile-friendliness with newly created web performance-based metrics known as Core Web Vitals. These will be used to measure how users interact with a web page. The image below articulates the page experience factors:
Although these page experience factors are going to be important considerations moving forward in 2021, we must understand these signals are on-going and not set in stone. Google is always looking to re-evaluate the performance landscape across the web and will be looking to update these signals on a yearly basis.
Becoming more proactive and dedicated to users has never become more important. These trends only represent the beginning for the best way to optimise your website in 2021. Search engines such as Google and Bing are always attaining new data and improving their search algorithms to help improve how users can access and find the information they are searching for. So why not start now and get ahead of the competition?! Monitoring your site’s SEO and keeping on top of search engines such as Google’s updates is more important than ever. Check back in with us later in the year to find out how we’ve been dealing with the many improvements that have been made to organic search.
Website owners and SEOs need to be prepared to make certain that sites meet the Core Web Vitals thresholds defined by Google, and in doing so they can also seize the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over competitors.
Websites which demonstrate very poor Core Web Vital scores and give users a poor user experience can suffer from a loss in rankings and thus organic performance. Therefore it will become essential in 2021 for website owners and marketing teams to sit with respective developers and digital teams to test these metrics and make certain that sites meet the requirements.
To learn more about the specific metrics and optimisations needed, read our in-depth article: Beat the Competition with Google’s ‘Core Vitals’ Metrics.