Though it’s impossible to know for certain how things will change in 2021 – unless, perhaps, you work at Google – there are some things we can be fairly sure about. Some trends Google have warned us about in the past while others seem incredibly likely due to the overall direction of the industry at the moment. No matter what industry you operate in, if you want to stay ahead of your competitors digitally then it’s important to be aware of what might be coming.
So, without further ado, here are our top SEO predictions for 2021.
The increased importance of AI
Artificial intelligence is changing our lives in almost every conceivable way and the way we search online is not exempt from this.
Google has been leveraging AI more and more lately; a few years ago they introduced RankBrain, which utilises machine learning to help refine their search engine algorithms. The tricky thing with AI-driven algorithms is that it’s much harder to predict how they might change and evolve as, to a certain extent, they’re self-sufficient. While everyone is certain that AI will play an even larger role at Google in 2021, it’s hard to know yet how it’ll affect things.
On the flip-side though, AI has also become increasingly leveraged on the opposite side of this battle. SEO tools including BrightEdge and SEMrush are making use of AI more and more, giving us a fighting chance to keep up with the changes.
Core Web Vitals
Back in 2020, Google announced that Core Web Vitals would become a new core ranking component for its search engine. Of course, the name “Core Web Vitals” sounds very serious, but what does it actually mean?
Core Web Vitals are tied primarily to site load-times and how these affect the useability of a site. It can be boiled down to three metrics: Loading, Interactivity, and Visual Stability. All three metrics are basically related to just one thing, and that is page speed: how fast does the page load, how soon does it get interactive, and how stable is it while loading.
Google has pretty much confirmed that the importance of Core Web Vitals is only going to increase in 2021, meaning you’ll have to keep an eye on them if you want your site to rank highly. Of course, they’re not set to overtake other ranking factors such as relevance in terms of importance but improving your site’s loading time could give it that extra nudge it needs.
Local SEO is evolving
It’d be an understatement to say that 2020 was a strange year for local SEO, and it seems like 2021 is set to be very similar. Partway through last year, Google was forced to scramble and introduce new features in response to COVID-19, such as additional functionality on Google My Business.
Still, it seems likely that local SEO will continue to focus on three same factors it always has: proximity, relevance, and prominence. No matter what changes Google makes this year, it’s hard to see these three pillars changing drastically. So, continuing to focus on these should at least help secure you against whatever 2021 brings.
Mobile UX will be more important than ever
Back in 2019, Google began rolling out mobile-first indexing, meaning that the search engine would consider businesses’ mobile sites as the primary one going forward. Given how the ratio of mobile traffic to desktop traffic has shifted over the past decade, it’s a change that made sense. And it seems like that ratio is only going to shift even further in mobile’s favour in 2021 and beyond.
More than ever, poor mobile UX is likely to hold back your site’s organic rankings. The best thing you can do when it comes to mobile UX is to think about the user first. For this, simplicity in design is key, though you may also consider how to personalise website content and elements based on your users. Keep their experience in mind every step of the way.
Focus on long-form content
Over the past year, we have witnessed articles over 2,000 words significantly outperform blogs with 1,000 words or less and this is set to continue further this year. This increased focus on longer content also stretches to meta descriptions too, with Google frequently displaying 320 character descriptions (the recommended length has long been 160.)
However, it’s important not to bloat out your content just for the sake of it – instead, focus on developing content that appeals to Google’s E-A-T guidelines. For the uninitiated, E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Keeping these guidelines in mind when writing long-form pieces will not only help you produce content that appeals to Google’s algorithm, but that users will want to engage with.
Understanding user intent
It looks like this year’s main SEO buzzword has already been decided: Intent. Building off our previous point, it’s essential to create content that people are searching for and to understand why they’re searching for it.
Searcher intent and behaviour is changing all the time, and this has been especially true over the past 12 months. When we understand the nature of why people search and help them with content that provides the answers they are looking for then both the user and the content producer can benefit from it. Paying close attention to search results will give you a leg up in creating competitive content in the way that searchers desire to consume it.
As we move into 2021, be sure to keep these trends in mind. Though the way that Google ranks pages is changing, it’s important to remember that, at its core, your strategy should remain the same: creating high-quality, valuable content that is well-optimised.
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