8 Jan 2021 How to SEO

How to SEO in 2021 – The Ultimate Guide

Wondering how to go about search engine optimisation (SEO) in 2021? Well, you have stumbled across the right blog. I will look into the best SEO tactics for 2021, focusing on the latest trends and things that you should be doing right now.

The blog will cover the following topics:

  • Is SEO dead in 2021?
  • SEO 2021 ranking factors
  • SEO 2021 checklist – the ultimate guide containing the top 15 trends (if you think we have missed anything please do let us know, as we can always add more).

Is SEO dead in 2021?

Before delving into the latest SEO trends, tips and tricks, I would first like to put the following myth to bed… is SEO dead in 2021?

SEO is very much alive. IT’S ALIVE! In my opinion, as long as we have the internet, in one way or the other we will have SEO. SEO is (and will be for the foreseeable future) a valuable strategy in driving traffic to your website, which you can then work on and convert to paying customers.

As long as you use the right SEO tactics and don’t deceive Google, you should see a significant amount of good, quality traffic going to your website (you can’t do much about spam, as this is sadly just part-and-parcel of having a website).

There’s no point in having a beautiful-looking website if no one can you find you, and that is where SEO comes in. You need to be optimising your website, so you can be found in search engines for related terms for your business.

Phew… think we have put that one to bed now.

SEO 2021 ranking factors

In order to create and implement a successful SEO strategy (which the below checklist will help with), first, we need to understand Google and its ranking factors.

Did you know Google uses over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm? Yeah, no joke.

Now, no one apart from Google knows exactly what these ranking factors are. I know, those Google folk are so secretive…

It’s not a lost cause. Yes, we don’t know the exact ranking factors but we can learn from experience and trying things. Take on board data and see what websites are doing that is improving their rankings.

Backlino have been awesome and put together a list of 200 ranking factors which was last updated 28 December 2018, some of which are proven, others controversial and some just speculation.

200 is quite a list but they have also summarised what they believe to be the most important:

  • Referring domains
  • Organic click-through-rate
  • Domain authority
  • Mobile usability
  • Dwell time
  • Total number of backlinks
  • Content quality
  • On-page SEO

SEO 2021 checklist

Now we have answered whether or not SEO is dead and explained Google’s ranking factors (we hope you are over the shock of how many there are), let’s get into the juicy bit of this blog.

Yes, that’s right, it’s time for the ultimate SEO 2021 checklist. Are you ready? You may need to grab yourself a cuppa…

  1. Featured snippets

If we search ‘how do you make the colour yellow’ in Google, we will get a feature snippet giving us an answer which Google believes to be the best fit.

Where does the text come from?

Google takes the text directly from a website and provides a link to that specific page.

screenshot showing a google featured snippet

People often describe the feature snippet as being at position 0, as it shows right above the organic search results and below the AdWords yellow block.

You can have many different types of featured snippets:

  • Text
  • Video
  • Lists
  • Tables

The million-dollar question is how can I get myself a featured snippet? Unfortunately, Google decides this. Not all search requests will be answered by a featured snippet. Google will decide this and choose which domain is best to use for the answer.

I would recommend doing research. Find the key phrases that are being answered by a snippet that you want to be found for and look at the page that has been chosen. Why has it been chosen? What do you need to add to your page?

A quick side note, whilst there is no mark-up you can use to force Google to use your domain in a snippet, you can tell Google to not show a page from your domain. Insert <meta name=“googlebot“ content=“nosnippet“> into the header of your page. Sadly, there is no mark-up you can use to force Google to use your page.

Top tip – with lists, Google can only show eight points in their snippets. To entice people to click that link provided in the snippet, try to provide more than eight points, as Google will show there is some content missing. No one likes FOMO now, do they?

  1. Structured data

In the last point, we touched on mark-up. In SEO, structured data refers to the method of website users using some type of mark-up on a page to provide additional detail to the search engine of what that page is about.

If a search engine like Google can better understand a page’s content, this improves relevancy signals and chances of being shown in enhances results such as featured snippets, knowledge boxes, carousels, rich cards etc.

This would be a very long blog post if we went into detail about structured data (people would just get bored), so we recommend checking out ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data’ by Moz.

screenshot of moz structured data guide for beginners

  1. User experience

Back in the early days of the internet and Google, the only thing that mattered to us SEO’ers were rankings. Optimisation practices involved getting the keyword on the page as many times as possible.

However, over the years Google has become more sophisticated and so has SEO. A big part of SEO is user experience. When putting together a page, the layout and text has to have the end-user in mind. Will they have a super lovely time on your website, or will they get frustrated by over-optimised content, pop-ups, a user journey that doesn’t make sense and go elsewhere? To your competitors… shock horror.

Google will cotton on quickly if a page has a high bounce rate. They will know people aren’t sticking around so they need to serve a different page for a search query. Meaning you may get dropped from the rankings.

orange space hoppers with a smiley face

  1. AMP

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages and it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. AMP is an open-source coding standard. The aim with AMP is to be able to load sites quickly on a mobile device.

Mobile responsive can be clunky and slow because desktop resources tend to be heavier. Basically, a desktop can handle a lot more than a mobile can. AMP is a way around this.

One of the main benefits of AMP is speed, which is always going to be a key factor of SEO. A fast loading accelerated mobile page will only benefit your users.

  1. Content matters

I see far too many website pages, especially the homepage, which uses little to no text. Yes, Google’s algorithms are getting more and more sophisticated, but it still needs content in the form of text to understand what that page is about and determine relevancy.

Google uses the latest technology with Rankbrain (we’ve written more about this below) to better understand and analyse textual content. This is going to get better and better, therefore, your goal as a website owner should always be to offer the best content for users on your specific topic.

This reminds me of a talk during Marketed.Live, where Chris Marr (founder of the Content Marketing Association) said brands should aim to become the Wikipedia of their industry. Do this!

  1. Voice search

I’m just going to throw some interesting stats your way about the expectations from Brafton’s blog about the subject… ready?

  • By 2020, 30% of web browsing will be screenless
  • 50% of all searches will be voice search by 2020
  • 75% of smart speaker owners search for local businesses on a weekly basis

More and more people are using digital assistants and smart home devices. Nowadays it definitely feels less alien to talk to your mobile, its almost second nature. Features such as voice are being used more and more.

How do you optimise for this? Well, with voice search, users communicate directly with the search engine in voice-controlled searches. This means the focus should be on more longtail keywords, such as questions.

Pro tip – use ‘Answer The Public’ to find questions you can answer.

If you are wanting more on this subject, Kommando Tech have recently published a blog that has 41 interesting voice search stats and facts, that is definitely worth checking out.

screenshot of answer the public

  1. Mobile first index

Taking into consideration that the number of users search the web on mobile has exceeded the number of desktop users, it’s no surprise that in the last few years Google has focused more heavily on mobile.

Here’s a timeline of what has happened so far:

  • 2016 – Mobile optimisation introduced as a ranking factor
  • 2017 – Google increased advertising for AMP and improves mobile updates
  • 2018 – ‘Mobile First Index’ is implemented

google mobile first index infographic

What is ‘Mobile First Index’? Here’s a nice little quote from Google themselves:

screenshot of google explaining mobile first indexing

What does this mean?

You need to make sure your website and pages are optimised for mobile. It does shock me that in this day and age, some websites are still not mobile friendly and the user experience when on a mobile device is pants. Sort it out people!

  1. Links – still the bread and butter

If I could have penny every time I hear… “Link building is dead’ or something similar I would, well, have a lot of pennies!

Backlinks are still important. Gary Illyes from Google has even said that good old PageRank is still an important ranking factor and Google uses this internally. How is link power (also known as authority) achieved? You guessed it… through backlinks!

There’s even talk of “linkless backlinks” playing an even bigger role. This is where Google can consider mentions of companies/brands on other websites, even if there is no actual link. Pretty cool right? How many times have you seen a mention of a brand but no link?

Do old link building tactics still work?

Link building via third party article portals or unmotivated/unrelated guest posts won’t work. Instead, the focus should be on unique, awesome content that people will want to consume and share with others.

Google have even warned themselves against low-quality posts, where it’s obvious that the goal is to get a link rather than providing value to the end user.

Every time you build a link, ask yourself, does this really offer value to the end user? If not, don’t do it! Save your link building soul!

Julia McCoy wrote an awesome post on Search Engine Journal all about using guest blogging for natural link building.

And before you ask, no, guest blogging isn’t dead…

  1. Image search

Google definitely upped their image search game in 2017. This was bad news for some website owners, as they actually found traffic losses because a user didn’t have to leave Google in order to properly view an image. Instead, they can even click their way through, pretty much like a picture gallery.

To jump on this trend, make sure you are optimising your visual material. Are you pictures better than your competitors? Humans are visual learners, are you using images to enhance the learning experience?

Images themselves, have they been optimised? Have you compressed size for site speed? Are the image file names (not just leaving them to default to something like DF999567.jpeg) and alt tags properly optimised? Remember, just because the end user can see that it’s a pink hat doesn’t necessarily mean Google knows this.

  1. Rankbrain

Here is a detailed definition of what Rankbrain is, which comes from Moz, who are very knowledgeable when it comes to this type of thing.

“RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries. Pre-RankBrain, Google utilized its basic algorithm to determine which results to show for a given query. Post-RankBrain, it is believed that the query now goes through an interpretation model that can apply possible factors like the location of the searcher, personalization, and the words of the query to determine the searcher’s true intent. By discerning this true intent, Google can deliver more relevant results.”

What this means is that search engines will become better and better at understanding us complex humans. This is also good news for those of us who focus on creating great content that gives value to the end user.

  1. Page speed

We all know Google is crazy for ensuring the best user experience (UX) and being able to deliver it fast. How long pages take to load on desktop has been a ranking factor for some time now. In July last year, mobile page speed also became a ranking factor for mobile.

When it comes to optimising for speed, we need to understand the metrics that matter to Google in terms of page speed evaluation.

Back in the day, when using PageSpeed Insights, sites were evaluated on technical parameters. Now, sites are graded for both desktop and mobile according to two different metrics which are optimisation and speed.

screenshot of google page insights

Data for the speed score is taken from Chrome User Experience report. The report reflects how your site loads for each visitor. As you can imagine, it’s near impossible to measure just how fast each visitor’s device loads your site, meaning you can’t get this metric through local tests.

The optimisation score is different, as you can control this by fixing any of the issues that are stopping your website from loading quickly.

The question is, which metric has the strongest influence on rankings? Optimisation or speed? SEO PowerSuite conducted a study and found a strong correlation between the page’s optimisation score and where it ranked in Google. However, there was no correlation between position and speed.

What does this mean?

This means if Google rates your site as slow, your rankings will stay the same. The speed metric is new and hasn’t been around for the same amount of time as the optimisation score. I imagine, in time, correlations will change.

Page Speed Infographic

Top 10 Web Hosting have gone into more detail on the subject of page speed and have in fact put together an infographic of ‘Website Load Time Statistics’. Definitely worth checking out.

  1. GDPR

Hands up who got annoyed with their inbox filling up with GDPR emails, with every man and his dog offering their services?

Trust me, my hand is up too but GDPR needs addressing because, due to the regulation, Google made changes to it’s Analytics tool.

GDPR regulates who owns the data created by user’s interactions online. From May 25, 2018, users own data and not the companies who collect it. Under the new rules, users can ask a company to see that personal data they have and ask for a correction or export. There are hefty fines for those who don’t comply.

GDPR affects EU companies and customers. International companies should comply, too, and, as a result, all personal user data in Google Analytics now expires after 26 months from when it was first collected. Data affected is demographic and affinity, whereas sessions and goal completion are not.

It is possible to change the data collection period and it is possible to delete the data of an individual user.

If you are an international customer with no European customers, you can select ‘do not automatically expire’ in settings. Please be aware, that by doing this Google is putting the responsibility on to you if things go south.

screenshot of data retention in google analytics

If you are a European company and/or you have European customers, we would recommend reviewing all sources that are collecting data, update privacy policies to adhere to GDPR requirements, review your cookie consent form, and for those who use Google Tag Manager, make sure you activate IP anonymisation.

  1. Amazon search

We all know that Amazon is the largest search engine for e-commerce, however people tend to forget its a search engine. People will start a search by opening Amazon.

We need to take Amazon more seriously as a search engine, especially seeing as 54 per cent of product searches now take place on Amazon

You could argue that Amazon is the Google of e-commerce. Those that sell something online and not on Amazon… just think of all those potential customers you’re missing out on!

So begs the question, how do I optimise for Amazon?

  1. Start with keyword research, Rank Tracker has an awesome Amazon Autocomplete keyword research tool
  2. Titles and descriptions for items need to be efficient and user-friendly
  3. Use high-quality images
  4. Use backend keywords (similar to meta tags in Google) as they let Amazon know that a specific item targets a specific keyword
  5. Don’t ignore reviews and complaints… deal with them! The good and the bad
  1. Click Through Rate (CTR)

A common debate in the SEO world is whether or not CTR is a ranking factor. I follow Britney Muller (SEO Scientist at Moz) on Twitter and she tweeted that CTR does indeed matter. She found a quote from Google, after playing around with a Google tool:

“Google works continuously to improve its products, including the user of customer data from Google consumer data to refine these products. For example, when you a click a link in Google Search, Google considers your click when ranking that search result in future queries.”

screenshot of britney muller tweet about ctr

What does this mean?

This means we should consistently be testing things like meta descriptions and title tags. What is working to entice people to click your listing in search engines? What can you improve? What is your competition doing?

  1. Video

Video is arguably one of the most popular forms of content on the internet. Just look at social media and video streaming websites and their high volumes of traffic.

Video is also becoming more and more accessible, what with increasingly fast internet speed and mobile being the preferred platform of choice for internet browsing.

Video streaming sites like YouTube, TikTok and Twitch have become a popular form of entertainment. You could say that online video is more widespread than TV, as streaming numbers reach billions on a very regular basis.

This means video SEO is totally a thing nowadays. Video is the type of content people want to consume, so why not be the ones offering it? But how do you make video searchable, allowing for traffic and views?

Here are a few tips for optimising video:

  • Conduct keyword research – head on over to YouTube and pop in a word or phrase, YouTube will give you a bunch of related keywords
  • Update old/out of date videos
  • Optimise quality – look at audio and video quality, along with graphics and images
  • Take advantage of social media sharing and live video
  • Integrate videos into the rest of your content
  • Optimise video length – longer videos tend to rank better
  • Include captions (some people will watch your videos with no sounds)
  • Include a CTA at the end – keep people engaged
  • Optimise the title – aim for the title to be at least five words long and include your keyword
  • Utilise tags
  • Don’t forget to promote!

Phew, that brings me to the end of my blog folks. I hope you found it useful and interesting?

Get in touch if you would like to talk about SEO or find out more about our SEO services.

If you liked this blog, you may enjoy reading ‘can you SEO a Wix site?

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