The old ways of SEO are dying. The black hat SEO of the late 2000s is long gone, and new SEO techniques have changed how search engine optimization is done.
Content has been king forever, but is it still? Yes and no.
SEO took a few twists and turns in 2020, including Google coming out with some of the most impactful algorithm updates of the last few years with the BERT update and E-A-T (ranking knowledgeable experts higher). Still, everything about search engine optimization can't be traced back to Google's search team.
The way people use the internet is always evolving, and as SEO's, we need to keep up with the times. Let's take a look at what has changed, and more importantly, what SEO trends take to get your content to the top of search engines in the coming year and beyond.
1. Voice Search is Here to Stay
You may have heard rumbles of voice search becoming more and more prevalent, you may have even asked Siri or the Google Assistant for a few answers, but did you know that a whopping one-fifth of google search results are through voice in recent years? And that study was done in 2016. That number is undoubtedly higher now. So what does that mean for you as an aspiring marketing guru?
It means you can no longer ignore voice search as a fad because it isn't. You need to optimize your content, so the answers to conversation questions are easily readable for the all-knowing google robots.
Actionable Tip: Clearly outlining the answer to a question you are writing about in the first paragraph dramatically increases the chances that Google will pull that answer out for a featured snippet.
2. Featured Snippets and Zero-click Searches are the New Norm
Featured snippets are the answers to your questions that you see when you type something into Google that lives directly on the SERP, or search engine results page, in the SERP features.
Most SEO's lose sleep over featured snippets because more and more people's searches result in what they call "zero-click searches" because of them. If the exact answer you are looking for is right there on google, then there is no need to click on anything else! That means there is no traffic driven to your web page and no opportunities for users to see any ads or knowledge graphs, or offers that might live there.
BUT, these SEO's are missing the point.
If you want to get your content ranking higher on Google, you need to focus on one thing - delivering information to your customers as effectively and consistently as possible. So much attention at Google is placed on providing a great customer experience. Embrace it. If that means Google pulls the featured snippet from your article and puts in on the SERP, then so be it - you have made the searchers' life more comfortable, and that is progress.
Not only have you answered the searcher's life easier, but you have also gained more trust from the Google algorithm overlords! Success! We all know that domain authority factors into how easy it is for your site's content to rank, so the more Google trusts you, the better off you are.
So do not fear zero-click searches. Embrace them and be a part of the movement to make searcher's lives more convenient. Google and your bottom line will thank you in the long run.
Actionable tip: Answer the searcher's question as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The faster users can get the answer they are looking for, the more trust your website will gain.
3. Content Optimization with Search Intent In Mind
While we are on the topic of making life easier for searchers - the best way to do that is still with high-quality content creation. The adage "content is king" will always be the most crucial phrase in any form of marketing, and SEO is no exception.
For the search engine results to be optimized, hence SEO, the content needs to be exactly what the searcher is looking for. That means that not only does it need to be the right information, but it also needs to be presented in the right way.
What is the "right way"? That is when researching search intent comes into play.
When you are looking up sources and finding out the latest and greatest information available, you will also notice a pattern with the layout and type of pages you are seeing high on Google's first page, especially for long-tail keywords. Are all of the top-ranking sites blog posts? Listicles? Product pages?
It's critical to recognize this and create content in the same way. If numbered lists make up 9 spots in the top 10 - that is the most searcher-friendly format for the content to be presented in and is most likely to generate backlinks and social media shares. When I wrote this post - I saw nothing but numbered lists, hence the numbered list!
Actionable Tip: Check the top 10 SERP results for your keyword and determine what type of page has the best chance to rank based on what is already ranking.
4. Artificial Intelligence is Taking Over the SEO World
We have heard AI is taking over every industry with machine learning and natural matching since the 1990s, and most of it has come to fruition. The robots haven't taken over the world yet, thankfully, but we need to embrace AI as it emerges into the SEO marketplace to avoid getting left behind.
We have been at the mercy of Google's algorithm for over a decade, but as it continues to get smarter and smarter, so are the third-party platforms that are trying to compete for the top spots.
Platforms like AHrefs, SEMRush, and even free tools like Ubersuggest already provide great insights for keyword targeting and content ideation based on how people are using the web. But new tools like ClearScope and Topic are now providing writers with detailed breakdowns and outlines about precisely what their content should focus on. In fact, that's how I wrote this content.
Now, I still had to write this… but soon, that may not be the case. There are players out in the game already successfully testing AI written content, and quite frankly, it is already getting harder and harder to tell the difference. So what can we as SEO's do to combat this change?
Actionable Tip: Embrace it. Learn how these platforms work and start using them to your advantage. Leverage every tool you can get your hands on, and it can open up your time to strategy and client communications.
5. Local SEO Isn't Simple Anymore
One thing that isn't necessarily changing about SEO is the importance of local SEO. From the beginning of writing this article to this point, the stock market has crashed over 30%, and a global pandemic has shut down the entire country - this means that local businesses across the country will be struggling to keep their doors open.
Local SEO ensures that when people search for a service or product they need locally, they find you. And with businesses struggling to keep their doors open, showing up on the first page of Google is a lifeline that many cannot live without. However, merely optimizing your homepage for a few key terms will no longer get the job done.
Google utilizes schema data as one of the many important factors to understand who you are, where you are, and what you offer. Without having your technical data correct, Google won't know that you are the best place in town when people search "Yoga studio near me." On top of optimizing your page, you also need to lean on the help from other domains, primarily citation sources built for local businesses like Yelp, Angie's List, and especially Google My Business. If you haven't claimed your local business on Google My Business, it might as well not exist. For a complete guide to crushing Google My Business, check out this comprehensive post.
A considerable percentage of clicks go straight to the GMB results section that sits above the organic results -and this makes sense. Google runs Google, obviously, so it wants its own products to be featured front and center to deliver the most value to keep businesses and customers in their ecosystem.
Actionable Tip: Make sure your schema data is accurate with all of your vital information, including name, address, phone number, contact info, locations.
6. Optimize for Mobile and Every Other Device
Everyone knows that your content and website need to be optimized for mobile in 2021 and beyond, but it truly needs to be optimized for every device for the ideal user experience. We already covered voice above, but again, more and more searches are happening through Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, and that number will only go up! Optimizing for mobile means the site needs to be built with a responsive framework for the mobile version of the site, meaning the size of text and images changes based on the size of the device you are viewing the site on. And it needs to be fast!
Mobile users are especially prone to leave a site if it takes too long to load since more desktop users are B2B looking for specific solutions to their problems. If you are an e-commerce site and the page is not optimized for mobile, your business is doomed. Literally, you cannot survive with a slow, clunky site with 1000 competitors lined up behind you, ready to steal that customer away from you.
Actionable Tip: Make sure your page is responsive and all of the images are compressed to avoid long load times.
7. Visuals are Critical for Search in 2021 and Beyond
Sometimes you need to see it to believe it. This is especially true with organic search results more and more every day.
13 percent of searches are now completely entirely through Google image search, and YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, only behind its parent company, Google. This means that merely writing an excellent article isn't enough anymore.
Searchers are often looking for videos or images, especially when it comes to How-to content and retail. This should come as no surprise in the e-commerce world, where customers absolutely need to see their product before buying it. From an SEO perspective, this means your alt tags need to be incredibly descriptive. Creating an alt tag that says "Backpack" won't help you rank when searching for backpacks online since that term is so competitive.
However, if you write the alt tag "Neon Green Medium Backpack with a water-resistant outer layer," you are much more likely to rank in the Google image results when people use any combination of those keywords in their search. Will the volume be as high? No, but you will get significantly more business when you do show up for a lower volume term versus never showing up for a high volume one.
Actionable Tip: Make your alt tags as descriptive as possible.
See You In The Future
2020 has been a crazy year so far, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Take this time at home to optimize your content for the long haul and get out in front of your competition.