The hardest part about SEO is its fluidity. Google updates its algorithm 500-600 times a year. That means there’s at least one update every single day of the year. Even SEO specialists who dedicate their whole life’s work to figuring out rank criteria still end up scratching their heads at the end of the day.
It’s impossible to keep track of all the changes. Don’t waste your time with that. But if you stay in the know about some of the biggest trends and SEO techniques of 2021, you’ll be a head above your competition. We know that 75% of searchers never go past the first page of search results. So it’s essential to figure out how to beat these algorithm updates, and remain on the first page of search engine result pages.
To help keep you from constantly refreshing Google’s update page, we put together this list of the top 10 important SEO techniques of 2021.
1. Understand Your Site’s Core Web Vitals
Core web vitals might be a new SEO term you haven’t heard of. But in 2021, it’s essential you familiarize yourself with what these mean, and the metric benchmarks behind them. In May, Google will roll out Page Experience, a new algorithm that ranks pages based off of its core web vital scores.
So what are core web vitals? Google defines them as a set of metrics that measure speed, responsiveness, and visual stability. We dig a little deeper into what core web vitals mean in this post, but here’s a quick recap.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) - Measures page speed. This is the time it takes for a page’s main content to load. The ideal LCP is 2.5 seconds or faster.
- First Input Delay (FID) - Measures page responsiveness. This is the time it takes for a page to become interactive. The ideal FID is less than 100 ms.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - Measures visual stability. This is the amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. The ideal CLS is less than .1.
Now that you know what you should be measuring for, how do you measure it? Google has updated many of its existing tools to include core web vitals measurement capabilities. Each of these tools offer reports that give details and insights into the health of your core web vital metrics. Consider spending some time in each of these platforms and familiarizing yourself with these reports, and how you might be able to improve your scores before the new page experience update goes live.
- Google Search Console
- PageSpeed Insights
- Chrome DevTools
- Chrome UX Report
- Web Vitals Extension
In October of 2020, Google launched what they call Passage ranking where individual passages on web pages can be ranked along with the whole page itself. Why does this matter? This means that Google can pull out sections from a page even if that page is covering a different topic than what is displaying in the SERP.
For example, say you wrote a blog post on social media marketing, covering a variety of different aspects within social media marketing, such as tools, strategy, metrics, networks, etc. Your page might rank for the keyword social media marketing tools, even though you may not have optimized for that keyword. Because Google sees a relevant passage about social media marketing tools in your post, it’s indexing that specific passage.
Here’s another example of passage ranking from Google.
Optimizing for Google’s Passage ranking is really as simple as creating an easy to read blog post and user friendly experience. Your biggest focus should be on creating clear sections within posts. Focus on incorporating keywords as headings for these sections. Your content within these sections should be clear and focused on the subtopic within. Think of it as a blog post within a blog post. These sections should always be relevant to your main topic, but also make sense contextually if they were to stand alone.
3. Focus on Featured Snippets
Featured snippets, if not already, should become a part of your strategy in 2021. Also known as the holy grail of search, featured snippets appear in position zero, or at the very top of the SERP page in a rectangular box.
Sure, you can’t select the content shown in a featured snippet, but you can optimize your content so it’s more likely to appear in a featured snippet. Here are a few recommendations.
Long Term Keywords
According to SEMrush, the longer words in a search query, the higher chance it will return a featured snippet. Only 4.3% of single word keywords resulted in a featured snippet as compared to 17% of keywords made up of 5 words, and 55.5% of keywords made of 10 words.
Any content you write should be created with user intent in mind. Most often, when people search Google they use queries in the form of questions. So writing content with these questions and answers in mind, will set you up to earn more featured snippets.
SEMrush found question words, “why”, “do” and “can” return the most featured snippets, whereas the word “where” triggered the least amount of featured snippets.
There are four different types of featured snippet formats: paragraph, list, table and video. When you write your content, keep these different formats in mind. Also keep in mind the purpose of a featured snippet. Google wants to display information easily and distinctly to searchers looking for a fast answer. So format for the speed reader.
That’s not to say you can’t have longer paragraphs of text within your posts, but keep that content after your featured snippet definition. This should be short, clear, and to the point.
4. Learn the EAT Principle
The EAT principle can help you master longterm SEO success, despite Google’s constantly changing algorithm. Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? But what in the world is EAT?
EAT stands for expertise, authority and trustworthiness. It’s essentially the measurement of your brand’s reputation on the web. Google ranks more established, brand authentic and trustworthy sites higher than those unknown.
If your industry is a bit more saturated than other markets, you might be thinking how in the world am I supposed to beat out some of my competitors who are huge companies, or well established brand names?
Start small, don’t feel overwhelmed. There are clear steps you can take to establish your brand’s authority, trustworthiness, and reputation. Here are a few:
- Ask customers to leave good reviews on reputable sites like Yelp, the BBB, Amazon, or Google.
- Earn high quality links from sites in your industry.
- Get active and encourage mentions on public forums.
- Demonstrate EAT on your website through testimonials, case studies, reviews and other forms of social proof.
5. Support Multiple Long-Tail Keyword Phrases
With every algorithm update that Google releases, the search engine becomes more advanced. Now, Google has announced that it can understand relevant subtopics of a specific keyword. For example, if you were to search “home exercise equipment”, Google now understands that “budget equipment”, “premium picks”, or “small space ideas” are relevant subtopics, and SERPs will display a wider range of results.
What does this mean for SEO? There will be a lot more competition for shorter tail keywords. But if you utilize long tail keywords, or more specific keywords with three words or more, you’ll have a higher chance of ranking for that relevant phrase, and possibly related phrases as well.
Here’s an example. If you're trying to rank for “custom branded apparel”, maybe your title, meta description and URL includes that phrase, but you also incorporate “logo jackets for companies”, “ branded sweatshirts and tshirts”, and “sweaters for businesses” into your content as well. This helps you rank for a variety of different search queries, and lets Google know that custom branded apparel is related to these other long tail keywords too.
6. Create New Content
This might seem kind of obvious, but sometimes marketers get too caught up in the details of their on page SEO, and neglect to focus on creating new quality content for searchers. Keep in mind that over 4.4 million blog posts are published every day. So if you're not producing new content on a regular basis, it’s pretty easy to fall behind.
When you create new content you also have a chance to optimize for today’s SEO best practices on the first go. Focus on page titles, content headers, subheads, image alt text, and the new keywords your targeting.
Fresh content is also seen by users as more valuable than old content. When people are searching for an answer to a question, they often look at the date for relevance. If your posts all have old dates and outdated information, they will quickly skip over to the next search results.
Finally, freshness is a ranking factor in and of itself. The more you publish, the more frequently Google will index your pages, and the more quickly your content will rank.
7. Update Old Content
Though you may be busy creating new content, you can’t neglect updating your old content. This is an essential SEO technique of 2021. If you're only publishing new content, your old content will fall off the map and become irrelevant. Since you probably invested a lot of time into those old posts, don’t miss out on the opportunity they could offer.
One of the easiest ways to go back and refresh old content is by doing a link audit. Find and fix any external links that are broken or outdated. This not only improves your user experience, but keeps you from being penalized by Google for having too many broken links.
Go back and update your internal links too. As you create fresh content, don’t forget to go back into relevant old content and add links to these new posts. This tells Google that there is a relationship between these pages, and will help Google index your new pages faster, while helping your posts rank higher for relevant search queries.
8. Focus on User Experience
Honestly, when it comes to SEO, every tactic should somehow relate to improving user experience. That’s what SEO is all about. In 2021, this will be more important than ever before.
After all, the new focus on core web vitals is all about user experience. But on top of that, Google also takes into account bounce rate, dwell time, and click-through percentage. The goal is to have a user click on your result, spend time clicking on different pages, and spend at least 3 minutes on your site.
Here are some factors to consider when analyzing your user experience:
- Mobile friendliness - does your site have a mobile responsive design?
- Navigation - is it easy for users to find other pages on your site?
- Page speed - does it take forever for your site to load?
- Interactivity - do you have features on your site that get users to interact with your content?
- Content quality - do you have typos, broken links, or just plain poor content?
By improving some of these areas, you’ll see that users will begin to spend more time on your site. As a result, Google will start to rank your site and corresponding pages higher in SERPs.
All because of good user experience.
9. Don’t Forget About Images
Over 20% of all U.S. web searches happen on Google Images. So to conquer SEO in 2021, it’s essential to know how to optimize any images for search.
Start by making sure any images you use are high quality and relevant to your keyword. It should be clear to users what your content is about just by looking at your image.
Always make sure you're compressing any images you use before uploading them to your site. Remember, Google is looking at page speed as a ranking factor. Images make up 21% of a total webpage’s weight, which means even just one large image can slow down a fast site. Squoosh is an easy and free tool you can use to quickly compress your images.
Image alt tags are also very important. This is the text alternative to images, and is used by search engines to help associate keywords to your image. Additionally, this is what appears in the top left corner to a user if your image doesn’t load. When creating your alt text, make sure to include relevant information and keywords when necessary. However, be careful not to keyword stuff. If it doesn’t make sense to incorporate said keyword, don’t include it. Google might see this as spam, and penalize your site as a result.
10. Build Up Your Backlinks
Backlinks are the heart of SEO. You really can’t have a solid SEO strategy in 2021 and still ignore building high quality links back to your site.
Why? Backlinks are a critical way to build brand authority. And we’ve already determined that in 2021, expertise, authority and trustworthiness will be more important than ever. When a site, with already established reputable authority, links back to your site, your EAT factor is boosted, and thus Google sees your site as a valid answer for searchers.
We put together a whole guide on how to build up your backlink strategy. From email templates, to the do’s and don’ts of link building, learn more about how to build backlinks effectively. Here are some quick tips:
- Focus on quality over quantity - the domain authority of your linker is more important than the amount of links you have.
- Consider guest blogging.
- Use online forums to share your content and reach out to people in your industry.
- Leverage social media by sharing valuable content and reaching out to others about backlinking to your own site.
- Find unlinked mentions and turn them into links.
Beat Out Competition with These Important SEO Techniques of 2021
It’s impossible to keep up with every single Google algorithm update. Keeping track of the latest trends is helpful, but still difficult for a busy marketer. So the biggest SEO technique to keep in mind at all times is to optimize for people.
Quit trying to write content for the search engine. In 2021, people and experiences are at the core of every SEO technique and trick out there. So focus your time and energy on developing high quality content, that answers and informs your target persona. This is the foundation of any good SEO strategy. From there, use the important SEO techniques of 2021 to refine, tinker and optimize your efforts.