SEO Trends for 2021- Part Four
June 23, 2021 |
In this month’s SEO Trends for 2021, we take a deep dive into the human side of SEO.
Yes, as SEOs we all love optimizing pages, applying canonical tags, and trying to figure out the latest algorithms. But, we should never lose sight of the fact that SEO is a form of marketing.
As marketers, we are marketing to people.
People buy your products. People use your services.
So, to help you out...
In this post you will find:
- Three sound strategies to help you keep control of your organic traffic as Google becomes more competitive
- How listening to your audience can substantially boost your SEO results
- How focusing too much on Google algorithms might hurt your SEO in the long run
In case you missed part one, part two, or part three of the SEO Trends for 2021, rather than distracting you here, I’ll be linking to them at the conclusion of this post.
Kevin Indig leads SEO as Director @ Shopify and is the creator of the Growth Memo newsletter. Previously, he ran SEO & Content @ G2 and Atlassian and helped companies like eBay, Eventbrite, Samsung, Pinterest, and many others grow their inbound traffic.
Provide an Outstanding User Experience
Only fools make predictions about the future, but it stretches your brain a bit. So, let’s think about where I see SEO going in the next 12-24 months. If you don’t know where something is going, maybe you can look at where it came from, in the hope to draw a straight line and end up directionally correct. When I look at what happened in SEO over the last 12-24 months, I see 3 basic trends.
First, Google experiments with SERP Features like Featured Snippets, PPAs (People Also Asked), Maps, etc. The idea is to augment search results to help users find answers faster. Rank Ranger was so kind as to provide me data of +100,000 keywords from 2018 to 2020. What I found is that SERP Features aren’t "static”. Google tests and adjusts them on a country, device, and query level. I don’t know what the criteria are, but it’s certainly not a "one-and-done” situation. Many SERP Features make clicks to websites redundant. As a result, they can severely impair organic traffic, even with stable ranks.
Second, SEO is growing as a channel and an industry. More companies have understood that you can build a viable business, maybe even a Unicorn on Growth Loops driven by organic traffic. As a result, SEO has become and is becoming more competitive in all areas: content quality, link building, technical optimization, etc. It’s getting harder to get into and stay in the top results, and I don’t see it becoming easier any time soon. In many industries, you need strong brands to even enter the race.
Third, Google is one of the biggest investors in machine learning and might have the most accurate understanding of natural language at scale in the world. The goal is to understand implicit meaning, something that’s easy for humans but infinitely difficult for machines. The better Google gets at that, the better the machine understands when marketers just synthesize the top results on Google versus when writers have a deep understanding of the matter. If you’re a subject matter expert and have ever read content written by someone who just pretends to be, I’m sure you immediately sniffed it out. That’s the level Google wants to get at, and the chances are good.
Let me finish with a statement about the second-order effects of these three trends. When Google gets better, the competition becomes harder, and we lose more control of how much organic traffic we get. There are three things we can do about it. First, provide a user experience in your content or product that’s so outstanding users come to your site directly. Building a strong brand is a result of that. Second, seek to get high-quality traffic from other sites, also known as referral traffic, to be less dependent on Google. Third, develop a high level of execution. Shipping fast means learning fast.
Together, I think these three principles can make sites successful and robust in 2021 and the coming 24 months, no matter what happens.
Bibi the Link Builder is the crazy founder over at BibiBuzz - where her outreach Jedi pew-pew powerful backlinks to her excellent clientele. She's infamously known for doling out world-saving link-building advice, creative link training, and pointless dad jokes.
Back to Common Sense: Shut up and listen
Even before the pandemic started, I’ve been buried in link-building clients. So deep that I’ve hardly been able to come up for air & gauge the SEO weather.
So, as far as predicting trends go, I feel super outdated! I also mostly live on the ‘soft’ side of SEO, so don’t ask me for any techy pointers.
But, as I’ve learned over the years, sticking to common sense usually gets you pretty far. So here’s my humble take:
The cat-and-mouse game between Google and SEO Rebels will continue. Google gets smarter, but will always leave a pattern, which SEOs try to poke holes in with even smarter tactics. Then these tactics get overused, which results in a pattern that Google recognizes and tries to shut down. Rinse and repeat.
This back and forth can be fun and lucrative and takes the sting out of having to deal with actual humans. Which is something most SEOs are highly allergic to. But gurl, do they love tinkering!
For me, however, it’s more about making things as simple as possible. Simply because my brain can’t contain more than 2.5 steps at a time. And on top of that, I’m extremely human-oriented.
You’d think that wouldn’t work in a complicated environment such as the webs with its algos, BERT, pandas, and penguins running amok. But it does, and my assumption is that it will keep working in the future.
So here are my two cents:
- Stop overthinking, use your common sense
- Stop over-tactisizing, stick to your why
- Listen to your audience and your link prospects
- Remove all hurdles to get them what they ask
But most importantly: just shut up and listen for a sec. Paying genuine attention to others is a rare find these days, and a great skill to cultivate. Are your customers asking about a specific thing? Get them that thing, and make it as easy to get to as possible. Are your link prospects asking for money? Give them something that will help sell to their audience.
As far as the softer side of things goes, forget about Google. They make general rules but those don’t always apply to your niche audience. The actual behavior of your audience is what dictates your results. So just use your common sense and figure out what they resonate with.
Now don’t get this twisted: genius matrix-styley tactics work, absolutely. But for those people like me, who love hoomans and like things straightforward: I see you!
Stephen has been working on the front-line of the internet business for twenty years. In that time he has launched various eCommerce ventures, headed up online marketing for leading UK brand verticals, and worked in award-winning agencies. Today Stephen spreads his time between Sweden and the UK running Optimise.
Get Back To Basics
It's pretty clear from our observations that the SEO industry is largely taking its steer from Google much more in recent times than it did before, we see a lot of discussion around Google Page Speed, Core Web Vitals
and numerous tools now coming into the picture that aims to help match, optimize, and even create content that aligns with users search intent.
Whether these should be the focus is perhaps less certain, but given Google has been more transparent in recent years with updates and regular communication, the industry certainly listens and follows along closely.
From a top-level, none of this seems harmful or wrong as we all want to see a better Web where sites load quickly, are optimized for a fantastic mobile experience, and the content we get to see is not only what we were looking for when we performed our search in Google, but is also of high quality and delivers exceptional value.
I don't think anyone would argue against that. However, the rise of so-called AI and ML tools that now offer the possibility to optimize content in certain ways or even generate content is interesting. If you lurk in many of the forums and communities you can see people discussing this technology to create content at scale and the tone and language being is about beating the algorithms.
This makes me nervous. If I cast my mind back over the years, we have seen the industry taking short-cuts in SEO and then getting hit with algorithms named after black and white animals. So I wonder how long it will be before all this new automated content will be tolerated? You can start to see it in some SERPs and the amount of discussion about this is getting pretty strong which leads me to think that there is a lot of content now being pumped out this way.
In terms of what we see working today, certainly, sites that have put in the effort on PageSpeed and UX are getting rewarded. Also the area I already mentioned about aligning pages and content to the user intent we see Google rewarding sites that have understood the relationship, particularly when sites have done some research and established what content frameworks work best for their audience to maximize amplification and link acquisition.
I still think the basics can get you a long way too. Site structure and relevancy are a big part of things as is authority. Sometimes you should just go back to basics rather than diving into all the shiny objects that seem to be presented to us on a daily basis.
Market to People, Not Algorithms
As search engines develop, they’re beginning to approximate how people think about content. There is no question, this means the user experience and search journey is improving exponentially.
Today content must be focused on the end-user, not the algorithms. In other words, algorithms don’t buy your products.
The point is we should never lose sight of the fact that SEO is a form of marketing and marketing is all about how we can provide value for our audiences.
Especially in an industry like SEO, where there is a highly technical aspect to the art.
This attitude should permeate every aspect of a business.
I hope you got as much value as I did from this post.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, check out SEO Trends for 2021 part 1
, part 2
, and part 3