Every year someone sounds the alarm that SEO is dying. But with an estimated value of over $70 billion, and more business and social life than ever migrating online, search engine optimization isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And for some businesses, it may be more important than ever.
That said, the tricks of the trade that worked in 2010 aren’t going to cut it in the 2020s, and could be actively killing your rankings. Think of SEO as a Gen Zer. She’s plugged in to an assortment of social media platforms, and comfortable using their built-in search features to find exactly what she’s looking for. Hungry for deep dives on topics of interest to her, but quick to jump ship on a website with a subpar user experience.
In other words, as technology has changed at a rapid rate, so have expectations. Launching a website or online store has never been easier. Expanding your audience or customer base is possible for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. SEO, too, is constantly evolving and changing. For the time being Google has a pretty solid grip on standalone search, but Facebook, Amazon, YouTube are fielding more and more searches, and orienting their sites to be more search-friendly if they weren’t already.
So, with further ado, let’s dive into how these changes could affect your SEO approach, and your bottom line, in 2021.
SEO in 2021
One thing that hasn’t changed, despite all the technological disruptions coming down the pipeline: content is still king. But if content is king, context is queen. So instead of concise blog articles that answer one question, longer reads (1,000+ words) that address several questions and provide additional context are now dominating search rankings. You see, our little Gen Zer is growing up and evolving and becoming more sophisticated. She doesn’t just believe everything she sees anymore and requires context and more in-depth explanation to understand what’s going on.
Google makes it easy to see what questions people are asking by showing you a list of questions that surround the main search term. It follows that writing content that answers all of those questions in one place is a great way to increase your likelihood of your content being picked up by Google as a featured snippet. Remember, Google ranks individual web pages, not websites. Which brings me to the next point, zero click searches.
Zero Click Searches
It’s true that less than half of all searches these days result in a click that brings a user past Google’s front door. These are called zero click searches, where the user reads the third-party content Google excerpts in the feature snippet at the top of the page and goes no farther. Each year zero click searches grow a little more in proportion to click-throughs, because they give answers to the questions people are searching for in a way that’s frictionless—quick, convenient, and easy to read.
Let’s face it. Google’s priority is not you or your business. It’s theirs and the experience their users get when using their platform. They want users to come back and interact with their site because they provided value. If that happens to be serving up information about your website or business, then lucky you. But ultimately they don’t care if it’s you or your competitor—they just want the user to find the content relevant and useful, so they’ll come back and use Google for their next web search.
I would bet that we see more zero click searches in 2021, further shrinking the pie for organic clicks. We’ve seen zero click searches rise from ~44% to over 50% as of mid 2019. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see this get closer to 55% by end of year, as Google continues to roll out updates.
People don’t just scroll, like, and post stray thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and so forth. They conduct searches on these platforms. These are internal search engines that remain within their respective platforms, but they’re large enough platforms that you can use them to gain an edge.
Optimizing your brand’s profile pages with targeted keywords and descriptions is a great way to get seen. There are also plenty of opportunities to optimize the content you post on social media. Proper hashtags, keywords and more all go into making your content more discoverable by users. Twitter and Instagram both made it possible to add alt text to images–a win for accessibility advocates and SEO people.
Instagram, meanwhile, just rolled out a new feature called Guides. Initially, Instagram Guides were only available to select health and wellness advocates, in an effort to provide resources for people struggling due to the pandemic. But now the feature, which allows users to post easily digestible guides on any topics, is available to everyone. So get cranking on those how-to guides on topics related to your expertise: you just got a new channel to share them on.
eCommerce and Online Stores
Shopify, WooCommerce and other eCommerce platforms have made it so easy to add an online store to your website. These platforms have tons of plugins and add-ons that simplify syncing your store up to third party sites, so you can still have your own branded site and publish to all of the major marketplaces.
Amazon is a huge search engine of course, and the benefit of multi vendor platforms like Amazon, eBay, Mercari, Etsy and others is that the user is telling them exactly what they want to see. This is another huge opportunity to optimize your store and product listings to show up in the top results when users are searching for particular terms.
December 2020 Google Broad Core Update
Google announced yesterday that their broad core update is starting to roll out this month. The announcement came without much fanfare or panic, as happened when Google announced its “Speed Update” in July 2018, which made mobile page speed a ranking factor. This update, referred to simply as the December 2020 Core Update, doesn’t appear to target any specific industries. If anything, the changes to the algorithm seem to reaffirm Google’s commitment to content quality.
It will be interesting to see what happens to rankings across the industries after the update fully rolls out. One thing is for certain: changes to Google’s algorithm will have a widespread impact on search results, or they wouldn’t have announced confirmation of the changes.
Google usually gives us a heads up ahead of really disruptive changes, such as the mobile page speed update, so at this point I don’t think there’s anything to glean from this update just yet. We’ll do a more in-depth post about it if the situation changes dramatically. As always, just continue to provide valuable content and focus on what your customers are trying to do, the intent behind their searches, and that will provide you with long-term success.
So what’s your SEO strategy look like for 2021?
Even with zero click searches on the rise, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to reap the rewards of organic growth with in-depth content, optimizing social media, and taking advantage of eCommerce solutions if you sell a product directly.
How are you planning on tackling SEO in 2021? If you need help with your game plan, we’d love to connect and chat about your goals and how we can help you achieve them. See you in 2021!