Winning SEO performance requires constant monitoring of traffic, backlinks and more. Our recent webinar on the important topic of SEO provided insights into some of the most relevant and timely search engine optimization trends to prepare for 2021 and beyond, allowing you to prepare your SEO strategy accordingly. Here's a recap.
Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, according to Jenny Palmer, Lead Strategist at digital marketing agency HawkSEM.
Joining Jenny on our latest webinar, Corbin Haresnape, Director of Digital Marketing at BodyLogicMD, also recommends that if you wouldn’t personally take time to read the content you’re posting, then it’s not good enough to go on your website.
Our webinar, SEO Trends in 2021 and Beyond, ranged across all things SEO, so let’s dive in.
As far as 2021 is concerned, there are a few really big updates coming that are going to affect people—primarily, the core web vitals and page experience update. Google has given us a six-month heads up. When it gives you that much of a heads up, you know it is going to cause some rocking in SEO results.
SEO in 2021
SEO is constantly changing and organizations must evolve their strategies to get the best performance out of their content.
The focus has long moved on from keyword stuffing as search engines become more sophisticated. Online content has to reflect this and be relevant, reliable and authoritative.
Jenny says: "You’ve heard Google talk about 'EAT', which is expertise, authority and trust. It is still relevant. The content you’re putting out and hosting on your website needs to be great. There’s so much content on the internet that there isn’t room for mediocre content and you really need to focus on quality."
She also highlights the "need for speed" given Google changes coming on stream in May. These revolve around page speed and page load and prioritize faster websites.
Jenny says: "Now is the time to be looking at your page speed and seeing what you need to do to optimize it, and making sure you’re not going to get dinged for this."
Natural language considerations
Google is continuing to deliver on its promise to reward high-quality content. A keyword-heavy approach no longer cuts it. This is due to advances in the ability to better understand sentences and longer passages through sophisticated AI, and not just individual words.
In turn, this trend toward natural language analysis in search requires content creators to expand their technical SEO discipline way beyond just on-page keywords and metadata.
One way to create content that matters is to put yourself in the frame about which questions your customers are asking. Then get experts in your team to answers these questions verbally. The content you create from this research will reflect the natural language terms used and focus on the exact questions your customers are searching online.
Also, customers don’t tend to search for just one thing. There are often second and third questions that follow.
Corbin says: “What are the questions in natural language that your customers are asking? What is their follow-up question? Build content for both.”
He adds: “Google really begins to reward these content clusters or chains.”
UX focus for SEO
Faster websites will improve the user experience and deliver handsomely on SEO. Referring to ongoing work at his own company, Corbin says: “Our website was incredibly slow and we saw that in our rankings. Just nominal increases in speed drove tremendous SEO value for us. So always invest in speed first.”
Also, prioritize simple navigation and readability. Jenny says: “If you do have longer pages, making sure that you’re breaking that content up is important. Use sub-headings, images, charts, icons and all the things that make it much easier to digest.”
In short, help users find what they are looking for, and this includes being ADA compliant.
“Everyone talks about alt tags for SEO,” says Jenny, “but really alt tags are for accessibility. So, if there is a visually impaired person who is one your site, they need to know what’s there and what the images are.
“There’s a whole compliance audit that you can do for ADA compliance and making sure you are compliant is very important for 2021.”
SEO and video
Video is on the up, but it needs to tie into the rest of your content and add value. Corbin says his firm uses video to supplement written content, rather than just recreating the text in video format.
Schema scripts can help tell the search engine crawlers what the video is about and transcription can also boost their understanding of the content.
Videos can slow down your website, so consider the value offered by each clip and whether it would be better to have a specific part of your site for video or to host them externally.
And if you go external, Corbin believes there’s only one option.
He says: "YouTube is the channel. Don’t post it somewhere else. As many cool options as Vimeo or Wistia will give you, put it on your YouTube channel, publish it, make it public and embed it on your site. If you don’t believe me, pick a topic, search it in Google and add video at the end. See how many things they rank for Vimeo or Wistia. They prefer their own channel, so play by the rules!"
SEO metrics and value
Arguably, metrics are the one aspect of SEO that has remained relatively constant. Keyword rankings, page views and entrances from those keywords remain important. So too are time on a page, time on the site and bounce rates.
But, warns Jenny, don’t become obsessed with keyword ranking at the expense of all else.
She says: “Don’t be so focused on your keyword rankings that it distracts you from your keyword goals.”
Changes in the way Google processes searches, more voice searches and the impact of long-tail terms all have an impact on SEO.
The end goal is increasing leads and conversions. Focusing purely on keyword rankings is unlikely to generate the best results.
Gaining the insight you need to assess SEO performance and value demands that you have a robust tracking strategy in place. If you tag and track all your paid channels, as well as clicks from emails, phone calls and downloadable content, it becomes easier to whittle out direct, organic and referral traffic and to analyze how it relates to SEO.
It’s also worth analyzing your SEO on a multi-touch attribution basis rather than relying purely on first-click and/or last-click metrics.
If you don’t have this level of multi-touch oversight, you’ll miss all the little slices and exposures that play an important part in driving the leads and conversions you want.
The parameter that I use with my team when we are creating content is, ‘Would you read this content? Would you take time out of your day to read it and would you glean something from it?’ If it is not good enough for you to read, then it is not good enough to put on your website.
So, where should your focus be for SEO in 2021? Well, here are a couple of parting shots from our panelists to keep you on track in the months ahead.
Corbin says: “Find your niche, create quality content and do it consistently.”
Jenny adds: “If paid is a sprint, SEO is a marathon. There’s no shortcut and it’s going to take time. You need to trust and understand that.
“I usually say to wait three to six months from implementing a new strategy to really see how it’s actually performing. You might get some immediate or short-term fluctuations, but to see how it’s going to perform long-term you really do need to wait.”