Each year we try to predict the larger macro trends that will guide the future best practices and success stories of SEO. While it’s impossible to know what curveballs Google may throw at us through algorithm updates there does tend to be some agreed upon trajectories with regards to what the future holds for SEO. This piece will attempt to break down some of those macro trends that we expect to persist through the year.
The topics covered here will not be the only opportunities or trends in SEO this year but they’re the ones we believe will yield the most return for practitioners and be the most accessible to most any business or marketer.
- Core Web Vitals
As anyone involved in the SEO world is already aware, Google’s announced “Core Web Vitals” update is going to make big waves in 2021. So knowing that this change will be a major one for the year it makes sense to simply start here and address what will be a distinct determining factor in 2021 for winners and losers of the dreaded algo update.
So for those not quite up to speed on the SEO world, what is core web vitals?
The 2021 update, core web vitals, is a change in how Google views some of its existing page-level factors and bundles them together into a more influential set of ranking factors. These factors include many of the important aspects of the site’s user experience such as site speed, domain security, and mobile friendliness. While these are not new factors in the world of the Google algorithm the CWV update puts an even greater emphasis on them by gathering them into a categorization that’s distinct from other ranking factors.
One of the biggest challenges that SEOs will face in 2021 regarding Google’s Core Web Vitals is that this trend further interlinks technical SEO with the broader practice and will demand more collaboration from SEO teams with IT, UX, and other technical expertises. For many enterprise SEO teams this won’t be much of a change as they’ve likely been plugged into these discipline areas for some time now but it will put a further strain on agencies and consultants who find that they now rely even more on client’s technical experts to find success.
Tips for finding success in Core Web Vitals:
Focus on a primary area to maximize the impact of your efforts such as page speed. Don’t get bogged down trying to do everything at once.
Look for incremental gains that represent substantial improvements to your site such as overhauling all image SEO on the site to create better load times.
As you’re undertaking these projects define and document best practices to ensure that there’s consistency moving forward.
- Dive Into Schema
The use of Google’s schema markup tags has been one of those things that many SEOs are quick to mention or reference but slow to implement. There has been a long (years, now!) debate about what the ROI is on schema tags and how much they impact a site’s ranking performance. For a while there was even a suspicion that schema may simply lose steam over time and fade away. The general consensus in 2021 is that schema and markup tags for SEO are here to stay and it appears that Google’s interest in seeing them used and rewarding those who use them is only growing.
So for those of us who may have been ignoring this little corner of the SEO world, what is schema? Put simply, schema represents a library of tags for metadata that Google recognizes and can use in various ways. The tags are added to the HTML of a web page and provide contextualization in the form of small bits of metadata for Google to identify and integrate. For example, a tag exists for “author” that allows a website to name the author of a page or piece of content in a way that Google can clearly identify.
The challenge of schema is that the library of available tags is pretty massive and more are added at regular intervals. The tags are also quite flexible in how they can be deployed on your site and so it can be overwhelming trying to go from no tags to “optimized” in this regard. This is one of the reasons that many SEOs will advocate for schema in theory but will shy away from implementation when pressed on the issue. For many mid and large size sites the idea of fully implementing schema to its optimal capability is a massive undertaking.
Being that the trends around schema are quite obvious at this point we believe that 2021 is a great time to finally take the plunge and begin making use of markup tags on your site. However, to get started, here are some important tips:
-Focus more on schema types and tags rather than pages. Instead of asking “how many tags could possibly fit on this page?” ask “how many of our pages could make use of this one tag?”. Use this approach to create a more incremental project plan.
-Prioritize the most important parts of your site. For example, a website for an event planning business is going to make great use of tags like startTime, endTime, and location to provide Google with critical information about upcoming events. These would be significantly more important for them than say the brand or category tags which are intended more for ecommerce uses. When building out your schema project you’ll want to identify what tags make the most sense for you and invest first and foremost there.
-Integrate schema into your teams. Trying to tackle a schema implementation project as a single expert or tasking only one person to become proficient in the use of the markup tags is a recipe for disaster and burnout. Train multiple teams on schema tags, communicate which ones you’re using, and build the implementation into the fabric of your organization.
- Bring Technical SEO Into The Spotlight
Arguably the most important item on this list, the biggest overarching trend of 2021 is the increased importance on SEO from the technology standpoint. There will always be a place for external SEO and its many tactics like content marketing, social media marketing, and direct link building but the era of those activities being the primary driver of site performance is rapidly fading. In years past technical SEO was viewed primarily as a checklist of things to be done to simply align a domain with Google’s best practices and make some adjustments to things like navigation, folder structure, keyword usage, etc.
That time appears to be conclusively over as the increased emphasis that Google has now placed on the user experience and technical aspects of a site has ensured that in many cases the site’s performance is as if not more important than its backlink profile.
This places a new challenge on veteran SEOs to move technical SEO out of the basement and into the spotlight. No longer can technical SEO simply be an autonomous task that an analyst or consultant undertakes to check all the boxes and call it complete. Technical SEO will increasingly be an area of competitive iteration between likened sites and those who invest deeply in it will reap significant rewards.
For this reason, we consider this one of the biggest opportunities in 2021 and one of the things that many practitioners will be chasing in the coming years. Here’s our tips on mastering this tricky pivot:
-Bridge the gap between marketing and technology. Probably the hardest thing to do but also one of the most critically necessary. SEO can no longer exist purely in a bubble or within the marketing universe as it will need the support and assistance of technology professionals to maximize impact on domains.
-Publicly document and evangelize optimization practices. The days of the SEO “secret sauce” are long dead and it’s time for technical SEO to follow suit. Domain and page optimization practices need to be understood and implemented at the ground level where they live and not left up to SEOs to implement later on as an afterthought.
-Never settle. Technical SEO in previous years was a “one and done” project where a site received a single pass of optimization adjustments before being set out to sea and audited infrequently. In today’s competitive SEO space the need for technical SEO to be an ongoing and aggressively fought for activity is rising. Set a regular update cadence and escalating benchmark goals that allow for tracking and assessment then fight for those goals as best you can.
SEO changes never cease and Google has a great deal in store for 2021. This year will prove to be (as most are) a significant and challenging one for SEO professionals but keeping your eye on these three trends should set you well ahead of the competition and prepare you for whatever the algorithm has up its sleeve.