Get Your SEO House in Order for 2021

SEO strategy once meant "I want to be number one for this keyword” or “I want to be the top of the page when people search for this word." That strategy makes sense for a simple website ... being launched in 2001.

But it's almost 2021. SEO evolves, just as it would for any technology. Human behavior (should) evolve with it.

With 2020 being a doozy of a business year, it can be a challenge for marketers to spot changes in tech and human behavior to identify the right SEO trends to implement. If you're feeling the same way, thinking about the trends that have happened in the marketing world up to this moment can help turn up some answers.

SEO So Far

Search engine changes over the years were meant to redirect SEO efforts on website structure towards more straight-forward elements — namely, content. The Panda algorithm, introduced to Google search in 2011, marked a significant change for SEO. The algorithm ultimately triggered a continual focus on content relevancy and content improvements, with website page links and other details receiving secondary consideration.

The changes were also meant to neutralize "black hat" tricks meant to manipulate search engines into granting a site a high rank, like buying links. Without those extreme illegal approaches, site content would appear more naturally aligned to the search engine queries from users.

Another big change is the evolution of how people could view content, following the widespread adoption of smartphones (and to a lesser extent, tablets). Content had to adapt to fit the new formats mobile devices introduced. The devices also offered a variety of presentational structures for people to engage with media — long versus short content, audio versus written text, video versus digital images. Add in voice search — launched for Google in 2011 — and the way people sought out information online happened in a much broader context.

What Optimization Should Be Done Now

So what aspects of SEO should marketers focus on now?

Refine Keyword Phrases

Marketers should start by focussing on refining target keyword phrases so they align with user and search intent. Customer intent has changed in many areas, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic's impact lingers. Customers had already sought products and services in their vicinity in recent years, becoming accustomed to adding the phrase "near me" when conducting searches from a smartphone. But shifts in products and services sought this year may mean changes in search volume.

Focus on Keyword Clusters

That implies another step — a need to focus on keyword clusters, variations of a phrase that contains a core keyword. Doing so helps to map relevant content to pages.

For example, let's say your bakery offers apple pies for pickup as well as specialty ingredients for customers who like to bake on their own. You can look at search results within Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster for clustered phrase "apple pies for sale," "apple pie slices" and so forth. "Apple pie" the core keyword in the cluster. You can then have content on one page for baking supplies, another for ordering a slice of pie.

Developing keyword clusters can also highlight ideas for search ad campaigns. The opportunity to use digital ads will certainly exist in 2021, despite declines in ad spend among some industries in 2020; eMarketer reported a lowered forecast for ad spend, after adjusting for a worst case scenario then revising again in anticipation of a renewed spend long term.

The silver lining of this anticipated digital ad environment is the potential time marketers now have to revise their keyword clusters incorporating current search trends, customer persona and needs, and make further adjustments as search volume changes.

With this in mind, marketers should look to increase the frequency of their SEO reviews, examining analytics reports to identify any opportunities to optimize content further or implement ad groups in digital campaigns quarterly. Comparing keywords by average search position in Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster, for example, can reveal what topics you should support with more content or strengthen with a digital ad campaign.

Don't Forget Page Speed

Another area to focus on is page speed analysis. The variety of page features means there can be a number of causes for a slow page load. SEO practitioners must dive deep into page structure to see if anything can be done to improve page crawl.

Page speed analysis can aid in establishing the right lazy loading technique to website and app page elements. Page speed insights, which I describe in a post about Core Web Vitals, can be helpful for understanding how pages load. You can also use the URL inspection tool in the Google Search Console to inspect a live URL or even request a site page to be recrawled.

Inspecting helps in planning lazy loading for pages. Lazy loading is a technique in which images and supplemental code are loaded in the browser asynchronously. This arrangement loads larger page elements more efficiently and more quickly overall, enhancing the customer experience. In short, good page speed correlates to how sites are treated for mobile-first indexing.

Keep Track of What You've Done

A history log can keep track of what SEO changes has been previously attempted or when technical changes such as a link audit has been done. The log can be journaled in Google Analytics annotation, as well as in your collaboration documents, be it an Evernote file, Dropbox file, or in GitHub.

Phil Britt noted in his post Closing the Consumer Trust Gap that the mission of trust is essential to establish human and transparent content that fulfills customer trust. A good SEO strategy is part of that mission. Making sure your SEO house is in order at all times helps support how a brand delivers on its consumer trust.

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