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.