Pay Attention to These Top SEO Trends in 2020-2021

Change is one of the few constants in our universe. That’s especially true in the SEO realm. Every year, new technologies shape and define how we access and interact with content. Maybe you’ve used the same tried-and-true strategies that got results before, but you want new approaches to keeping your site and content discoverable and relevant. Or perhaps you’re lost in a sea of larger competitors who draw traffic while you sit on the sidelines.

In either case, you must ask yourself an important question: Are your SEO strategies up-to-date with 2020’s newest developments? Take a look at several important trends as you create and retool your SEO strategies in the coming months and the 2021 new year.

Outstanding User Experiences: A Top Priority

Users want fast-loading sites, simple navigation and easy-to-understand content. Perhaps this isn’t exactly headline news, but it’s important to keep the end-user experience as your highest priority. Review your site and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do your page load times look like?
  • Are your navigation menus intuitive and easy to access?
  • Is your content easy for most people to read?

If users on high-speed internet are stuck waiting for a page to load, imagine the frustration of people in areas with spotty internet access. They won’t get up and make a cup of coffee while your page loads – they may bail and visit a competitor instead. The same goes for hard-to-navigate sites and pages with super high-level language or jargon. The bottom line: Improve your page load speeds, design a logical page navigational structure and write your content at around a sixth- or seventh-grade level.

High-Quality Content: Helpful, Relevant and Timely

Ever been watching YouTube and skipped past or muted ads? Or scrolled past an ad on Twitter or Instagram? Then you probably aren’t surprised by this statistic from Newscred Insights: 91% of total ad spend is viewed for less than a second.

Maybe “ad fatigue” is a thing, but high-value content remains a key part of SEO strategy. Your audience wants helpful, relevant and timely content, and surprise, surprise – Google loves it, too. When someone needs to change the oil on a Chrysler 200, that person doesn’t want an 800-word sales pitch for oil filters. That’s why educational and informational content tends to get higher search rankings: It provides users with real value.

So, what can you deliver to your audience? How-to guides, video tutorials, podcasts, infographics, answers to common questions, useful hacks and quick tips will draw them in. Salesy language is so 1990s. Leave it in the past.

Content Length: Shorter Isn’t Necessarily Better

It’s a common perception that shorter content is preferred over longer content, but that’s not always true. In fact, webpages with longer high-quality content attract more views. That’s no surprise – users looking for answers want to get everything they need from one place. Think of it as one-stop shopping, except for information.

Pages over 2,000 words attract more readers, but length isn’t the only key. Your content must provide everything your audience is looking for – in other words, high-value and comprehensive. What typically fits this mold? Consider step-by-step tutorials with pictures or diagrams: You don’t have to hop from site to site to walk through cooking a lamb roast or replacing a car battery, provided the tutorial is well-written and covers every step. Glossaries and knowledge bases can work for specialized or in-depth topics – for instance, mortgages, investments or CNC machining equipment.

Those are just a few examples, but you get the general idea. Offer detailed content with topics and formats that meet your audience’s needs.

Featured Snippets: Fast, Easy Search Results

You’ve probably noticed a really cool Google search feature in the last few months: Featured Snippets. They appear at the top of the results page, right above the first organic search result. If you’ve found the info you need or clicked on a snippet to learn more, then the snippet did its job.

Not only are they incredibly useful, but they also now drive about half of Google’s search engine clicks. Around 55% of website clicks from its results pages come from these handy little snippets.

The bad news: You can’t choose page content as a Featured Snippet. Google’s automated algorithms choose snippets and elevate them to the top on results pages. The good news: You can create detailed informational content that’s easily read at a glance. That content may have a better chance of becoming a snippet.

So where do you start? Keep in mind that Google’s algorithms usually pick content that quickly and clearly answers specific questions. Consider searches like “How often should I replace my tires?” or “How much water should I drink every day?” Some search terms that generate snippets can be even shorter, like “measure for pants” or “bathe a dog.”

Videos: A Vital Source of Information

Would you rather read a tutorial or watch a tutorial video? If you picked the second option, you’ve proved how attractive and effective videos can be. Adults under 40 prefer getting information from videos for both education and entertainment. Recent Google studies also show that 6 out of 10 people would rather watch online videos than traditional TV.

So all you have to do is make a video and post it, right? Not so fast. Your video must be engaging with helpful, relevant and timely content. The best part? You don’t need to have millions of subscribers to make a video SEO strategy work. Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy is a great example. His YouTube channel has 697,000 subscribers – mostly cat lovers who watch his videos for tips, how-tos, answers to common questions or their daily dose of cute. Meanwhile, his online store offers supplies, toys, treats and apparel plus his best-selling cat care books and holistic remedies.

Once you create your content, you need to put the power of SEO behind it. Add relevant keywords to each video title and description to draw your audience. They’ll come for the content, then stay for what else you have to offer.

Influencers: Social Media Meets SEO

What comes to your mind when you think about social media influencers? Probably someone like Selena Gomez or Kim Kardashian-West. Or maybe you thought of someone like chef, restaurant owner and TV personality Gordon Ramsay, with 14.8 million YouTube subscribers and 9.2 million followers on Instagram.

That’s a good start, but big celebrities aren’t the only ones with substantial cred as influencers. You don’t even need to be a fulltime influencer to gain a large following. Consider BuzzFeed TV producer Kelsey Impicciche: When she’s not creating content for the media giant, she’s posting popular videos on YouTube and streaming her gameplays on Twitch under her username kelseydangerous. With over 509,000 YouTube subscribers and 228,000 Instagram followers, Impicciche has a huge platform to leverage.

Remember the “ad fatigue” phenomenon mentioned earlier? That’s one huge reason why marketers and companies are teaming up with influencers. People are more likely to trust and engage with influencers, so it’s no surprise that businesses’ influencer marketing budgets have increased by almost 40%.

Working with an influencer gains you some great benefits: wider reach, better brand awareness and backlinks to your website. And those lead to more site traffic and improved rankings. Choose an influencer who’s relevant and respected in your industry, and make your goals and expectations clear when working with that person.

Secure Websites: Safety and Privacy Are Crucial

Protecting site visitors’ privacy and safety seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still an important part of the user experience. Site visitors will bail from a page if they don’t feel secure or if they see the words “Not Secure” as a warning or appearing in their browsers’ address bars.

This all may seem like common sense, but what does it have to do with SEO? If you’re seeing high bounce rates and your page rankings are lower than usual, it’s time to give your site’s security a once-over. Implement HTTPS protocol on your site to provide encrypted and authenticated secure connections. You not only keep malicious miscreants away from your visitors’ data, but you could also boost your site’s rankings.

Voice Search Optimization: Next Level SEO

If you’re like many people, you probably perform web searches a couple of different ways: entering text or using voice input. With smartphones, smart speakers and virtual assistants, voice searching has become more popular. Virtual assistants respond to conversational searches – the type activated by “wake words” such as “OK, Google” or “Alexa.” That translates to even more traffic you can attract to your site, but the only way to accomplish that feat is to optimize it for voice searches.

Naturally, you may wonder how to marry SEO with voice searching. Conversational searches ask more targeted questions instead of relying on keywords. You’ll see question keywords – who, what, when, where, how and why. They also include long-tail keywords, or specific phrases that help narrow down the results.

Search engines process conversational queries a little differently from simple keyword searching. They interpret what the user wants and return the best matching results. Natural Language Processing technology helps by analyzing speech and applying contextual reasoning. And NLP has a big job working with unique patterns, accents, dialects and other characteristics of human speech.

Voice queries now account for almost half of all online searches. Users want immediate and pertinent answers, but they also tend to look for locally-based results. You must gear your SEO strategy to deliver what your audience is looking for.

Mobile Accessibility: Optimization Plus Content

What annoys you when you perform searches or try to find content on your smartphone’s web browser? Chances are, it’s websites that you can’t access on mobile: menus you can’t reach, dialog boxes that roll off the screen, text that you can’t enlarge or shrink for better reading, and so forth. Optimizing websites for mobile browsers solves these problems, but that’s not enough to deliver a great user experience.

With 4 out of 5 consumers using mobile devices to perform local searches, designing for the mobile UX is now a high priority. Going beyond optimization is crucial. Your site should engage users, offer easy-to-read content and deliver the value they want. You’ll attract potential customers and boost site visits, which in turn increases visibility and site rankings.

Click-Through and Dwell Time: 2 Critical Metrics

No doubt you’re familiar with CTR, or click-through rates. CTR measures the number of people who’ve clicked on a link versus impressions, or the number of people who view a page, email message or ad. CTR will remain important in 2020, but you’ll also want to pay attention to dwell time —  the length of time a visitor spends on a page before leaving.

Together, these two metrics provide some insight into how interested visitors are in your content. If users stick around on a page for several minutes, it usually indicates that they’re finding what they’re looking for. On the other hand, short dwell times can mean that they’ve decided to look elsewhere. Other links they click while on your site can also reveal useful information.

Think of CTR and dwell time as quick peeks into the minds of your audience. Don’t hyper-focus on those two figures, but pay attention to them when evaluating the rest of your metrics.

Artificial Intelligence: Personalizing User Experiences

Artificial intelligence offers a wide range of applications. My AI is not your AI, but we probably use both versions to deliver high-value, personalized experiences for our target audiences. Google uses AI to provide improved and on-point search results. Surprised? Maybe not, but you should know that it’s slowly shaped the tech giant’s search services for a decade.

The story starts in 2010 with Google’s Caffeine update. As you might recall, Caffeine was a brand-new web indexing system that improved how Google crawled data and stored what it found. The company revealed that Caffeine sped up the crawl process, boosted its index and allowed the search engine to return fresher results. Caffeine, of course, set the stage for future updates: Panda in 2011, Hummingbird in 2013 and RankBrain in 2015. RankBrain, a machine learning AI system, propelled Google’s search technologies. As part of the Hummingbird algorithm, it helps sort and rank pages for relevance.

Sure, all this sounds revolutionary. How does it relate to your SEO strategies? AI’s learning abilities are the key. Over time, RankBrain and similar AI learn why and how search engines’ results are useful to users – or not. This understanding plays an important role in how the AI classify and rank pages. And these AI keep learning as new trends, content and technologies appear. They’re also why old-school techniques like keyword stuffing no longer work – and backfire disastrously. Ultimately, you should remember two key takeaways about AI and search engines:

  • Context matters a great deal.
  • You need an intelligent SEO strategy for building your site’s reputation.

Search Engines: Multi-Platform Optimization

Google is certainly the most prominent player on the search engine field, but it isn’t the only contender. As some users’ privacy and security concerns grow, they turn to services such as DuckDuckGo. Die-hard Bing fans are unlikely to switch platforms unless they have good reasons. And there are at least a dozen others including StartPage, Gibiru, Search Encrypt and Ekoru. Don’t forget about search engine capabilities on social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter, as well as retailer giants like Amazon.

One could go on for hours, but the point is evident. Your site must be optimized for multiple search engines and search-enabled platforms. Best SEO practices are key to earning good rankings on each of these sites.

Don’t Limit Your Strategies and Options

Now that you’ve reviewed 2020’s most important SEO trends, your next step is to incorporate them into your organization’s strategies. Achieving visibility is a top goal, but you should balance it with design and content practices that deliver value to your audience. That means you’re designing for both machines and users.

Besides hitting the most crucial technological and user-driven sweet spots, it’s also important to remember the fast pace of innovation. Google’s accuracy is always improving, thanks to its AI-driven infrastructure and the company’s focus on increasing both its search engine’s efficiency and the quality of its results. Users also expect to find helpful and accurate answers within minutes, if not seconds. These developments and expectations will surely shape how SEO trends emerge and change over the next several years.