It seems like just yesterday when 2021 rolled in. Although it’s already March, we decided to reach out to SEO experts to pick their brains.
We wanted to know what SEO trends to look at for the rest of 2021.
Now you might be wondering…
What’s the point in creating another expert roundup?
I wanted to create a resource that will help you the reader really scale up your SEO for 2021 by understanding the emerging trends. A resource that will help you turn knowledge into actionable insights.
However, when tackling a broad topic like SEO trends, there is really no one perspective that will give you everything you need.
I could give you my personal perspective, but it’s somewhat limited to my own personal experience.
So one of the guys here at Rank Ranger suggested reaching out to SEO experts instead. The advantage of this approach is that we could get the perspective of several highly successful people in the field to hear what they project the 2021 SEO trends to be based on our current situation.
Now I have to admit I wasn’t expecting the variety of answers that I received. SEO is an open field and there’s more than one way to improve your traffic and sales numbers.
As a result, in this post, you’ll find a wealth of highly valuable strategies and tactics.
Also, to make sure that this post doesn’t get too long, I’ve split it up into various parts. This way I don’t have to water the content down through editing.
Without further ado, here are the emerging SEO trends for 2021 part one.
Ethan Lazuk – Using Microsoft Clarity to Understand User Experience
Ethan is an SEO at Spinutech LLC. Though his interest in search began by happenstance, he considers his past life of cultural studies as the underpinning to an appreciation for the user’s point of view online. @EthanLazuk
We witnessed a lot happen in Search in 2020 — and more is promised for 2021.
Web Stories launched last summer, mobile-“only” indexing starts in March, and as many know, Google plans to integrate Core Web Vitals in the Page Experience Signal in May.
That’s just to name a few updates — not including “core” ones. ;)
Like most SEO “news that you can use,” there’s a lot more nuance and details to know, but there’s also a theme — a user’s experience matters.
Which raises the question, how can we understand web users better?
One solution could be to use session recordings, heatmaps, and other behavior analytics for content and website optimizations.
In an anthropology course years ago (ah yes, school days), we learned how researchers create ethnographies (detailed, immersive narratives, often with first-person perspectives) to gather data and learn about cultures besides their own.
My searches for “SEO anthropology” show results where the main interpretation of “SEO” is “Seo,” a last name. So maybe this isn’t a trend yet, but still, I wonder, can we treat a website like a cultural community, and use ethnographic methods to better understand the collective user experience?
One roadblock I often have in understanding a user’s site experience is that I spend a lot of time on the sites we manage at Spinutech. I have the familiarity to navigate pages or complete actions.
I’ll call out quality issues in audits and prioritize their resolutions, but at the end of the day, I’m not always seeing, for example, how that intrusive popup or that cumulative layout shift from a slow-loading image affects a user firsthand.
To optimize for a user’s experience, wouldn’t it be nice to share in it more — kind of like an SEO anthropologist?
That’s why, in addition to Google Search Console, paid rank tracking software, and other SEO tools, using a free behavior analytics tool like Microsoft Clarity will be a growing focus in our work — and based on others’ feedback of the tool, it seems like a trend to watch for in 2021.
What Is Microsoft Clarity?
In case you’re not familiar with Clarity, here’s a summary from Microsoft Bing’s Blog:
“Clarity shows you which parts of your website are getting the most and least engagement via our heatmaps, and our session replays provide an invaluable interface for debugging & discovering bugs you didn’t even know existed.”
This SEJ article by Roger Montti gives a great overview of Clarity’s features.
Inspired by how SEOs like Glenn Gabe have applied user studies to find quality problems on websites, I feel Clarity offers a chance to emulate that spirit of work and demonstrate its value to site owners.
Discovering the Value and Applications of Clarity
I first added Clarity to my website via the WordPress plugin as a test. Next, I showed a few session recordings to a client who appreciates data and analytics.
We installed the tracking script (this time via Bing Webmaster Tools) and after about 3 days, we were swimming in heatmaps and session recordings and began applying the insights to current projects.
Microsoft Clarity installation page in Bing Webmaster Tools dashboard
How We’re Using Clarity for Content Optimization
We are currently reworking content across several microsites for the client mentioned above. Before Clarity, our process was to look at the Search Console performance report and other local keyword tracking data to see which queries pages were ranking for (like this).
Next, we’d perform competitor and SERP analysis to find content gaps or new opportunities for visibility in SERP features. If available, we’d also get a stakeholder’s input on the local market. Then we’d add, remove, merge, rewrite, or link content accordingly.
With Clarity data, our process is the same, except before we update the content, we view session recordings to see which passages users give attention to, which are skipped, and which lead to confusion.
Example: Using Session Recording Insights to Reformat an FAQs Page
One page where session recordings were helpful was the company’s FAQs, which were listed in accordions. From viewing session recordings, we learned which answers are expanded the most, and in what order.
Next, we proposed to put the popular questions higher on the page, as well as organize them sequentially or by topic.
Our goal was to decrease bounce rates and increase session durations — signs of a better user experience on that page.
Using Clarity for Insights on Website Improvements
We’re using Clarity on more websites and for more high-level improvements too, such as navigation and page template updates or conversion rate optimization.
A benefit of Clarity is its filters. Filtering by sessions that include a visit to a Thank You page, for example, can show recordings or heatmaps for users who converted. This can help us understand their journeys and find points of frustration to eliminate.
Microsoft Clarity filter settings. These sample settings include all mobile sessions in the U.S. over the last 30 days with two or more pages visited, including the Thank You page.
One example was on a site’s Get a Quote form, which looked helpful but, as we learned, was too small and impractical for mobile users. We proposed a simpler form with a larger font size.
Clarity also can filter sessions by specific metrics, like the user’s device type, browser, session duration, or even actions, such as “rage clicks” — click here rapidly; that’s a rage click. :)
So, What’s Next?
Similar to the protagonist in Plato’s Cave (ah, school days), the availability of a free behavioral analytics tool like Clarity can enhance our assumptions of user behavior, taking us from watching cave wall shadows to real human experiences.
While keyword research can tell us what answers are relevant to users’ queries, and rank tracking tools can tell us how we stack up with relevant competitors, a tool like Clarity can show us which content passages users keep in their viewports longest, and which are scrolled past — relevance in another form?
Together, these insights can help us be SEO anthropologists in 2021, studying users’ behavior firsthand to present web content for the best overall experience.
Jason Barnard – Entity Based Search Is Here – You Need to Be Ready
Jason Barnard, The Brand SERP Guy, is a digital marketing consultant. He specializes in Brand SERPs and knowledge panels. He hosts a leading digital marketing podcast (intelligent, interesting, and fun).
He is currently building the Kalicube Pro SaaS Platform (tools and courses to help you optimize your Brand SERP and knowledge panel) @jasonmbarnard
Google has been talking about ‘from string to things’ since 2015. By that they mean they have moved away from matching the string of characters typed by their user into the search bar to the same string of characters in your content, to looking at the meaning of the words – actually understanding the ‘things’ those words represent (we call these ‘things’ entities.) In short, to bring better results, Google aims to understand the world much like a human. This new paradigm in understanding is called semantic search.
How close are we to seeing a noticeable effect from that? Closer, perhaps than many think. We get a clear view by looking at the entities in the Search Engine results today, and how regularly we see new presentations of them: knowledge panels, entity boxes, entity carousels, filter tabs in Image Search (and now being implemented in some blue link SERPs too)…
If you want to be part of Google’s increasing implementation of entity-based search, you need to ensure that Google understands you and the content of your website as things (entities), not strings. In short, get in its Knowledge Graph as soon as you possibly can.
How? Simple, but Laborious
You need to ‘educate’ Google, much like you would educate a child…
Explain Clearly and Simply
- Provide Corroboration
- Rinse and Repeat
Step by step process for your company:
- First – identify what I call the entity home. This should be a page on your website where you describe who you are, what you do, and who your audience is clear and simple. Mike Blumenthal uses the term the canonical for your entity.
- Find all the profile pages, articles about you, review sites (in fact any webpage on both first and third party sites) where your entity is the main (preferably only) subject. Prioritize the most authoritative, trustworthy, and relevant sites in your niche. Examples would be your Linkedin profile, Wikipedia, Crunchbase, G2, Trustpilot, The Pet Dogs Association of Houston… the list goes on. Correct (or get the site owner to correct) all the information on those pages so that they corroborate what you say on your entity home in step 1. They should also link back to your entity home.
Kalicube offers a list of trusted sources Google is citing here.
- Add Schema.org markup (Organization) to your entity home that both restates the factual information you have said in the copy on the page and also points to the first and third party sites you corrected in step 2 using sameAs.
Simple! There is no fixed number, but a good rule of thumb is to aim for 30 corroborative sources – Andrea Volpini and Dawn Anderson have suggested that representatives of both Bing and Google have mentioned this number. That said, the actual number you will need depends on many factors – the authority of the sites, any existing confusion that Google has in its index, the complexity of your situation, and the information about you. An example of a complex situation would be multiple holding companies with many sub-organizations with similar names and products that use (fully or partially) the same name as the company. That kind of situation makes things difficult for everybody to understand, not just Google.
Start with your company, then move on to your CEO, products, offers… little by little Google will understand who you are and what you do, and start adding you all those Entity Elements in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Eli Schwartz – Focus on the User
Eli Schwartz is an SEO expert and consultant with more than a decade of experience driving successful SEO and growth programs for leading B2B and B2C companies. He helps clients like Shutterstock, BlueNile, Quora, Getaround, Gusto, and Zendesk build and execute Global SEO strategies that dramatically increase their organic visibility at scale. In addition, he is the author of the upcoming book “Product Led SEO – the why behind your organic growth strategies” which will be available on April 27th
My recommendation for SEO in 2021 is to focus on the user and providing value. This may sound cliché, but I have seen this advice pay off more than any other tactic.
I am of the opinion that SEO doesn’t change that much from year to year. The goal of every search engine is to find exactly what a user is searching for at the moment they are searching for it. To achieve that goal, use machine learning on the query to understand user intent and then match that query with algorithmic signals on the sites within the web index to determine relevancy.
My recommendation has always been to focus on the user but at times it was frustrating to see sites that broke the rules do well. In earlier days it was easier to fake the signals to rank better, but that is getting harder as search engines improve their algorithms on both the query and ranking sides.
I am fortunate to work with a number of major brands and I am seeing these websites rank on keywords that are not used anywhere on their website, not rank well on words that they should, and generate traffic on keywords that shouldn’t have any search volume. All of this tells me that SEO is much deeper than simply following the best practices we have always believed to be true and expecting to do well. Search engines are using more AI than ever and can even compensate when best practices are not used.
To achieve this goal of providing what the user would want from your site, go offline and ask users what they might be looking for when they access your site.
Itamar Blauer – Focus on Optimizations that Thread the Needle the Quickest
Itamar Blauer is an SEO expert based in London. He has a proven track-record of increasing rankings with SEO that is UX-focused, data-backed, and creative.
As there are more SEO tools than ever before with new things being implemented from Google, it can be a bit overwhelming to understand how to approach SEO with all of these options. Not only this, but many tools will highlight a bunch of SEO tasks that should be conducted for the website’s “health” to improve. For this reason, setting priorities is a must to focus on the optimizations that actually matter. More specifically, these are the optimizations that thread the needle the quickest.
The truth is that different SEO activities have differing levels of importance (and impact) on a website’s organic visibility. When I check out a website, I’ll always prioritize looking into technical issues first, then move on to the content on the website (and eventually look into links). I don’t see the point of jumping right into link building for a website that has poor content and technical problems. This is a generic example, but you’d be surprised how often I get enquired about looking into optimizing content or building links when the website’s robots.txt has a disallow / line. This is precisely why you should always prioritize the most important SEO activities first – to avoid any long-term issues that can harm your organic traffic.
SEO Trends – Getting Out of Your Echo Chamber
As SEOs, we so often find ourselves in a rut. We become comfortable in our methods.
It’s important to know that there are way more ways to solve a problem than we can imagine and seeing the perspective of other successful SEOs can breathe new life into our methods and help us to see a new perspective.
By creating this post, I’ve personally discovered some methods that I will be implementing in my future campaigns.
I hope you have too.
As with any piece of content you consume on the internet, it’s important to take action and implement some of the strategies as soon as you can.
Look out for part two as I’ll be sharing more high-quality SEO trends that you can implement.
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