The end of a year is a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the challenges your business had to face and what you did to overcome them. The end of a year is a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the challenges your business had to face and what you did to overcome them. As for us, we believe it is the moment to look back on SEO in 2021 and see how it has evolved and impacted the way businesses try to rank for organic traffic.
The Search Landscape Has Become More Complex Than Ever
The first thing we notice about SEO in 2021 is that it has grown from what we used to know to a highly complex ecosystem. Google is now displaying search results in several categories:
- Featured snippets
- Local search
- People also ask
- Google My Business side panel.
These separate categories represent more opportunities for websites to rank and drive more meaningful traffic. However, these new pieces of Google SERP real estate come with new challenges and harder work.
So, what exactly has changed this year in SEO as a result of Google’s updates to its ranking algorithm? Let us take a detailed look:
1. Google Completes Mobile First Indexing
This spring, Google made a momentous announcement: it has completed the conversion to mobile first indexing. What does this mean for SEO in 2021? From now on, Google will index the mobile version of websites, both for existing pages and for newly created ones.
This decision cements the undeniable truth that traffic from mobile devices has become the norm, and desktop traffic has dropped on the second place. It does not come as a surprise. Mobile phones and tablets are increasingly powerful in terms of computing power, screen size, audio and video capabilities. Thus, more and more people find it more convenient to browse the internet from their smartphone than from a bulky desktop or laptop computer.
2. Search Intent Is at the Core of Google Search Result
The BERT update to Google ranking algorithm added powerful AI and natural language processing to the already complex ranking factors. Now Google can actually understand what users mean when they perform a search.
The AI can differentiate from a general purpose search (“what is a vacuum cleaner?”) and a transactional search (“cheap vacuum cleaner near me”). This means that one of the biggest changes to SEO in 2021 is that businesses have to rethink their content strategy and create different types of content for each of the main search intents:
3. Google Introduces Supplementary Surveillance for Some Business Categories
The internet should be a place where everyone can find accurate and reliable information. However, fake news (both intentional and shared out of ignorance) has flooded the internet. And the key players – search engines and social media platforms – are being held accountable to do something about it.
Google has taken an active stance. The search engine will scrutinise more closely websites operating in the so-called YMYL fields (your money or your life). These business categories are:
- Healthcare and safety
- Civics and legal information
- Groups of people (people grouped on the basis of race, ethnics, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation).
4. User Experience Becomes a Key Ranking Factor
Another huge change in SEO in 2021 is the shift Google made in the importance of its ranking factors. Keywords are no longer the most important factor (and haven’t been for years). One of Google’s updates this year has added Page Experience as one of the most important ranking factors.
One of the key elements of the Page Experience factor is the triad of Core Web Vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
We have discussed these elements in detail in several past articles. For now, we will say that from now on it is essential for your website to load fast, respond quickly to user input and load correctly, free of errors.
5. The EAT Principle Weeds Out Spam Websites
Another key change in SEO in 2021 refers to the overall value of your domain name and content. The EAT principle stands for:
This means that you must strive to:
- Publish content that is relevant to your business sector
- Try to rank for relevant websites
- Try to collect as many positive reviews as possible
- Attract quality backlinks.
These are the elements Google is looking for in trying to determine if your site has quality, relevant and accurate information to offer its visitors.
6. Voice Search Is Still Relevant
Although Google’s John Mueller dismissed voice search as a relevant trend for the future, it does not mean that it is not an important element for SEO in 2021. The two most popular mobile operating systems – Android and iOS – have smart digital assistants as part of the standard features.
And many people rely on Google Assistant and Siri to search for information and even make purchases. The impact of digital assistants on SEO in 2021 is that you should include specific content formats on your site:
- FAQ pages
- Q&A articles
- Texts that focus on natural language more than on the precise use of keywords.
7. Local Search Is the New Battlefield for Small Businesses
Finally, ranking for local search results has become more important than ever, especially for small and medium sized businesses. Consumers are more careful about exposing themselves to large crowds and prefer shopping locally than in big box stores.
This trend led to a tremendous increase in local search terms including:
- Near me
- In (city name)
- (product) to buy near (location).
As a result, companies have to focus on claiming their Google My Business Profile, posting their profile on various directories (citations) and making sure that their contact information is correct and uses a consistent format everywhere – among others.
Google will continue to change the way it ranks websites and displays them in search results. The challenges of SEO in 2021 were significant, but they are just part of your everyday work. The next year will come with new challenges, but you will be ready to face them. You won’t be alone in your efforts – we will stay by your side with helpful advice and the latest news and developments in the world of SEO.