The SEO landscape is looking very different than it did several years ago. It's not always easy to keep up – or know which trends are worth spending time on. To help you navigate SEO in 2021, we've compiled the best practices that will give you top results based on where SEO is right now and where it's going.
- Learn about SERPs and featured snippets
- Adjust your SEO strategy for zero-click searches
- Follow an SEO philosophy of 60% new content, 40% old content
- Fix what's holding your SEO results back
- Research your competition before you start writing
- Create better content than what's currently #1
- Attract backlinks naturally
- Check how your pages look on several devices
- It's not too early or late to optimize for voice
- Make brand building a top priority
10 SEO best practices for 2021
1. Learn about SERPs and featured snippets
You're probably not going to beat Google at its own game, but you can work with Google. To rank at the top of search results for a keyword, you either need to:
- Pay for Google search ads
- Write content that's good enough to have a SERP feature
SERP features include Featured Snippets, Shopping Results, Image Packs and other not-just-a-blue-link results you find in searches.
Here’s what a Featured Snippet looks like:
And here’s a Local Pack:
To begin optimizing for SERP features, check which ones you already have. One handy SEO tool to do this is Ahrefs, which comes at a higher price point but offers a 7-day trial for $7 for new users. This will give you enough time to add your site and dig into your SEO.
If you're using Ahrefs, go to Site Explorer > Organic Keywords and see if there are any icons to the left of the URL column.
These show that your page has a SERP feature in searches, which you'll want to keep ranking for. Here are the different types of SERP feature you might see:
Next, it's about earning more SERP features. Look at the SERP features you already have and think about how you've earned them. Did you try longer-form content? Was it evergreen content that you've organically earned backlinks from? Did you add more images or videos to the page than usual to achieve visual SERPs?
For further SEO best practices, here are some other ways to gain SERP features like Featured Snippets for your website.
2. Adjust your SEO strategy for zero-click searches
One of the biggest game-changers for SEO in 2021 and beyond is zero-click searches - that’s when you don't have to click on a link to find an answer to your search query, as the answer is already displayed on the SERPS. 50.3% of Google searches received zero clicks in June 2019, according to data from SparkToro.
SERP features contribute to zero-click searches, but it's also down to Google Answers, the search engine's way of answering common questions such as Where will the next Olympics be held? directly in the search.
As a smart marketer in 2021, your job is to follow these best practices:
- Find ways to get value from zero-click searches, such as by optimizing for SERP features that increase brand awareness and recall
- Focus on the keywords with a higher click-through-rate (CTR) opportunity
3. Follow an SEO philosophy of 60% new content, 40% old content
SEO isn't just about churning out new content. By optimizing and refreshing your existing content, you'll be able to multiply your SEO results much faster.
A great example of this is HubSpot, which doubled down on historical optimization after finding that 92% of their monthly blog leads came from "old" posts. After optimizing and republishing already valuable content, they increased the number of monthly organic search views to these posts by an average of 106%.
When you optimize your content, try to follow these best practices:
- Make the content more relevant and evergreen, such as by updating statistics
- Add more internal links to other pages on your website – this is a tried-and-tested way to help improve your performance in searches
- Optimize for high-value keywords that currently rank on Google's second page
4. Fix what's holding your SEO results back
Do you feel that no matter how many blog posts you publish and keywords you optimize for, your SEO isn't getting the results you expected? If you're not moving up the rankings – or even getting your pages indexed by Google – it's time to audit your website and look at what's going on behind the scenes.
It's not uncommon for technical site performance and SEO issues to hold a website back. To do a fast technical SEO audit, trial an SEO tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs to look for:
- Broken 404 pages
- Duplicate HTML tags & content
- Redirect chains
- Slow pages
- Broken redirects
Export a checklist of your technical SEO tasks so you can access it even if you cancel your subscription to the tool.
Another thing that can be holding your SEO results back is domain authority. This is largely determined by the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your domain. To keep increasing your domain authority, keep working on achieving quality natural backlinks for your pages - we’ll touch on that shortly.
5. Research your competition before you start writing
Once you know the topic of a blog post, check who's already ranking for that keyword. Get inside the head of your target reader, type in what they will search for to get to this topic, and look at the top results.
If you're using Ahrefs, paste the URL of these top results into Site Explorer and click on Organic Keywords to see which keywords are working for these pages. You can then target these keywords in your post.
6. Create better content than the competition
To reach the top of searches, you need to provide better content than anyone else. This is partly a result of your domain authority, but having high-value and high-quality content should be your top priority.
In 2021, guarantee that your content is the most relevant, most actionable and highest quality it can be, no matter the format – text, video, images, voice or otherwise.
Google specifically looks for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), something it’s been repeating in its Search Quality Guidelines for years:
You might be wondering how long your content should be in 2021. Long-form content still tends to perform best. However, it's highly case-specific. For instance, a local restaurant is unlikely to benefit from 2000-word blog posts; clever local SEO should be a much higher priority.
7. Attract backlinks naturally
Backlinks aren't everything, but they will help you rank higher faster. The more quality links to your site, the higher your domain authority. As Google has shared: “In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.” What this basically means is that if a lot of trustworthy sites trust the information on your page, your page is likely to be trustworthy too.
Here are some of the best strategies to increase backlinks in 2021:
- Reach out to relevant and reputable websites about guest blogging opportunities
- Get links from companies with whom you have existing relationships
- Get listed on relevant “best of” lists for your industry and location by networking with bloggers, providing an excellent service and making your business visible with local SEO
- Create content with the "skyscraper" technique: first find relevant competing content with tons of backlinks; create something even better; and ask those linking to the competing content to link to your piece instead
- Publish relevant, valuable and shareable content that others will link to without you asking
- Reach out to websites that have unlinked mentions of your business
8. Check how your pages look on several devices
Your website's level of mobile optimization determines your rankings. If your content doesn't look great on mobile, you're taking one step forward and two steps back.
To preview how your website looks on different screen sizes, use mobiReady for a quick check of your website on popular devices.
As SEO best practice, make sure your website is mobile-optimized for all page types and know how to upload text, images and embedded media for the cleanest results on all devices.
9. It's not too early or late to optimize for voice
We're all getting more used to using voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, but we're also getting used to listening to our favorite content, especially via podcasts.
With the Amazon Polly speech recognition tool (available as a WordPress plugin), your website visitors can have your content read aloud to them. It's a great choice to give your readers and a handy way to boost time on site and overall engagement.
When writing blog content, follow these best practices for voice search:
- Keep paragraphs short
- Break up content with headers and lists
- Write for quality and depth
Having your content already optimized for voice will benefit you when search moves further in that direction - which might happen sooner than you think.
10. Make brand building a top priority
Branding can get a bad rep. Isn't it a word your team members throw around for an excuse to spend money? No. Your brand is one of the most precious things your business has – and it's closely linked to SEO.
As Google provides more answers with zero-click searches and consumers increasingly prefer to consume content on their favorite channels, you can miss out on traffic to your business's website.
Although you should optimize for high click-through-rate keywords, it's important to accept the need to meet consumers where they want to be spending time – which is not always on your website.
The best brands in the world have always focused foremost on brand recall and preference as their top tactic, above any digital marketing strategies.
In 2021, marketing will need to influence brand preference, not just visibility in searches. If your business is achieving this, you'll be noticing more traffic from branded searches of your business name.
With a powerful combination of building your brand, optimizing high click-through-rate keywords, benefitting from zero-click searches and boosting on-site conversions and performance, you'll be in the best position to win at SEO in 2021. What SEO trends and tactics can you start adding to your strategy now?