If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the future is impossible to predict.
But we asked 24 of the top minds in SEO to gaze into their crystal balls and anticipate where the choppy seas of SEO might land us in 2021.
What they came back with is less about trying to read Google’s palm and more about actionable steps you can take right now to reach your SEO goals in 2021.
2021’s SEO expert roundup also brings a heavier emphasis on CRO than in previous years…
After all, what good is traffic if it doesn’t convert?
Here’s what some of the best and brightest SEOs have to say…
Google just showed us with their latest update that backlinks still matter in a big way. And it’s the big backlinks that matter the most.
Spend time in 2021 building out the systems and connections to land high authority backlinks.
To accomplish this for me, personally, I’m working on:
Here are 3 actionable SEO tips for 2021:
1. Focus on keyword qualification and less on finding new keywords
The truth is that anyone can find keywords, but real SEO pros succeed because they have a process for qualifying and prioritizing keywords.
Ultimately, you should prioritize keywords based on your business objectives.
If you’re trying to drive product or service sales, then you should focus on transactional queries FIRST.
Too many websites focus on informational keywords at the top of the funnel. These keywords are great for driving traffic but aren’t great for conversions.
They should only be your targets once you’ve dominated your transactional keywords or if you need to build more topical relevance.
Speaking of topical relevance…
2. Build more topical relevance!
Creating individual pages for keyword variations like “best wedding bands in Los Angeles” and “Los Angeles wedding bands” is NOT how you build topical relevance.
What I just described is how you create keyword cannibalization on your website. Simple variations of a seed keyword with the same intent should be targeted on ONE page.
However, you can improve the SEO performance of any given page by supporting it with pages targeting topically relevant keywords.
For example, if you were trying to target a head keyword like “creatine”, you would want to build supporting assets targeting: “creatine side effects”, “creatine before or after workout”, or “creatine hair loss”.
3. Look for acquisition opportunities in your vertical
Acquiring relevant websites or tools in your vertical is the fastest way to skyrocket your site’s authority.
Tools are my favorite because it’s a natural transition. Examine how Neil Patel acquired UberSuggest and how they grew his organic search traffic.
My most actionable tip for 2021 is to produce supporting content on a schedule and with a purpose.
You can immediately increase the traffic to your site and decrease traffic volatility by consistently posting content that supports your target pages.
The amount you should post depends on how risk-averse you are. If you go for fast traffic wins and don’t mind being regularly hit by Google updates, you don’t need to post too often.
If you want stable growth for the long term, you need to up your posting game. Be mindful of interlinking and look to related searches and “People also ask” to find solid supporting content.
Make sure to focus on organic conversion as much as you focus on organic
We all love them, the hockey stick curves of improved rankings and organic
But many of my clients suffer from the fact that historically the pages
that bring in most of the organic traffic never turn into prospects, leads,
As SEOs, we are not in charge of organic traffic – we are responsible for
*relevant* organic traffic.
Here are two questions to ask yourself:
These transactional keywords could describe your/your client’s product or services. Or possibly competitors or other common solutions for the problem you are solving.
Make sure to target a good split of top, middle, and bottom of the funnel keywords. Don’t try only to grow organic traffic but also to grow organic conversion.
Think of your blog as a resource library, not a list of random posts
sorted by date. If visitors are interested in a topic, what is the logical
next content piece to serve them — and how can you win their email in the
SEO hasn’t changed much over the years.
The algo is continually updating, but all the updates are moving in the same direction — quality, authority, etc. (you know the deal).
Since we know where things are going, we’ve focused more of our time on building tools to help us stay in line with Google’s direction.
Our favorite is what we call the Website Quality Audit.
It’s an audit that pulls in API data from 6 sources and aggregates at the URL level.
This allows us to look at every page on a site and cross-reference it with vital SEO data.
From there, we can analyze about how we need to handle each page on a site from a “quality” point of view.
This audit has been far and away the most impactful SEO tactic we’ve used over the last few years, and will continue to be going forward.
You can read more about the audit here.
My most actionable SEO tip for 2021 is to look at your SEO campaigns from a fresh perspective.
Forget about arbitrary metrics and scoring systems (though they have their place), and look at your entire SEO campaign as a funnel built by compounding actions towards a common goal.
Every. Action. Matters.
Believe me when I say this…
Once you follow this methodology — less is more.
Instead of creating a bunch of fluff content, create only content that matters to users who intend to make use of your product or service.
Every link you build, every ad campaign, every podcast, and ultimately every action in your SEO campaign should be geared around the conversion point you are trying to achieve.
Content that predicts subsequent questions the searcher will ask will continue to win out in 2021.
Google has data on how well pages satisfy the user’s query. Content that shortens the user journey will be favored.
Google wants to rely less on links, and the only way to do that is by placing more emphasis on user behavior signals.
Making sure that you put yourself in the shoes of a searcher and give them the most complete answer will help your user engagement metrics and ultimately help you rank better (if you are doing the best job of that in the SERP).
So get in while the getting is good because if bigger sites are not already doing this, they soon will be.
I believe links are going to be an EVEN BIGGER factor in SEO in the next coming years…
With Google changing how nofollow links work, it shows that they are putting more effort into trying to understand backlinks more than ever.
Building even more niche-relevant and authoritative links to your sites should definitely be at the top of your list if you want to stay competitive.
Right at the top of my list in 2021 — for both my sites and my client’s sites — is… SITE SPEED.
It’s not new. It’s not unheard of…
Yet, the number of people who still get this wrong is astounding, especially when it is so easy to fix.
I am renewing my focus on site speed right now because as each algorithm update passes, the more weight this ranking factor holds.
And in 2021, once Google adds core web vitals to the algorithm, it’s going to be more crucial than ever to have a fast website.
Well, a fast website is not only a strong ranking signal, but it also increases your conversion rates, your average order value, and the return you get from any PPC investment.
Put it this way, if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load, you are just leaving money on the table for your competitors.
As I mentioned earlier, speeding your site up isn’t actually that difficult.
A few simple plugins like ShortPixel and WPRocket can have a huge impact on reducing your load times.
That, paired with services like Nitropack and Cloudflare, should get you hitting the right numbers for both your mobile and desktop load times.
As a final step, if you’re still having issues, you may need to invest in some faster hosting, but generally, you can optimize and tweak where needed to reach speedier website speeds.
My most actionable SEO tip has to do with saving a lot of money and time in the long-run, and while it may not seem like it — it can even apply to affiliate marketers.
I suppose I should tell you what it is now…?
Pre-test SEO with Ads.
In 95% of situations, it makes no sense to run an SEO campaign before you have a profitable Google Ads campaign.
With Google Ads, you can target the same keywords you would go after with SEO. Pre-testing allows you to test the viability of those keywords, test your conversion rates, get real search volume data, and find additional keywords that no keyword research tool has in their database.
Otherwise, you may invest thousands to tens-of-thousands of dollars with SEO only to find out your page doesn’t convert or that your highest search volume keyword is less profitable than a secondary.
For those wondering, yes — affiliates can do this profitably too. Including Amazon Affiliates, though it’s more challenging to do Ads profitably with lower commissions.
However, I’d still be willing to take a small loss to prove that when my SEO starts working, the page and the products can convert, and figure out what keywords will perform best, rather than finding that out in 6-12 months.
When you have a profitable ad campaign, not only can you move forward on SEO confident in your keywords and conversion rates, but you can scale the ad account to cover your SEO costs.
We are only just beginning to see the effects of Google’s December 3, 2020 core algorithm update…
What does seem to be emerging is that rankings of sites belonging to people who are actively building links are suffering. Conversely, those who aren’t building links seem to be doing much better.
So what does this mean – stop building links? I don’t think for a minute that this is a good idea.
I expect that links are will be a major ranking factor for a long time into the future. However, I believe that links need to look more natural than ever, even if they are not.
We need to consider the original purpose of a link.
A link is there to enhance the reader’s experience. Offering a link that provides further information or resources is both useful and relevant.
A link that sends a reader to a product sales page may not be relevant when they are still in the research phase.
The recent Google algorithm update’s effect on rankings is one thing, but if Google starts getting more aggressive with handing out manual actions, it’s going to be bad.
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, Google’s speed of reply to reconsideration requests has been horrific.
You seriously don’t want to get a Google manual action at the moment. If you do, you know who to call.
One of the main takeaways I’ve had from 2020 is that links still rule the SEO world and Google is better than ever at filtering out the junk.
We’re not seeing penalties and deindexation like back in the day. Instead, Google is ignoring spammy links and letting SEOs waste their hard-earned cash and spin their wheels.
One of the best things you can do for your SEO efforts is investing in higher quality link building strategies and pursuing sites with much higher authority than yours, even when that means sacrificing relevance.
Some great places to start are relationship building and studying how PR firms are getting their (usually boring) clients attention.
In my humble opinion, the most important tip for SEO in 2021 (and as we advance) is that “Content is NOT JUST King.”
By that I mean, it’s not enough anymore to have a single great piece of content covering all the keywords you wish to rank for.
Due to the exponential growth of data and content, Google now has a versatile dataset of answers and viewpoints across every niche and industry.
Therefore, it’s crucial to move away from the notion that “content is king” and understand that our content strategy should encapsulate our entire silo structure.
I call this the Content Moat.
Your Content Moat is your hub page, supporting pages, and linking structure.
How do we create this Content Moat?
We can always trust our intuition, which is not optimal as we are all unique personalities with differing perceptions of the world around us.
But we all have one common denominator…
We seek the affection and approval of this enormous and wealthy electronic baby named Google.
Much like a baby, Google can’t communicate in the same dialect that we humans have developed over time.
Nevertheless, it has learned the patterns that dictate our behavior by carefully paying attention to our signals and understanding what we mean.
If we strip away all our preconceived notions about what goes through Google’s head and look at the results, we can also learn what it cares about.
If you Google “SEO Butler” and “Jonathan Kiekbusch”, you will get results that point to the same awesome company!
This means that Google “understands” that Jonathan works as a butler at SEO events! (huh)?
I’m obviously joking, but you get the point…
By properly examining the subtle relationships that emerge between different queries in Google’s different pages. We can identify trends and patterns that allow us to model or “Content Moat” our sites the same way Google wants to see them.
Avoid the cluster*@$% of events of 2020 by actively investing in keyword clustering for 2021!
My big resolution for the coming year is to remain continually alert to changes in what makes a genuinely good link from an SEO standpoint.
I don’t want to assume that what it takes to build a quality link today will remain the same throughout the year.
Let me give you an example. We built nearly 1,000 links in 2020, and through most of the year, I was certain that our link building quality remained high because of our tight guidelines that focus solely on getting links from blogs on trustworthy corporate sites.
Although I knew it would pay off (and it has), in reality, it wasn’t as simple as I imagined because it’s not a constant.
Even corporate blogs have become more widely used by larger numbers of link builders, with the result that the value of links from their blogs has become lower than from similar sites that don’t allow such use.
So, I have come to acknowledge that the “best of the best” links can only be built on reputable blogs that don’t accept guest posts at all.
Sadly, as an agency, it’s very difficult to build such links, and the extra effort means we’ll have to double the price for these highly desirable, “best of the best” links.
But for those companies working with their own in-house link builders, it’s a good strategy. While it’s harder to execute because it relies on establishing compatible business relationships, it’s definitely doable.
I recommend it as an approach to building value into your link program in the coming year.
My actional tip for SEO and CRO is: A focus on website speed is more important than ever.
Many SEOs feel that getting a website speed under 3 seconds on mobile is fast enough. And while that may be true for search rankings, CRO demands faster websites.
A 2016 study by Google indicated that 53% of users would not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load on a mobile device. More than 4 years later, an eternity in internet time, page load times are more critical than ever.
You can’t convert a website visitor that never waits for a site to load.
Making sure a page loads as fast as possible ensures that those who might be on slower connections will not get frustrated and click the back button cause lost conversions.
Many tests performed on large ecommerce sites demonstrate a significant increase in revenue for each reduced 1/10th of a second in load time.
For large ecommerce shops, improving site speed can mean thousands or millions of dollars in increased sales.
My advice is to dig deep and decrease page load times as much as possible.
Start by measuring your Time to First Byte (TTFB), as this is one of the things that makes a website “feel” fast.
TTFB is a server-side metric, so sometimes the only way to reduce it is to upgrade servers or switch hosting companies.
Our agency has had great success moving to WPX Hosting.
Now our TTFB is less than 200 milliseconds, nearly half a second faster than our previous top-rated hosting company.
Switching to a faster website host will improve core-web vitals scores, which will prepare you for Google’s upcoming expected shift to user experience in 2021.
Use multiple site speed tools and analyze the waterfall diagrams to find opportunities to speed up your site. We use webpagetest.org, among several others.
Use WP Rocket or a similar plugin to speed up your site. Programs such as ShortPixel can help reduce image sizes and reduce load times.
But these plugins have their limitations and rarely deliver the fastest possible sites.
All business websites, especially Ecommerce websites of all types, should consider hiring a site speed specialist. These specialists can dig deep into the site code and increase page load times, sometimes dramatically.
For example, we have a Shopify site-speed expert who can shave seconds off of page load times.
Considering that people are only growing less patient, focusing on the lowest possible site speeds will return an outstanding long-term ROI by reducing lost conversions to a minimum.
I learned the hard way to prioritize keywords based on the intent and not the search volume.
When looking at our Search Console and Google Analytics dashboards, it became evident that most of our traffic comes from a few blog posts that drive zero value to our business (maybe some collateral benefits like link building).
On the other hand, some landing pages that weren’t planned on keyword research bring a few hundreds of visitors but bring most of our conversions.
Traffic without intent is a vanity metric.
We’re an early-stage startup, and in a few months, we started generating SEO results because we focused on keywords that don’t even show up on the standard keyword research tool as there is zero competition.
Also, I’d concentrate my SEO efforts on a particular topic (aka clusters) where all pages work towards a pillar page…
One of our most effective pages doesn’t have more than 300 words, but most of our pages within the same topic link to it.
My most actionable SEO tip for 2020 is updating your affiliate review intros.
Too many writers simply explain or introduce the topic when, in reality, you should use the intro to instill trust in the reader.
Tell the reader why they should trust you — for example, the length of time you spent reading Amazon reviews. Then get straight to your review.
Building trust and being concise will reduce bounce rates on your articles and help with long term rankings.
As the talented Ernie Smith — the writer of the excellent Tedium newsletter — said in our interview, content doesn’t really die.
At least it shouldn’t be thought of as a one-off chunk of text.
If you have a long-read packed with useful, mostly evergreen content, one obvious repurposing route is to take valuablechunks and post them on Facebook and Twitter…
But I think Reddit is a much better choice.
For example, if you’re writing a comprehensive guide on email design, and dedicate one section to creating a compelling CTA, post that section —with no link — to relevant subreddits like r/design, r/email, r/marketing, r/copywriting, etc.
Engage with whoever responds and link back to your full piece in the response. Not only will you get traffic, but also a better idea of the type of audience that gels with your content.
Trying new SEO strategies and techniques is essential if you want to stay ahead of the competition. But, whether you try email marketing, different link building strategies, a new keyword research process, or a new landing page template, each of these takes time.
My tip for 2021: Every three months, take stock and assess the ROI of these new ventures.
Trying the latest SEO tool and tactic is certainly cool and exciting, but they can easily add an extra 20 hours a month to your workload…
The question is, which one of these had the most SEO benefit?
Every three months, spend two weeks tracking your time, action by action.
If you haven’t stepped back and reviewed your business in a while, start 2021 by examining what you did throughout 2020.
Assess what areas of your business made money and look at what lead to those profits.
By going through this process, you’ll know exactly where you’re spending your time and which actions provide the most SEO benefits — and ultimately make you the most money.
You’ll find out what tasks you should double down on, cut entirely, or delegate to someone else.
Taking stock allows you to refine your SEO business, take control of your time, and start 2021 on the right foot.
Improve your search intent game…
Look at the search results directly instead of having your VAs rely solely on tools and outdated SOPs.
Google is actually telling you what topics and keywords are relevant.
Manually Gazing over the SERPs can help you construct different page types and address the right search intent.
The “People also ask” section is a great place to come up with additional ideas for your content silo.
Surfer audits may help improve your existing articles, but if your content doesn’t match the search query’s intent, you’ll have a hard time ranking in Google.
If you lost traffic in an algorithm update, I urge you to look at the SERPs.
You’d be surprised how much you can reverse engineer when you don’t depend on fancy SEO tools.
I run Chilli Fruit Web Consulting Agency, a marketing and SEO agency. I have to confess that I don’t think there’s a marketer on the planet who could have predicted the rollercoaster that 2020 would turn out to be — and it’s not over yet!
Like most people, I’ve been looking toward 2021 for a while and, my most actionable tips would be as follows:
My number one tip for SEOs would be to do all the things.
Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist, or perhaps it was the way I was taught in SEO, but many SEOs are searching for that one big hack.
That hack may exist, but it won’t for long.
Google’s algorithm updates are getting smarter every time, and the moment it finds out about this “hack”, your rankings and traffic will pay the price.
Doing the bare minimum is no longer enough in SEO. The reason why our sites have survived countless updates and remained in the top 3 positions is that we just did all the things.
Start 2021 by doing a full audit of your site and look at every little thing that can be improved – technical, E-A-T, on-page, and backlink profile.
Imagine a hamburger. The meat should always go in the middle, right?
The same applies when you’re writing optimized content.
Do your keyword research, look at the top 10, and craft your outline. Then forget about all of the SEO stuff and write an article that readers will want to bookmark.
Once that’s done, you can use a tool like Surfer, your spreadsheet with secondary keywords, or your general on-page SEO checklist to optimize everything.
The meat and toppings are the good stuff. The buns are just there to hold everything together and make it presentable. While a bit messier, nobody would mind being served the meat with some toppings. But nobody wants to eat just a bun.
I’m Francois-Louis Mommens, founder of Linkody.com, a backlink checker tool, and I, for one, will be very happy to see the back of 2020.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time tweaking my SEO strategy for next year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and, as such, my tips would be:
So, my advice would be to focus on your content and promote the heck out of it on social media.
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