Where to Focus SEO Efforts?
SEO is a time-consuming activity, and the unfortunate reality is, there isn’t an unlimited amount of time to spend on SEO, even though, there’s virtually an unlimited amount of SEO tasks to be performed on a website.
This means businesses and SEO professionals need to focus on those areas where they get the largest return on investments
By making use of the various enterprise-grade SEO tools available, you can leverage the awesomeness of automation and cut down on manual SEO tasks, but that only goes so far.
SEO changes constantly. To keep up with all the changes requires hours of devotion (and testing) each week. The changes were even more prevalent in 2020, with hundreds, or possibly even thousands of algorithm updates being released.
With SEO, we need to juggle the double-edged sword, of being proactive enough to ensure a website is in the best possible shape to weather the next search engine algorithm that is released, whilst at the same time, being reactive to the learning from the impact of past algorithms.
There are many excellent lists as to what to focus on for SEO in 2021, but each and every website should have an independent plan for improvement, based on it’s strengths and weaknesses.
As a result, I’ve decided to take the opportunity to compile my own list of focus areas for 2021, based on my experience and the collection of client websites I work on.
So, here are the top aspects I’ll be focusing on in 2021 (in no particular order):
Schema markup is code that is added to a website that assists search engines to better understand it’s content and deliver more meaningful & feature-rich results. Here is an example of recipe schema implementation:
Although Schema isn’t new, it’s previously been a challenge to get a web developer’s time to implement schema changes to a website.
So, in 2021, I’ll be auditing the Schema on all the websites i work on, consolidating schema plugins that make the implementation of schema more efficient and consistent.
2. SERP features
Following on from schema implementation, I’ll be on the hunt for Search Engine Results Page (or SERP) features. As Google steams ahead with its attempt to end as many searches as possible without leaving Google’s ecosystem, SERP features are an important way to improve a website’s Click Through Rate (CTR).
Although many SERP features are dependent on the search keywords and industry, there’s ample opportunity to acquire SERP features.
Search intent and queries change regularly, so it’s time to evaluate the opportunities for any new SERP features. Most SEO tools can identify the search queries that trigger missing/acquired SERP features.
Of the myriad of SERP features, the two that I’ll be primarily focusing on acquiring in 2021 are:
Featured snippets are the short snippets of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results in order to quickly answer a searcher’s query.
They extract content from the ranking page (in #1-5) that generally answers the query in the most specific way.
Here is an example:
People Also Ask
While Featured snippets are on the decline, People Also Ask (PAA) are on the increase. This process involves reviewing content, to ensure the 8-10 word queries are answered. It’s especially important for the “w” searches (Who, What, When Where, Why).
3. Core Web vitals
It may be in position three on my list, but it’s arguably #1 for most websites. The reason is, Google has explicitly set a date (May 2021) for the launch of the new algorithm that enforces good page experience.
The items in grey, should have already been addressed on most websites, as Google has been enforcing these for the past five years through a collection of algorithms. The new Core Web Vitals further addresses page experience metrics.
From my experience, many sites fail the Largest Contentiful Paint (LCP) metric through too large images, or the Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) through popups, sliders, auto expanding menus or other elements that generate movement.
I’ll be fixing what I can for these elements, before escalating any design/theme and scripting changes to a web developer.
4. Click Through rate (CTR) optimisation
Click Through Rate optimisation makes google search results more “clickable”. SERP features also help to make results more clickable, but regular organic results should also be optimised for CTR, by carefully crafting URLs, SEO Titles and Meta Descriptions.
Here’s an example of a sub-optimal search engine listing:
The URL is truncated, the SEO title isn’t descriptive and the meta description is also truncated.
5. Orphaned page resolution
An orphaned page is a page on a website that has no incoming links to it. That can sometimes be fine from a user’s perspective, as the page is still accessible from the menu. From a search engine’s perspective, on the other hand, orphaned pages may never be discovered and indexed. Even if the pages are discovered by search engines, they are unlikely to rank well.
In August 2018, Google released the first known algorithm that addressed Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) for a website. In short, the search engine wants to ensure content served displays these virtues. That makes it essential to build up the profile of authors on your website and include thorough author bios.
Originally, the 2018 algorithm hit sites that were in the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) niche, that covered mainly health and wealth sites. In December’s 2020 core update, the reach was expanded and other sites such as legal and consulting services with poor E-A-T were also hit.
What I’ll be doing
As a start, I’ll be reviewing author bios and pages to ensure they demonstrate E-A-T values. This should be applied to all sites, no matter the niche they belong to.
7. Link Building
Links have always been one of the top ranking factors for Google. Although the importance of links is slowly declining, backlinks remain one of the most import and (time consuming!) aspects of SEO.
I’ll be allocating resources to build topically relevant links from good quality websites. In 2021 and beyond, it’s imperative that the links you acquire are high quality, relevant and natural.
8. Content reviews
Content and SEO on a website are never static. As new content is published, other pieces of content on your site are slowly becoming obsolete.
Every ~3 months on a large site and ~6 months on a small/medium website I review content.
The metrics I recommend for review:
9. Internal linking
Internal linking is the process of generating internal links between pages or posts on your website. This method allows you to control the authority of pages, by distributing it from stronger to weaker pages which helps them to rank higher.
As part of my 2021 strategy, I’ll be working on internal linking for websites, ensuring the pages that bring in the most traffic, or those that are key pages have sufficient internal links and strength.
10. Create awesome content
I cant stress the importance of awesome content! High quality copywriting is one of the most important aspects of SEO. Without content, quite simply, your site wont rank.
The days of short content that partially answers the query, or content that is stuffed with keywords won’t cut it in 2021. I advocate only using high quality writers that are experts in their niche.
It’s always a good idea to focus on content that fills content gaps (ie topics you want your site to rank for).
In 2021, I strongly recommend you focus on targeted content marketing efforts. Good content creation is expensive, so it’s imperative you write content on topics that are likely to be successful (based on past performance of traffic/shares), rather than picking random topics you “think” your readers would be interested in reading.
11. Google Discover
Google Discover is Google’s way of serving content to users that’s deemed relevant, to them without the need to search for it. I see this as Google’s attempt to compete with social media platforms and offer something similar to Instagram stories (although Google’s content is arguably more educational and evergreen).
2020 marked the launch of “Google Discover” and by late 2020, I acquired my first Google Discover story! Although it’s early days, the traffic generated is beneficial:
Why Google Discover?
It has the potential to drive large amounts of traffic to a website.
As Google tends to dictate the desired user experience of websites, I see discover as Google’s attempt to dictate the expectation of content also. To increase th eliklihood of your content being featured in discover, guidelines need to be followed from content length to image resolution.
Although there are many lists on the internet that cover what to focus on for SEO in 2021, my take is a little different. Thta’s because it’s based on the issues I see on client sites and where I can derive the greatest ROI from limited resources.