Musings and Predictions for the Future of SEO

Predictions for the Future of SEO in 2021

SEO is a marketing enigma. Just when us SEO experts think we have figured out a repeatable blueprint for SEO success, Google drastically changes its algorithm and what once worked really well, suddenly does not garner the same results. Not to mention that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to SEO in 2021 and beyond.

B2B SEO is vastly different from B2C SEO. Factors that determine SEO strategy for a site include: the amount of existing content on a given domain, the domain authority, geography of users and customers, sales cycle, number and maturity of direct competitors, and the industry that businesses compete. These change the approach to SEO and how to prioritize them.

One thing remains the cornerstone of any good SEO agency offering and will always be a massive part of the future of SEO, and that is high quality, well-written content that provides a great user experience.

 

Top SEO Experts Weigh-In

Recently, I was asked by SEOblog.com to take part in an SEO expert interview where I was asked a series of questions:

  • What would you say is unique and/or challenging about the current SEO industry?
  • How does your agency stand out in a crowded market like the Bay Area with many identical firms?
  • Can you share a SEO success story centered around your area? Include any stats and highlights if possible!
  • What is the best advice you ever received in business as an entrepreneur?
  • What do you think is the most important quality that makes an agency truly great?
  • Any predictions for the future of SEO?
  • What is your reaction when you hear that “SEO is dying”?
  • What do you think is the most important contributor of keeping clients happy?

 

Ask 100 top SEO experts and get 100 different answers. In fact, that is precisely what SEOblog.com has done with these interviews and I have found it to be a valuable SEO resource for insight into how other SEO professionals conduct this important – and often misunderstood – aspect of digital marketing. Check out their entire archive of top SEO expert interviews.

 

Six Predictions for SEO in 2021

One question from the SEO expert interview I thought worth touching on here as we move into the holiday season and look forward to SEO in 2021 was in regards to the predictions for the future of SEO.

If you want the full answer head over to my interview on SEOblog.com but here are some cliff notes from that interview and a few bonus points as I see them.

 

SEO Content Creation Reigns Supreme

 

Google’s BERT update (May 2020) now allows for a better natural understanding behind the intent of user search queries and has a non-directional natural language processing (NLP) model as opposed to the previous left-to-right or right-to-left. 

This means that website content needs to have good information architecture with strategic keyword insertion, advanced HTML markup and a compelling message for good user experience (UX). Achieving good UX will give Google positive behavioral signals which it relies heavily on to decide where your keywords and URLs rank.

 

Site Performance and Mobile-First Indexing

 

Having your site optimized for speed and trustworthiness will be more important in the future of SEO. Google has even shared new metrics for which it will be measuring technical health with the introduction of the Core Web Vitals (Largest Contentful Paint / First Input Delay / Cumulative Layout Shift). 

Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) will become even more critical with more users conducting mobile-first search queries and should provide an entirely different, fast, and minimal experience to mobile users – not just a responsively designed desktop site.

 

Social Media Links Taken as “Hints” but Still Not Ranking Signals

 

The relationship between social media backlinks (links from your social media and other user profiles to your site) and SEO isn’t exactly clear cut. Google had maintained for years that social media backlinks provide no link equity (ranking signals) to your domain, but research seems to show that social sharing helps SEO rankings at the very least in that more behavioral signals are sent through to Google from those social visits which could be taken as “hints” as to what content is authoritative. Research published by Optinmonster in 2019 concurs with an older 2018 Hootsuite study, concluding that social popularity helps rankings on Google.

Optimize pages for social by using a unique OG title, OG meta description and OG image – rather than defaulting to existing title and meta – as this very likely shows Google that you are amplifying content across social and thus trying to provide more value to more people. Also, sharing on social can help generate natural backlinks if a content creator were to reference and link to your site on their unique domain.

 

Backlinks Will Slowly But Surely Be Less Important

 

As an SEO expert and digital marketer in general I get a ton of unsolicited backlink offers, and nine times out of ten, they are worthless. Backlinks are only good if they come from trusted high authority domains, are extremely relevant to the page and domain they point to, and they can be achieved at scale. Trying to generate backlinks in B2B SEO is even tougher than B2C SEO as there are just fewer legit opportunities and even then the high authority domains don’t want to be solicited, no matter how great or relevant your content is. 

Now, with the Panda and Penguin Google algorithm updates several years in the past, Google bots are much more sophisticated and don’t need to rely on the amount of backlinks as much for ranking signals. Five years from now, manipulative link building will probably go extinct as an SEO strategy. To be super clear however, gaining quality backlinks at scale is currently a very good way to improve site SEO, especially for newer domains. 

“Links might become a little less important as Google starts understanding actual language.”

Matt Cutts (Google)

 

Google Moving from “Strings” to “Things” with Google Discover

 

Google Discover is a mobile experience that lets users discover content in a totally different way as part of their quest to move “from strings to things” as they call it. Discover serves up rich, visual results based on your browsing behavior around the web. Think of the Instagram feed but for all of the content indexed in Google. You can follow certain topics or certain entities to build up your profile customization. Much like mobile-first indexing, you can bet that Google will be giving priority rankings in Discover and regular SERPs to content that is optimized for this new experience. Search Console has even added new tools to measure success in Google Discover which supports the idea that this will be a big ranking factor.

Ultimately, getting the Discover experience by nature will favor B2C SEO over B2B SEO but to help ensure your content is optimized for this focus on creating great content with rich media and practicing holistic white-hat SEO that adheres to Google’s E.A.T. (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). Structured data infused, and trending, timely content topics will also do well in Discover results.

Embrace the Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Approach

 

Organic search is almost always the first place users go to learn about a subject or research something they are in the market for and often the final channel that brought the web session that ultimately converted. Yet, other digital marketing channels are part of the user journey and should not be underestimated. Just look at your “Top Conversion Paths” report in Google Analytics (under Multi-Channel Funnels) to see this visualized. Since Firebrand is not only a B2B SEO agency, we have clients seeing amazing ROI in SEO that also embrace an integrated media approach and understand that SEO is a long-game and so supplement SEO with paid search, display, paid social and PR.

The best way to obtain those glorious high-authority backlinks is from a funding announcement or story in a respected publication that good PR efforts can facilitate. Generating massive awareness around a new product launch or initiative using Google display ads can lead to increased organic search queries for keywords which you currently – or want to – rank highly for. Paid search can achieve clicks for business-critical keywords that fill in the gaps of your organic search efforts until you improve those rankings. Paid social advertising can generate a loyal following for your brand so that returning visitors often come back to your site directly – a strong signal for organic search algorithms. Almost anything you do across digital marketing feeds the beast that is the big search engines and keeping that beast well-fed is what will lead to that valuable organic growth over time.

Nobody quite knows for sure what the future of SEO industry looks like, but if you focus on the user and keep up with all the latest learnings from other SEO experts, and analyze SEO data – that future looks bright.