In this month’s SEO Trends for 2021, we take a look at one of the most important elements in SEO. In fact, this factor might be more important than all the others.
And that factor is quality.
The reason quality is so important is that quality content is the lifeblood of any search engine. Without it, our user experience would be terrible.
And if the user experience isn’t good, the search engine won’t attract any users.
What’s more, we’ll also discover that site speed and how users interact with your site is rapidly becoming an important part of SEO in general.
In this post you’ll find:
- How focusing on serving Google users will help you create content that search engines **** (rather than chasing after the latest Google updates)
- Why improving your page authority will give you an edge over your competitors in the crowded SEO market
- How even though Core Web Vitals metrics are important, they should always be balanced by a good user experience
In case you missed the previous episodes of the SEO Trends for 2021, rather than distracting you here, I’ll be linking to them at the conclusion of this post.
Barry Adams is a specialized SEO consultant focusing on technical SEO and SEO for news publishers. He has worked with some of the world’s largest media brands including News UK, The Guardian, Fox, Mail Online, and TechRadar
Focus on Quality
Google is throwing out algorithm updates like confetti at Mardi Gras, and it can be overwhelming for SEOs trying to make sense of what’s happening. My advice for 2021 and beyond is to ignore the day-to-day hubbub of the industry and focus on the core principles of SEO: delivering quality to end-users in ways that search engines can recognize.
That one word, ‘quality’, is a bit vague and generic, so we’ll need to be clear about what we mean. In Google’s eyes, a quality webpage is one that solves the question a user is asking when they perform a search. Every time someone types something into Google, they have a problem they want to solve. That problem can be as simple as wanting to know the phone number of a local business, to as complicated as learning the fundamentals of quantum mechanics. A webpage that solves the problem for the user is one that Google wants to rank.
As a publisher of content on the web, you need to make sure your website is fundamentally able to solve your audience’s problems. The biggest mistake I see websites make is to come at SEO from their own perspective. The question these websites are asking is “How can we make the most money from search traffic?” Google doesn’t want to reward websites that focus too much on their own financial benefits.
Keep in mind that Google really only has one goal with search: to keep people using Google as their preferred search engine. Everything Google does is subservient to that overarching goal. And, to that end, Google wants to make sure their search results are the best at solving their users’ problems. Google doesn’t care about websites, nor about the businesses behind those websites. Google only cares about fulfilling their users’ needs so that they keep using Google and keep clicking on ads.
What does this mean for businesses on the web? Essentially, your right to rank in Google depends on your ability to fulfill your audience’s needs. If you’re an eCommerce site, you need to make sure you’re the best place to buy whatever it is you’re selling. If you’re a news publisher, your goal should be to publish the best news for any topic that you cover. You should start your SEO journey from that perspective: how can you best serve your audience?
In actual hands-on SEO work, this can manifest in many different ways.
Optimize for Quality
Google has been chanting the ‘quality content’ mantra for many years, and they’re not wrong. If you want to earn their trust, you need to make sure the content you publish on your website is as good as it can possibly be. Don’t expect to rank with content that isn’t great. Put effort into crafting content that delivers value to your audience and helps them solve the problems they’re asking solutions for whenever they type a search query.
Gone are the days of sourcing content from cheap outsourcers. Instead, you should have subject matter experts write detailed content that provides real value and addresses your audience’s real needs. If you’re not willing to invest in this first, basic requirement for SEO, you’re better off giving SEO a pass entirely.
Optimize for Usability
Good content delivered on a bad website doesn’t rank either. Your website needs to provide a pleasant experience for your users. This includes the well-known areas of performance and accessibility – websites need to load fast and be clearly readable on a variety of screen sizes. This is where you may need to make compromises for performance versus monetization. Unfortunately, the technologies of the web that drive revenue (i.e. advertising) are often at **** with performance. Try to find a good middle ground where you can still monetize your content without annoying your audience too much.
It also means you should avoid things like dark design patterns that trick users into performing actions they’d rather not do. Don’t manipulate people into signing up to newsletters they’d rather avoid. Don’t harvest your visitors’ personal data if you don’t absolutely need to. Optimize your website for clarity and ease of use, and you’re unlikely to fall on the wrong side of Google’s judgment.
Optimize for Transparency
Increasingly, Google wants websites to clarify who the people behind the screen are. Anonymous content, no matter how good it is, may not be trusted the same way as content that can be attributed to a real person that has verifiable expertise on a topic. Similarly, Google needs to know who the owners of a website are so that they can judge whether the content the site publishes exists for the benefit of users or merely for the financial benefit of the owners.
Transparency of authorship and ownership will be key pillars of good SEO for the foreseeable future. This means you need to have strong About Us pages that give as much clarity about the business and its leaders as possible. You’ll also want to have author bylines for your content, ideally with links to author biography pages that also link out to these authors’ social media profiles.
When your site isn’t ranking as well as you believe it should, always ask yourself this question: have I really earned that top rank? Being truly honest with yourself, can you say that your website is the best there is in your market?
Google doesn’t always get it right, but most of the time the web pages that rank the highest in their search results are the ones that have earned that right. So go out there and earn it.
Jo Juliana Turnbull
Jo Juliana Turnbull is a freelance Marketing Consultant and Chartered Marketer with over 14 years in SEO and online marketing working both client and agency side.
She set up her website SEO Jo Blogs in 2009 after initially starting her career in eCommerce and finance in 2003. SEO Jo is the organizer of a networking group called Search London for online professionals in SEO, PPC, and Social Media. She has been running the event for over 10 years where it has grown to over 2500 members.
In April 2020, she started an online event called Turn Digi that promotes entrepreneurs, rising talent and has a diverse range of speakers. She is a Global Freelancer of the year finalist 2020 and finalist in three Digital Women’s 2021 awards including “Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Digital Women’s Innovator of the Year” and “Digital Women’s Freelancer of the Year”.
Forget Core Web Vitals – Think About Speed and User Experience
Core Web Vitals will finish rolling out at the end of next month, but how ready are you?
Since April 2010, page speed has been a ranking factor for desktop and since 2018, this has applied to mobile as well. Core Web Vitals (CWV), which was announced last year, also prioritizes speed. Therefore it should be no surprise that sites with a great user experience, fast loading pages, and the minimum number of ads are prioritized by Google and rank higher than slow, clunky sites.
With that said, I wanted to know how many sites were ready for one of the biggest algorithm updates we’ve seen in search.
Most Sites Are Not Ready for Core Web Vitals
These past few months, I have been fortunate enough to be working at Kaizen, a Digital PR, SEO, Paid Search, and Influencer Marketing agency based in East London. During this time, I carried out a study to see how many sites, globally, were CWV ready. I analyzed over 6,000 eCommerce sites in the UK, US, Australia, Germany, France, Austria, and the Nordics. The results tell us that the majority of the pages are not Core Web Vital ready. There were just 151 eCommerce sites or 3.43% of sites tested that scored over 90 in the Google Page Speed report and 70.75% that had page speed of 0 – 49 out of 100 and were not CWV ready.
There have been other studies carried out, such as the one from Search Engine Journal last year where Matt reported less than 15% of sites meet the benchmark. Searchmetrics carried out an analysis of 2,000 sites earlier this year and found just 4% were CVW ready.
Use More than One Tool to Test Site Performance
I recently supported Kaizen with their site migration project. Bogdan, who is one of the longest-standing employees at the agency, was tasked with rebuilding the website with the help of a designer. I wanted to see how much we could improve the page performance and meet the CVW standards, scoring as high as possible.
I started by looking at the URLs within the Page Performance section of Google Search Console to see which ones were the slowest. However, it did not highlight the site’s URLs to focus on and instead showed old URLs that were no longer in use. Therefore this section did not help us in addressing the slower areas of the website. Google has said they are still developing this section of GSC, so I recommend not spending too much time on this area when getting your site CWV ready.
Page Speed insights gave the old Kaizen website a 43 out of 100, which is poor, yet GTMetrix gave it a B. This tells us that it is important to not solely rely on Google Page Speed Insights and to instead use a variety of tools to measure the speed of your site.
Don’t Try and Fix Everything, Focus on the Main Issue Slowing Down Your Site
Since the new site went live, it now has an A score on GTMetrix, which is great, and a 53 out of 100 on mobile for Google Page Speed Insights, which we are pleased about. The site has recently gone live and with it being summer, we have not seen a huge uplift in traffic yet but our rankings have started to see an increase. We will be monitoring this over the coming months.
Update Your CMS and/or Code of the Site
I strongly recommend to anyone looking to be “CWV ready” that they should not be too hung up or fixated on Core Web Vitals, trying to score 100% at the expense of losing elements on the page that would improve user experience. Instead, we should focus on improving the load time of the site, updating to the latest version of the CMS or software used to build the site, and reviewing the hosting of the website. Use at least two tools to measure the speed of the site and check the rankings and traffic before and after the site migration, putting the user at the forefront of your website.
Guy Polat is an SEO Projects Manager at Penguin Strategies, a B2B Marketing Agency, and a Diamond HubSpot Partner.
Don’t Focus on Keywords, Rankings, and Links. Instead, Focus on Authority
The basic, technical elements of SEO are well-known to everyone who is even remotely interested in SEO: keywords, H1+2, meta-descriptions, internal and external links.
These elements are so well-known, in fact, that their effectiveness has been declining. Not just because Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated, but also because they’re so well known. In fact, it’s safe to say that if you’re not just starting out, it’s very likely that your competitors are also employing these same technical elements.
Assuming all the technical elements are more or less taken care of, you’ll get diminishing returns from focusing on improving them even more.
Instead, you should focus on increasing your website and page authority. As Google’s algorithm has become more and more sophisticated, it shifts its attention away from keyword matches to authority and relevance.
Webinars, podcasts, interviews, and thought pieces focus on building your authority in your perspective field, and you’ll see the traffic that follows.
Three Pillars of SEO
In this post, we’ve touched on three pillars of SEO:
- Content quality
- User experience
Each one is significant in its own right. Without quality content, no one will come to your site. What’s more, building authority will help your site stand out in the crowded search market. If your user experience isn’t great your users are likely to abandon your site to one of your competitors.
It might take time but every SEO should strive to constantly improve all three.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more content like this, check out SEO Trends for 2021: