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SEO: How to succeed in search in 2021

Every year SEO professionals share the trends to look out for in the year ahead to be successful in organic search (Google).

In a lot of instances, these are rehashed tips from the previous few years like mobile-first and optimise for voice search – both of which are important and shouldn’t be ignored but we’ve heard it before. Nevertheless, there are some essential trends and subsequently, tips that you can’t ignore.

I am going to share my top tips, that you possibly haven’t heard before, or if you have heard them, perhaps you disregarded them.. Disclaimer: I might mention mobile…

Create long-form content

In short, long-form content is content that offers a great depth of information on a given topic. The objective of long-form content is to provide an article that has substance and purpose. The objective isn’t to write for writing’s sake in order to cram in as many keywords as possible.

When you are writing word count should not be a factor, your aim should not be to hit a minimum number of words.

However, when talking about long-form, it’s good to know how many words count as ‘long-form content’.

Minimum length should range anywhere between 700 and 2,000 words. The upper limit is variable depending on several factors, including focus topic, scope, intended aims, competition in the SERP (which we will discuss more on later) and audience.

Long-form content marketing is popular. Why? Because it works. Countless studies show that the top 10 results of a search were greater than 2,000 words or the more words you write the more backlinks you receive.

But, don’t just take my word for it:

  • According to Backlinko, long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles
  • A SEMrush report states, Longreads of 3000+ words get x3 more traffic than articles of average length (901-1200 words)
  • Buffer says 2,500-word posts get shared 3x more than 1,000-word ones
  • Brian Dean found the average Google first page result contains 1,447 words

Give long-form content a try this year. Better yet, this week! Think about your niche and your expertise, what can you write about that will be beneficial to a reader and can get more clicks to your website? In doing this you provide value and Google loves value!

If you are stuck for ideas, read this article which explains how I find content topics and build on them for clients.

Build expertise, authority and trust [E-A-T]

E-A-T is a Google ranking factor that stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. It isn’t new for 2021, in fact, it has been widely discussed (and largely ignored) since 2018.

The December 2020 Google Core Update resulted in clear shifts in rankings in typical areas related to E-A-T. Which is why it can no longer be overlooked.

E-A-T is important for all queries, but some more so than others. If you’re searching for the best natural remedies to cure a headache then E-A-T is important. Whereas, if you’re searching for what is the best colour tie to go with my navy suit then E-A-T probably doesn’t matter too much as the topic is subjective.

Therefore, E-A-T is most important for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) pages/topics. YMYL refers to pages or topics that could impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability or safety. If your site Is built around YMYL then demonstrating EAT is crucial.

If your site doesn’t fall into the YMYL category that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Ticking the E-A-T boxes will help your site perform better in search.

6 ways to improve E-A-T signals

If you don’t have E-A-T you can’t demonstrate it but buy gaining and improving E-A-T you will be able to show it to Google and more importantly website visitors.

  1. Build more links

Links act as recommendations therefore if you have quality links from relevant websites in your industry your website will appear more authoritative and trustworthy.

You can use tools to find out the authoritativeness of a website (domain) and therefore gauge its quality. Companies such as Ahrefs & Moz offer some free tools to analyse domain authority. But this is limited.

  1. Keep content up to date

In its very nature, a page cannot be trustworthy if it misleads users with outdated information. Go back and update old pieces of content where possible with new insights and images, if necessary.

  1. Get more reviews

Nothing shows trust better than reviews. There are many reputable review sites, it isn’t necessary to get reviews on every single one. Concentrate on ones that people use and trust in your industry, for a hotel that may be TripAdvisor.

  1. Hire experts

If there is a specific topic that you want to discuss but you don’t have the knowledge then try and find an expert. It is quite easy to tell the difference between a piece of content that is written first hand by an expert and a piece that has been composed using existing articles on the web. 

If you can’t afford to hire an expert to write the article you could possibly interview them or interview several experts to create a round table piece.

  1. Flash your credentials

Use your author bio and about page to mention anything that proves your expertise in your chosen field. If you have a PhD which is relevant to your website content then highlight it. If you have spoken at relevant events or written for other leading publications in your field then mention it. If you can link to the references even better.

Remember, the point of this is to demonstrate your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness to Google. Don’t exaggerate or embellish the truth.

  1. Get more mentions online

Mentions on well-known industry websites can help to improve your authority—assuming they’re positive.

It isn’t easy to get mentions but there are two methods you can try. First, produce data-driven content that others in your industry may reference. Second, sign up to HARO & Journo Requests to find opportunities to provide your opinion in your industry to journalists looking for experts.

It takes time to build E-A-T but it Is well worth it and will benefit your business for years to come.

If you want more tips on building trust, check out this post.

Page experience with extra focus on mobile

In November, Google announced they will be rolling out page experience signals update in May 2021. This means that they will begin to evaluate site performance in several areas to ascertain the quality of the page experience.

Page experience signals include the below:

Page Experience update metrics

Google state “Any page that meets the Google News content policies will be eligible [to appear in top stories] and we will prioritize pages with great page experience, whether implemented using AMP or any other web technology, as we rank the results. In addition to the timing updates described above, we plan to test a visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience.”

You will definitely want your site to rank with the visual indicator displayed telling users your site has great page experience. Otherwise, they may click on your competitor’s site.

To ensure your site is in the best position to benefit from the page experience update you should focus on:

-How quickly and smoothly pages load

-How soon pages become responsive to user interactions

-How easy your website is to use and navigate on mobile devices

-The safety and security of your site’s connection as users are browsing through it

Incorporating page experience into your SEO workflow will not only help to future-proof your website’s performance and rankings ahead of the upcoming algorithm update, but it can also help to improve UX and conversions now. So don’t wait for May to come to act on this! Do it today!

Core Web Vitals is a key part of the page experience update. This mostly concerns page speed metrics. You can test your site’s performance using Google PageSpeed Insights. Essentially, if your site doesn’t score well it won’t meet the standard.

Want to know more? Read our Core Web Vitals blog post.

Your website may perform well on desktop but it is the mobile performance that matters most.

Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking therefore your mobile site has to be user-friendly and display content properly.

Before diving into a deep analysis of your sites mobile performance, visit it on your phone. Ask yourself what type of experience do your users have when accessing your content, visit every page and imagine hypothetical situations where a user may be looking for a particular answer. Is it easy to find?

If you are not happy with the mobile experience of your site, you can guarantee potential customers and Google won’t be. If that’s the case, hire a professional to help make it better!

Remember: give your users a pleasant experience and Google will do the same for you.

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Optimise & earn featured snippets

Featured snippets have been visible on Google search results since 2017, you have undoubtedly seen them. A featured snippet is important because it appears on top of the search result page.

A featured snippet garners user attention, it’s highlighted as being the best answer to a user’s question. Which is why you should try and optimise your site content for this golden nugget!

Example featured snippet

The best way to target the featured snippet in your content is to answer the question right away. If your article is titled “How to change a car tyre,” you better dive into a simple, yet thorough, explanation in the first sentence. Then you can use the rest of the article to dive into the details.

Check the search engine results page (SERP) for long-tail terms you want to rank for i.e. ‘’How to change a car tyre”. If there is a featured snippet then there’s a chance for your piece of content to rank there. Of course, your article will need to be better in the eyes of Google. If you think you can answer the query better than go for it.

The most obvious benefit of capturing a featured snippet is increased web traffic. If your content is selected for the snippet, it will be front and centre on the search result page. Beyond higher organic traffic, a featured snippet will also give your organization higher prestige. After all, Google is essentially telling searchers that your content is the most credible source of information.

Video creation

Online video is booming. In fact, according to Cisco, online video will make up 82% of all online traffic by 2022.

Video dominates social media and for many search queries, you will see video links before traditional web pages. Much like text featured snippets there are video featured snippets.

Which is why video must be part of your SEO strategy.

video snippet

How to get your video content in Featured Snippets

From what I’ve seen, here are the 3 most important things to do to get your video content in a Featured Snippets.

  1. Organise your content into discrete sections

Clear sections help Google understand the content in your video. If your video can be broken down into different sections then use YouTube Chapters to define sections. Doing so will make it easy for Google to use different clips from your video in a snippet.

  1. Optimise your video for SEO

Just like you would a web page make sure you optimise your title, description and tags. This will help Google figure out what your video is all about.

If you need more help, here is a fantastic guide by Backlinko.

  1. Provide a transcript

YouTube are pretty good at generating captions but they’re not 100%. Instead, upload a transcript to increase the odds that YouTube and Google can understand every word of your video.

Passive link acquisition

Building links is a challenging task. Gone are the days where you could reach out to a few different blogs and acquire a decent link. Outreach is still important and guest posts have their place however a different tact is required to acquire great links in 2021.

Passive link acquisition is the method of acquiring links naturally through no method of manual link building.

Passive link acquisition starts with content. Concentrate your efforts on producing high-quality articles that journalists and bloggers will want to link to.

If you have insights and data that you can share then build an article around it. If you don’t have data at your fingertips then look to produce guides, how-to posts and definitions.

The real beauty of this type of link acquisition is its life span. Providing you keep the article updated with the latest findings then it will continue to be a source for years to come.

Journalists and bloggers look for sources to support their claims. Be the source.

Content for customers, not self-promotion

Generally, users are searching for answers, not adverts. Therefore, in your content, you must ensure you answer the questions your customers are asking.

Create content for their needs and concerns, not just self-promotion.

It is necessary to have copy that addresses the visitor’s needs and concerns and not copy that talks about your products, your company, or why your product is good.

In order to create content for customers, you need to understand and satisfy user intent. It is more important than ever to focus on learning what a user is looking for. In terms of the actual answer – but also their preferred content type (e.g., video, podcasts, or PDF).

To help create content for users you need to figure out what questions they ask related to your product or service. You can study your support inbox to see what queries come in. If you see the same question multiple times, the response could warrant an article.

Additionally, dig into your Google Search Console keyword data with common question modifiers to find relevant, existing topics that should be catered to. Make sure these are answered concisely and factually and published to a related FAQ topic page.

Failure to help customers will result in others influencing them away from your brand to someone who understands them better… introduced to them by their friend, Google.

Pay close attention to search results

Rather than solely producing a piece of content based on an idea, study the SERP.

When you have a content idea, Google it and pay close attention to the results. Look for similarities between the content. If every result is a guide then produce a guide. If the top 5 results combine video and text then do the same.

By analysing what ranks you are in a better position to create content that Google likes and subsequently content that consumers want.

Furthermore, you can see the content types that are being favoured by Google such as video or infographics.

Claim your knowledge panel & setup Google My Business

If you haven’t claimed your knowledge panel do it now! Likewise, if you’re a physical business, claim your Google My Business (GMB) profile today!

Knowledge panels and Google Maps data is taking valuable real estate in search engine results pages. By not taking advantage of these free resources you are missing out on free press.

Claiming your GMB profile can help your business show in the Local 3-pack snippet in Google search results. It is especially beneficial for businesses that target their local audience such as restaurants, hairdressers, garages, and so on.

Local pack google

As you can see, the Local 3-pack results show key information that can influence a user’s purchase decision such as reviews, price and opening times. Customers, therefore, do not need to click through to other results to find what they are looking for. For a business, it is therefore critical to do everything you can to appear here. Or risk losing out to your competitors.

Companies have less control over the knowledge panel. Once it is generated, you can claim ownership of it. However, not every company gets a knowledge panel.

Knowledge panel

As with all types of search results, Google will decide whether or not it’ll show a knowledge panel in the search results. If you’re a local business, you can do some things to increase your chances to rank with a knowledge panel – starting with a GMB profile. For the branded and personal panels, it is much harder to obtain such a knowledge panel.

Final thoughts: Be the last click – provide user satisfaction

To truly succeed in search, you need to be the last click.

Okay, but what does that mean?

If your webpage is the final click for a user then you have achieved user satisfaction, the fundamental point of SEO.

To ensure you are the last click you need to amalgamate everything you have read in this post. To provide high quality, expert content on a website that is user-friendly and provides a great experience for users on whatever device they use.

It is hard to be the last click but not impossible. If you are able to create content with search intent at its very core on a website structure that leads the user through your site to find related articles or relevant products, then you can be the last click.

SEO is hard and time-consuming but very rewarding. Being visible in search engines can be the difference between success and failure for a business. Most online journeys start on Google.

Start optimising your website today and it will benefit your business for years to come.

If you see the value of SEO but do not have the expertise or time to optimise your site yourself, get in touch, we can help.

Need help getting more visitors to your site?

About the author

Rory has worked as an SEO consultant for 7+ years. He founded Parlez Creative in 2017 after living in Malawi for 2 years. When he isn't working on client campaigns, you will likely find him on the golf course working on his swing! Or exploring the great outdoors.

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