From the humble beginnings of the Internet and online advertising, we’ve reached an era where the Internet is an essential communication tool, and online advertising is valued at more than 400 billion dollars a year, more prominent than even the TV ad industry. The global pandemic only accelerated this trend and pushed more companies online. So, what can we expect out of SEO in 2021? Which trends should we be looking forward to? Which changes will impact the industry? In this article, we’ll discuss the main trends we expect to have an impact and change the direction of SEO in the coming year.
Direct changes to search enginesSEO is entirely dependent on the major search engines, primarily Google. Any changes to Google’s modus operandi, algorithm, and priorities will have direct, wide-ranging impacts on SEO in 2021. These changes lead to losses in billions of dollars for some businesses while leading to gains of billions of dollars for others. It is important to be aware of the upcoming changes and how to best prepare for them.
#1 Page experience as a ranking factor on Google [May 2021]As of May 2021, you should expect what Google dubs as “page experience signals” to be a ranking factor. The page experience refers to the way the visitors feel as they interact with the web page. It is determined by a multitude of attributes from mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and the others. These were already ranking factors previously, but they’ve been more institutionalized and work within the “page experience” framework. Furthermore, Google is introducing Core Web Vitals as part of ‘page experience’. They’re considered to be user-centric metrics that try to determine the quality of the user experience. These user-centric metrics will measure the loading speed (Largest Contentful Paint), interactivity (First Input Delay), and visual stability (Cumulative Layout Shift). The first two items that go into Core Web Vitals seem quite self-evident, so it doesn’t seem like a good idea to spend more time explaining them in this article.Although, the third item might confuse some people. Visual stability refers to how much the layout shifts and jumps around. For example, imagine if a button tracks your mouse and jumps around whenever you get close to it, this is quite a self-evidently bad user experience, and this variable aims to capture this. The self-advertised purpose of adding an explicit page experience ranking factor is so that Google can provide higher-quality, more engaging content to its users. Considering the variables that it takes account of, a website with a high page experience score will load faster, be more interactive, more stable, more secure, more mobile-friendly, and much more. These all combined, admittedly, will lead to a superior experience.
Get featured in top stories without AMPAnother purpose of the introduction of the new page experience ranking framework is to make non-AMP content eligible to appear in the Top Stories feature for mobile phones. It is one of the main ways websites drive traffic to their content from mobile, so this could be a significant change that would disrupt the rankings of many websites on mobile. This change will also roll out in May of 2021, which makes May a hell of a busy month for SEO specialists.We need to be ready for all the drastic changes this change in the algorithm can bring. We can’t possibly ascertain its impact at this stage.
#2 Mobile-first indexing for all websites on Google [March 2021]Mobile-first indexing is certainly not new, Google has been using it for more than several years. It was first introduced as an answer to a widespread problem: more and more people are using their phones to look up stuff and browse the net. The problem is that the mobile and desktop versions of websites don’t always match up in content, and Google usually only indexes one version, which traditionally was the PC version. This creates a mismatch between the rankings on mobile and the content on these pages. To alleviate this mismatch as it was becoming a growing problem due to the increasing popularity of mobile, Google decided to implement mobile-first indexing. Mobile-first indexing refers to the practice of indexing the mobile version of the website first in Google’s databases instead of the desktop version. This would accurately gauge the amount of content on mobile sites and their relevance before displaying the results.Going from an entirely desktop-first indexing scheme to an entirely mobile-first one would’ve been a massive step, however, and this is why Google has been taking years implementing this change. It started by allowing the option to webmasters to change their website indexing to mobile-first. It was followed by making mobile-first the default option for crawling new websites. The final and latest update is going to come in March 2021 when Google will start making mobile-first indexing the default option for all websites. This means that the way your website is indexed and the content that’s considered might change in March. It is hard to determine how big of an impact this will make beforehand, but you should expect some instability.Thankfully, Google has published a basic guideline to ensuring the transition to mobile-first indexing goes smoothly on your website:
- Make sure the content of your website is visible to Google crawlers and bots.
- Ensure you fill out all the relevant meta tags on both the mobile and the desktop versions of your landing pages.
- Ensure that your mobile website loads quickly by enabling lazy loading.
- Ensure that you are not blocking any relevant mobile-specific URLs in your robots.txt file.
- Although it is hard to ensure identical content, you should try to have at least identical primary content on both versions.
- Check the alt tags of both image and video embeds.