Digital Marketing Trends 2021 – SEO Part 1

2020 has definitely been an interesting year, and most marketers are scrambling to stay on top of things. It’s been a year like no other, honestly, and current events are profoundly influencing digital marketing trends. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or maybe in Antarctica, this laundry list of troubles should sound familiar to you: socio-political turmoil, including mass protests, violent street clashes; a suffering U.S. economy; unpredictable weather phenomena and destructive wildfires; and COVID-19, of course.

The reason why these changes have so directly impacted marketers is the unparalleled confusion that they have generated. For instance, who knows what the cost of social media ads is going to look like in a week, month or year? And who can predict how long the “boom” of eCommerce will last, particularly seeing as we don’t know when the world will once again get green light to carry on as normal? 

What is normal, even? And where did it run off to in such a hurry?

The point is, now is the time for marketers to closely track their targets, metrics and KPIs. In order to survive and prosper again, marketers must be nimble and adapt new tactics rapidly and precisely. Brands, companies, and individuals who can find a way to be flexible in the face of hardship will be better placed to stick it out, hustle and start looking forward to 2021. 

According to Kurt Lee Hurley, CMO of American Family Care, “We’re not just creative people, but we’re analytical people. At the end of the day, I think using those faculties to be able to not just pivot but even, perhaps, in this state of things, as they’re today, we’re ready to disrupt going forward.” 

2021 Digital Marketing Trends: Analysis and Predictions

The good news is that not all of this is doom and gloom. And a number of companies are cautiously positive about the future. With all the craziness in mind, we thought we’d bring together our forecasts for the coming year in digital marketing trends. 

While there are undoubtedly new developments and innovations to account for, what you’ll probably find is that many of these marketing tactics and trends are not inherently new. But they are changing in a remarkable way, and this can inform your future outlook. 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at how certain digital marketing trends will be changing in 2021. 

Search Engine Optimization

With the way that search algorithms are constantly evolving, search engine optimization (SEO) is a moving target. There is no way that that will change in 2021, but there are a few trends that promise to be more than just a flash in the plan. 

It’s likely that COVID-19 will have lasting effects on SEO – just take a look at Google COVID search trends for 2020

But there are many more profound changes that will have an effect on the SEO environment in the near to long term. So we’ve highlighted the five SEO trends that we think will matter most to 2021, split into two parts. 

User Experience

User experience (UX) is not just a buzzword, and individuals interested in SEO cannot ignore it. Not only is the design of digital products and consumer journeys from the point of view of the user—and for the good of the user—a best practice, it is now becoming a key ranking factor for search algorithms. 

That’s right.  

According to a May 2020 Google Webmaster Central Blog post, Google Search now includes “UX signals” in its rankings. This move is underscored by new Core Web Vitals. This is a new tool which organizations can use to take the pulse of their UX health. According to Google Webmaster, “Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world user-centric metrics that quantify key aspects of user experience. They measure the dimensions of web usability, such as loading time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads.” 

Simply put: to keep your pages ranked in 2021, UX will be just as critical as on and off-page SEO, if not more so.

UX Statistics

One must assume that this transition to ranking based, at least in part, on UX signals, is based on a basic premise: if the experience is bad, people won’t get what they need and then bail. Why would Google rank the pages that give users this kind of bad experience? Indeed, a brief survey of the data reveals that something much more important than SEO is at stake for companies that are unable to produce consistent, well-designed UX:

  • 25% of smartphone apps were only used once in 2019 (Statista)
  • 50% of customers are not purchasing from a company that has a badly built mobile site (Think With Google)
  • 33+% of mobile users would go to another company’s website automatically if they don’t get what they were looking for (Think With Google)
  • You get $100 in exchange for every $1 invested in UX (Forrester)
  • 54% of people feel more annoyance when mobile load times increase  (Think With Google)
  • 60% of mobile users approached a company directly using the search results (Think With Google)
  • 39% of smartphone users are more likely to browse or buy a mobile app because it’s simple and easy to purchase (Think With Google)

The most important takeaway from this is that people expect convenience. They expect ease and speed wherever they are, and on whatever device. If they don’t find it, they’ll move on. And because of this, Google is adjusting their algorithm accordingly.

How to Prioritize UX

This means that SEOs should have a vested interest in ensuring that their websites are up to scratch from a UX perspective. This will entail an even greater focus on off-page and technological SEO techniques that will make life easier, quicker, simpler for site visitors. Since these so-called UX signals aren’t going anywhere, your content needs to do a few key things to get a good rank:

  • Load quickly. There are a multitude of ways to improve page speed. These range from changing how images are treated, to CSS and JavaScript code optimization. PageSpeed Insights is a perfect place to examine how your pages can be improved 
  • Be easy to locate and use. Site structure, navigation, and usability are important.  
  • Be responsive and accessible on all devices and platforms. You can use tools like BrowserStack to inspect your sites and maintain a compatible, bug-free experience, no matter what platform someone uses. 

Based on the latest Google updates, it is fair to say that sites that can offer this level of user experience will be rewarded with increased search visibility.

Semantic Search

Going forward, so much of the SEO world will be influenced by how users search for things on the Internet. And while this might seem like a straightforward thing, it’s rooted in something a little more complex: semantics. Generally, semantics is the study of words, their relationship, and what these relationships mean in particular contexts.

The best thing for search engines like Google, isn’t it? 

Semantic search in 2021 and beyond will be how search engines use the plethora of available data to evaluate the context, purpose and meaning necessary to acquire the most appropriate content possible. In layperson words, semantic searching is how the Google algorithm will take your incomplete, grammatically wrong, apparently random request and figure out exactly what you were looking for.

Here’s how Alexa defines semantic search – Alexa the blog, not the Amazon-device:

Semantic search refers to the ability of search engines to consider the intent and contextual meaning of search phrases when serving content to users on the web.

When you think about it, semantic search is just as much about UX as it is about SEO. Instead of putting the onus on individuals to use exactly the correct search words to find what they need, search engines take it upon themselves to interpret our gibberish, fragmented language, and obscure queries.

Semantic Search Statistics

Increasingly, search engine encounters are conversational. Whether they are web-based, mobile, or voice-activated, they use normal language, not the weird, Google haikus. This means this language needs to be interpreted by search engines. They need to piece together context, and bring back the most important information. Look at these Google mobile search stats which support the transition to semantic search:

All of it is conversational. Which brings us to voice assistants, of course. Without referencing voice assistants, you can’t really talk about semantic search. These assistants are at the heart of this wider change to semantic search. Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri – they’re all changing the way we search. 

Voice assistants are equipped, by their very nature, to understand and respond to searches spoken in natural language. And they’re powered by the capabilities of semantic search. Indeed almost 70% of Google Assistant requests are presented in natural language, not the usual keywords typed in a web search by individuals. It follows that this search activity affects search algorithms directly.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the 15 years working on Google Search, it’s that people’s curiosity is endless. We see billions of searches every day, and 15 percent of those queries are ones we haven’t seen before–so we’ve built ways to return results for queries we can’t anticipate.” –Pandu Nayak Google Fellow and Vice President, Search

How to Prioritize Semantic Search 

Semantic search optimization is an ongoing project. Keep a few questions in mind as you prepare, execute, and update your content for 2021. How and why do your users search for your stuff, first and foremost? What answers, data, content, or even experience is your target audience searching for? How do you create authoritative, enriching content to fulfill the requirements of these prospects, clients, consumers, and partners?

Semantic Search - digital marketing trends

When it comes to semantic search, here are the areas on which we suggest concentrating:

  • Content that speaks to questions. You may devote entire blog posts or website pages to a specific query frequently asked by your prospects or target customers. FAQs. Transcripts of interviews. The point is to be detailed, consistent, and authoritative. Search engines will reward you for it. 
  • Content optimized by people. No stuffing of keywords. For the sake of keyword ranking, no compromise on good structure, flow, and content. Think easy-to-understand sentences, bulleted and ordered lists, a skimmable hierarchy of headers, and supplementary photos and video. Yeah, and a specialized content or copywriter might definitely be worth it 
  • Structured data.For a given product, query, post, ratings, or analysis, a semantic schema will certainly help search bots locate and comprehend your sites. You may want to make structured data part of your plan, if you have the website tools and skills to properly execute the schema.
  • Internal linking. Linking your content not only makes it easier to navigate to similar content, but it also provides a standardized content map for search engines to crawl, index, and serve up search results around a central subject or search phrase. Some software integrations, such as Yoast, can automatically recommend related content to connect to on a specific web page. They’ll even warn you of broken internal links that can damage the health and SEO of your site. 
  • Optimization of topic (vs. keyword optimization). Create useful content clusters around high-level subjects, also called the “skyscraper” or “topic cluster” method. For example, a topic cluster around semantic search may include subtopics dedicated to items such as schema and voice assistant writing.

Featured snippets, knowledge graphs, and other SERP features will be a strong, measurable indicator of your semantic search efforts, all of which can be tracked through different SEO tools (Moz, Ahrefs, SEMRush).

Stay tuned for part two of our digital marketing trends analysis, where we’ll cover more SEO topics.