If there’s one thing predictable about SEO, it’s the constant change of rules and algorithms. At this very moment, someone in the Google offices outlines the latest SEO trends. The question is, are you prepared to face them?
Google has always emphasized quality content and user experience as the most crucial ranking factors. But as the Web evolves, so does the way users access and consume information. The trends of yesteryear become obsolete as the latest SEO updates roll out.
For professional SEO specialists, these changes are business as usual. Over the years, they’ve learned to adapt and become somewhat immune to everything Google throws at them. Timing and readiness are key to navigating new SEO algorithms, and in this article, we’ll keep you up to date with the latest SEO updates and trends.
The Evolution of SEO
Before we jump into what’s new in the SEO world, let’s quickly refresh our memories and highlight the defining moments of search engine optimization. The practice we know as SEO started way back in the mid-nineties and predates Google.
Bob and Leland Harden coined the term SEO in 1997 when the manager of rock band Jefferson Starship (a client of their web design company) was quite upset to find the band’s website on page four of the search results pages.
At that time, keyword stuffing and Black Hat SEO practices were the fastest routes to the top. Then, Google rose in popularity, and the era of “anything goes by” or “the ends justify the means” came to a gradual end.
The first impactful Google algorithm updates named Florida (2003) and Jagger(2005) combated spam and keyword stuffing. In 2006 Google launched Google Analytics and Google Webmasters tools, then in 2008, it rolled out the Vince update to prioritize brands and trust as ranking factors.
The early 2010s were all about quality content. Google introduced Panda (2011), Penguin (2012), and Hummingbird (2013) to address content farms, link building, and natural language queries, respectively. From 2015 onwards, Google’s focus shifted towards mobile-friendly sites, authority, and good writing – all reflected in Mobile (2015), Medic(2018), and Bert (2019) updates.
As you can see, Google treats us every year with new SEO rules and algorithms. That’s why it’s imperative to prepare for the latest SEO updates as soon as they’re announced. Here’s what awaits us in 2021 and beyond:
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are a set of three standardized web page experience metrics that Google considers fundamental. Think of them as the barometer of how a modern website should perform. Each metric provides data on how users interact with your site. Optimize them, and your site will be flying up the SEO ladder. Let’s take a closer look at the three metrics:
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP measures the time a website takes to load different content blocks on the user’s current screen. It considers only the content above the page’s fold, meaning everything that renders without scrolling. With LCP, you can analyze user experience based on how fast content such as images or block-level text loads on your page. A good LCP score is within 2.5 seconds from the moment a page starts loading.
2. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures the perceived visual stability of a page load, in other words, the unexpected shift of elements while the page is still rendering. A sudden position change of a button or banner can confuse users, so it’s imperative to keep the content fixed after the page loads on the user’s screen. To determine the visual stability of a page, CLS calculates the following metrics:
- Layout shift
- Impact fraction
- Distance fraction
To meet Google’s guidelines for Core Web Vitals, your CLS score should be 0.1 or less.
3. First Input Delay (FID)
FID measures the time a browser takes to respond to the user’s first interaction, i.e., when they click a button or a link. Measuring FID is tricky because its score depends on several variables which are outside of your control. Think of the users’ connection speed or device model, which you can’t influence. For a good user experience, you should keep your FID score below 100 milliseconds.
To pass your Core Web Vitals evaluation, you need to take care of the above metrics. And, since this is technical optimization, you may hire an SEO pro to improve your website’s performance and push your score up.
E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness – all critical parts of Google’s SEO algorithm. It’s not a secret that Google strives for quality curated content to satisfy users’ search intent. But now, it has taken content evaluation to an entirely new level.
Google works with external Search Quality Raters – a group of real people trained to evaluate website responsiveness to the search intent of Google’s users based on E-A-T. The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG) are publicly available, so you can use them to improve your content and rankings.
The most important aspect you should consider within the SQEG is Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content, which is the info you publish that could affect readers’ lives and finances. Some examples of YMYL pages include news and current events, finance, shopping, health and safety, civics, government, and law, etc.
If your YMYL content isn’t written by a relevant expert, Google won’t rank it. So, for instance, the author of a “Car Insurance” article should be a certified insurance agent and not a random freelancer.
User Experience has never been more important for SEO than it’s now. While every website aims to provide smooth user engagement, Google’s standards of how a site should perform are pretty high, so if you don’t meet them, your rankings will plummet.
We’ve already covered the Core Web Vitals and how they affect user experience and your SEO rankings. But to see the complete picture of what’s important UX wise, here are a few more ranking factors:
- Browser compatibility – Your site should load and display correctly on different web browsers.
- Device compatibility – A mobile responsive website is a must today.
- Speed – When it comes to page loading speed, a few milliseconds could make a huge difference.
>Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) sounds like something straight from a sci-fi movie, but its impact on SEO is colossal. Dubbed by Google as the most important SEO update in 5 years, BERT is all about deep machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP). Especially for those long, conversational queries where even a preposition could help distinguish the user’s real search intent.
BERT helps SEO bots understand all intricacies of search inputs, and assess not just the plain text, but the whole context behind it. In other words, Google’s crawlers can now understand languages as a human brain would. So what does it mean for content writers?
With the arrival of BERT, you should fine-tune your content to match the user’s search intent. Keyword research becomes more important than ever, but keep in mind that you write content for people, not bots. Use your expertise to bring valuable content for your audience and simply your language for better readability.
Another game-changing SEO update is a new search tech called “Passages.” With Google’s AI growing stronger by the day, now it can rank specific sections of a page independently. According to Google, this feature is going to affect 7% of all searches. That’s almost 400 million searches a day.
While Google will pull sections of your pages into search engine results, this doesn’t mean they’ll be indexed separately from the entire page. You should still optimize and organize your content by following the latest SEO trends and practices. But now, with the arrival of this new feature, blog post intros, headings, and long-form content have become even more significant.
Featured snippets are those rectangular content boxes that appear at the top of SERP. Also called Position Zero, they amount to 5.5% of all search results. Featured Snippets provide users a quick answer to their search queries.
Getting your page in the featured snippet should be a priority, but the exact mechanism to appear there isn’t set in stone. A well-structured content featuring answers to specific questions, bullet points, and the correct use of subheadings is more likely to appease Google crawlers and place you at the top of SERP.
Video Content has never been more popular than it is now. And by 2022, it will make up 82% of all online traffic. If your video marketing is not in full gear, you better get it going ASAP, or you’ll be left behind.
Video Featured Snippets are becoming a usual appearance in the search results, as they direct users to the right place in a video. To optimize Video Featured Snippets, organize your content into individual blocks, so Google can easily use different clips in a snippet.
You should also provide a video Transcript to help search engines every word of your videos. And, while Youtube automatically generates quality captions, sometimes it can misspell the word or miss the meaning entirely. It’s worth it to go the extra mile and upload human-made transcripts.
Speaking of Youtube, it’s now the second most popular search engine after Google, with over 1 billion users. So even if videos aren’t your thing, it’s time to look into them and start reaping the rewards they offer.
Influencers are individuals with millions of followers on social media platforms, so how can you leverage their popularity and authority for your business? Where does SEO come into the equation? The math is simple: such influencers earn tremendous trust over the years, and their word is often associated with absolute value.
The most important thing is to choose a suitable influencer for your marketing and SEO strategy. With the right name by your side, you can get high-quality backlinks in no time. Best of all, influencers have the power to make your content viral, and that’s exactly what search engines like.
If you don’t fully harness the pull of social media sites, you’re missing out on loads of referral traffic. And don’t forget, social media pages rank highly on SERP, so make sure to optimize your SM profiles.
With Google being one of the main driving forces behind AI development, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SEO has been going hand in hand with AI for a long time. What has changed now is AI’s growth, capabilities, and widespread adoption.
All the latest SEO updates and trends are highly focused on machine learning, with the underlying technology being RankBrain, Google’s AI system powering the current search engine algorithms.
Rankbrain works in the background and helps Google sort, process, and understand search queries. Before RankBrain, 100% of Google’s algorithm was hand-coded, but as the AI grows and matures, it can now handle and alter the algorithm on its own. As a result, the SEO algorithm becomes more dynamic and adjusts ranking signal importance based on how searchers interact with the new search results.
Again, it’s all about defining users’ search intent and matching it with helpful content. To optimize for Rankbrain, you need a holistic approach, where your authority shines through carefully selected keywords, irresistible snippets, and above all, valuable content.
SEO is constantly changing and evolving. And, with the likes of Google pumping hundreds of million dollars into AI development, it’s just a matter of time before machines shape the SEO landscape to their liking.
For content creators and SEO managers, swift adjustments and flexibility to change become essential skills. The latest SEO trends evolve around quality content, fast-loading pages, and excellent user experience.
Master these components, and you’ll already be ahead of the game. But don’t do it yourself or half-heartedly. For the best results, let a professional SEO agency propel your website to the top of SERP.