The biggest challenges in SEO in 2021

Jono Alderson, Special Ops at Yoast, hosted an insightful session at DigiConf21, where he shared his expertise on SEO and getting the most from your online activity. Online behaviour has drastically changed over the last year, so taking on everything we learned from Jono, we had to take a deeper look into the biggest challenges in SEO in 2021.

No-click culture

An increasing number of customer journeys are ending without leaving Google. In 2020, 64.82% of Google searches ended within the search without clicking to another website, reports show (ref). Zero-click searches are 77.22% higher on mobile devices. 

With more and more purchases made on mobile, a different business model is required to put problem-solving content very early on in the funnel to build brand recognition, awareness and preference. This also suggests that SEO is becoming increasingly irrelevant for bottom-of-funnel searches, indicating that top of funnel searches are more led by social media platforms such as Pinterest, and the likes of Amazon. 

In response to the report, Google has been accused of ‘click cannibalisation’, essentially prioritising its owned content over competitors and paid ads.

Demonstrate the quality of fit

The algorithm that Google uses to rank pages and websites now consider over 200 factors for any particular search term. It’s a continuous battle to prove, page-by-page, your quality of fit, and it takes more than just keywords into consideration. From product to pricing, and customer service to affiliate links, your on-page content (and external citation) must prove your quality of fit. 

It’s essential to prove that your business is as good online as it is in practice. If your site has been linked to a Trustpilot page, and you’ve had a few negative comments, this will ultimately start to affect your ranking over a similar company that has more positive comments/ratings on their Trustpilot page.

Here is a complete list of all 200 factors Google factors in its algorithm. Some of these factors take a significant investment in terms of time and energy to sort, but there are some short term solutions you can instil to boost your chances. Content Recency, checking Duplicate Content, and Keyword Prominence are just three examples of factors that can be amended in the short term.

Too slow to grow

Content consumption has accelerated at enormous speed over the last year, with the likes of TikTok and podcasts coming out on top. Few brands are thinking about SEO for podcasts-in-Spotify or audience reach in-video. 

These are platforms where people search, discover, and form opinions nearer to the top of the funnel, further away from the point of purchase. With the trend shifting away from centralised content towards distributed content, many businesses just aren’t prepared to think or move fast enough. 

“You need to influence what your audience does next early in the funnel, in order to influence how they build consideration sets”, advised Jono. “But that’s harder and more expensive than just buying links for bottom-of-funnel keywords.”

Page experience affects SEO rankings from July 2021

Google’s latest algorithm update measures page experience to determine organic search ranking. This combines Core Web Vitals with previous UX-related signals to rank page experience. 

To put it plainly, load time, interactivity and visual stability are essential to your ranking in organic search, but you can’t forget the existing search signals of safe-browsing, HTTPS security, mobile-friendliness, and intrusive interstitial guidelines. 

Bear with us, things are going to get pretty technical.

Core web vitals

The core web vitals update, planned for July 2021, is potentially one of the biggest challenges in SEO right now. Below, are the metrics Google now measures as vital, to your website UX, hence your SEO.

Loading (Large Contentful Paint) = This measures how long your pages take to load. For a good UX, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading. 

Interactivity (First Input Delay) = The time from when a user first interacts with a page, to when the browser begins processing the action. 

Visual Stability (Cumulative Layout Shift) = This measures the amount and size of errors on your pages, also known as unexpected layout shifts. This could come in the shape of videos or images with unknown dimensions, a font that renders differently, or a third-party ad. 

For Google, speed = efficiency. Page speed has always been a factor in the quality score for paid ads, but this update means it’s also a factor for organic search. 

Speed also has a huge impact on engagement, satisfaction and conversion rate. 

The difference between 200 milliseconds and 500 milliseconds can cost you up to 1% of revenue. People get consciously annoyed, or unconsciously disengaged if it’s not instantaneous.  – Jono Alderson

What does this mean for my website?

You may see a change in your ranking, but don’t worry – there are things you can do to maintain and improve your position. The next step is to measure your website’s current performance to see what changes need to be made. There are three tools you can use to do so:

PageSpeed Insights = use this to analyse content and receive suggestions for speed improvement 

Chrome UX Report = this gives you insight into how Chrome users experience pages and journeys 

Google Search Console = this analyses site traffic and performance, advising on how to fix issues for Google Search results.

The whole point of this change is to help you create a better, faster website that users will enjoy visiting. 

Google states: “A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”

If there are two very similar web pages in terms of content, the one with the better overall user experience will come out on top.

Conclusion on Challenges in SEO

As a B2B social media agency, our work inevitably intertwines with content marketing, lead generation and SEO strategies.  There are those who claim, social media does not directly contribute to SEO rankings, but the links you share across social platforms do bring in traffic, as their relevance compounds over time. More shares, for example, are social cues to search engines that your post has relevance to your target market.

It’s clear from Jono’s insights on the current SEO challenges digital marketers are facing, that some B2B organisations will be scrambling to get their websites, and their overall user experience (UX) in order.

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