2020 threw all of our calculated marketing plans and forecasts out the window. But marketers are smart, determined people, and instead of throwing our hands in defeat, we’ve found ways to adjust and spin.

If we are to be successful, we must purposely take time to slow down and review our context, perspective, and priorities. How we identify our changing needs and develop future-proof strategies will counter the uncertainty we faced in 2020.

And there are definitely outstanding trends in the SEO industry to watch out for in 2021.

1. Uncovering SEO Marketing Opportunities in the Automation Revolution

The way that Google displays online content is constantly evolving. AI is increasingly influencing the algorithms that power the internet.

Google is making technological advances in analyzing and sharing content with searchers, from the RankBrain machine learning model to a neural network-based natural language processing technique called BERT.

Such innovations are monumental advances in the world of search: RankBrain interprets a searcher’s search queries to understand their intent and provide them with the best results. BERT goes one step further and helps computers understand language like a human.

The importance of BERT alone cannot be emphasized enough: Google has named it the biggest leap forward in five years and one of the biggest in search history, affecting 1 in 10 searches. And while it’s nearly impossible to optimize for these types of innovations, marketers can still do a few things to play well within the new search rules.

Understanding what drives your customer is important: What are your employees looking for and why? What is their end goal and how can you best meet their needs?

The rules of search engine optimization have expanded beyond the need to optimize for keywords only. Creating quality content that outperforms your competitors by ten is at stake today. To be competitive and to be successful, you also need to know your audience inside and out.

Optimizing for the customer is the smartest search strategy a marketer can employ in 2021.

2. Adaptation to the conversion of web links to responses from Google

Google continues to switch from “10 blue links” to richer and more diverse SERP experiences. In 2020, Google put a growing focus on “Answers”, including selected snippets and aggregated information from the web, that provide users with quick solutions to their queries without having to search the publisher’s websites.

The latest innovation is “scroll-to-text” fragments: specially formatted links, including links to search results, lead directly to highlighted text on a web page that answers a user’s query directly. The feature currently works in the Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge Chrome browsers.

Google Answers poses new challenges for marketers who want to achieve both visibility and clicks in the new SERP environment. The goal of getting a coveted answer point (which can result in higher click-through rates) leads to more sophisticated keyword research, and pages now require quite a bit of on-page optimization to get to that point. Smart marketers are learning to use Google Answers for better visibility.

A deeper understanding of analytics is required to stay up to date on all of these 2020 SEO trends well into 2021 and beyond.

3. Prepare for Core Web Vitals in 2021

In 2020, Google announced an official ranking factor to be implemented in 2021: Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals adds the largest contentful paint (LCP), cumulative layout shift (CLS), and first ingress delay (FID) metrics to those taken into account by the Google algorithm. These metrics combine what Google calls page experience signals. These “signals” include the presence or absence of HTTPS security, intrusive pop-ups, and the friendliness of mobile devices.

Google has confirmed that it will give webmasters six months’ notice before Core Web Vitals goes into effect as a ranking factor. However, similar to HTTPS, the core update is likely to have an immediate and dramatic impact on sites that are not optimized for these specific metrics – especially news media sites. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) are a thing of the past, and Core Web Vitals are required to appear in Top Stories.

SEOs and marketers need to focus on optimizing for the three main metrics of Core Web Vitals: LCP, FID, and CLS. I suggest using Google’s Lighthouse report to measure and track these metrics.

4. Incorporating crisis adjustment into your 2021 SEO strategy

If 2020 has shown us something, crisis planning and adaptation is a must in all areas.

We talk about crises in customer service, social media, and financial planning. But what happens when a crisis affects SEO? In business, everything should come back to one place: your customers’ needs. Customers need to be at the forefront of any strategy, including SEO.

Starting in 2021, it’s important to listen to customers and watch their behavior to make sure your business fits seamlessly into their lives. Marketers and SEOs can be part of the crisis communication by communicating changes and making sure that all business listings stay up to date and accessible.

More resources on SEO Marketing

What guarantees are really important in SEO?

Organic SEO – What Does It Really Mean?

Why your SEO and PPC teams need to work together

SEO vs. Google Ads: Which Approach is More Effective?