Search engine optimization (SEO) strategies can be convoluted, difficult to measure and all subject to a top-secret search algorithm we can only test and hypothesize. Strategies for optimization shift with the ever-changing and ambiguous algorithm, and they’re filled with acronyms and jargon. As a result, it can be difficult for C-suites to feel comfortable investing in SEO services, and understandably so.
Instead of digging into complex, overly technical SEO tactics that may or may not stand the test of time, we’re taking a step back and re-emphasizing three holistic SEO principles that we believe will become even more important in 2021 than ever before.
1. Optimize for Your Target, Not for Search
Search algorithms will always be something that we can only guess, test, apply learnings and test again. The moment that SEO-ers feel like they have a solid understanding of the algorithm, Google pushes new updates.
Instead of trying to optimize content for an ever-changing algorithm, why not optimize the content for your user?
Google’s EAT principle (a preference for expert, authoritative and trustworthy content) is not a new trend, but it is an important milestone in the gradual shift away from ‘traditional’ SEO. Instead of focusing on keyword density or backlinks, Google recommends focusing on how to help our users find the information that they want. Then, metrics like Average Time on Page, Bounce Rate and Session Duration become important ranking factors.
Today, we’re seeing experts insist that search engine results pages (SERP) analysis will continue to be a top trend in 2021. By analyzing the content that ranks highest, we as marketers are able to better understand the needs of our target.
All of this supports a shift toward a holistic SEO strategy where the user experience is prioritized above all else. So, when it’s time to craft your content strategy for the coming year, don’t just write articles targeting the keywords with the most search volume – put your target first.
- This means identifying the queries and search terms relevant to your business that your target is searching for.
- From there, it’s about analyzing the content that’s performing best in that search engine results page (SERP). SERP analysis is not just about analyzing the topics discussed, but the type of content too, e.g., do videos on YouTube rank first or does a long-form blog article?
If 101-level content that’s easy to skim is ranking best, that suggests that your user is early in the buyer’s journey when they begin a search. If the top pages in the SERP are thousands of words long and use advanced, technical language, your target is more knowledgeable and will probably bounce from a page labeled “Topic Learnings 101” – and Google will interpret that bounce to mean your content is not relevant, decreasing your rank and authority. That’s why it’s important to consider the context and the format of contents as well as topics when reviewing SERPs.
2. Use Google Discover and Google Trends to Understand Search Intent
The top performers in the search engine results are a critical first step for understanding the target audience’s interests, but it’s not the only tool available. Google Trends has 20 years of data on search trends, allowing you to examine search interest geographically, seasonally or year over year. Insights can include:
- Which cities search the most or least for a given topic, e.g., ‘mortgage lenders near me’
- Best topics for evergreen content, based on Trend topics that have consistent interest year over year
- Related topics and queries with sudden increases in volume
- Searches related to your products that have triggered the Google Shopping tab, or intentional searches in Google Shopping
Trends is a powerful tool for measuring queries, but Google Discover (formerly called Feed) serves up content without any query at all. Similar to Facebook or Instagram, Discover serves up content based on past searches in Google and YouTube. Discover’s algorithm relies on user engagement and artificial intelligence to optimize its feed with content Google thinks is relevant. AIs like these are incredibly powerful. In fact, 70% of the time spent on YouTube is solely from viewing the recommended videos.
A query-free and search-less Google feed made SEO pros pretty terrified. How can you optimize content without a query? Search experts quickly learned that, to maximize reach, your content strategy needs to extend beyond the copywriting. While few experts optimize content specifically for Discover (viewing Discover simply as an added bonus), there are several best practices that Discover reinforces for 2021:
- Using unique, high-quality images with content – and optimizing the images for search with small file weight and alt text for screen readers (forgetting to optimize your images for search could mean missing out on hundreds to thousands of potential clicks)
- Planning your editorial calendar with your target’s needs and interests in mind – and listening for new opportunities to create time-sensitive opinions on changes for your industry
- Creating content for every step of the user journey because Google’s AI considers past searches and website interactions when showing results
- For example, if a user makes a search for ‘plumbers near me’ and views some local providers, then makes that same search a week later, Google is likely to show them reviews of the plumbers they’ve viewed or information on how to choose the best plumber
3. How to Optimize Content for Each Step of the Consumer Journey
While the buyer’s journey for your service or product may vary, the buyer’s typical steps are research, comparison and purchase. When reviewing keywords for optimizing content, you’ll want to categorize the keywords into one of these three zones:
Zone 1: Keywords for the research and information phase
This is where your introductory educational content works hardest as a first impression of your brand. The user is seeking a service or a solution to a problem, and this is your opportunity to present your brand as the expert with the solution. Informational keywords look like this:
- How to know if I need a contractor
- Best contractors in Cook County
- Contractors pros and cons
Zone 2: Keywords for the comparison phase
When they know what they’re looking for, your target can easily compare your brand to everyone else’s thanks to modern technology. This makes this the opportunity to dazzle the customer with your unique selling points. Comparison keywords, also known as commercial keywords, often contain your brand’s name, and may look like this:
- [business name] reviews
- Directions to [business name]
- Brand-name products or services
Zone 3: Keywords for the transactional phase
This is the last stage of the buyer’s journey. They’ve researched, compared options and are settling into the bottom of the sales funnel. Here, the content should be simplest, e.g., a form, a page where you can purchase the product, or an appointment scheduler. They’ve already done the research, so you want to keep it simple and avoid anything that might distract them from the desired action. If you make it difficult for them to do so, they may just choose your competitor. Transactional keywords are intent-heavy:
- Buy now
- Schedule appointment
Even a single individual’s needs and interests change significantly based on where they are in the buying process. By tailoring your content to match each step in the buyer’s journey, your brand maximizes your opportunity to showcase to the consumer.
Above all, keep your target’s needs in mind when strategizing. Consumers can tell if the business needs are prioritized over theirs, and so can Google. If the target finds your information helpful, Google will upgrade it in the ranks accordingly – and that’s exactly what you want.
If you want to learn more about how SEO can spur your brand’s success in search, email Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a call.