Albeit, two complex and involved things, but two none the less.
To understand how SEO works in 2021, we have to look at a few core facts. One item, in particular, conversational language. This is by far the greatest key to it all. I don’t care where you look; Amazon, Facebook, or Google–all the tech giants are all currently focused on voice technology and the device platforms in which they serve it. Conversational language responses are what they want to provide their users on these devices.
Alongside, Featured Snippets are still consistently a thing, Google’s original approach to voice results. We wrap this around content creation and format.
This is all still based around onsite SEO frameworks–which, of course, are in constant evolution.
Then you have Google’s fascination with making everything mobile only. Site structure, responsiveness, and those pesky and ever-growing mobile errors in Search Console. Those things seem to be invented by the hour. If you have mobility or “core web vital” errors that you’re not fixing–you’re done.
All that said, let’s look at the two items that make up SEO in 2021.
1. SEO Framework
Onsite SEO is still the foundation of all SEO efforts, especially where fast results are desired. While well-established sites with decades of content are still at the top of most searches, new sites can find the competitive edge to pop-in and join them with proper onsite SEO implementation.
When doing this, I recommend focusing on four primary onsite items.
The site’s pages should, at the top levels, target primary keywords–broad niche terms within the main niche. This should be thought out in a way that sends the user on an orchestrated and well-executed content journey. Broad targets lead to sub-targets with more detail, which then lead to deeper content that fills in the finest details.
Best when done alongside page planning, the navigational framework needs to be logical and user-oriented. I like simple menus, but the users can dive into deeper levels of information on each of the main landing pages. I usually do this with contextual links or introductory content blocks leading to deeper info.
Getting into how the pages are represented in SERP’s is the next concern. This includes meta titles and descriptions that are user optimized, but also pay attention to URL structure and breadcrumbs. Schema tags should be investigated and integrated as they apply. This is also a good time to fine-tune how social shares will look and read.
Finally, when all of those onsite ducks are in neat little rows, it’s time to integrate search engines, analytics, and tracking systems. You will want to have your sitemap set up and connected to Google Search Console. Integrate analytics tracking codes. Integrate webmaster tools from your chosen search engines. If you are running keyword tracking systems, if not done already, set them up right now.
2. The Approach to Content
Content creation is actually so much easier now. Not that you can research any less–that is quite the opposite. But what you will find is that covering a certain amount of bases in your content is a formula that currently works regardless of the subject.
First, Ignore Old School SEO Stuff
If I hear one more “SEO” ask about keyword densities, anchor text, word count, deep linking, or any of the other parts of SEO they are attempting to force-feed into a piece of content–I will puke. If it doesn’t naturally belong in the content, it simply doesn’t belong–and it sure isn’t conversational.
Look [readers-name] (I’ll explain that under my Theories below), write as if you are literally talking to someone. It’s basically an informal approach to providing detailed information. Picture yourself comfortable with who you are talking to, like as if you’re having a beer at the bar with that person and just explaining things.
It is still quite important to separate your content into sections with headings. We should deploy the normal hierarchy of title tags in content pieces.
This is really part of “the conversation” and is usually how you’ll wind up in a featured snippet (though not always true). A conversation goes both ways, except, in this case, the reader cannot particularly ask me anything. It is my job to guess what common questions might be derived from my content and then ask and answer that question. I honestly don’t have any plans for that in this post (do what feels natural to you), but it is certainly part of almost all of my client content.
For instance, I just talked about title tags in the previous section, someone who was putting forth some effort might add, after that:
What is a title tag?
And then answer it here.
Don’t go after every piece of content as a specific keyword that needs to be targeted. Just speak on your general subject. In this, expand into all the nuances of your subject area. Next thing you know, you are the content authority for the topic. Force nothing.
Let’s look at what I might do for a topic list as a fishing guide in Florida:
- Top 5 Baits For Redfish
- The 2021 Florida Fishing Calendar
- How To Tie A Snell Knot
- Inshore Fishing Rod Setups
- How To Fish The Flats
- What Is Sight-Fishing?
And so on. If you notice, I didn’t try to sell a single guided fishing trip with those. Google already knows I am a fishing guide. What I am doing is showcasing my authority within the industry. This works.
Content-Length: Mix it Up
Content is king and content depth is king– but it’s not the longest content that always wins. Though, several studies on the subject show that most page 1 sites have long content. But don’t look at it as “long content”, instead, treat it as “in-depth content”. When you look at it like that, your content will simply be as long as it needs to be.
I also like to include short-form-content, quick tidbits that respond to a simple question. I explain this deeper in my Theories section.
Keep The Ball Rolling
Steadily create content. I literally just had to consider myself my own client and put myself in the workflow. Since I write all the content for my client sites, I literally ignore mine. I watch them grow and grow, but my site is just back here collecting dust. Well, I scheduled myself for weekly content–this is how I am here today. I like to create a topic list that is 50-100 titles deep. Then just hit them one by one.
I have ideas; I act on them and test. You can see most of my theories mentioned above, but let’s look at a few new ones I have implemented and also my guess on the future of voice search.
I honestly believe, as of right now, that anyone can be a top-ranking site by being a topic-oriented content authority. Forget link building, social shares, or any of that–sure, if you can add that, great. Focus on making exceptional, original, interesting, and on-subject content–Google will give it a whirl and users will or will-not positively react.
In the end, engagement will always be the actual king of search. I have found this process gets my clients there without issue (usually within 90 days). We are talking about both established and brand new sites.
I am liking short-form-content, but my motives are different. I might say on this site, “What is SEO?” and write less than 300 words quickly answering it. This is not about trying to be a rich snippet, I am trying to be my own Wiki. That’s it–I quit offsite “resource” links here recently, I just link to my own database of content.
I have implemented this across all of my client sites for the past 6 months, and the exponential growth that is tracked alongside is astounding. But please understand, this is, at most, 50% of the blog entries, the other 50% are in-depth long-form content.
I also usually break these off into their own blog areas, not in the main feed. That is sometimes unavoidable given the structure of the client site, but I mainly do this for user convenience–the overall results are the same in either format.
The beauty is, after just a couple of months in, I can start linking steadily to my own resources. I have seen zero negative effects from this and have only recorded mass gains.
However, these short-form pieces of content can indeed become rich snippets. There are plenty of examples of short-form-content becoming rich snippets, that are basically fueled by their own internal link juice.
Proof Of Concept
We looked for Google to define “realty” in this example:
The web page that produced the result–207 words:
As you can see in the above example, the resulting website has very short, and frankly old, content simply answering the query. No extensive structures using dozens of title tags, endless Q&A’s, and thousands of words–just a to the point answer.
We even ran that page through SpyFu. It suggests that this page ranks for 22 keywords, generates 2.7k users per month, and (according to its scans) has no social shares or inbound links. All while saving an estimated $6.63k in PPC costs a month, through this organic channel for that traffic.
I do have other basic reasonings, the main one being attention span–digital marketers have already learned that in video, for instance, short engaging videos drive more results. Users want to be pleased quickly.
Right now, Google AI is still trying to find mass content structures as part of its instruction, but at the same time–it is going to find that short-form is creating a more positive experience for the user. I hate looking up a recipe, for instance, and getting a page 12,000 words long about the history of the dish–just show me the damn recipe! I believe this will continue to prove true.
Personalized Voice Search
I think voice search is going to continue to develop. Probably in ways we can’t even grasp at the moment, but I have one guess–personalization. Earlier when I wrote “[readers-name]” I was referring to one component of this. I have a feeling we will develop HTML to integrate the user’s personal information–making things truly conversational, all driven by voice device data.
“Hey, Google. I need an SEO Guy.”
“Hi Fred, This Eric, in Tally. Want to hear about how I work and what I offer? Or, I can shoot you a quick call. Let me know!” < said my website.