Keeping up with SEO trends is critical to ensuring your content marketing efforts don’t go to waste. Search engine optimization can change quickly, and when it does, you need to pivot just as quickly so your content marketing strategy continues to deliver results.

Here are some trends you should keep up with to ensure your valuable content remains valuable and your rankings remain high.

Search intent will become a greater focus

Search intent is what a searcher intends to find whenever they type a keyword phrase into a search engine. For example, a searcher who types in “how to fix a broken computer monitor” is looking for content that teaches them how to complete this task. User intent, in this case, informational. The user is trying to find information on how o fix their computer, not to buy a new monitor.

This becomes clear by studying the SERP for this keyword phrase. In the image, you’ll see that the top results are all pieces of content that discuss how computer monitors can be fixed… for the most part.

A SERP showing informational search intent.

A few things stand out in these results. The first thing we see is that videos appear on the SERP before written content. This means that Google understands not just what type of content the user is looking for (a guide that teaches them how to repair a computer monitor), but the form the content comes in. Google understands that users find videos more useful for this search.

If you continue to look at the top results, user intent becomes clear—users just want to repair their monitors.

A SERP for broken computers with informational search intent.

However, if you look closely, you can see an opportunity for revenue generation through this keyword phrase because the SERPs show that users may be interested in making a purchase.

What kind of purchase? They may be interested in buying a new monitor if they can be convinced, through this content, that it’s not worth it to fix their monitor.

Suppose that you sell computers and computer monitors. Notice that the second video result says, “Is it worth it to fix broken LCD screens?”

If your business produces this content, and a user consumes this content and decides that it isn’t worth it to repair their monitor, they may then decide to purchase a monitor from you.

This is important because, even though the top results don’t show monitors for sale, you may still be able to make a sale by creating content that convinces users to buy instead of trying to fix the monitor themselves. You have satisfied search intent and created content that has the potential to generate revenue.

However, if they type in, “used computer monitors for sale,” their search intent is to make a purchase, and SERP results back this up.

A SERP for "used monitors for sale" that shows transactional search intent.

The top results that aren’t ads include computer stores near the user (in this case, Maryland), and then monitors for sale on Amazon. If you continue down the SERP, you’ll see that all the results indicate the search intent—the user is ready to buy.

A computer monitor SERP showing transactional search intent.

However, some results stand out. Notice that some of the content that shows up is not a single product, but is rather product reviews. The two results from TechRadar and Laptop Mag indicate a slightly different angle to the search intent. Google has decided that users are not just looking to make a purchase outright, as the top results that show monitors for sale indicate, but rather that users are also looking to compare products.

Those two results are lists of monitors that are for sale in the month and year the article was written (April 2021). They let users look at the most recent computer monitors for sale, and then the users can compare these products as part of the purchase decision-making process.

Users who enter this keyword phrase are at two different stages of the sales funnel. Some are comparing products (commercial intent), and some are ready to buy (transactional intent). Even the structure of the SERP indicates that Google understands that a user is going to compare products—this image shows a carousel of products that a user can scroll through to compare specifications and prices.

A computer monitor SERP that shows a search intent that is purchase-focused.

How does this help a business generate revenue? It shows you what type of content you can create that can lead users to a purchase.

Notice from the product carousel that each product is being pulled from a listicle that lists and compares many different monitors for sale in 2021. If you sell monitors, you can create a list of the most up-to-date computer monitors available for purchase. If your monitors are included somewhere on that list, you have a chance of making a sale.

These SERPs show that Google has gotten much better at figuring out exactly the type of content that searchers are looking for. In this example, Google is serving content in various forms that it believes will satisfy the user. It has ascertained from its data that users want to make a purchase and want to compare products. You can use this information to create content that can generate revenue.

This should be your new SEO strategy. Search intent matters now more than ever because evidence shows that Google search is taking it heavily into account. Today, SERPs show that sites that prioritize search intent can outrank sites with more backlinks and authority.

You no longer should focus on just keywords, high-quality content, and backlinks—instead, your primary focus should be on the searcher experience. When you focus on delivering the best possible experience to the searcher, most everything Google uses as ranking signals will take care of themselves.

For example, other major ranking signals related to a good user experience include a category called “core web vitals.”

While core web vitals have long been ranking signals, in May of 2020, it was announced that core ranking vitals would be combined with other ranking signals into what is now known as search signals for page experience.

An infographic on the core web vitals SEO trend.

  • Loading is page load speed and should be around 2.5 seconds.
  • Interactivity is how quickly a page becomes interactive for the user and should be around 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative layout shift has to do with how the page shifts as ads or other interstitials load. This should be less than 0.1
  • Mobile-friendly means your website is responsive and displays in an easy-to-use format no matter the user’s screen size.
  • Safe browsing means your website has no potential security issues for users.
  • HTTPS means that you have your SSL certificate set up, which many hosts will now do automatically.
  • No intrusive interstitials means ads or other interruptive pieces of content do not cause text in your content to move up or down unexpectedly.

Notice that these signals are all related to the user experience. A user wants a page to load quickly, they want to consume content tailored to the device of their choice, they want to know that their browsing experience is safe and secure. All this points to the ongoing trend of user experience being paramount in the modern search landscape. If you want to continue to rank, you need to focus on the searcher first.

Another large update to Google that came out in 2019 and was designed to help improve user experience was BERT.

BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing pre-training. In plain English, it can be used to help Google better discern the context of words in search queries.

Natural language processing is a form of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand how people speak and how language works. BERT was designed to help Google better understand search queries that seem similar but that are actually different.

For example, in the queries, “what is a steering wheel for,” and “for shame,” the word “for” has two different meanings that may not have once been immediately apparent to Google. BERT helps Google to understand these slight differences.

This matters because it provides a better user experience. As Google becomes better at understanding the nuances of queries, SERP will reflect these changes, becoming more likely to deliver what a user is looking for. Once again, Google is optimizing for user experience.

As time goes on, these user-focused ranking signals will only grow in importance.

SEO will be tied to growth

SEO isn’t all about boosting search rankings to drive traffic. It’s about boosting search engine rankings to drive traffic to pages that grow revenue. Growing revenue is the main focus of any business—not just e-commerce businesses—and SEO, while not as expensive as PPC or paid social media, still costs money, especially when paying for a complete SEO strategy and content creation.

Increasingly, SEOs are being called upon to demonstrate their value. They cannot simply say, “traffic to this website has increased” or “rankings have improved.” Instead, they must demonstrate the dollar value of that traffic.

How an SEO does this depends on the goals of the business in question and how the SEO helps that business meet those goals. For example, if the business is a single brick-and-mortar location that focuses on local customers, SEOs are not effective if they’re generating traffic from across the world.

Instead, they must focus on local SEO, showing their customer or employer that their local SEO efforts have paid off. They must show that paying for keyword research has been effective, that local search efforts have been effective, even that setting up Google My Business has had some sort of impact on revenue.

Zero-click results will grow

A zero-click result is when a searcher gets to a search engine results page (SERP) and Google’s algorithm serves them the information they need right on the SERP. They don’t need to click any of the results, which eliminates click-throughs for all results. These results can show up in many different forms on a SERP that provide extensive information pulled from the search results on the page.

For example, a search for the COVID-19 pandemic shows an immense amount of relevant content all over the SERP, so much so that a table of contents appears on the left side of the SERP. The search algorithm is doing its best to show searchers everything they need without ever having to leave Google search.

Covid-19 SERP showing a no-click result.

Zero-click results are also called featured snippets. Because these snippets are pulled from websites that show up on the SERP, it’s possible for businesses to show up this way on a SERP by implementing schema on their website. Schema is a type of structured data in the form of a markup language, similar to HTML, that tells search engines what a piece of content is.

A SERP for "types of computers" showing a featured snippet that is a bulleted list.

Why does this matter if searchers aren’t clicking on your result? While this means webmasters lose traffic, there are some benefits. Getting a zero-click result boosts your brand’s trustworthiness and authority as a subject matter expert. Searchers will see that your website is providing this information.

Even if they don’t click, they’ll see your brand. Brand awareness increases, meaning that the searcher is more likely to trust another search result from your website and may be more likely to click or buy from your brand as opposed to a business they’ve never heard of.

In the image, Wikipedia has a featured snippet. Featured snippets come in many forms, including bulleted lists, FAQs, location info, reviews, and more. It’s clear from the snippet where the information is coming from—who is giving you the information. Zero-click searches will only increase because Google wants to deliver users to their answer as quickly as possible.

Long-form content will continue to dominate the SERPs

To satisfy search intent and be considered high-quality by Google, most written content needs to be long-form.

There’s plenty of data that shows long-form content continually outperforms short-form content.

For example, the average word count of the top 10 results on search engines is regularly in the 2000+ range.

A graph showing the average length in words of the top 10 results.

Additionally, longer content tends to have more backlinks.

A graph showing that higher word count is correlated with more backlinks.

Longer content even gets more shares on social media.

A graph showing that longer content gets more social shares.

The data is clear—long-form content is the king of content (which itself is king). This trend will continue, with longer content dominating SERPs.

Why does longer content rank? Because it’s more likely to fulfill search intent. When a searcher poses a question, they want a comprehensive answer. Long-form content is more likely to give a complete answer to a question and all the questions related to that original question.

If you want your content to rank, you need to consider how to increase its value to the user.

Image optimization will be a greater focus

While images once were secondary at best on search, image search is projected to grow in 2021. 36% of online shoppers say they have used visual search and more than half of them claim visual information is more useful to them than text information. And marketers would do well to take note.

Images need to be appropriately sized, clear, and high-quality. They also need to have proper alt tags that are both descriptive and clear.

For example, for the image below, a good alt tag might say, “(BSM330M-72 Monocrystalline 72 cells 310w-345w) solar panels for sale from BlueSun Solar.” To make the image useful for the searcher, you might include call-outs that point out the features of the product.

An example of alt text on a product image for a solar panel.

This image shows what a useful, valuable image might look like.

More optimization for semantic search

Semantic search combines search intent and context to try to decipher exactly what a searcher is looking for so that it can better serve results to a searcher. Semantics is the study of how words relate to each other, so semantic search is trying to figure out how each word in a query is related to the other words, rather than just looking for a keyword phrase and delivering that exact match.

For example, a search like, “how many cranial nerves are in the skull,” will be somewhat difficult for a search engine to decipher because cranial nerves are not in the skull itself but in the brainstem.

A semantic search example for the search "how many cranial nerves are in the skull."

In this example, despite the fact that we use skull instead of brainstem, Google is still able to decipher what we mean and return a useful result.

Here’s how you can optimize for semantic search:

  • Consider search intent—when someone inputs a keyword phrase, what are they looking for? What kind of content is going to give them what they’re looking for?
  • What related keywords are relevant to the search? As in the cranial nerve example, the words “brain” and “brainstem” and “skull” are all relevant because they are related to these nerves.
  • Consider topics over keywords—what topic does a keyword phrase imply? For example, a study of cranial nerves may imply a topic of brain function, or it might imply a topic of stroke.

Because semantic search is effective at delivering great results to searchers, this type of search is going to become more prevalent while results that focus exclusively on keywords are going to be less common.

Mobile SEO is the only SEO

Today, Google serves the mobile version of your site to both desktop and mobile users. In fact, the mobile version of your website is indexed by Google first (called mobile-first indexing), which means that, when deciding if your web pages should be shown to searchers, Google first crawls the mobile version of your website and indexes it before the desktop version of your website. It may not even index the desktop version of the website at all.

In practice, what this means is that you need to make sure you prioritize mobile-friendliness if you want to continue to generate organic traffic. to have a website that is responsive and can change to all screen sizes rather than a mobile version of your website and a desktop version of your website. If it’s not already, your website should be upgraded to mobile-responsive as soon as possible.

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The SEO landscape is changing rapidly, and you need to stay on top of it to maintain a competitive advantage. Studying these trends will help you understand how to better create content that fulfills search intent and ranks on Google and other search engines.

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