The early days of search engine optimization were as simple as paying attention to your keyword use and gaming the “algorithm” as it existed at the time – and while things have gotten a lot more complicated since then, it does kind of work out to be the same thing it’s always been: trying to figure out the best way to top search engine results by playing by (or subverting) the engine’s rules.
Even now, decades after the launch of the first search engine, SEO remains a key tool in any digital marketing campaign as search still drives just around half of all website traffic, give or take (depending on niche and industry). Among those results, the vast majority of traffic originates from organic search (rather than paid), often to the 99th percentile.
In other words, no matter how many different platforms show up to present themselves as the next big opportunity to capitalize on growing demand for video content, audio content, written content, or other mediums, it all ultimately comes down to the same thing every time: now that you’ve got the product and the content, how are you going to make sure you get the right people?
Does that mean SEO has become stagnant in years past? Absolutely not. While it remains a pillar of digital marketing, part of the reason that’s the case is because the opposite is true: SEO is constantly evolving, even if in relatively minor ways. Most of the changes in the SEO game come in the form of new tools to aggregate and analyze search data and user information, single out specific user profiles to both improve traffic while maximizing leads, and optimizing loading speeds, user experience, ad experience, and more.
SEO is about so much more than backlinks and content. It now encompasses a vast number of factors that aim to make use of the way Google recommends information based on user preferences, search patterns, location, interest, and much, much more – while helping companies funnel their resources into their digital presence as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Let’s look at some of the ways in which SEO has changed in recent times – and how you may have adapted, or need to adapt.
User Experience is Critical
We’ve all heard the phrase “content is king” a million times now, and that isn’t necessarily wrong, even so many years later. It’s no surprise that Bill Gates of all people was right on the money well over twenty years ago.
But there’s certainly a whole lot more to search engine success in 2021 than good content. Good content does not excuse a poor user experience. This means everything from page loading speeds to fonts and colors, ad placement, page functionality, streamlined design, and more.
Poor user experience won’t get you penalized on Google, but it can be a make-or-break difference when the search engine compares your page to that of your closest competitor.
Google Has Emphasized Clean, Responsive Content
Aside from user experience basics, Google has further emphasized what they call their Core Web Vitals earlier this year. These are metrics of page performance, specifically factors that relate most closely to how users perceive your page. Core web vitals measure how quickly and effectively your page handles the following three tasks:
- LCP (largest contentful paint), which is the amount of time it takes to render the largest piece of content on the user’s viewport.
- FID (first input delay), which is a measure of how long it takes the browser to react to a user’s interaction with your page after their first click.
- CLS (cumulative layout shift), which measures a phenomenon where page elements load inconsistently, causing misclicks and frustration as a user tries to interact with a page element that is no longer there.
A Higher Premium on Expert Advice
Another major change is that Google has continued to pay more attention to credibility and authority on certain topics, to the point that it becomes very hard to rank on them without serious credentials – such as being a renowned expert on the subject, an academic, or a credentialled professional.
This also means that content created and curated by professionals and experts in their given fields is given a higher premium than content created by unknown writers – especially in health and wellness niches. This is part of the reason you’re likely going to see results on certain medical conditions flooded by websites like WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, Healthline, and Mayo Clinic.
Bounce Rates and Search Intent
Getting a lot of clicks isn’t actually a great metric for success on Google – but it is the fastest way to expose weaknesses in your SEO strategy, by analyzing your bounce rates. A bounce rate is the number of people clicking off your page after realizing that it isn’t what they were looking for.
Bounce rates are an indicator that you’re attracting the wrong people with your search engine strategy. You might need to be more specific with your keywords and SEO, in order to ensure that as many people as possible who visit your page are satisfied with what they see. This is called search intent.
Much, Much More
While search engines like Baidu and DuckDuckGo command a lot of traffic (the first being China’s largest internet company, and the second being a popular privacy-oriented alternative to the Big Two), Google and Bing easily dominate, and the steps the two take to shape search – especially Google – have a continuous, reverberating impact on search as a whole every time a major change is announced.
Keeping an eye on changes as they’re announced and anticipated is important for any marketer looking to capitalize on modern SEO, especially because search engines can be volatile – and what might have been best practice six months ago isn’t necessarily harmful, it could be much less effective than a different, new approach.
This can be tough to do. Google has over 1200 unique features in its search engine results page, up from just a few hundred some years ago, and it continues to make algorithm changes thousands of times every year.
We help you keep up. Our SEO campaigns are always built with the latest and best practices in mind, and we don’t fall behind.