It’s been a wild year. From the pandemic taking a toll on search user intent to Google Core updates and *false alarms*, it becomes harder and harder to succeed at organic marketing.
And there are 4 weeks till a new year; a new and better (hopefully) start for your business. Now is the time we rerun and optimize our SEO strategies to adapt our website for the new demand.
But before looking forward, I’d love to take a look back.
I. SEO 2020 Recap
Google January 2020 Core Update
Core Update is the massive change regarding how Google rewarding a website with a place on the SERPs (and brave yourself, you have not seen the last of these updates in 2020 yet).
The truly frustrating thing about this type of update is that Google won’t tell webmasters what they have changed (only general and vaguely wording.)
This update took the least time to roll out its major this year – in only 3 days.
However, it’s best to wait for 2 weeks to have the final report for any algorithm update from Google.
As expected for a ranking change, the SERPs turned upside down and hit an all-time high in fluctuation.
Since Google didn’t disclose any of the changes they made with the update, all we have were direct reports from niches and businesses all over the world.
In short, here are the highlights from this January core update:
The most notable about this update was within the YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) and Travel category.
These two niches witnessed the brutal volatility of the SERPs, with some gain better rankings while others lose what they previously held.
Moreover, there was a rumor that the Quality Raters’ Guideline, specifically the Trust in Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness, got modified.
Featured Snippet De-duping January 2020
Back in 2014, Google released the Kraken called Feature Snippet, later known as “position 0”. It looks something like this:
It’s a race to get this position 0 for the main keyword. Why?
Because you double the chance of click while being the first-highlighted result that searchers see!
This causes by Google allowed the URL for Featured Snippet to re-appear on the SERPs like a typical search result (usually 1st page and from 1st to 3rd position).
However, after the roll-out for the Jan 2020 Core Update, Google dropped this feature and counted Feature Snippet as a stand-alone organic search result altogether.
So now, how do we count the number on the 1st SERP? Look at this comparison.
Two significant changes here:
- There is no longer position 0.
- Google doesn’t replace the result with the same URL as Featured Snippet. They obliterate it.
While there are (still) limited research on the impact of Featured Snippet on your traffic, it is a genuine fear that you CTR might get hit if you now only appear on the SERP as so.
Some SEOers talked about “de-optimizing” content to avoid the “de-duping” URL, but that’s a horrible move.
Making your content worse just to avoid getting featured snippet will result in tons of issues, especially your ranking and CTR.
So what is the solution if you don’t want to get featured snippet? Metadata is coming in clutch!
<meta name=”robots” content=”max-snippet:50″>
Including this line will help maintain your organic snippet while avoiding being featured!
However, remember, if you provide a voice answer for the search query, don’t block the featured snipper.
You do you!
COVID-19 Pandemic March 2020
It was not a Google update. However, the COVID-19 officially got declared a global pandemic, which changed the search result violent.
One example would be the beer brand Corona. In a month, they were stripped out of 1st their position for their own name and was almost out of the 1st SERP (position 8)
SERP changes from Feb-25 to Mar.23 (Source: Search Engine Land)
And this was caused by user search intent.
Other health-related keywords also experienced these massive changes with results returned.
And since Google couldn’t write a specific algorithm for the pandemic, these indicators should tell you how much user intent and E-A-T matter for SEO.
Understand that will make you see the rise and fall of your ranking much more in-depth and complex.
Google May 2020 Core Update
There it is, the second massive *announced* algorithm changes from Google. And this one cut deep.
First, it was the second-hottest update since the “Medic” update in August 2018.
Second, you started to see a pattern here.
It might seem like Google targeted health, fitness, and medical websites since they took up 41% of all sites affected by the update.
Also, ecommerce also get re-arranged quite violently with 16% in total.
So you do you cope with this update? Remember the Quality Raters’ Guideline earlier? It makes a comeback here.
Over 200 pages and no definitive answers are exhausting to read through, let alone find the key adjustments.
However, I’m here to help and these are the essence of the whole post:
- Get your E.A.T. requires fix
- Optimize for search queries (aka forming your content with H1 H2 as a question).
- Cluster content for evergreen pieces of writing with a focus on updating rather than a new article.
Google Glitch August 2020
Yes, Google messes up, big time.
From die sites to massive ranking drop, it was a wild ride.
READ IN FULL: Google Update August 2020 Was A Massive Bug
The bug was later confirmed as an indexing issue from Google.
On Monday we detected an issue with our indexing systems that affected Google search results. Once the issue was identified, it was promptly fixed by our Site Reliability Engineers and by now it has been mitigated.— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) August 11, 2020
Thank you for your patience!
So why is indexing important and messing it up result in such massive changes? Well, short answer: it crawls, reads, and stores every website to return to the search query.
Moreover, this massive issue teaches us that we CAN NOT simplify search results. Brace yourself, this was not the only bug this year.
Indexing Bug September 2020
Yes, another indexing issue, this time, much more complicated.
It is because Google has two major problems at the same time.
We are currently working to resolve two separate indexing issues that have impacted some URLs. One is with mobile-indexing. The other is with canonicalization, how we detect and handle duplicate content. In either case, pages might not be indexed….— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) October 1, 2020
And you might even experience issues outside of mobile-realm, why? Because something Google has been doing, which is Mobile-first indexing.
Since July 1, 2019, mobile-first indexing became the default setting for all website. In short, Google will use the mobile version of your site to read and index your content for search queries whether or not it started on a smartphone.
Hence, an issue with mobile indexing results in changes far beyond the hand-devices ranking.
For the second bug, canonicalization, it’s a different story. Websites, especially ecommerce sites, often produce multiple URLs that all point to the same content.
This is because one page can belong to multiple categories and other URLs generated by users when they search your page. Since, Google can’t decide which page to crawl and index, furthermore, punish your website for duplicate content.
Hence, the canonical tag is essential.
It shows search engine bots which URL is the main one that they need to read and index.
This bug shows us that the factors that influence Google’s search ranking while in our own-hand to set up and run, entirely depend on Google.
On 20th October, Google announced that they resolved 99% of the problem.
Final update: the canonical issue was effectively resolved last Wednesday, with about 99% of the URLs restored. We expect the remaining edge cases will be restored within a week or two.— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) October 19, 2020
Google December 2020 Core Update
It’s officially the strangest timeline. Last week, Google sent out their tweet about the 3rd core update for the year.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the December 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that:https://t.co/e5ZQUAlt0G— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 3, 2020
Since this one is still rolling out on its own, we don’t have enough statistics to do a proper analysis.
However, the timing of this update is quite questionable. Just over Cyber Monday and the Thanksgiving hush and afterward, the holiday is coming.
It’s not a good update for ecommerce websites. Indeed, in the past, Google confirmed that they limited updates during the holiday season.
This didn't age well. https://t.co/GhFnYhFXWT— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) December 3, 2020
The fact of the matter is when this core update completely rolls out, it will be little to no time for hit sites to bounce back before Christmas.
And that is borderline dangerous for an ecommerce website.
The analytics so far do not help as well. SEO experts believe that we’re facing a bigger update than May 2020.
*Intermission: How to stay strong during and after Google Update? Magento Edition.
If you want to stay on top with these constant updates from Google, it’s best to invest in a SEO tool that helps you fasten and strengthen your SEO foundation.
Here is the list of benefits this extension can give you in dealing with Google’s algorithm update:
- Get the inside report on your on-page SEO
- Connect with Google Search Console to make real-time data-driven decisions.
- Register XML sitemap to make sure Google reads and indexes your pages.
- Specify robot tags to let Google know which page to crawl.
- Do SEO external links to boost your ranking internally.
- No duplicating content with the canonical tag.
- Beautify your place on the SERP with rich snippet.
- Fast-implement SEO-friendly images with ALT text.
Make your site SEO-friendly instantly and constantly.
II. What’s Next For SEO 2021?
#1 Search Intent and User Experience Remain Superior
All core updates reinforce the idea of user-friendly content: content written to serve the public demand and answer the question/problem people search for.
That’s why featured snippets, question boxes are becoming more and more prevalent.
Moreover, the user experience is also another core factor for Google.
Back in November, they announced that they would release a new algorithm using Core Web Vitals and other UX/UI signals to rank websites.
Here is a quick infographic to help you rationalize Google’s Core Web Vital:
Google also suggests that AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) is the easiest and most resource-friendly way to improve Page Experience.
What to do:
First, you need to check your score and improve upon it using this guideline by Google
Second, to optimize your content for user search-intent, you must understand how Google crawls and index your site. We have an article for you:
>>> MUST READ: Google Passage Indexing: The Google update in 2020 you need to know
#2 Write Content For The People (And What They Want)
Of course, there are certain technical SEO factors that you need to hit to be considered SEO-friendly (keyword density for example).
But, Google has moved forward and placed user-intent above all others when ranking search results.
GET YOUR SEO TOGETHER: Content Marketing For Ecommerce In A Nutshell
This move explains how when your blog for the product has a better ranking than your product page.
What to do:
It’s all about which content serves people search-purpose the best!
Hence, rather than focusing on the keyword, explore on the meaning and what people want when they search for it. Then, write the copy that satisfies them.
Here is a generalization on that:
Broadening under this umbrella will help you identify which keywords are for sales and which are for educational purposes.
#3 Mobile-friendly Will Be The Bare Minimum
If past SEO trend predictions always include mobile-first, 2021 will mark the year when it becomes the norm.
The last of 2020 has experienced some of the massive Google bugs regarding mobile-indexing and they’re still committed to use it regardless.
And that’s not because they’re stubborn; it is because mobile is the future. In 4 years, 75% off internet users will access via mobile only.
If you’re holding the hope for the desktop layout to make a comeback, I’m so sorry.
What to do:
The very first thing to do is to check out your mobile-version with this Google test (it’s free, don’t worry).
Google Search Console also stores a valuable report on this front. Check the Mobile Usability report in your account.
One major note here, web crawlers can’t and won’t read lazy-loaded pieces of content on your site (the ones that need interactions such as swipe and click).
Therefore, make them visible for those bot to see. Your metadata also needs to be identical for both desktop and mobile versions.
#4 Time On Page Will Be A Major Factor
One of the main factors that Google considers for “user-friendly” content is how much time people spend on the site.
And it’s understandable. The longer the better. It’ll prove that your content is engaging and actually provide value that people want and need to see.
Therefore improvement upon time on page needs to be your focus this year to come.
What to do
There are 2 things that you can consider to optimize time on page: longer content, and video.
Research shows that content with over 3000 words ranks higher, has x3 traffics and x4 shares than shorter-form.
So how can you do this properly? Here’s how:
And for video, brands have spent more and more money on this type of content in response to people spending more time on platforms like Youtube.
Video is a great way to make customers see your product in all of it glory as well as gain better time-on-page and traffic accordingly.
Here is Hubspot recommendation for video-length for each platforms:
- Instagram: 30 seconds
- Twitter: 45 seconds
- Facebook: under 1 minute
- YouTube: under 2 minutes
#5 Voice Search Continues To Rise In Popularity And Priority
Each and every main player in ecommerce and technology has put out their on innovation for voice help:
- Google – Google Assistant
- Apple – Siri
- Amazon – Alexa
Moreover, numbers show that more than half of American households will own a smart speaker by 2022.
It’s a proven fact that voice search will become more popular by the day as it becomes more accurates and people have access to it at ease.
What to do
One word: long-term keywords.
Search queries from voice tend to form around questions.
Such as “What is the best running shoe?”, “How to write confidently”, “Where is the best coffee shop” “Why do people stroke their chins while thinking?”.
In response, you need to reach for these long-term keywords that adapt to the searches. Moreover, your content needs to answer the questions.
#6 AI and Predictive Search Will Have A Major Role In SEO
Pre BERT-era has recorded Google failed-attempts at understanding user-intent.
For example, when searching for whether or not Brazilian needs a VISA to visit the USA, the search returned with USA citizens can travel to Brazil visa-free.
And that’s not good.
However, with BERT (released in 2019), Google can understand the search-intent more clearly and actually return a better result.
And it’s getting better and better. Now 100% of English search-queries have BERT-certified and Google’s promised to make the move with other languages as well.
Hence, to echo the earlier point – write content for customers and not web crawlers. That’s how you’ll rank higher.
#7 Local-SEO-First Is The Way To Go
Since COVID-19, people have changed their search pattern and look for local businesses more and more. Businesses with the ban for opening during COVID also try to make their livelihood by going online.
And Google actually released several algorithm updates regarding local search and rank.
For example, we have the snack pack results – which are the 3 most popular stores recommended by Google (and the first thing you see on the SERP as well!)
What to do
Get your website listed on search engines’ business list!
You can learn how to do that right here.
#8 SEO for ROI-optimized aka SEO for Customer Lifetime Value
SEO has grown out of its traffic-boosting phase and entered a new era – ROI optimization.
Pre-conversion SEO efforts now demand much more time, resources, focus and commitment.
It’s not about “here is what you looking for” but more about “here is what you looking for and how it can help you, also, there are what people also look for.”
SEO can make you close the gap between revenue and ROI as it makes more bang for your buck. After all, SEO can generate value overtime and nurture customers as they follow the customer’s journey.
III. Wrap Up
SEO 2020 was full of surprises from Google updates to user search intent. It changes the way to go for SEOer in 2021 with a focus shift toward better content and automation.
Adaptive search is also another area to look for in 2021. Grow your time on page with longer-form content and interactive material is the way to go.
If you have any questions regarding SEO, feel more than welcome to CONTACT US. We’re on 24/7 support!