SEO 101– Your Ultimate SEO Handbook For 2021
“The best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google search.” – Anonymous
It’s virtually impossible to run a business in 2021 without the help of the right SEO guidelines. From ‘pizza places near me’ to ‘plumbers near me,’ your customers are only a search away, provided you are able to reach them. This is where SEO comes in and we are here to tell you what SEO is all about.
Let’s look at it this way. How often do you go to the second page of Google or any other search engine when you’re looking for an answer? Almost never, right? Needless to say, that’s true for your customers too. If you want them to find you, you’ve got to be on the first page, if not the first result.
There are certain factors that Google considers ideal in order for you to ‘rank’ on its search engine, these are known as ‘core web vitals.’ Let’s look at what they are.
What are Core Web Vitals?
In simple words, core web vitals are factors that measure one crucial aspect of any web search: user experience. So, in order to holistically measure how good the user experience of a website is, Google measures several key aspects that are crucial in building that experience. These are known as the Core Web Vitals of a webpage or a website. Some of the most common web vitals that Google has always been measuring to rank your content include page speed, loading time, interactivity, and visual stability.
However, to judge the user experience more comprehensively, Google has also started measuring three additional vitals. They include:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This factor analyzes the time taken for the largest piece of content on your webpage to render completely and be visible to the user. For instance, it could be a heavy image file or a video. While the text on your page could load instantly, your LCP weighs in the heavier content too. Google has set a standard at 2.5 seconds or less as good LCP, anything beyond that needs improvement. If your primary content takes more than 4 seconds to load, then it’s safe to presume that your SEO is doomed.
Google also analyzes the time your website takes to respond to an action made by the visitors. This should ideally be less than 100 milliseconds.
Cumulative layout shift
Google analyzes the shift of buttons and various links as your website loads. Ideally, you want no movement, so users don’t click on a button but mistakenly get taken to a different destination because the button moved as other page features finished loading.
It’s essential to note that these are only a few factors among the 200 or so factors that Google uses to analyze a website. All these factors come together to make the Google Algorithm.
Out of all these factors, keyword usage and relevance are relatively high on the ladder. Let’s have a closer look at those to understand how keywords help you rank better.
Keywords and SEO
Every business has a target audience and this audience is looking for something specific. For example, an Italian restaurant has an audience that has a taste for continental food while someone who wants to renovate their home is looking for a home renovation company. These interests determine the keyword for their digital queries. An SEO keyword essentially is what helps Google match your page to a search query. Getting the SEO keywords right is extremely important for any business. Here’s why
If you’re able to understand what people would search for, and then add that in your webpage, along with an informative answer to the query, half your SEO game is done.
Needless to say, before putting any keyword in your webpage content, you need to know what people are searching for. That’s where keyword research comes into the picture. For example, if you own a restaurant, your keywords would probably include: ‘restaurant near [the area you’re located in],’ or ‘fine dining restaurant near [the area you’re located in]’. These keywords help Google identify that you are the answer to the customer’s query.
While keywords are crucial, the story doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more to the Google Algorithm than the keywords.
Understanding The Google Algorithm
The Search Engine Journal has put together what we think is the most comprehensive definition of Google Algorithms. Here it goes.
“Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).”
While that quite summarizes the purpose of the algorithm and what it is, we’re sure that was a mouthful for you to grasp. Let’s break this down for you. Consider that you’ve invested in a new website to attract your audience. It’s a really well-made website with the right user experience and yet you have no visitors. Before you pull your hair and grind your teeth over it, the answer is simple. Your website doesn’t show up on any search results. It is currently invisible to hundreds of thousands of potential customers.
To be able to be seen by the world, you first must make your website visible to the crawlers.
What are Crawlers?
So how does Google understand your website? With the help of its bots. Googlebot is the name for Google’s web crawlers. These crawlers simulate your website’s visitors. Googlebot desktop simulates a desktop-user while Googlebot mobile simulates a mobile user.
These bots have one job to do: crawling through your website and go through the various links and the sitemap. If your website has the right structure and there are no technical barriers, these crawlers will spend more time on your website. Google crawlers only spend the most time on the top-ranking pages.
If you have the right structure, a sitemap and you’re adding fresh content regularly, Google’s crawlers will spend more time on your website, thus increasing the chance of ranking.
Read our blog on how Google’s SEO works to gain a deeper insight into crawlers, indexing, and rankings.
How to Ace the Algorithm
It’s one thing to understand these technical concepts and another thing to implement them to ace the Google algorithm. The key to ace the Google algorithm is to understand how it functions. The core focus of Google is to replicate user behavior. In short, it is thinking more and more like a human with each algorithm update.
As we mentioned earlier, there are more than 200 factors that the Google algorithm takes into consideration. While it’s impossible to get all of these rights, the backbone of the algorithm is the content.
The quality of your content and the value it provides to your users will help you ace the algorithm game. As you see in the chart above, blog posts with longer (and more valuable) content have a higher chance of ranking. For instance, take this article on SEO for example. We’ve kept it comprehensive and detailed, so it would rank higher than similar shorter, less detailed articles.
That being said, just adding keywords and writing long, long articles on your webpage doesn’t complete your SEO strategy. In fact, it’s a small part of on-page SEO.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-Page SEO is the process of optimizing your website through on-site updates such as content, internal links, URLs, etc. At the end of the day, it is the content of your website that will attract visitors and keep them on the website. Even Google understands this as it prioritizes content updates as a part of its algorithm factors. In simple words, it is all the tactics and tricks you apply on your own website to rank better on any search engine.
What Are The Basics Of Optimizing Content?
1. Use The Right Heading Hierarchy
The basic step of optimizing content for SEO is to have the right structure on your pages. Let’s say you’re writing a blog post on ‘How to Make Pizza.’ Of course, this blog will include a number of steps and sub-steps to help your reader understand the flow better and follow the right procedure. That’s exactly how Google works as well.
When you’re writing content, you should ensure that it has the right tag. For instance, since ‘How to Make Pizza.’ is the title, it should have the H1 or title tag. All the subheadings under it will have the H2 tag and all the sub-headings under H2 will have the H3 tag and so on.
Not only does it make the readability experience better for your users but it also helps Google analyze your website and the content.
2. Focus on Keyword Frequency
The core focus of Google’s algorithm is relevance. Imagine if you’re looking for mobile phones online and all you can see are clothing websites. Instances like these are hypothetical for a reason. Google values keyword frequency more than it wants to admit.
While you’re creating content for your website, you should ensure that there’s an adequate amount of keywords in your content. Similarly, you should also ensure that you aren’t ‘keyword stuffing’ or using keywords more than necessary as it can hamper your rankings.
3. Build Your Links
One of the most efficient ways to optimize your content for On-Page SEO is to build a database of external links. If you’re linking to external relevant websites that have high domain authority, it shows Google that your page has relevant and high-quality information.
Using external links is a great way of moving up the ranks and showing Google that not only is your website relevant it is also of high-quality.
While these are the three core on-page SEO tactics, there’s more to it than what meets the eye. Here’s how pros handle their on-page SEO game.
Pro-Tips for On-Page SEO
1. Add Emotions to Your Title
Your readers and visitors will most-probably just look at the titles and subheadings of your blog and content pieces before deciding to click on your website. Let’s take the example of the Pizza blog we talked about earlier and present two options for the title:
- How to Make a Pizza
- How to Make the Best Homemade Pizza in 30 Minutes
Do you notice the difference here? The key to a great title is to add emotions to it. While both of these headings are of the same content, the second title is more likely to get more clicks because it draws the user in with the emotion.
2. Add The Current Year to Your Content
One of the key factors for SEO that we’ve touched upon is relevance. The query a user makes and the content that they see has to be relevant. If you’re searching for ‘Top Travel Destinations in 2021’ and you come across blogs that are from 2018 or even 2020, you probably won’t click on them. Why?
Information, in this digital age, expires quickly. What’s trending today may be completely obsolete by tomorrow. Hence, to improve your content for SEO, you should ensure that your title and descriptions have the latest year in them.
Just as the reader values fresh content, Google does too. If your content has the latest year in it, Google considers it as a fresh content piece as opposed to a stale one and you can rank for certain queries using this technique.
3. Use Unique Images
Most websites rely on stock photography to add visual elements to their content. While it has been a common practice for a while now, it may not be the most ideal one if you want to boost your SEO rankings.
While stock images may not affect your rankings directly, they most certainly won’t help you either. On the other hand, unique and original images can boost your SEO rankings significantly. How? If you run a local Pizzeria and you click and upload original photos, it stores the ‘EXIF data’ which contains information about the location, time, etc.
This information helps Google identify where the picture is taken and it can help you rank locally based on that information.
4. Focus on Cornerstone Content
Your cornerstone content is the most important topic on your website. These topics are also the most detailed, lengthy, and prove to be an anchor for all the other niche content pages on your website.
Focusing on the cornerstone content and identifying them alerts Google about the nature of your website, along with the most important keywords, thus giving a significant boost to your SEO efforts. Believe it or not, the article you’re reading as of now is our cornerstone content on SEO.
While we’ve covered the most important bits here, if you want to make sure your on-page SEO is done right, simply follow this Ultimate On-Page SEO Checklist for 2021 that we’ve created.
Moving on, while you’ve taken care of your own website, Google also takes into account what other websites think of you. That’s where off-page SEO comes into the picture.
What is Off-Page SEO?
A quick and dirty version about off-page SEO would be that the perception of your website determines the ranking of your page. It does so by judging the authority, relevance, and trustworthiness of your website. In order to know what your perception is, Google or any other search engine for that matter analyzes your presence on other external reputable sources like social media and other qualified websites.
However, before we get into the nitty-gritty of off-page, let’s quickly go over how it differs from on-page SEO.
Off-Page SEO vs On-Page SEO
As mentioned earlier, the main difference between on-page and off-page SEO is the fact that on-page SEO focuses on factors within your control while off-page SEO focuses on external factors.
Similarly, on-page SEO focuses on what your site is about through the content and structure, while off-page SEO essentially judges how popular you are through backlinking and social authority.
Your off-page SEO standing is judge by a few key indicators. Let’s dive right in to understand what they are.
What are the Main Aspects of Off-Page SEO?
There are three major considerations that you need to work upon to get your off-page SEO right.
1. Link Building
Building a database of backlinks is an important aspect of off-page SEO. Backlinking is the process of adding links to an external website. A core process of optimizing your Off-page SEO is to get other credible websites to link back to you. The process of generating backlinks is rather long and thorough. To break it down for you, we’ve prepared a quick read on how backlinking works and what you can do to get good backlinks for your website. Do give it a read>
2. Local SEO
Local SEO is when you’re optimizing your website to rank and gain traffic from a particular location. For instance, if you have a salon in the Electronic City of Bengaluru, India, then ideally, you’d want to rank for “best salon in the Electronic city” and similar keywords. This is where Local SEO comes into the picture.
Source: Search Engine Roundtable
If you look at this chart, it shows that almost half of the searches on Google have a ‘local intent.’ If you are a local business with a physical presence, it’s crucial that you focus your Off-Page SEO efforts on Local SEO as well. To do that, you need to add in your location, add your business to Google’s directory–Google My Business, and add local SEO keywords to your website.
3. Social Media
According to research by Opinionmaster, social popularity helps rankings on Google. Since we are talking about external sources of authority and relevance, it’s unsurprising that social media has a huge role to play to boost your SEO efforts.
In fact, even social media platform features like Instagram search are behaving like search engines in 2021 with a focus on alt text and relevance.
You may be wondering that while it’s good to know what matters for off-page SEO, it’s more important to know how to do it. Fret not, we’re just coming to that.
Off-Page SEO Tips and Tricks
There are various tips and tricks you can use to boost your Off-page SEO rankings. A crisp list of the tactics include:
- Getting as many backlinks as possible. Here’s how to do that>
- Adding your business to relevant directories like Google My Business
- Building an online reputation with online reviews. For instance, if you are a software tool for business, you want to not only get listed on a website like TrustRadius but also get awesome product reviews there.
That being said, this is just the tip of the iceberg, the real value lies in the details. If you’re looking to ramp up your off-page SEO strategy, we recommend these two reads:
So far, we have broken down the basics of SEO, its importance, and its types. However, above all, it’s extremely important to keep up with the times when it comes to SEO. Google and every other search engine are updating their algorithm regularly to meet the user needs better. Here’s what is shaping SEO in 2021.
SEO Trends for 2021
Now that you know about the inner-workings of SEO, you might be clear about one aspect: SEO keeps on changing every year. What’s relevant in 2020 is not relevant now. To help you stay on top of the right information, we’ve compiled a list of the top trends of SEO in 2021.
1. Focus on Visual Search
While type-based search is still here to stay, there’s a new sheriff in town in the form of visual search. Thanks to Google Lens, which is an AI-powered visual search-engine tool, you’re (literally) looking at the future of search engines.
The technology is further supported by the demand. 62% of young consumers prefer visual search over traditional search.
Source: Business Wire
2. The Revamped Domain Control
Earlier, the focus of domain authority was merely about links. However, the revamped domain control and authority criteria are for the glutton in you. It is now based on the ‘E-A-T’ factor. ‘EAT’ stands for ‘Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness’.
You can boost your rankings and increase your domain authority by following these three principles:
- Hire or be an ‘Expert’ in your field
- Establish ‘Authority’ by being linked to by high domain authority pages and increasing social popularity.
- Make sure your information is visible to establish ‘Trustworthiness.’
3. Add Keywords in the URL
Your URLs are essentially the address books of your website. While the URL doesn’t have a major impact on your site’s ranking, it is still considered to be an essential factor. It’s important to add your keywords in your URL, whether it is a blog post or the homepage.
Not only does it improve the user experience as they know what to expect from your website or blog post by glancing at the URL but it also improves your site’s visibility. Similarly, the relevance of your URL structure through keywords does play a significant role in increasing the domain authority of your page.
4. Focus on Video Content
Based on a report by Cisco, visual content like videos will contribute to 82% of the total web traffic by 2022. If that is not a strong enough reason for you to start creating visual content in 2021, we can still convince you.
Roughly 55% of Google searches have at least one video in them. Whether you’re creating videos for Youtube or posting them directly for your website, it’s a given that creating visual content is among the top trends for SEO in 2021.
5. Don’t Forget the Meta Description
An important SEO trend for 2021 is to increase the focus on your meta description. The meta descriptions for your website serve as free advertising copy that draws the reader in. If you don’t choose the meta description by yourself, Google will pick what it thinks is relevant and add it, which might not make the most sense.
The right meta description has the power to increase your click-through rates, thus helping you reach the end-goal of connecting with your consumers. The ideal length for a meta description is 155-160 characters and you should include a CTA or Call to Action for optimal results.
6. Update Old Content
As we’ve talked about earlier, one of the key pillars of SEO is ‘relevance.’ In order to keep your SEO updated in 2021, you should revisit older content and update it. There are many ways to do this. For instance, you can go ahead and replace all the older years with the relevant ones.
Similarly, you might have published more blogs that are relevant to older blogs. This is the right time to go and add some content to the older blog and link it to the newer blogs to improve your On-Page SEO efforts in 2021.
7. Optimize For Mobile
How often do you open your laptop specifically to enter a query on a search engine? Mobile devices make for a huge chunk of web traffic in 2021. 40% of all mobile searches are for a local business or interest while comparable searches without using “near me” keywords have grown by 150% YoY.
Source: Blue Corona
All these statistics point to the rise of the mobile-first approach in the world of SEO in 2021. When you’re creating content or publishing content on your website, you should ensure that it is also optimized for mobile usage. Why? Your future customer is more likely on their phones right now looking up your business. If they come across a website that’s not mobile-friendly, they are highly likely to switch in an instant.
Sneak Peek: The Right Way To SEO Your Content in 2021>
Wrapping It Up
Search engines like Google and Bing have come a long way from when they first started. The latest trends of SEO in 2021 and the new algorithm updates are testimony of their understanding of consumer behavior.
As a business that wants to increase its visibility, you must pay attention to these basic SEO factors and trends in 2021.