Trying to understand SEO in 2021 can feel overwhelming and sometimes complicated. We've got things like:
- Core Web Vitals
- User Experience
- Trust Indicators
- Schema Markup
- Citation Building
- Google My Business
- Competitive Landscape Changes
- Algorithm Updates
- ...and the list goes on!
It becomes challenging to keep up with. While it is truly a lot to keep track of, there are some tried and true best practices that should result in a sound SEO Campaign.
Before I get ahead of myself too much, let's be clear, these are best practices. Some are known ranking factors, and some help to contribute to how pages are indexed. Google has (for the most part) kept its ranking algorithm behind lock and key. It's up to us, the SEOs, to learn from each other and determine what are likely ranking factors by following a set of best practices. Below is my list of 10 best practices for SEO in 2021. If you utilize these best practices in your SEO campaigns, you'll give your website the best chance to be found online.
#1 - It's Still About Keywords
Keyword targeting is something I've seen shift numerous times while working in this industry. First, it was all about the keywords - all the keywords! Google has since wised up and put measures in place to make it hard for anyone to "game the system." As a modern-day best practice, I recommend being "keyword mindful" as an SEO. People are still typing a query into the Google Database and being served its most relevant pages. If you want your page to be found when people are searching, it's your job to ensure the page content includes those essential keywords and key phrases.
#2 - Your Users are Your Priority
Of course, we're at Google's mercy regarding how it ranks our pages and where they're ranked amongst other pages with similar content in the SERPs. However, if your focus is to provide helpful and quality content to the people who use your site, many of the things Google cares about will likely fall in your favor.
#3 - Quality Content Prevails
If you've done your research on the right kinds of keywords that your target audience would search to find your site, that's half the battle. The second part is providing quality content to support those keywords. Some of this content will be evergreen, like your products or services pages, and some of the content will be timely or trend-based content that gets added to your site consistently over time. Either way, high-quality content will award your site with qualified organic traffic.
#4 - The Importance of HTML Tags
Think about the content of your web pages like the body copy and your Title Tags and Header Tags like the names of your chapters. Utilizing these tags tells the bots what the page content is about and it allows site users to quickly scan a page to gather information about its content. Your web page may rank fine without these tags, but again, these tags give your content the best chance to rank well for your target keyword - don't forget about them and use them strategically.
#5 - Sound & Intuitive Site Architecture
When you follow best practices, you are giving your website the best opportunity to be found online. The website's architecture is the foundation of your SEO campaign, so you do want it strong. Some things you want to be aware of for healthy site architecture are ease of crawling (for the bots), utilizing the proper redirects, and thoughtful URL naming conventions and length.
#6 - Give Search Engines a Road Map
While certainly not a ranking factor, employing a robots.txt file, an XML sitemap, and an HTML sitemap helps both users and bots find the content on your website better. It isn't simply about having them either, it is about managing them properly. It's like handing a map to a bot and saying, "Here is the easiest route to find all the landmarks I want you to see on my website." Could they find the landmarks without the map? Perhaps. Is a map a more efficient way for them to travel? Of course!
#7 - Pay Attention to What Google is Telling You
Use your tools! Google Analytics and Google Search Console are free tools that allow SEOs a wealth of data to understand how people are using your website. You can understand things like how often users see your website in the SERPs, which queries are being used, what pages your users spend the most time on, and so much more! As a best practice, you should be analyzing what is working and what may not be working and continuously make adjustments to your strategy to improve online visibility.
#8 - On All Devices, For All People
User experience on your website must be top of mind as an SEO these days. Not only should your website look good and work well on all devices, but it needs to be accessible to all people. With approximately 25% of the population living with a disability, having an accessible website ensures a website can be understood and navigated by various users. There are signals (like bounce rate and page engagement metrics) that help Google understand when a page is being found useful and helpful to searchers, and Google will want to serve up these types of pages in their SERPs.
#9 - Site Performance & Security
Google's job is to, first and foremost, protect its users. Second, it's to serve up the best possible pages for their users' queries. It's no wonder they would also expect webmasters to provide the same security and quality content on their websites. Using SSL and focusing on page speed, site performance, and most recently, Core Web Vitals have become more and more critical to SEOs as our practices have evolved.
#10 - Keep At It, Consistency is Key
There are many ways we educate our clients about SEO. Sometimes we explain that it's "not a sprint, it's a marathon;" we communicate it's not "set it and forget it." SEO is something that you have to stay on top of - there will always be a new algorithm change, new technology, new online competitors, etc. Google's John Mueller explains it's not just with time, like paying attention to the signals your site is sending to Google, but also consistent intention with your best practices. I loved those sentiments and consider consistency a best practice for SEOs.
It was challenging to keep this list to 10 best practices - but for simplicity's sake, these are the ones I deem most important for modern-day SEOs. Is there any that you would add? Please leave a message for me in the comments.