5 SEO Principles to Follow in 2021: My Predictions

As 2020, comes to a close, here are five of the biggest trends I see increasing in importance and SEO principles we as experts should follow in 2021.

Predictions are fun. Not because it’s an opportunity to flex my prognostication muscles (I certainly don’t have any) but because it’s an opportunity to share some insights into SEO principles and where we’re going, which I think might benefit you.

Now, I’m nowhere near the level of experience of some of the SEO experts I look up to. I dabbled in SEO throughout my 30-year career and became serious about it only in the last five. But I do think I have an eye for trends and where they’re heading. I see things that, to me, seem logical.

As 2020, which was for some the worst year ever, comes to a close, here are five of the biggest trends I see increasing in importance — concepts that we as SEOs need to pay greater attention to.

1. Growth of SXO

SXO (search experience optimization) is not a new concept. It’s been talked about since 2015. But I believe that, as Google becomes smarter and more focused on providing the best possible relevance and value in search results, we need to align our content better with what users want.

In other words, it’s about creating quality content, where “quality” is defined by the degree to which it matches both search intent and user intent (i.e., how users search and why) to deliver a more user-centric, SERP-to-satisfaction experience (a term I borrowed from SEO expert Izzie Smith, which I love).

2. Demand For UXO

Part of SXO is delivering an optimal user experience — from search experience to page experience. As Core Web Vitals and UX take center stage in 2021, there will be an increasing demand for UXO (user experience optimization).

This will give rise to a stronger need for user-centric UI/UX design audits, user journey analyses, and interactive design optimization. SEO and specifically technical SEO will likely involve a lot more UXO, too. It’s not just about content but about making the content easier to find, parse, access, consume, and enjoy.

3. Rise of SFO

I’ve always believed the web is more than just textual content. When I wrote about where I saw copywriting was heading back in 2004, I predicted that the Internet would evolve to become more multisensorial and multifaceted.

SEO is no different. We need to develop what Jon Earnshaw at Pi Datametrics calls “your online ecosystem.” Take this screenshot from his video:

image 14 | 5 SEO Principles to Follow in 2021: My Predictions | Visibility. Marketing. Advisory.
Source: Pi Datametrics 2021 SEO Predictions video.

It’s the difference between Google’s search results from just a few years ago to today. SERPs are now vastly more diverse and feature-rich. Therefore, beyond just written content, we need to think about creating and optimizing content assets, like images, video, audio, emails, podcasts, structured data, etc.

I call this SFO (search feature optimization). The goal is to dominate features and not just rankings — e.g., featured snippets, web stories, carousels, site links, video cards, maps, knowledge panels, “People also asked,” Twitter cards, social media profiles, Google My Business, and so much more.

4. Importance of E-A-T

E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) continues to make shockwaves across the web. In December, we have witnessed a major Google core update, where the greatest shakeups were with websites dealing with “your money or your life” content, particularly medical websites.

Therefore, there will be a stronger focus on boosting quality signals, such as fact-checking, adding trust elements, and getting user feedback. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google comes out with a verification badge allowing them to certify content providers. We see this already with Google Guaranteed seals.

5. Surge of Semantics

It’s no secret that Google is becoming increasingly intelligent. With its various algorithms like Rankbrain, Neural Matching, NLP (natural language processing), and others, it’s becoming more and more capable of understanding human behavior, and more adept at knowing what users are looking for.

But to help Google match your content with what users want, the demand will grow for stronger contextual and semantic matching. Therefore, the exigent demand for better content relationships, organization of ideas, and content clarity will be an even greater priority to meet in 2021. Case in point:

image 15 | 5 SEO Principles to Follow in 2021: My Predictions | Visibility. Marketing. Advisory.
Ruth Burr Reedy on Better Content Through NLP, Whiteboard Friday.

As Ruth Burr Reedy said in her latest video, Google will favor deeper but more direct knowledge. I agree in that I believe we will see a growing demand for deeper expertise, micro-topics, tighter topic clustering, more defined subtopics, better content relationships, and hyper-specific answers to questions.

There you have them 5 SEO Principles to look for in 2021.

To just to recap, my top five SEO predictions in 2021 are about seeing an increase in (or a greater focus on) providing the following:

  1. Higher content relevance and better user intent alignment;
  2. The need for user experience and user journey optimization;
  3. A stronger and more feature-driven content asset ecosystem;
  4. More trust elements, e.g., verifiability and approval signals;
  5. And the need for giving more context, specificity, and clarity.

I may be totally off and I’m sure there are lots of “it depends” (SEO’s biggest mantra). But what do you think? Hit me up on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. If you have any predictions of your own, let me know, too.

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By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is a digital marketing advisor specializing in SEO, communications, and strategy. For over 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of clients increase their visibility and their revenue. He is also the VP of Digital Marketing at Musora, the company behind award-winning platforms Drumeo and Pianote. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.