We did see a few SEO updates in 2020, this guide will be in compliance with that fact and what we’re seeing for SEO in 2021. The biggest 2021 SEO update we know of right now is called Core Web Vitals – we want to focus on that one first.
For 2021, we know Core Web Vitals is expected to be released in May 2021 – it focuses on the speed of your website. While site speed has been claimed to be a SEO ranking factor, the influence it has on your SEO rankings has been minimal at best – a lot of SEO test has proven that.
Now, page speed (mobile and desktop) may have a big impact on your current SEO rankings.
Before I start discussing the top Google SEO ranking factors list, let’s talk about my go-to SEO tool.
Google Analytics is great, some of the free SEO software programs are ok at best. You can take out an engine without the right tools, the same for SEO. My favorite, Ahrefs. You won’t find a better SEO tool. You need a great SEO software if you’re serious about search engine optimization.
1. Backlinks Are Still A High SEO Ranking Factor
Your top SEO ranking factor is no other than the most important SEO ranking factor, backlinks. Off-site links that is. While backlinks are enough to nearly rank the most competitive keywords in the world, there is some important elements you need to know before you get backlink happy.
Relativity is still important, look at Moz’s domain authority as a guide to who you link to and receive links from. Be smart, you know what sites are relevant to your own. You don’t need a SEO software to tell you that.
Forget pagerank, you do know PR is dead, right? Even though Google pagerank is flat lined, it still can be used as an indicator to quality websites. But you have to evaluate it and look at the link metrics to determine if the site is high quality.
How Can A Website With 123 Referring Domains Outrank Your 256 Referring Domains?
How many articles have you read that told you go to build more backlinks to outrank your competition? Ever wonder why site A is ranking higher than site B with 50 percent less backlinks? Remember, link building has changed, Google has changed, quit thinking quantity and start thinking quality.
How many of you are building backlinks to your ranking URL as soon as it drops 2 spots? You think,”oh boy, she’s dropping down, got to get some authority links pointing to her.” And then you do and it drops even more, right? Sound familiar? It’s not about quantity anymore, it’s all about quality and relative backlinks.
So if you have a dropping keyword, wait it out. Start focusing on pointing backlinks elsewhere. If you’re using Ahrefs or SEM Rush, I know you’ve seen global keywords increasing though out your backlink campaign. If you’re building backlinks and they look un-natural, you’re going to see keywords continue to fall. Focus your efforts elsewhere.
2. CTR Is A Google SEO Ranking Factor Or Not?
CTR, also known as click-through-rate, is also an important Google SEO ranking factor. However, I”ve read that Google doesn’t put a big SEO score on CTR.
Most of us knew CTR had SEO influence, but to what extent? No matter if CTR is a ranking factor or not, CTR is important.
If your search ranking is being passed up and not clicked on, your keywords will drop. Likewise, if your search snippet is being clicked on but users are not staying long on your page, your keyword can drop.
In many cases, higher CTRs usually represent higher keyword rankings. To my point: pay attention to your CTR and make changes when appropriate.
Think about your on-page SEO, the page’s design, content flow, all of these elements are important to SEO. While we don’t rank number one, we do rank number 5 on the first page. And to be with the likes of Backlinko, Moz and SEM Rush, that’s pretty good. Especially when you consider our own web metrics compared to those. Point? What I’m telling you works!
3. Mobile Friendly Is A SEO Ranking Factor
As I mentioned earlier in this guide, mobile is the top used device for searching Google. Mobile has been trending this way for several years.
Google has repeatedly told us that mobile is a part of the SEO ranking equation and we’re seeing it evolve right in front of our eyes. If your website and web properties are not mobile friendly, your site can have problems ranking high.
Make sure you site is mobile friendly.
The good news for WordPress users, most of the new themes (and older) are mobile friendly. Google Search Console now has a section focused on this very issue. so we know it’s important to Google. If you don’t have Search Console, make sure you get it so you can check that. Plus, there’s many more data points you can use for your SEO inside.
4. Core web vitals google update (may 2021)
Google did announce that Core Web Vitals will become ranking signals in May 2021 in an update that will also combine existing UX-related signals.
The ‘page experience’ signal combines Core Web Vitals with the following signals:
- Intrusive interstitial guidelines
Core Web Vitals were introduced earlier this and are designed to measure how users experience the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page.
Specifically, these are defined as the Core Web Vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s main content to load. An ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster.
- First Input Delay: The time it takes for a page to become interactive. An ideal measurement is less than 100 ms.
- Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1.
How much will impact your SEO results? We don’t know just yet, but definitely pay attention to it. You want a fast website anyway for UX and customer experience. Now, you ‘ll want it for SEO as well. I have a feeling site speed is going to be a more influential on your SEO now versus any other time in the past.
5. Relevancy Is Still A Major SEO Ranking Factor
Your backlinks can work magic but you need relevant links, not quantities of them. I use Ahrefs.com (by far the best software for analyzing backlinks) to determine keyword phrases that myself and other websites use. I’ll list a few hundred websites and begin outreach to see what type of opportunities I can come up with.
So you need to target websites in your niche, websites that are focusing on the same content topics as you. Use your backlink tools to determine the key link metrics that will determine who you target. Again, pagerank is dead, but you can use it to find authority sites. Look at domain authority, URL ratings, Domain ratings and Alexa rank.
Now, any advanced SEO knows that you don’t need all of your backlinks to be from niche relative websites. While the content needs to be related, the website theme does not. That’s right, a high authority baking site can link to a site about clothes, as long as the content in that page is relevant.
6. Social Media Shares And Signals Can Ride Your Keyword To The Top
Social media can be one of the most powerful SEO resources you have (when the activity is there). I’ve had (5) client pages that went viral on social media and everyone of their main keywords ranked in the top 3 first page. Each one went viral on Facebook, that matters. We saw good movement on Twitter also, so keep that in mind also.
We all know content is important for SEO. Sure, a top tier ranking factor. But as it pertains to social media, people don’t share boring content. You may be in a boring niche, per “online rules.” Not many people going to care about installing the JLX mechanical toilet seat, right? So if you want social shares to weigh in on your SEO (and it does now) you’ll have to get creative with your content.
Update 1/07/2020 – Social media signals are dead as a SEO ranking factor. They don’t matter nor will boost your SEO rankings.
SEO Expert Tip for boring niches: Try infographics, they work great for social shares and backlinks (win-win).
7. Give The Pages You Want To Rank High A Makeover And Update
In SEO, you can underestimate the value of a good looking website that is user friendly. User signals are important to ranking keywords.
A lot of so-called SEOs and webmasters take “fresh content” the wrong way. While you think you may need to publish new content daily, that’s not the fresh content you want. Rather, you need to revamp the content you already have published.
SEO Expert Tip on revamping content: ALWAYS map out your content. Nothing worse than having to go through hundreds of articles, cleaning them up, ect. Before you write ANYTHING, get it mapped out.
Design and speed matter. Not only for SEO, but for conversions, lead generation, sales and everything in between. Content can become outdated in as little as a few weeks. If you haven’t yet, go back through your best pages and make some edits.
And quit writing for SEO. Google’s system can pick up on your over-optimized SEO content. Google wants you to think about the user, not SEO. While I’m not telling you to forget using keywords, but add your metadata and links.
8. One Page, One Main Keyword – Don’t Compete With Yourself
This is something you’ll hear me preach over and over and over some more. SEO Site evaluations are often in my workflow and I don’t know how many times I get into content and see the same keywords being used in articles. You only need one URL to rank a keyword. If your content is in this nature, your own pages are likely fighting one another. I don’t know that I should list it as this, but man if I don’t see it a lot.
Here’s your strategy moving forward, one page, one main focus keyword. It works. Works great. You don’t need 20 articles targeting the same keyword. Now, you may list other secondary keywords to the topic. You want this to open up your internal linking strategies.
9. User Metrics Are Playing A Bigger Role Than Ever
Many of us saw this coming with Google’s algorithm changes in 2015. User metrics and user engagement is becoming a main stream SEO ranking factor and look for it to grow in 2016. Your content is everything. The topics you cover, the personality in your writing, the average time users spend on a page, genuine comments, social shares, all of these can influence the keyword rankings on any given page.
Point back to writing great content, the type of content that gets people to talk, share, interact and engage. Political topics are always great, if you have a political site, news site, government blog. Religion is another. Somehow, someway, your content has to make it happen if you want to rank first page for your keywords.
10. Since Content Is King And We’re Already Talking About it
I can’t write about SEO ranking factors without mentioning content. On-site SEO ranking factors, your content is the most important. Let me put this out there “like it is,” your content needs to be great. Too many articles are being published every day for mediocre content to rank or go viral. Out of everything you do in SEO, high quality content should be your main goal.
When you write high quality content, users find it useful. They become engaged. They talk about it, they share it. In return, this builds natural backlinks. The “natural cycle of SEO” begins to come full circle. Spread your wings and fly high kinda of stuff. In all seriousness, this is what you’e looking for.
Here’s how you evaluate your content. When you’re done, read it and ask yourself, “is this the best article online for the topic.” If your answer is no, “make it to be the best article online for the subject.” Period.
11. Go Make Some Bromance And Get You Some Friends You Too Ladies
What the hell? Yeah, I about erased that. But I have a point. I’ve been doing SEO for over 9 years. I still don’t have enough online friends in my industry. Do you know how valuable friends are when you need a backlink, guest post, a web favor? Damn near priceless. We’re all shooting at the same cow, just a different black spot. Bad analogy, sure. But we all have common goals and we can help one another achieve success.
I’m always open to new business relationships, new friendships and you should be too. Don’t view everyone as the competition as I did early in my career. I didn’t have no friends back them and having an awesome resource list is a nice go-to when you need a favor.
All I’m saying, be open to it. Quit being stuck up. (LOL)
12. Keyword Domains Are Worth Their Weight In Gold
How many times have you read about keywords in domains don’t matter? What bullshit! Don’t believe that, they matter. Anytime you can add a keyword specific in your domain, you have at it. It matters, always has.
Keyword specific domains are worth their weight in gold. And you can find them all the time, likely cheaper than what you think. I hit GoDaddy Auctions up all the time. And for those of you looking to achieve long-lasting first page rankings (everybody), finding a keyword specific domain with some age is like winning the lottery.
Don’t redirect it though, build it up. Give it some authority and grow it. It has more value to your network this way. If you ask, “well Ricky, that will get you in trouble.” Tell it to WebMD whom at least has a few hundred of these. Literally.
13. Traffic Is Becoming A More Important Google SEO Ranking Factor
16 days into January and our team is noticing that clients with traffic are ranking better across the board. 21 total and all 21 have seen increased Google SEO rankings. Luck of the draw? No, I really doubt it.
Traffic can also boost your link juice. IF your links have traffic and through traffic, we’re seeing those links have more value. Likewise, links with no traffic or engagement have less value. (We’re still learning how these correspond to rankings.)
We know that user metrics count as a SEO ranking factor. Over the last few years, Google has been valuing user metrics higher we feel. But traffic really never fell into this class, at least not as a very valued indicator. But with what I’ve seen over the first two weeks in 2016, there’s no question that it’s playing a role and maybe one higher valued than we previously imagined. Popularity drives traffic anyway, so that makes sense.
If you had some high SEO rankings in Google prior with little traffic, you may have noticed your keyword rankings falling. From our client base, I’m afraid I can’t call that for sure because I’ve seen mixed results. Adding to that is the fact that most of our clients that have low traffic are start-up websites, so we couldn’t get clear indications. But there’s no question that traffic is very valued in Google’s eyes and maybe more now than ever before. If you’re struggling to get traffic, check out these online traffic resources.
14. Anchor Text Diversity And Content Surrounding Links
Anyone stuck on page 2 of Google? I know, it bites. But have you been seeing it a lot more?
Two of my latest SEO case studies did just this. It was a strategy that I’ve been using for some time. After initial analysis and a full workup, I feared over-optimization of anchor text was to blame. It was not PBNs, only relative websites. It had some natural data backlinks, a few local citations. Trust flow and domain authority for both were good. Both over 20.
There’s a lot of different ways Google evaluates links to determine their worth, value and relevance.
Now, back to my point. You need to make sure your backlink profile isn’t over-optimized. Long-tail keywords shouldn’t be used as anchor text a lot, only a time or two. (Every situation is different). Let’s look at a quick example.
- West Virginia SEO Services
- SEO Services West Virginia
- SEO Service WV
- Logan WV SEO Services
We see different anchor text in this example, but we see the same root words. SEO, West Virginia, SEO Services. Natural or not, we see the same root words appearing. Most people think this is ok because the root keywords are different. From what I’m seeing, this can be viewed as being over-optimized. So what do you do?
- West Virginia SEO
- search engine optimization wv
- online marketing
- search marketing logan
The answer is diversify. Notice that the anchor text is all unique, root words are unique and it looks more natural. I see this being a growing trend. You have to be careful with your anchor text in 2017 or you’re going to be on the outside looking in. Go do some research, pull up some keywords from 11th place, 12th place. Check out their backlink profile and look at their anchors. Granted, there’s a lot more things that can cause you to be stuck on the second page of Google, but this is one of them.
Perhaps Google is just adding more value to this part of the SEO equation. I’m fine with that too, but we’re seeing more focus on anchor text and we already know Google pays a lot of attention to anchors anyway.
15. Video Is Blowing Up And Google Knows It
There’s no question that video plays a role in SEO. The question, how much?
Your videos need to be targeting the same keywords and appropriate variations. Make sure you’re including videos in your content. Now, that can depend on your content format or the SEO plan for any given page, but video is going to give you the upper edge for sure.
Live video plays a big role too, especially when you can get some awesome engagement on that video. Live video hasn’t been around that long, so I’m still running test and gathering data. I have seen live videos with great engagement benefit a content piece targeting specific keywords.
Then again, I’ve seen them not move the needle too. For marketing purposes alone, I’d highly suggest it and if you can get those videos in your content, more power to you.
SEO In 2021
SEO is always changing. My SEO ranking factors don’t come from others, they come from my own experiences and case studies. Some of you may know these all, others may not. I do suggest that you be different, try new things. Google doesn’t tell you everything and why would you believe them anyway?
Do your own case studies and document it. You’d be surprised at what works and what doesn’t. There’s thought to be over 200 ranking factors for SEO. I say much more because Google is complex. We only know a small percentage of what really counts.
I’m sure 2021 in SEO will bring new documented changes. I do wish us all high rankings. Of course, mine a little higher than yours.
Join the conversation. One of the things I enjoy about my job is meeting new people. So I welcome your thoughts, ideas, questions, suggestions. So I hope you’ll leave me a comment. Thanks for taking the time to read our article, I hope it has helped you and you can start applying these tactics to your own domain.