To say 2020 has been an interesting year would be a vast understatement. We’ve had to change the ways we live, work and learn, and in some cases, have had to completely change the way we do business. As we all start to finalize our plans and investments for 2021, we thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on all that we’ve learned over the past six months and how we can collectively best prepare for 2021. That means getting input from some of the top marketing and search experts, as well as fellow Conductors, regarding the top SEO priorities and SEO best practices. Here’s a high-level recap of the session, hosted by myself and Pat Reinhart, which we shared as part of a very special C3 event:

SEO in 2020: Why Search Was More Important Than Ever

SEO proved to be a foundational pillar brand’s marketing strategies.

The first six months of 2020 proved the resiliency of SEO as a digital marketing tactic. We saw on a much broader scale how foundationally important it is to get your optimization done correctly to today’s standards. Ensuring your site is secure and mobile friendly is table stakes. It’s about ensuring you’re providing the best answers for your audience, because that’s what’s ranking these days.
Duane Forrester, Yext

The past six months have reaffirmed what a lot of veteran SEOs already know: that SEO doesn’t have an on/off switch. It requires ongoing focus and investment and long-term planning. Some companies learned this the hard way, but in the end, they realized how important SEO is in the broader marketing strategy and mix. Having these lessons more widely known and shared will lead to greater focus and investment within the C-suite moving forward.
– Nick Gallagher, Conductor

Customer Insight and Understanding Drives Strategy

Consumer behavior drastically changed in a short period of time due to the shift in remote-work and life. Search data provided real-time insights into this behavioral shift.

We, as a search organization, had to understand the shift in consumer behavior that is happening, trends in how they’re looking for products and services, and adjust what we’re doing. Search data was so integral to this strategy because we could say how behavior was changing due to lockdown policies, how people were moving from one geographic area to the next, so we could adjust strategies. Have agile processes in place to adjust content in real time based on search trends and ensure we’re giving the right information and ensure all that information is indexable and crawlable.
– Christi Olson, Microsoft 

Search habits can change dramatically. Topics that had little to no importance six months ago have surged in importance. Search intent has shifted for different keyword categories and [consumers are] asking questions they haven’t before. Those who are monitoring these trends are winning in the long term. Set up to be nimble and react quickly to provide the most accurate, timely, transparent and relevant answers to customers.
Sam Pena, Conductor

I’ve learned how much time is spent clicking, filtering, waiting for pages to reload, refreshing things, taking that information, putting that into a sheet and going into another tool. Bringing all that data together is all about what we can innovate and do. Surfacing insights in one centralized place is something I’ve really doubled-down on.
– Wil Reynolds, SEER Interactive

High-Quality, Trustworthy Content Crucial to SEO Success

In uncertain times, an emphasis on creating high quality, authoritative content was a top priority for brands across industries.

Teams got smaller, SEO decisions more scrutinized, paid budgets got slashed but one thing remained the same: creating great content was key to staying above the noise to drive meaningful, valuable traffic.   
– Jake Adelman, Conductor

A lot has changed with Google in the last six months. They’re focusing on new products such as Web Stories and Google Discover. They’re also doing a lot of work to make sure the highest-quality, most trustworthy and authoritative news and publisher content is able to rank due to everything happening with COVID and the election. It has been a year where Google is prioritizing the authoritativeness of content especially regarding those topics. 
– Lily Ray, Path Interactive    

Historically, when companies had to respond to an algorithm change, they could either focus on improving their content or do a dive deep on their backlink strategy. But sites that have an e-commerce focus and blogs focused on “your money, your life” content are having a hard time recovering. Google wants to serve the most unbiased content and the e-commerce association is just not good overall.
– Stephanie LeVonne, Conductor 

Many people were worried about their business at the height of the pandemic, so they prioritized bottom-of-the-funnel searches, when people are making purchase decisions. Creating landing pages, listicles and other curated content.  
– Tim Brown, Hook Agency

The past six months have been all about evergreen, readable content–it is relevant and it is fresh in any time of need. Evergreen content educates, creates trust and delivers natural affinity. It can increase brand loyalty when optimized to be featured in search results. This conversational content tends to be featured in key sections such as “People Also Ask,” “Featured Answers,” “Knowledge Cards,” and more. People read stuff online to get information they want in a fast and simple way. It’s our job to make sure information is as easy to find as possible for our target audience.    
– Pati Atrian, Ticketmaster

SEO Best Practices and Predictions for 2021

Search Engine Updates Will Shape SEO Priorities

Updates to Google, Bing and others will dictate SEO’s focus for 2021.

Google is doubling down on answering questions, whether it’s through a link or a video embed. AI and machine learning (ML) power these systems. Even if you don’t understand how these things work today, you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t understand where engines are investing when optimizing and building content. 
– Duane Forrester, Yext

Google announced details around its Core Web Vitals update, which will be rolling out in March 2021. This impacts how a site is evaluated, and includes speed, interactivity, and whether things move around too much on the page. It will be a crucial UX and SEO trend to watch. 
– Lily Ray, Path Interactive

On-SERP SEO was always important but it will increasingly become a focus for brands, especially given all the announcements Google made in October around video and  improved COVID content displayed on organic search. They’re making significant improvements in how they’re processing theories and displaying content on organic search, so brands need to pay more attention to google is displaying information on organic search and understand all information and topics people are searching for about their products and services.
– Sam Pena, Conductor

Bing is rewriting webmaster guidelines, diving through to see the questions we’ve heard for customers, where we can provide more context, information and insight than we’ve provided in the past and are being more clear on what we do from a standpoint for discovering, understanding and ranking content. While the tenants of SEO haven’t changed, we sat down and rewrote it to make it clearer for marketers and SEOs. What has changed is the ability for businesses to push content to Bing as content goes live, using the Index API so we can index, rank and show it right away. 
– Christi Olson, Microsoft

Expect to see a greater focus on top-level content. Search engines continue to evolve and understand broad topics, many SEOs will have to switch up their approach, taking a step back and understanding whole issues, not just micro-topics for specific keywords that you need to focus on.
– Jake Adelman, Conductor

UX Will Dictate Strategy More Than Ever 

SEO and UX go hand in hand. Synergy between the two will be a focus for SEOs in 2021.

More and more, SEO bleeds into other types of marketing. We talk about social media, email, influencer marketing and affiliate marketing in their own buckets, but they all seep into what we’re doing as SEO experts. If you know more about these other disciplines it really helps your efforts in SEO.
– Tim Brown, Hook Agency

We need to emphasize providing a great user experience and that means putting people and their needs first. This includes considering mobile and voice experiences, understanding and valuing searcher intent and then publishing incredible content. All of these factors are going to make or break your strategies, and frankly, I don’t think brands have even come close to hitting their potential.
– Jessica Levenson, NetSuite

SEOs will be focusing more on the user experience in their optimizations. Google announced updates to page experience ranking algorithms, which will be released some time in 2021. To get a page ranking at the top will need to go beyond traditional ranking signals and ensure they’re providing a great experience as well as an optimized page.
– Nick Gallagher, Conductor

SEO Gets In the ROI Hot Seat

SEOs will be tasked with showing financial impact.

I have yet to see consistent analysis, thought leadership and articles around how all the elements of SEO are affecting revenue, not just click-throughs. With more executives giving us more money to fuel investments for content and SEO, I think they’re going to look at us to show them the return on that investment.
– Wil Reynolds, SEER Interactive

There are plenty more fantastic perspectives on the future of SEO, as well as tactical tips and best practices to help you see success. Check out and share the C3 Tips & Tricks session now.

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