2020 threw all our calculated marketing plans and predictions out the window. But marketers are smart, determined people, and instead of throwing up our hands in defeat we’ve found ways to adapt and pivot.

If we want to be successful, it’s imperative that we take intentional time to slow down and re-examine our context, perspective, and priorities. How we identify our changing needs and craft future-proof strategies will stand against the uncertainty we faced in 2020.

And in the SEO industry, there are definitely standout trends to keep an eye on in 2021.

1. Uncovering SEO Marketing Opportunities in the Automation Revolution

The way Google surfaces online content is always evolving. AI is having more and more of an impact on the algorithms that power the Internet.


Google is making technological strides in how it parses and shares content with searchers, from the machine-learning model of RankBrain to a neural network-based technique for natural language processing called BERT.

Such innovations are monumental advancements in the world of search: RankBrain interprets a searcher’s queries to understand their intent and serve them the best results; BERT goes one step further, helping computers understand language like a human might.


The importance of BERT alone can’t be overstated: Google has claimed it as its biggest leap forward in five years and one of the biggest in the history of search, affecting 1 in 10 searches. And though it’s almost impossible to optimize for those kinds of innovations, marketers can still do a few things to play nicely within the new search rules.

Understanding what drives your customer is key: What are your people searching for, and why? What’s their end goal, and how can you best fulfill their needs?

The rules of SEO have expanded beyond the need to optimize for keywords alone. Creating high-quality content that outshines your competitors by orders of ten is table stakes today; to compete and succeed, you must also know your audience inside and out.

Optimizing for the customer is the smartest search strategy a marketer can adopt in 2021.

2. Adapting to Google’s Shift From Weblinks to Answers

Google continues to move from “10 blue links” to richer and more diverse SERP experiences. In 2020, Google placed a growing emphasis on “answers,” including featured snippets and collated information gathered from the Web that provide users with quick solutions to their queries without their having to dig through publisher webpages.

The latest innovation is “scroll-to-text” fragments: Specially formatted links, including search-results links, lead directly to highlighted text on a webpage that answers a user’s query directly. For now, the feature functions in Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge browsers.

Google Answers presents new challenges to marketers wishing to gain both visibility and clicks in the new SERP environment. The goal of winning a coveted answer spot (which can result in higher CTRs) is leading to more nuanced keyword research, and pages now require a fair amount of on-page optimization to get to that spot. Smart marketers are learning to take advantage of Google Answers for increased visibility.

A deeper understanding of analytics is involved to stay on top of all those 2020 SEO trends well into 2021 and beyond.

3. Preparing for Core Web Vitals in 2021

In 2020, Google announced an official ranking factor to be implemented in 2021: Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals will add the metrics of largest contentful paint (LCP), cumulative layout shift (CLS), and first input delay (FID) to those considered by Google’s algorithm. Those metrics are joining what Google calls Page Experience Signals; those “signals” include the presence or absence of HTTPS security, intrusive popups, and mobile friendliness.

Google has confirmed that it will provide six-months’ notice to webmasters before Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor goes into effect; but, much like HTTPS, it’s likely that the core update will have an instant and dramatic impact on sites that do not optimize for those specific metrics—news media sites, in particular. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) will be a thing of the past, and Core Web Vitals will be necessary for appearing in Top Stories.

SEOs and marketers must focus on optimizing for the three major metrics of Core Web Vitals: LCP, FID, and CLS. I suggest using Google’s Lighthouse report for measuring and tracking those metrics.

4. Incorporating Crisis Adaptation into Your 2021 SEO Strategy

If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that crisis planning and adaptation are a must in all areas.

We talk about crises in customer service, social media, and financial planning, but what happens when a crisis affects SEO? In business, it should all come back to one place: your customers’ needs. Customers must be at the forefront of every strategy, including SEO.

Moving into 2021, it’s critical to listen to customers and observe their behavior to ensure that your business fits seamlessly into their lives. Marketers and SEOs can be a part of crisis communication by communicating changes and ensuring all business listings stay up-to-date and accessible.

More Resources on SEO Marketing

Which Guarantees Really Matter in SEO

Organic SEO—What Does It Really Mean?

Why Your SEO and PPC Teams Must Work Together

SEO vs. Google Ads: Which Approach Is More Effective?