Implementing SEO best practices for 2021 on your website is one of the most important things you can do to drive high quality, relevant traffic to your website. SEO continues to be one of the top traffic drivers to business websites across industries, and the competition is only getting tougher.
To help, we’ve put together this post detailing the SEO best practices for 2021 that will get your website to the top of the search results of Google.
Understand the Changing SEO Landscape in 2021
But first, we need to take a step back and recognize a very important fact: search engine optimization is changing. And in fact, it’s changing a lot.
It’s no longer as simple as it once was (relatively speaking, of course). And to keep up with the competition, you need to understand what’s different before implementing any of these SEO best practices for 2021.
So, what’s new?
Well for starters, SEO is no longer all about keywords. *Gasp!* Yes, it still plays a factor. But by and large, the first step towards implementing SEO best practices on your website in 2021 will be to recognize that “search intent” is now the name of the game.
This is not to say keywords are dead. You should still be thinking about what users are likely to search for and be optimizing around those terms. And keyword research can still be useful as you plan out your content and discover topics to cover.
But Google’s algorithm has gotten a lot smarter at identifying context and at natural language processing. Meaning, you don’t need to focus so much on keywords like you used to. Google is able to determine what your post is about without it. Google has become more “human”…spooky.
That probably sounds like a lot, so let’s unpack this.
By “search intent” Google is now looking at the motivation and purpose someone has by their search and will rank content that matches that intent accordingly.
Simply think of it as the “Why” behind each search term.
If you’ve used Google recently, you likely noticed there have been lots of new additions to the search results pages. Product carousels, information cards (giving you the answer to your search right away), related questions, comparison tables, and even video and podcast links.
This is because Google knows that based on the context of your search, you are likely looking for different things. Based on the intent Google infers behind a search, different content will be shown on the search results pages.
For your content to rank, you need to know what content Google is already ranking for those terms/topics and then create better, SEO optimized content in those formats. But you also need to know why a person is searching for what they’re searching for, and create content that answers their questions and is tailored to where they are in their decision making and research process.
Overall, you should still research and target keywords so that you can create content around relevant topics related to your industry/niche that will drive high-quality traffic back to your site.
But just as important these days for SEO best practices is matching the content to the searcher’s intent and ensuring that it’s authoritative to rank well in 2021. Always remember that you are writing for humans and not search engines. And when in doubt, prioritize the former.
Getting the SEO Basics Right
So now that you’re up to speed on the changing SEO landscape, let’s really talk about the SEO best practices for 2021 and how you can implement them on your website.
We’ll start with the basics here, but make sure to keep reading.
The next section talks about the advanced tactics that SEO pros are using right now which will give your company a big first-mover advantage.
Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and URL Naming Conventions
Don’t let the SEO terminology intimidate you – this simply means making sure the title of your post, the description that appears below it on Google’s search results, and the URL slug of your post are all optimized around the keyword phrase you are targeting.
ALT Image Tags for Accessibility
Making sure your website is accessible for users with disabilities is not only an SEO best practice for 2021 but a best practice for building websites in general. One of the main ways you can do this from an SEO perspective is to add ALT tags to all of your images.
These tags simply describe what’s happening in an image. For example, an image of a baseball player stepping up to the plate could be “New York Yankees Outfielder Aaron Judge Steps Up To Bat Against the Tampa Bay Rays”.
This description is used by search engines to determine what an image is about, and is read back to people with visual impairments so they can decipher what the image is about.
Also, a lot of people forget to include these tags (even though it only takes a short time to add). So this is some low-hanging SEO fruit that your company should be able to take advantage of. The sweet taste of victory.
Links are the cornerstone of Google’s search algorithm. It helps them determine what a page is about and how authoritative that source is.
It all goes back to citations in academic articles – the more people that reference an academic article, the more authoritative it’s viewed in the community.
Google has used this same philosophy with links – the more sites linking to a piece of content, the more authoritative it’s viewed by Google, and the higher it will rank.
Getting backlinks is certainly an SEO best practice for 2021, but it’s an entire topic on itself that is outside the scope of this article. But do know that when it comes to internal links, it’s a best practice to have a few links pointing internally to other pieces of content.
There are two reasons for this.
First, you can spread around your existing SEO authority by internally linking content. Basically, if you already have one well-performing post, you can help other pieces of content by linking to it.
Secondly, Google uses links to help determine what the topic of your post is about. So by adding internal links to your post, you give Google a clearer signal about the content of your post and further help you rank for that topic.
As time goes on, Google will be able to see the main topics of your blog, improving your overall domain authority and, helping all of your content rank higher.
Correct On-Page SEO Formatting
We will talk about creating content later on in this post, but for now, know that how you format your blog posts has a huge effect on the rankings of your content.
To ensure that your content efforts and the time spent implementing these SEO best practices for 2021 are rewarded, you need to format your blog posts correctly.
Here’s what this looks like:
- Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) appropriately so Google has an outline of your blog post and can easily determine the main topics discussed. This also helps people skim your content and quickly navigate to the part they’re interested in.
- Write shorter paragraphs – people are likely in a hurry to find the information they’re after and don’t want to read a whole novel. Keep paragraphs short to break up content and to make your blog post less intimidating.
- Include ALT image tags on all images (for SEO and accessibility). As a general rule, you should be using images in all of your blog posts – blogs with images get better engagement than those without. Who doesn’t love a picture book?!
- Use the main topic keyword you are targeting in the first paragraph of your blog (ideally the first sentence). This way both Google and the person reading your post instantly know what it’s about.
- Use a combination of internal and external links. External links are great for citing any sort of data or claim and will further help Google determine what your article is about. Internal links to similar content will help keep your readers on-site and boost the overall SEO authority of your website.
- Go in-depth – While the internet may be synonymous with short attention spans, Google strongly prefers long-form content. Especially for articles that rank on the first page. An interesting analysis by Hubspot found that the ideal blog post length is between 2,100-2,400 words.
- Ensure your website is fast and mobile-friendly – This is more of a global SEO consideration, but without these two items being taken care of, none of these other tactics will really help your content rank. Don’t worry, we talk about just how to do this in the next section of this post. For now, know that you can use Google Search Console to see if there are any mobile usability errors on your site, and PageSpeed Insights to see how fast your website is.
Advanced Technical SEO Best Practices
So believe it or not, those were actually the basic SEO best practices for 2021 that you should be optimizing for.
To take things to the next level, let’s talk about the technical factors that affect your website and what the current best practices for technical SEO are here.
The main topic we’ll be discussing here is website speed and how to improve it. Google has continually increased the importance of a fast website in its algorithm and is planning for its 2021 algorithm update to be all about the speed of your website.
Google has said itself that website speed is one of the top rankings factors it uses to sort websites.
Further, website speed has a huge impact on how long your visitors stick around – A recent study by Google found that 53% of mobile website visitors will leave a webpage if it doesn’t load within three seconds.
So, how do you make your website fast? Let’s dive right right into it.
Optimizing Image File Sizes
One of the fastest, easiest, and least technical ways to make your website faster is to properly optimize all of the image file sizes on your website.
These tend to be some of the larger resources (along with videos) that make up a website and can have a huge impact on how fast your site loads.
How do you do this?
For one, always be mindful of the image file size before you upload it into your CMS. Ideally, you really don’t want anything over 1MB. But this can be situational and isn’t a hard rule, so use your best judgment.
To reduce image file sizes, simply use a tool like Tinypng.com to compress your images before you upload them to your site. Compressing images reduces the total file size (sometimes by about 80%!) with minimal loss in quality.
We recommend always compressing your images – you can thank us later.
Enabling Website Cache
This is another quick update you can make to your website that will be a major help in boosting your website’s speed.
Basically, by enabling cache, you allow browsers to remember and hold on to assets from your site in the browser. This way, the browser doesn’t need to reload every single asset and line of code from your site as people browse through it.
This will dramatically boost your website’s speed and provide a much better experience for your visitors.
This may already be enabled by default on your website by the hosting provider, so check with them before making any updates. But if it isn’t, you can use WP Rocket to quickly set up website caching.
To really score well on the website speed tests offered by Google and GT Metrix, you need to manage all of the different tracking codes and scripts on your website.
Specifically, you need to delay them until the entire page is fully loaded so they don’t interfere with the initial rendering of your website. Doing this has dramatically increased the speed of our websites and now we’re getting straight As when we test our sites on these tools.
To do this in WordPress, we recommend using a plugin called WP Rocket.
From there, you can input the names of your scripts (like Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, etc.) and set them to delay the execution until after a page load. There is a setting in WP Rocket that makes enabling this feature very simple.
Preloading Website Fonts
Another thing you may be surprised to hear that has a big effect on site speed is fonts. Fonts, really? What’s so resource-intensive about those?
Well, generally they need to be pulled from a third-party source (ex. Google Fonts or Adobe Fonts) which can slow down your website. And your website loads font files for all of the different variations of fonts, so this resource can quickly add up on your hosting server.
To have your fonts load quickly, you should set them to either “pre-connect” or “pre-fetch” which will instruct the browser ahead of time to go looking for those font files as soon as someone clicks on a link to your website.
The default settings are for the font files to not load until they are needed for a webpage. This usually comes in the middle of all the resources needed for a page and will bottleneck the ability for the browser to get any other resources until the font files are loaded.
Here’s a more in-depth guide on everything you need to know about optimizing font performance for website speed.
We really don’t mean for any of this to be too technical – and if you’ve made it this far you should have no problem minifying these code files (if you need some more help with SEO, feel free to book a strategy session with us here)
This time, however, it just applies to the code of your site.
To do this, we recommend using a WordPress plugin like WP Rocket to minify your files. No matter what cache setting you use, it should only take a few clicks to implement on your site.
Just make sure to clear your browser cache afterward and thoroughly review your site – sometimes this can cause rendering issues depending on your website’s set up.
Finally, you want to have a very straightforward website structure that makes it easy for Google to crawl and index your website. This will ensure all of your pages have links pointing to them and are only ever a few clicks away for visitors.
While you may not think of your website’s technical infrastructure when it comes to SEO best practices, Google is increasingly putting more and more emphasis on how your website performs for visitors. Ensuring your website is fast and optimized for mobile is now essential.
Consistently Create Great, Long-Form Content
Finally, we couldn’t wrap up this post without talking about the importance of content in your SEO strategy.
At the end of the day, consistently creating great content is one of the most important SEO best practices of 2021. All the tactics discussed in this post won’t be of any help to you if you haven’t written any blog posts, after all.
To do that, you really need to know your audience and the customers you are trying to reach. If you haven’t already clarified your ideal customers that you want to reach with your content marketing efforts, we recommend creating buyer personas for each main segment of your customer base.
Once you know who you are trying to reach, put yourself in their shoes, and think about what they are thinking about through each step of the buyer’s journey.
Then, create long-form blog content around those main topics and issues they are likely considering. Just make sure to do some keyword research beforehand to get a general idea of how hard it would be to rank that piece of content and to see how many search terms that query gets.
Just remember – SEO is changing and ensuring you are targeting the right keyword and having it featured in your post a certain amount of times isn’t as important as it used to be. As long as you cover the main topic extremely well, format your post correctly, follow all the SEO best practices outlined here, and ensure your website is built on a solid technical foundation, your efforts will be rewarded.
When in doubt, just remember you’re writing for human beings – not search engines.