Will SEO Still Matter in 2021?

While the memes indicate that time might have lost all meaning for many of us lately, it is nevertheless the time when many businesses begin to consider their marketing strategies and budgets for the next year. It seems we can never enter a new year without this question popping up: Is search engine optimization (SEO) still relevant?

Many people in our industry have become so used to the idea of innovative new technologies displacing what we knew and loved that they assume it’s only a matter of time before SEO follows a similar path. For them, big dips in organic traffic, endless updates to the Google algorithm, and significant changes to the search results page all seem to point to the end.

That’s an understandable sentiment, but it’s also wrong. The fact is, SEO is still a critical investment for your dealership. What has changed is how to execute an effective SEO strategy.

Content, keywords, and mobile optimization are still the pillars of building an effective online presence, but you can’t stop there. To make SEO work for you in 2021, it pays to stay on top of the trends and let your strategy continue to evolve alongside the technology.

Featured Snippets and Zero-click Searches

Of the changes to search results pages mentioned above, by far the most important for SEO is featured snippets. Featured snippets have been around for a few years, yet marketers and dealers alike have a hard time using them to their advantage. You’ll recognize featured snippets whether you know the term or not – they’re the short, direct answers to queries Google provides at or near the top of a search results page.

Google programmatically picks the “best” answer for a given query from a third-party site and features it, often coupled with a relevant image. Optimizing for featured snippets, by the way, ultimately comes down to keyword quality and relevance of content.

Now, there are two massive implications of featured snippets. The first is that you could benefit from grabbing that spot and the exposure that comes along with it. Featured snippets steal, on average, 8.6 percent of clicks from the #1 ranked organic search result on the search results page.

There are intangible benefits as well: Featured snippets, by virtue of answering question-type queries, are also inherently optimized for voice search, and they position you as a trusted industry voice.

There is a risk to optimizing for featured snippets, however. If your page would have otherwise ranked #1 but instead gets featured, you may actually lose out on clicks overall. That’s because the #1 ranked organic search result still nets the most clicks on the search results page (and Google won’t show your organic listing on the same page as your featured snippet – your organic listing will be bumped to page 2 of search results).

The second implication is something called zero-click searches, which were the whole point of featured snippets in the first place: Google answering user queries without users needing to click through to content. This makes Google searches more convenient and positions Google, rather than your website, as the end destination of the user journey.

Now, Google making it easier for users not to click through obviously isn’t good for your web traffic, but you can overcome this issue with a smart SEO strategy. Remember two key details:

  • First, users whose questions are answered in a featured snippet are a bit less likely to convert in the first place. Why? Because they most likely were asking a basic question, such as an address or phone number.
  • Second, go back and study which of your keywords are consistently delivering clicks. Optimize for those to make your organic search listing as relevant as possible in the event the featured snippet doesn’t satisfy the user query.

So, optimizing for featured snippets needs to be strategic, focused, and part of your overall marketing strategy.

Optimize for Local Packs, But Don’t Stop There

Much like featured snippets, local packs have been around for a few years now, and whether you know the name or not, you’d recognize one if you saw it. Think of the last time you did a local online search for some goods or services in your area, and a listing of three local businesses in that niche appeared at the top of the results page, probably with a map showing their locations. That’s a local pack.

Optimizing for local packs is hugely important for local search. To do so, you simply create both Google My Business and Bing Places pages.

But, you can’t stop there. When someone is after more detailed information than an address, phone number, or hours of operation, they’re still clicking through to your website. That’s when our old SEO standbys of quality content, mobile optimization, and solid backlinks all become relevant once more.

When it comes to local search, the short version of the 2021 strategy is: adapt and optimize for new developments, but don’t let the traditional practices slide, either.

Dealing with the Algorithm (Yes, it’s BERT Again)

Only a few months ago there was a collective uproar over BERT, the Google algorithm update that’s continuously refining the engine’s understanding of user query intent with an emphasis on context. BERT inspired reactions and hot takes are everywhere on the spectrum from dismissiveness to total panic (for what it’s worth, we weighed in with our view as well).

As we keep moving forward, search engines place greater emphasis on matching user query intent rather than just individual words.

In other words, web pages that rely on keyword stuffing and don’t have a clear focus or structure will find it increasingly difficult to rank on results pages, while search engines reward content that answers the underlying question behind a search.

That means dealing with search algorithms doesn’t call for a change in how you do SEO so much as simply doubling down on well-established best practices. Think of it more as search engines weeding out the junk rather than burning down the whole system.

Far from being dead or irrelevant in 2021, SEO has actually never been more crucial to your overall digital marketing strategy. Let the experts help you develop and execute an approach that accounts for new and emerging trends, and you’ll evolve right along with it.