2020 was … a year.

I think this screenshot of a Giphy search for "2020" almost sums it up.

3 things you need to know about SEO in 2021

Despite all the challenges we face as humans this year, 2020 wasn't all bad.

After all, I welcomed my youngest son into the world this year and I think he's pretty awesome!

I also learned a lot about our industry and SEO, and I think we should all be paying close attention to what happened this year and use that information to become better and better prepared search engine marketers.


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So, without further introspection, here are three things you need to know about SEO in 2021!

1. Search intent and demand are fluid

It is important to know that search intent and demand are fluid – and much more so than I previously thought.

Understanding search intent is a crucial part of a successful SEO strategy because you need a basic understanding of the intent behind a search query in order to create a page that meets that intent.

If your page is the best match, then Google ranks your page in its results as easily (although making your page the best match is a little more complicated).

But what if a global pandemic changes the search intent for a query?

Well, you adjust or lose rankings.

For example, Path Interactive's Lily Ray shared a study where she saw requests like (Alcoholics Anonymous) and (Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings) returning sites like AA Intergroup and In the Rooms that offer virtual recovery meetings and resources.


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This shows how quickly Google can adjust its results to meet the intent of people in quarantine who need virtual recovery assistance, even without including "virtual" or "online" in their search query.

And shifts in search intent aren't the only ways that searcher behavior can change.

There is also the potential for search volume and interest in a particular query to explode or disappear almost overnight.

Again, we saw this in several industries in the early stages of the pandemic.

Check out this Google Trends chart for (toilet paper):

Google Trends graphic - toilet paper

Or this trend line for (sourdough bread):

Google Trends graphic - Sourdough bread

We can also see how quickly search interest can drop by looking at (movie tickets):

Google Trends Graphics - Movie Tickets

While the likelihood of another pandemic like COVID-19 is (hopefully) slim, these graphs show how important diversifying your keywords can be.

In fact, this is strong evidence that instead of putting all your eggs in the "Google cart", you should diversify your overall marketing strategy.

These graphics also highlight the importance of flexibility and the ability to take advantage of opportunities or turn when opportunities are elsewhere.

So how do you protect yourself from a shift in search intent or a massive drop in search volume?

You cannot control the behavior of the viewfinder, but you can monitor it and adjust it accordingly.

To spot possible shifts in search intent, keep an eye on your target SERPs and how they're changing.

If you see more and more pages starting to rank for a different purpose than yours, Google is likely testing that they are serving a different purpose. You may need to change your page or risk losing rankings.

To track search interest, you can choose from a variety of tools that measure monthly search volume, such as: B. SEMrush, Moz or Ahrefs.

Google Trends gives you an idea of ​​where search interest is going.


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You should never be too comfortable in 2021.

Flexibility and adaptability are critical to online success.

2. Local businesses and local SEO professionals need to be agile

Speaking of having to adjust quickly, nowhere is that more true than with Local Search this year.

One of the sectors hardest hit during this pandemic has been local businesses.

Bans and social restrictions forced many of these business owners to get creative and find new ways to keep in touch with their customers, such as: B. contactless collection or virtual consultations.

However, for many businesses, simply letting their customers know if they are open can make a huge difference.

To their credit, Google did a good job of providing several options in Google My Business to allow local businesses to communicate with their customers.

I attended an impressive presentation from GMB expert Joy Hawkins earlier this year, which outlined all of the options available on the Google platform. Some of the recently added GMB features include:


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  • An LGBTQ friendly attribute.
  • Call buttons in local knowledge windows.
  • An online hours of operation attribute.
  • An online appointment attribute.

If you want to keep up to date on all of the new attributes that have been and will be added to GMB, I highly recommend reading this resource on the Hawkins website.

While most local businesses are stationary, they need to consider search as a legitimate channel for communicating with customers, and the pandemic has highlighted this fact as shutdowns made customer care difficult in their physical rooms.

The most agile businesses and local SEO pros should be able to take advantage of new local search opportunities by taking full advantage of the tools offered by Google and other search engines. As new features are added all the time, these agile businesses and SEO professionals will continue to thrive beyond the pandemic.

3. The SEO community continues to grow stronger

Even in the face of such adversity, the SEO community remains open, supportive, and innovative.


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I've always been proud to be part of this vibrant community of search professionals, but never more than this year.

In the midst of one of the most challenging years in the US and around the world, I have kept seeing SEO pros helping one another out.

I've seen SEO pros assisting other professionals laid off due to the pandemic by sharing their résumés on Twitter and helping them find new roles in the industry.

I have also seen numerous search professionals and agencies sharing free advice and information to help businesses through these troubled times.

This has always been a practice in search engine optimization, but I've seen it take off especially in 2020.

In fact, I've had the privilege of being part of such an initiative in my own company.

SEO professionals have even used their non-SEO skills to raise funds for people affected by COVID or to support positive mental health.


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For example, Lily Ray used her DJ skills with free concerts on Twitter and even staged an after-party concert for SEJ's eSummit earlier this year!

I'm always impressed with how open and collaborative the SEO industry is, but this year felt different as we all leaned on each other under unusual and challenging circumstances.

I'm proud to be part of such a wonderful community and it will be even stronger in 2021!


2020 has shown that changes can be made very quickly and, as an SEO professional, you need to be agile to quickly adapt your strategy to new search behavior, consumer environments and potential restrictions.

Fortunately, search is a channel that panning and moving can be done relatively quickly if you are prepared for it.

So in 2021, make sure you check the SERPs regularly to make sure your pages or future pages continue to match intent and search interest.

Also, remember that you are not alone and there is a whole community ready to support you and help you grow.


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Connect on social media, leave comments on your favorite blogs, participate in SEJ's awesome Friday Focus series. There are many options available to you.

I know it has been a difficult year for many of us, but I know the future is bright and better times are ahead.

Thanks for reading. Keep your chin up and let's push the search industry through 2021 and beyond!

More resources:

Photo credit

All screenshots by the author, December 2020


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