21 SEO Tips for 2021
Moz SEO expert Cyrus Shepard recently shared 21 tips for successful Google SEO in 2021. Shepard described these as “21 practical tips that you can implement that should, hopefully, move the needle on your organic traffic.”
When it came to increasing your number of clicks, Shepard recommended:
A favicon, also known as a shortcut icon, website icon, tab icon, URL icon, or bookmark icon, is a file containing one or more small icons, associated with a particular website. Shepard noted that Aaron Wall of SEO Book published a number of helpful recommendations relating to favicons.
Google guidelines for favicons include both the favicon file and the home page being crawlable by Google, favicons being a visual representation of a website’s brand, in order to help users quickly identify a site when they scan through search results, and a favicon being a multiple of 48px square, for example: 48x48px, 96x96px, 144x144px and so on.
SVG files do not have a specific size, as any valid favicon format is supported. Google will rescale an image to 16x16px for use in search results, so it is important to make sure that it looks good at that resolution.
A favicon URL should be stable and Google will not show any favicon that it deems inappropriate, including pornography or hate symbols (for example, swastikas). If this type of imagery is discovered within a favicon, Google will replace it with a default icon.
Wall said some of his favorite favicons included Citigroup, which manages to get the word Citi in while looking memorable and distinctive without looking overly cluttered, and Nerdwallet, on which the N makes a great use of space, the colors are sharp, and it almost feels like an arrow that is pointing right. He also applauded Inc. and LinkedIn.
A “breadcrumb” is a type of secondary navigation scheme that reveals a user’s location in a website or web application. The term comes from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale in which the two title children drop breadcrumbs to form a trail back to their home, and breadcrumbs in real-world applications offer users a way to trace the path back to their original landing point.
Shepard states that Google displays breadcrumbs in both desktop and mobile search results, which can be keyword-rich breadcrumbs and may influence your click-through rate. Google gets breadcrumbs from many places, including your URL, your schema markup, and your actual breadcrumbs on the page.
You will want to make sure Google is displaying the breadcrumbs that you want them to display, using those keywords that you choose. Make sure that you have breadcrumbs actually on your page with links, that you’re using schema markup, and that it matches your URL structure for a great breadcrumb optimization audit.
A meta description (sometimes called a meta description attribute or tag) is an HTML element that describes and summarizes the contents of your page for the benefit of users and search engines. Shepard reports that a recent study showed that 30 percent of websites do not use meta descriptions.
Another study showed that 70 percent of the time, Google rewrites meta descriptions, usually because it is not using the keywords that the user is searching for. Writing a well-crafted meta description can compel users to click, especially when a website uses keyword-rich descriptions that people are actually searching for.
Shepard said he recently shared a study recently showing that dates added to titles increased rankings for a particular brand. He also said using numbers in titles showed pretty consistent results.
He also warned not to be spammy about it. He cautioned not to use numbers where they do not make sense, but finding a way to include a number can often increase a click-through rate.
This step involved a little bit of testing. Shepard said doing a boilerplate audit for your title tag to see the parts of your title tag that repeat every single time.
He noted that when you boilerplate, you want your titles to be unique and provide unique value. He encouraged people to experiment with their boilerplate and see if removing it actually increases their rankings.
Shepard discussed schema, specifically FAQ and how-to schema. He said Google gave everybody a huge gift when it introduced these in search results, as FAQ schema gives people a lot of SERP real estate.
Shepard cautioned that FAQ is not appropriate for every page, and you will want to make sure that you actually have FAQs on the relevant pages. Crafting FAQs is one way in some situations to increase clicks without increasing an actual Google ranking.
As it related to content and on-page SEO, Shepard wrote:
Shepard wrote that content can go stale after a few years, which leads to the decision to launch content. When a person has a blog, they launch it and share it on social media but forget about it after that.
Shepard said to go back, look at top content over the last two to five years or even 10 years, and see what can be relaunched by updating it, keeping it on the same URL. In some cases, people can see gains of 500 percent to 1,000 percent just by relaunching some of your old content with some updates.
Google’s creation of the PageRank algorithm to rank web pages was the idea that led to Google becoming the dominant search engine. PageRank is based on the assumption that important pages will get more links from other important websites, and it works by considering the number of links to a page while giving more importance to links with a higher PageRank.
The concept of PageRank underlies the historical importance of links for SEO, but it does not only apply to external links as PageRank can flow through internal links too. This effectively means that within your own website internal links can indicate the importance you place on different pages in addition to being just a way to navigate the site.
Shepard suggests updating old content with new links. When you publish a new blog post or a new piece of content, you should make sure you are also going back and updating your old content with those new links.
If you look at the top keyword that you want to rank for and go in Google Search Console or checking tools like Keyword Explorer to see what other pages on your site rank for that keyword, add links to the new content to those pages. Shepard said doing this can lower the bounce rate.
Shepard described this practice as a form of PageRank sculpting. He said PageRank sculpting is a dirty word in SEO, but actually works to a certain extent because it is not nofollow link page sculpting.
Removing unnecessary links involves looking at a link to a team page on every page of a website or a link to a contact form on every page of a website. By removing unnecessary links, Shepard said you can pass more link equity through the links that actually count, and those links are a major Google ranking signal.
Shepard describes a mobile link parity audit as ensuring that the links on a mobile site are the same as the links on a desktop site. He says this is important because Google has moved to a mobile first index, meaning what it sees on your mobile site is considered your website.
He noted that the average desktop page has 61 links and the average mobile page has 54 links. This translates to seven fewer links on mobile pages than desktop pages and meaning a lot of link equity being lost.
Shepard wrote that he was not saying content length is a ranking factor, but long-form content consistently earns more links and shares. He said it generally tends to rank higher in Google search results and gives a person more bang for their buck in terms of SEO ranking potential.
Shepard referred specifically to H2 and H3 tags. He said it was important to break up content with headers to rank for more featured snippets.
Shepard said not to launch just one piece of content, as multiple pieces of content around the same subject can be linked together. Doing that and linking them intelligently can increase engagement because people are reading the different articles.
People with content that is in accordions or drop-downs or has to be clicked to be revealed should know that multiple studies showed that content that is brought out of tabs and brought into the main body generally performs better than content that is hidden in tabs. Shepard said he believes Google does not discriminate against content in tabs and is able to index and rank it just fine, but people generally engage with content when it is out of tabs and some of those signals can help those pages to rank a little better.
Shepard then went into technical SEO tips:
Shepard said this is the year to invest in Core Web Vitals. He said these are some of the page experience signals that Google is bringing to the forefront in 2021 and will be an actual ranking factor very soon.
He said this generally deals with site speed and delivering great page experience, and Google has some tools, like Lighthouse, to try to help you to figure them out. Shepard recommended using Cloudflare, in particular their APO for WordPress, because it was a great way to speed up a WordPress website and help you score better for some of these Core Web Vitals.
Shepard noted that with sitemaps, you are allowed to have 50,000 URLs per sitemap. When a person has a large site with indexing issues, he recommends limiting your sitemaps to 10,000 URLs.
Shepard wrote that there is evidence that using smaller sitemaps, compressing those into a limited URL set can actually improve your crawlability of those. He indicated Google might prioritize those in some way, as the data seems to support it.
A dynamic sitemap is a sitemap that changes based upon what you want Google to crawl. Shepard wrote you will want to keep a sitemap small and tight to let Google know that those are the ones that you want them to pay attention to.
Shepard ended by talking about link building:
Shepard described passive link acquisition as creating content that passively earns links as people discover it in the SERPs. These are links earned without any outreach as other people will be motivated to share your links, possibly because you included something worth sharing like data, guides, how tos, or videos.
Shepard wrote that we have known for a long time one of the top SEO tips for link building is to find websites that link to your competitors but not to you. He suggested reaching out to seek links from these pages already linking to your competitors.
Deliver what people are looking for. Make sure that when they click your link, they do not have to go elsewhere to find the information they are seeking.
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