SEO 2020 Year in Review + 2021 Predictions

In this video, we are going to look back at how the SEO industry was

In this video, we are going to look back at how the SEO industry was impacted in 2020. We will discuss all 3 core updates to Google, review some of the Google Glitches and then I’ll share some of my predictions for 2021!

Video Transcript:

Let’s have a quick review of what happened in the world of SEO in 2020, as well as a few of my 2021 predictions. So, 2020 had three major core updates. These were some pretty big updates that happened in January, May, and then obviously the one that was just recently completed in December. We also saw a number of glitches and fixes within Google Search. And finally, we saw Google make a major change in how featured snippets are being shown.

The January 2020 core update was released on January 13th and it only rolled out for three days. This was a typical broad core update. It did impact sites all across the board. But the area that was most impacted was the your money, your life category. These niches got hit pretty hard and over at Rank Ranger they said that this was on their end a massive update. They saw a lot of movement within the SERPs, especially for areas of health and fitness.

Now we move forward to May, and May 4th was when this core update came out and it was completed on May 18th, 2020. Google announced that on Twitter. Over at Rank Ranger they call this once again a monster. This was a bigger update than what was seen in January. This update saw shifts in categories across the board. It was pretty uniform and it was more like your typical core update. Unlike what we saw in January, the December 2020 core update was released on December 3rd and it finished rolling out on December 16th.

Now this one was a very big one and we saw data from several search companies showing how massive this update was. We did a video not too long ago on the December core update that goes over some of the statistics and the shifts and the ups and downs across the board. And again, this update was bigger than the one that we saw in May.

Google continued to make some substantial changes when they moved through the year of 2020. A lot of people were upset about the 2020 core update here in December, because it was so close to the holidays and there’s a lot of other things going on. And obviously we can’t ignore COVID, which has impacted search in a huge way in this last year.

But these core updates also did a lot as well. And these core updates are things that site owners need to pay attention to because Google is making changes across the board to their algorithm. And a lot of times if you’re impacted, like if you’re impacted in May by a core update, you usually don’t recover until another core update is released.

The 2020 December core update was the biggest one of the year. And we saw a number of fluctuations within the SERP results, and it rolled out over the course of 13 days. It was a little less than two weeks with a number of ups and downs all across the search results.

Another thing that we saw quite a bit in 2020 were glitches and fix. In June 22nd we saw a Google bug fix, ranking tool showed this fluctuation. Now there is no update to an algorithm that was not confirmed, but Google did confirm they’re having issues with indexing. Again, on August 10th we had another Google glitch. This time it seemed to have more glitches with their indexing systems. And then finally we had indexing bug part one, September 29th, and part two on October 12th, 2020.

Google was constantly making adjustments to their indexing process. Now this can obviously massively impact site owners when you can’t get your content indexed, or Google’s not crawling all of your content. If you can’t get a page indexed, it’s not going to show up in search. We saw a lot of this happen here in 2020, where they had to come out and say, “Yeah, we’ve got an issue here with indexing and we’re working on it.” So these glitches and subsequent fixes were definitely a part of the issues that we saw in the year 2020.

And finally, we’re talking about featured snippet de-duping. Featured snippets, usually you could have a site that earned a feature snippet and then also be on the first page with a link in the search results. Well, as of January 22nd, Google announced that they would no longer be showing a site that’s ranking in featured snippet in the top 10 as well. So they would no longer show these duplicate pages. This was something that really impacted the SEO community, because as Google is shifting how they display search results, other search engines are following, like Bing.

Bing has a number of search features as well. The featured snippet is one of those places where yes, you want to rank for, but sometimes can result in zero click searching. So your site can get a lot of visibility, but you also might just be answering people’s questions right within the search results. Having that link removed from the top 10 had a significant impact and did cause some frustration for a number of people.

Now let’s talk about 2021. There are a few things that we know about in 2021, and one of them is the core vitals. The core web vitals, also known as web vitals, this is a new set of performance metric. This is something that Google talked about in 2020, and even released some tools within Search Console to help us optimize our sites with Core Web Vitals. Now, this is also something that Google has already said they’re going to make part of the ranking factor, and it’s going to play a big part of the page experience update that’s going to be coming.

If you don’t know anything about Core Web Vitals, or you really have ignored them, now would be a good time to get familiar with them. Start leveraging the tools within Search Console, and make sure that you have a great page experience. That’s a huge part of search that’s often overlooked because we focus on content or just on links, and we forget about the experience of the user on our website. And that’s what these tools are for, and Google is going to make sure that sites that don’t have good page experiences are dinged. They’re not going to have as much value because they’re not giving people, not just the content they’re looking forward, but the experience with the content.

There’s another thing that we know is coming in 2020, and that’s increased legal pressure on Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Now the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as 38 states have filed antitrust lawsuits over Google’s parent company, Alphabet. There’s some big charges here. And I think that we probably will see some government intervention similar to what we saw with Microsoft in the 90s. This is not just happening in the U.S. There’s multiple lawsuits all throughout Europe. There’s more than these two lawsuits we’re talking about here. There’s another set of states that have filed these antitrust lawsuits. So, I think we’re going to see a lot of legal pressure on Alphabet through the year of 2021 and beyond, based on a number of allegations that have been made over how they conduct some of their business practices. And this could definitely impact search and SEO as a whole as well.

Now I want to share my 2021 predictions with you. First, I think we’re going to see an expansion of NLP, NER, NLU. So this is natural language processing, named-entity recognition and natural language understanding. Google and Bing search engines have already begun leveraging natural language, and they’re going to push it even further. Google made a huge announcement last year with BERT over the year. In January of 2020 they started advancing BERT even further with T5. And now we’re getting into GPT-3. These are all language models that Google has been using in training and building, using the web index and helping them better understand the intent of the users. Bing has upped their game in this area as well. And they’ve got some amazing, powerful, natural language tools that they’re leveraging within their search results.

SEOs need to expand their knowledge in this area. They need to understand structured data. They need to understand how knowledge graphs work, and they need to understand not only how users will interpret and understand their content, but how search engines will as well when it comes to natural language. In my opinion this is a really good move, because it’s going to force people to actually create good content, instead of content for the sake of ranking or content for the sake of content. But it is going to require some learning on the part of SEOs and understanding what these things mean and how they work.

There’s a ton of great resources out there online. It’s an area that I’ve been really trying to expand in and better get a good grasp and concept of, because these are going to continue to play a huge role within search. And I think it’s going to expand quite a bit and pretty fast in the year 2021.

I also think that links are going to lose their value. Links have always been the backbone of Google Search. It was one of those main things that drove page rank. When they could see good sites linking to other good sites, they would know that there’s a good connection there, the whole idea of building relationships between one page to another. Now I think links obviously are going to be important because it’s how information on the web travels from one page to another.

But I think links as a ranking factor, it’s not going to be as important. There’s still a number of brands out there that push the idea of quantity of links. Now we know as SEOs that we need to have links and we need to have quality links. But I think this is something that has been spammed for years. Google’s continued to try to fight link spam. And I believe that the advancements in AI and ML will continue to lessen their dependence on links as a ranking factor. They’ll use them for indexing. They’ll use them for relationship building. They’ll use them to understand context and how two sites are related or connected. But I also think they’re getting a lot smarter and we’re going to see links that they know are just there for the sake of trying to improve page rank. And I think those are really going to be strict, even more than they are today. I don’t think that link building is gone, but I do think it’s going to lose its value in 2020 in the years to come.

I think we’re going to continue to see some massive turbulence within the news results. This is a screenshot over the last 30 days. And as you can see, on most days the news results have seen very, very steady fluctuation. Now there’s a ton of changes happening in the United States with leadership. I think there’s continued hyperpolarization in the news and we’re going to continue to see the turbulence in this space. I think this also has a lot to do with what we’re seeing and the legal side and what Alphabet’s facing there. So as we look into 2021, if you’re a site that does news, or you’re trying to push into Google Newsfeed, or leverage that type of search, you’re going to see a ton of turbulence. And you’re going to see a lot of fluctuation. You’re going to see some sites increase in their visibility and you’re going to see other sites that maybe were prominent in the last few years that are really going to die out based on how the algorithm is going to favor or disfavor certain news entities.

Also, I believe in 2021 we’re going to see a massive increase in direct answers. So zero-click search has been on the rise for the last few years. I think it’s going to continue to rise on both Google and Bing, and they’re going to increase the amount of direct answers that they give in search. And this was done, I think in 2019 by SparkToro, and at that point we were at 50.33% of all searches being zero-click. So more than half of Google searches people just go, they see the answer right there within the search results, and then they leave or they make another query.

I think this is going to go well above that 50%. Now this doesn’t mean we should abandon informational queries, which is typically these types of searches that see these results. But it does mean that we should think about them a little differently in how we get the visibility. Maybe when we have those featured placements or those direct answers where Google is aggregating our data, maybe Bing’s aggregating our data, maybe seeing it a little bit different. We’ve got to get a little more creative within how we’re going to get people to our sites in order to really grow our visibility, grow our traffic, and more importantly, grow the engagement with the people that we need to do business with.

And last, I think we’re going to see a rise in search across Google’s competition. If we look at the stats from November 2019 to November 2020, Google has overall with all different types of search, they have a 92.16% market dominance. That’s obvious they own, they run the market, right? Bing is at 2.88, Yahoo is at 1.52. They use the exact same search engine, exact same technology. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them eventually just merge together into one platform. But one thing to note is that Bing has grown a half percent this year. So they have seen some growth, some substantial growth over the year. Baidu is still sitting at 1.4%. DuckDuckGo is getting up to almost 1% and then Yandex is at a half a percent.

Now Google is going to continue to be dominant, but I think we’re going to see Bing grown quite a bit. And I think it’s going to be an area that SEO’s and marketers can leverage in different ways, depending on who you’re targeting and understanding who’s using Bing versus who’s using Google.

You’re going to see users have a lot more say, I especially think that the lawsuits and some of the legal battles that we’re going to see with Alphabet are going to play into this as well, where people are going to say, “Maybe I need to find an alternative.” Now Google is kind of ingrained into our lives, into a lot of the things that we do, but I won’t be surprised to see Bing get over that three, four, or 5% mark in the next few years, as Google comes down a little bit and we see more pressure there from Microsoft.

Those are my predictions for 2021. We’ll see if they come true at the end of next year. I’d love to hear what your predictions might be. So please comment below, what do you think is going to happen in 2021 when it comes to the world of SEO? What are the things that you’re planning on to make sure that your site is ready to go? And if you got any questions related to what we talked about in this video, you can also comment with that as well. If you want to link to this deck, you can head over to our blog, smamarketing.net/blog, there you’ll be able to download this deck, get a little more information and some resources to help you grow your site as well. Thanks a lot for watching, and until next time, Happy Marketing.