SEO in 2021 — 3 Actionable Strategies for Growth

Lindsay Halsey

Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching site owners, freelancers, and agencies how to get found on Google via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.

Search engines never stop evolving. Google, Yahoo, and Bing refresh, refine, and update their algorithms (the formulas used to rank and order the websites that appear in the search results) many times a year. The layout of each search engine results page also evolves, creating new opportunities for positioning and growth. But your position on Google, Yahoo, and Bing isn’t all that matters.

What was true in 2020 remains true in 2021 — websites that excel in the areas of expertise, authority, and trust will excel in organic search. Focusing on steady improvements in these three areas is what we call a “holistic approach to SEO.”


As we think about SEO in 2021, here are the components of each of these three areas to focus your attention on to grow your website traffic.

Share Your Expertise

Content has been the backbone of SEO since the beginning. Google and the other search engines value expertise; your content is the vehicle through which you share it.

For many years, businesses focused their content marketing efforts on blogging, which was all about the frequency of posts. Then, there was a shift to reward longer content, and the average first-page result on Google was 2,000 words long.

In 2021, the search engines are shifting to reward content quality. But it’s not just the quality of your blog posts that matter — it’s the quality of every piece of content on your website.

So, what makes a page or a post meet high-quality standards?

  • Keyword Intent — Does the content on the page satisfy the visitor’s needs based on what they searched for?
  • User Experience — Does the page contain all of the components that one would expect and need? Often, pages are missing essential pieces of content. For example, a typical contact page usually displays (at minimum) an address, phone number, and hours of operation. A typical product page usually requires product images, a description, a price, available inventory, and reviews.
  • Structure — Does the page/post have a clearly defined structure, marked by the proper use of H1, H2, and H3 tags? Structure assists search engines and visitors in easily scanning and understanding content.
  • Speed — Does the page load reasonably fast? With today’s technology, users are accustomed to instant gratification, so search engines reward pages that deliver on speed.

Actionable Tip

As you create your content strategy for 2021, go beyond thinking about blog post topics and a schedule. Take a step back and look at your existing content, starting with the content on your homepage. Go through the quality standards above and focus your attention on any areas of weakness. These are your biggest content opportunities in 2021.

Grow Your Authority

For a page or a post to truly qualify as “expert” content, you need great content as well as external validation of its greatness. That validation comes from offsite signals in the form of links. The search engines validate the authority of your domain and brand by looking for other websites that link back to yours.

We call these links “backlinks.” Backlinks have been a critical part of the search engine algorithms since the beginning, just like content.

According to Google, a website may have technically great content (unique, lengthy, structured, includes strong keyword intent, etc), but who wrote it also matters. If the individual or brand behind the content has strong authority in a given industry, then that content should outperform a comparable (or even better) piece of content published by a less authoritative site.

To grow your website’s authority, ask yourself who you partner with. These partners can pass authority to your website by adding links to your site on theirs.

Here are a few examples:

Authority starts with a verified local business listing on Google Maps (via Google My Business) along with a listing on your local Chamber of Commerce’s website. Then, build authority through adjacencies. For example, an interior designer may get a link when a partner who’s a contractor mentions them. Local businesses can also give to nonprofits, who may add links to donor businesses on their websites. All of the examples above give Google a sense of how much authority a local business has in the real-world ecosystem of their community, which can translate to authority online.

Businesses with national audiences gain authority by sharing expertise on third-party websites, podcasts, webinars, etc. Guest blogging is a great example of sharing expertise. To get started, generate a list of partner businesses in your industry space. Then, simply reach out to suggest cross-promotional opportunities that benefit you both.

Actionable Tip

Growing your website’s authority doesn’t mean spammy mass link building; it means modeling your real world partnerships online so that Google knows how your business fits into your industry. Start by making a list of partners. Then, reach out to any partners who don’t yet have hyperlinks to your business on their websites. Offer mutually beneficial ways of sharing content so that linking between websites is effortless.

SEO Doesn't Have To Be Overwhelming or Expensive

Take a guided approach and grow your business. Follow our process, use our tools, and rely on our coaches.

Build Trust

and If you want to try a new restaurant, you probably search for and read online reviews before making your final decision.

If a visitor is about to hit the “Buy Now” button on your website but hesitates because they aren’t sure they trust you, then you lose the sale.

Whether you have a local small business or a large eCommerce website, trustworthiness matters in SEO. It matters to your prospective website visitors/customers, and it matters to the search engines. They measure your trustworthiness, then reward you for it.

In 2021, focus on building online trust. Here’s how you can go about it:

Start with your own website. Does it include testimonials? Are they located at key decision points, such as next to a contact form or beside a “Buy Now” button? Don’t limit testimonials to one page; add reviews throughout your site.

Turn to Google Maps. Create systems so you can steadily increase your number of reviews on Google Maps. You may need to reach out to customers on an ongoing basis and encourage them to leave reviews; Google encourages this. Log in to Google My Business and navigate to the “Share Review Form” box to get more information.

Go beyond your website & Google. There are other portals that include opportunities for adding third party reviews. The best place to invest your efforts will depend on your industry space. Find out where your competitors are posting reviews, and analyze your business profiles on those platforms; Facebook can be a great place to start.

Actionable Tip

Start small. Ask a few customers for feedback (as opposed to “a testimonial”). This gives your customer space to be authentic, so you’ll get the good, the bad, and the ugly. Take the good comments and turn them into testimonials. Take the bad and ugly comments to heart so that you can make changes to improve your business.

What’s New in SEO in 2021

While SEO evolves (as opposed to outright changing), there are some new components to SEO in 2021. Here are a few updates that excite us:

Page Experience — Google will deploy a large algorithm update in May 2021 that focuses on page experience. The new page experience component will include Core Web Vitals along with mobile-friendliness and security.  Learn more about page experience and how you can prepare. 

Passages — Google now has the ability to rank a passage from a specific page — not just the page in its entirety. This is great news for content marketers! Stay with the long-form approach by creating content that takes dives deeply into a topic. Break that piece into sections that answer questions (like who, what, why, where, when, how) and those sections could end up  ranking for related search queries. 

Web Stories — The tappable short-form story format is growing as an immersive type of content. If you haven’t seen these yet, check out this overview from Google

SEO in 2021 — A Step by Step Approach

SEO requires a series of small, steady steps. It’s not magic; there are no shortcuts or tricks.

The key to success is clearly defining your path — then following it.

Pathfinder SEO’s guided approach gives you the process, the tools, and the training. And we boost your efforts with one-on-one coaching.

Lindsay Halsey

Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching site owners, freelancers, and agencies how to get found on Google via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.
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