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3 Important Search Trends to Look Out For in 2021

There probably won't be game-changing disruptions in search this year

January 20th, 2020

Founder and COO of digital marketing agency Main Street ROI


Let’s be real: we’re all ready to leave 2020 behind. And yet, making predictions for 2021 feels like tempting fate too. What can we expect for this next year? I don’t know—but being able to go to a restaurant and not have to eat surf and turf in a drafty makeshift yurt on the sidewalk would be nice.

But, back to the topic at hand. If I’m going to put on my prognosticator’s hat, I’d wager that we’re not going to see any game-changing disruptions in search this year. However, we will see changes that are already planned and in place ramping up and becoming more critical to SEO success. The old ways that were still sort of working will move into obsolescence, while failing to adopt new best practices will undoubtedly hamstring your search efforts more than ever before.

Here are some search trends to watch for in 2021.

Zero-click search

It’s called zero-click search, but it might as well be called zero-sum search because one player wins and everyone else loses.

A zero-click search is a search in which Google displays an answer at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), eliminating the need for users to click through to a website. A single site that provides one authoritative answer is featured.

Why does it matter? Isn’t the point of SEO to get people to click through to your site for more information? Why would you even want Google to take your content and display it in a way that removes the incentive for people to visit your website?

Well, it matters for two reasons: First, it has decimated search engine traffic for many websites. This is not good. Second, it has opened up an opportunity for small businesses to get traffic if they’re not the first result listed in the SERP for a specific query. Even with an answer on the SERP itself, many people will still click through for context. They’re going to click to read more from the site in the featured snippet, not the top page in the search engine results.

Furthermore, these featured snippets act as free advertising for your business. You’re building brand awareness and, even better, you can do it for free just by using your industry expertise to create useful content.

Google passage ranking

While Google announced the new passage ranking back in October, it’s slated to roll out in 2021. Like zero-click search, the goal here is to help users pinpoint the exact information they need.

The idea is that a page could be entirely about the topic being searched for and still not be as valuable as a page about an entirely different topic. If you’re looking for how to install a dimmer switch, maybe the page that provides the best instructions is one that also has instructions written by an electrician for a number of other DIY electrical projects. Now, instead of deciding this page has low relevance because it addresses a broader range of topics, it’s more likely to be found higher in the SERPs.

It’s predicted that this change will mostly target long-tail searches, so the volume of traffic may not be high, but these searches can be valuable when it comes to conversions.

Core web vitals

Core Web Vitals is probably one of the biggest updates we know to expect in 2021. All of the things that Google has been telling you to do for years, which really matter for user experience, are now going to be official ranking signals. (But it’s no big deal, because you’re doing them already, right?)

In short, your site should not only load quickly, it should be interactive quickly (i.e., people should be able to click on a link without a delay) and the layout shouldn’t shift, as it often does when an ad suddenly appears between two paragraphs of text. User experience matters more than ever and you just can’t get away with subpar hosting or website design anymore

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