Despite a new year, another round of UK lockdowns has 2021 feeling very much the same as 2020. In fact, for most of us, it feels like we’re still living the same day since March 2020!
But don’t be fooled. If there’s one place you can look to for an idea of how 2021 is going to pan out, it’s the digital world.
January may just be the quiet before the storm, as there have been shifts and new announcements happening across SEO and digital marketing; meaning the way we were all working and marketing in 2020, may look different in 2021.
With new platforms and radical shifts in ranking algorithms, it’s time to swat on the new year changes and keep yourself ahead of the curve.
Is history repeating itself? – These SEO announcements may feel like something from the digital history books, but as new algorithms approach, now is a better time than any to heed the words from the powers at Google.
Google Reveals More About SMITH Algorithm
Before you start panicking that there’s a new algorithm in play at Google, we have to put out the disclaimer that Google has not confirmed whether this new algorithm is currently in action or whether it will ever be put to use. And right now the SMITH model is just speculation in the SEO gossip columns.
SMITH is in the same algorithm camp as the BERT. They’re both heavily about content.
BERT was launched in 2019 and is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing. It helps a machine to understand the context of words in a sentence.
The SMITH model is very similar but is trained to understand passages within the context of the overall document.
In November Google released a report about how SMITH outperforms BERT in understanding the context of the content. While BERT does well at disseminating shorter forms of text, such as queries; SMITH is better at understanding long-form content.
Like we’ve said, Google has not confirmed whether the SMITH model is in operation, or whether it will decide to implement it anytime soon.
However, it does clarify that Google is continuously working on how to better understand content. Which to us, signals that content continues to remain a vital part of ranking.
Google and Australia Lock Heads About Links
Google has been causing a media frenzy around the world, as they revealed in January that they would leave Australia, and remove Google Search for Australian users if the Australian Government forces the company to pay to link to websites it lists in its search results.
Australia is attempting to force Google to pay for linking to publishers and news sites under a new regulation.
It may sound absurd that a country is trying to force a global tech company to pay for republishing news, but this is not the face case of it’s kind.
In 2014 a Spanish law required publishers to charge Google for the headlines that appeared on Google News. In response, Google removed the Google News Service from Spain and took Spanish publishers off its news service globally. According to some reports readership for these news stories significantly dropped.
Speaking out about Australias proposed regulation, Mel Silvia, Managing Director for Google Australia and New Zealand commented that;
“The latest version of the Code requires Google to pay to link to news sites, breaking a fundamental principle of how the web works, and setting an untenable precedent for our business, the internet, and the digital economy. This is not just Google’s view. Many other respected voices have raised similar concerns in their submissions to the Senate Committee.”
Google Condones Digital PR
Link building or digital PR, what’s the difference and should we be doing it?
This has been a question that has been doing the rounds in the realm of SEO for decades. But finally, Google’s John Mueller has spoken out about the controversial topic to give some clarity.
Spammy link building is placing your website’s link on all kinds of other platforms and other websites where it’s not relevant or appropriate. It looks spammy to start with, offers no real value to the reader, and is often just dumped in an article or post without any consideration of its relevance. If this is what you’re doing, stop, just stop now. It is doing you way more harm than good.
However, digital PR is so much more. Digital PR is gaining digital press features in relevant places where you are naturally going to be linked to. For example, if you write a feature for an industry magazine, you may be naturally credited with a website link in your bio.
Unfortunately, for too long spammy link building and digital PR have been thrown into the same bucket. But the simple fact is, they’re two entirely different approaches. One has no value to the user, and the other has genuine value and authenticity.
Finally, John is saying that digital PR is great and marketers should be proud of the creative and informative ways they are creating digital press.
Meeting Core Web Vitals is a Must
Well here’s the heads-up folks, if you haven’t been looking at Google’s Core Web Vitals, and where your website sits with them, it’s time to get your act together.
To provide some clarity, Core Web Vitals are Google’s new standards for evaluating whether a page provides a good user experience. After all, Google is all about the user.
In a January session of Google’s Office-Hours, John Mueller confirmed that all three Core Web Vitals benchmarks must be met in order to qualify for the page experience ranking signal boost which will roll out in May 2021.
If your website currently only hits one of the Core Web Vitals benchmarks it’s time to do some work, as this will not get you the boost you want.
Google Rolls Out a New Mobile Interface
In January Google confirmed that it would be rolling out a new design for its mobile search results. Google claims its new interface will be easier for users to read while providing a cleaner, more modern appearance.
Since Google’s switch to mobile-first indexing, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Google is still working on enhancing the mobile user experience.
In 2020, mobile purchases increased due to global lockdowns.
It’s important to bear in mind that Google search results changes are stimulated from user behaviour. Hence why they’ve put their emphasis on improving the mobile experience.
If you are an especially consumer-focussed company, then it would be wise to look at how your website is currently performing under mobile searches.
Contextual Links Start Appearing in Featured Snippets
In November 2020, it appeared that Google was testing out contextual links in featured snippets.
Featured snippets are Google selected search results that are featured at the top of Google’s organic results. The aim of the feature is to answer the user’s question straight-away without the user having to scroll too far down the results to get what they want. Being featured means getting additional exposure in the search results, and many brands build entire content strategies on gaining this high-value SEO realty.
The trouble with this new update is that the contextual links being added is often not the same source of the originally featured snippet – which means all the click-throughs you were getting from having the top spot, could now be shared with another publisher.
As well as being a content battleground, the problem with these contextual links is it provides no control from publishers about being featured.
While the featured snippet is very much in the hands of Google, the contextual link may make many websites concerned about who or what their brand name is being associated with.
Contextual links in featured snippets are still very much in a testing phase, so it will be interesting to see if this is adopted by Google, or if it alters the effectiveness of gaining a much desired featured snippet in the first place.
Where you place your brand’s story says a lot about you and your products. As January 2021 sees a new social media app try to take a piece of the social marketing pie, a question to always ask yourself is this; is this a space that my audience will be on, or is it just another fad?
New App ClubHouse Launches
You may have heard people ask you recently, “are you on Clubhouse?” – and you might have returned them with a blank look.
Yes, it’s official there’s a new social app on the block and already it’s got influencers and celebrities pushing it out like it’s the cure to covid.
To give you a taste of what’s different – Clubhouse is an audio-based social app where you can jump in and out of different chats. You could almost compare it to tuning in to a live podcast, you can join a room and listen to your friend or influencer talking about a particular topic that you’re interested in.
One of the big pulls of Clubhouse is the fact that the content is live and is not saved or recorded. So if you miss Oprah talking about her current meditation routine, that’s it you’ve missed it. There’s no catching up, and there’s nowhere for it to be saved.
So Clubhouse is great at manipulating people with serious FOMO (fear of missing out).
The same goes for their own marketing strategy. In order to join Clubhouse, you have to join a waiting list, or you can be invited by someone who is already on there. Talk about creating a hype.
Another pull that the app has created is the fact it already has celebrities on there including Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, Oprah and Ashton Kutcher. Which means users can hop into a chat being hosted by their favourite celebrity, and even have the chance of joining them in the conversation. As a ‘host’ you can invite people to join the conversation – wild times!
Of course, as with all new apps, there are already some murky waters around its content and privacy.
As the conversations hosted on Clubhouse are not recorded or saved, people can literally talk about ANYTHING and not really be condemned or brought upon it. This means allegations of content around sexism and racism have put the app in hot water around how they’re going to monitor content.
Instagram Stops Feed Posting in Stories
You may have got into the habit of sharing a post in your Instagram feed to your Instagram story. Maybe you’ve heard that somewhere that helps to increase the exposure of your feed, as the gossip mill around Instagram prefers story content engagement rather than posts – but who knows – these social apps love messing around with algorithms.
However, Instagram has now confirmed that it will be testing removing the option to share posts within stories.
The update comes, as Instagram believes that reproducing the same content into stories is not only annoying for users but also removes the creativity intended for the stories feature.
Instagram is encouraging users to see each of the elements of the platform as separate pieces of content and not just a reproduction in various forms. This may also come from the fact that Reels on Instagram can share TikTok videos, which is a competitor.