Yes, SEO Is Still Important: 5 Predictions for 2021

January 17, 2021

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of configuring websites and content like images, videos, apps, PDFs, etc. to show up when people search using relevant keywords on search engines like Google and Bing. SEO is a multi-billion dollar industry—and when I say SEO, this includes the research, production, and optimization of high-quality content.

Companies like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Casper, MoneyLion and others who build SEO into their business model have disrupted the industries they enter. Media companies like DotDash, Future, and Red Ventures do this in a different way. They acquire publishing websites that use SEO and content to get enormous traffic and build huge audiences.

These companies get brands to pay to advertise on these sites so they can access this traffic and these audiences. Even Facebook used SEO to drive growth (SEO starts at 39:40 in the video) and break the 100 million member ceiling.

They use SEO as a competitive advantage and have reaped enormous brand awareness, website traffic, and revenue from it. SEO has such a strong business impact that when Expedia got penalized for bad “Black Hat” SEO practices in 2014, their stock dropped.

Why is SEO so powerful?

Searching is a human behavior. Hundreds of years ago, people crawled out of their caves in search of food. Now people search more than ever—and searches using voice devices have helped drive this growth. After they search, people usually take an action like visiting a location, trying something, or buying something. Having SEO as a skill and marketing strategy allows you to leverage this behavior to benefit your business.

2021 predictions

Now that you’re up to speed on just how important SEO is, I’d like to share my 2021 insights and predictions—and how you can leverage them.

1. Google will continue to be your competitor in search

The first rule in SEO is to understand that Google giveth and Google taketh away.

Google is your competitor in search. I wrote this PSA on Google being a competitor in search in 2017. Rand Fishkin, founder of audience intelligence company SparkToro, did an in-depth study for this article in 2019.

This has continued to be the case and has increased in some industries. The travel industry has suffered the most, and TripAdvisor and Expedia earnings and stock have been affected due to competing with Google on its search engine.

“How do you beat Google in search? Useful and entertaining content will always win.”

Google has been an abundant source of free traffic and revenue, but it has also been absorbing traffic and keeping more and more of that traffic on its own site using widgets.

Google needs people to shop, book trips, and stay on its platform so they can offer advisors and searchers more value. They need to do this to stay competitive against other advertising platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.

How do you beat Google in search? Useful and entertaining content will always win. The only way to beat Google and other competitors in search is to build content that solves a problem or is extremely entertaining. This content has to be optimized for search engines, it should be interactive, and it must offer value that Google can’t duplicate. Things like community forums, interactive widgets, and even full-blown membership sites are good ways of doing this.

2. Trust, authority and user friendliness will rise in importance

Google rolled out guidelines on how they look at web pages and how they differentiate high-quality content from low-quality content.EAT and YMYL are two ways that they do this:

  • EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness): Covers all sites
  • YMYL (your money or your life): Adds a layer of importance on sites in finance and health

This means that you’ll only have a chance to rank for terms in which you have the expertise and authority. Your site should function well, have backlinks from other sites in your industry, and offer a quality experience. Your content writers should have experience in the topics you’re covering so that it’s genuinely helpful to readers.

3. Other channels like email and TV will influence SEO

You can no longer treat SEO like a single channel. Social media metrics have become a ranking factor—and other channels like email and television will start to influence ranking as well. I don’t think they’ll be a direct ranking factor, but focus on using them to grow your ability to rank and to build a strong audience. For example, you can support TV campaigns with relevant articles on the website. This increases traffic and creates the opportunity to build retargeting pools and look-alike audiences from the new traffic that TV generates.

You should be using SEO to collect emails and create your own “walled garden” where you can communicate directly with your audience. Email marketing should also be used to distribute your content and expand that audience. Once people get your emails they may share them on social or link to them on their blog, which will have a positive effect on your SEO rankings.

4. Technical SEO, website security, and compliance will become more important

Technical SEO will continue to be important. Basics like page speed, AMP, site architecture, and schema markup will become essential to your ability to rank. As the internet evolves and gets increasingly hostile, search engines will reward websites that are secure, protect their customers’ privacy, and are compliant to other standards like ADA.

    • HTTPs/2: HTTPs/2 is the next generation of HTTPS security. Google will want websites to upgrade to HTTPs/2 like they wanted people to upgrade from HTTP.
    • ADA compliance: Thee rules for website compliance are straight forward. However, the majority of websites are not ADA compliant and this affects SEO as well. There has been an increase in lawsuits against sites that are not compliant. Accessibe is my favorite ADA compliance tool.
    • Core vitals: These are page speed related items that have real consequences on the user expertise of the site. Use this tool to do a check on your site.

5. Learning SEO will be a competitive advantage

Learning SEO is one of the best things that happened to my career and makes me a more effective CMO, founder, investor, and entrepreneur. Learning SEO gives you a strong foundation in:

  • How websites work
  • How to understand code
  • How to use keywords and other data to produce content, products and businesses that people want
  • How to track performance and results
  • How analytics works for business
  • How to increase website traffic
  • How to increase website conversions and revenue, and
  • How to do business intelligence and competitive analysis

Some of the best entrepreneurs I know started out as SEO professionals.

Searching is a human behavior

Businesses must invest in SEO to compete with Google and other competitors. If they do this, they have the chance of growing awareness about their company and generating new revenue for their business from one of the most vital marketing channels.

Header image by DISRUPTIVO.


Lavall Chichester is the founder of Prior to this he was the CMO of JumpCrew and before that he built and ran the Search, Content, and Voice group for MullenLowe Mediahub and Profero. Lavall made Ad Age’s 2015 40 Under 40 list for turning the search and content group at Profero into a multi-million dollar business in less than a year, which helped the agency get acquired by IPG. He is a growth-focused sales and marketing executive who has helped brands make millions of dollars on and offline. <a href=""></a>