I usually do one article every year in which I predict what I see happening in search. I peer through my crystal ball and try to figure out what the big trends will be in the coming year. I also review my previous predictions to see just how close I came.
2020 was not your typical year as we spent much of 2020 learning about coronaviruses, social distancing and just how much hand sanitizer we can use in a day.
And for 2021 I think we will see some major shifts in not only how search engines like Google work, but how people use their technology to find the information they are looking for, and perhaps even WHERE people search.
But before we get into my 2021 predictions let us review what I predicted for 2020:
- Prediction #1 – Increased Focus on Zero Click / Onebox / Rich feature snippet results
- Prediction #2 – Increased Focus on Local Search
- Prediction #3 – Increased Focus on Brand Improvement
- Prediction #4 & #5 – Increased Focus on User Intent and UX (User eXperience)
- Prediction #6 – Ensuring your Mobile Presence is Well Optimized
- Prediction #7 – The rise of PWA (Progressive Web Apps)
- Prediction #8 – Increased Use of Video as an Effective Marketing Channel
- Prediction #9 – Increased Length of Article Posts
- Prediction #10 – Voice Search WILL NOT Take Off in 2020
Well, I hit this one 100%. We did see more and more onebox / zero click results. These are the results you will see at the top of a SERP that gives you your answer without clicking. There were more of these showing up in 2020, and I expect we will see even more of them in 2021 as Google gets better at finding and matching passages on pages.
I have always felt local search was under-represented in search. But I think I hit the nail on the head here. More and more businesses I talked to asked about local search and map listings in 2020, particularly in Google. There does seem to be a bit of a shift from pure organic rankings to a mix of organic and local. More businesses are beginning to see the power of local search and are shifting budgets to map rankings.
Again, I was correct, but I believe I was a little early with the prediction because it did not seem like many businesses were concerned with brand optimization until the second half of the year. And I think Covid was the reason for this. So, while I was correct, I do not know if brand would have been as important this year had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic.
I nailed this one! 100% correct! 2020 was all about the user. Designing for users, writing for users, optimizing for users. Google even shifted it is site performance tools to focus more on how websites work for users. Acronyms like LCP, CLS, TBT all became buzzwords in the optimization game this year. And they will be even more important in 2021 as Google shifts to mobile first rankings.
I would have nailed this one too had Covid-19 not become the topic for 2020. Google was already moving in this direction with the planned release of mobile first ranking in 2020, but because of the pandemic they pushed the date to 2021.
I missed the mark on this one. While we have just begun to see the transition away from apps to webapps, we are still a year or more away from full implementation of this. Part of the delay has to do with Apple. Until recently they never supported the PWA standard. But now that they do, I expect we will begin to see this transition.
Local search grew tremendously in 2019. Early in the year Google made adjustments to show local map listings in more search results, while later in the year they applied many of the same ranking algorithms to local results. Therefore, things like EAT, and brand become more important than just the number of reviews or how close you were to the searcher’s location.
This is 100% accurate
I was partly right here. There was a lot of discussion about article length over the year. While I still believe longer articles can help with ranking, simply writing more words is not enough. The articles still need to be informative and useful. However, it is still clear to me that the overall length of an article is not a large enough ranking factor to be concerned with. In other words, whether the article is 500 words or 1500, the longer article is not going to magically rank higher just because it is longer.
Also correct here. Really, voice search did not grow much in 2020. In fact, it seems to have stagnated over the past couple years. While we have seen new voice enabled devices which came out over the past couple years, it has not resulted in any shift of any kind away from screen based SERP to audio based.
So, now that we have gone through last year, let’s look forward to 2021. Here are my predictions for 2021:
Prediction #1 – the Beginning of the End for desktop search
This is not so much a prediction as an understanding that, when Google shifts to mobile results in early 2021, the desktop will become less important. As more people switch to their mobile devices to do everything, desktop versions of websites will become secondary. Mobile first design will get the recognition it deserves. It should make for an interesting future as more designers figure out better / more interactive ways to fully utilize the mobile device.
Prediction #2 – Continued growth in zero click results
This is also a safe bet as what started in 2016 will continue to grow. More and more searches resulting in zero click results because the information which people are searching for will be visible directly on the SERP. When you combine that with improvements in “passage indexing” where Google has been getting better at matching longer and longer strings of phrases, it will become even easier for search users to not have to click through to a website.
Prediction #3 – YouTube will get more social
While I would prefer to see video more mainstream and have more prominence in SERP, I think such advancements in indexing will be secondary to YouTube’s quest to capture more eyeballs. They will do this by mimicking other social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. It will be through these shorter clips where video can begin to gain prominence.
Prediction #4 – Core Web Vitals & Page Experience Optimization not as important as we though
2020 saw a shift from pure site speed to site usability and user experience. We all learned of things like “Cumulative Layout Shift” and “Largest Contentful Paint“. While some SEOs will likely focus much of what they do on optimizing these values, I believe that, just like website speed / load time, these metrics will have a much smaller impact on rankings than we currently think. These things will just become more tics on your on-page SEO checklist. In other words, while it will be important to ensure these areas are all addressed as much as possible, sites which are slightly slower will not see a huge drop in their rankings as offsite factors will still be the most important driver of rankings.
Prediction #5 – Local Search Matures – Becomes viable alternative to Organic
Local search has been evolving for years. Over those years the engines have experimented with how to display results and how to provide even more information about those local listings, even when the listing itself does not have the information searched for.
I do see the big 3 local players – Google, Apple, and Bing, all making strides. I think you will start to see more features appearing on their local offerings as the providers (mainly Google and Apple) battle it out for map supremacy.
Bonus Prediction – Apple Search Premieres
Not too much of a stretch but I do think 2021 will be the year we finally see Apple’s search engine, and I think it could be a game changer, provided the company does not “Apple-ify” it like they do everything else. In other words, I hope they DO try and be more like the other engines by ensuring their search service is not too gimmicky or it just will not last.
Ultimately, thought, I do not think Apple’s search engine will be a commercial success, which will lead to a bidding war between Google and Bing to provide search results. But that is a year or 2 away yet 😊.
So, there you have it – my top 5 (plus bonus) predictions for search in 2021.
If you were to review my past predictions, you will see I have been pretty accurate.
In 2020, as addressed above, I was pretty accurate. In 2019 I predicted the growth of SEO for Branding, optimizing for user intent (rather than search engines) and site speed as a ranking factor, all of which came true.
While in 2018 I predicted the growth of “hyperlocal” searches, which basically just became local search, with more map results appearing for more local searches. Back when I made this prediction it was when organic still dominated SERP and you would only see map results for a fraction of the local searches completed. Now of course MOST local search returns map results.
And if you were to go back further, you would see that I am getting about 4 in 5 of my predictions coming true. But will that continue moving forward? Only time will tell.