The world of content marketing and organic search underwent a radical transformation in 2021. 2022 is on track for more of the same. Despite the vaccine rollout in many parts of the world, COVID online activity continued to power most businesses. So it’s no surprise that daily new internet users are up to 222 million people in the past 12 months. That means approximately 60% of the world’s population is currently online.
How do you reach this booming virtual audience, in the vast fast-changing digital world?
We interviewed 10 of the top SEO and content experts and asked them to weigh in on the top trends of the past year and what to expect for 2022.
SEO and content trends shaping 2021
1. Brand SERP influences
One aspect of the search engine results page (SERP) that gained more importance in 2021 was brand results because they reveal:
- Your virtual brand image. Brand SERP reveals the way users see your brand when they search for the exact brand name. This can tell you how Google perceives your brand as well.
- The results of your digital content strategy. If your current brand messaging, brand voice and best content are not appearing on brand SERP, it’s time for a content refresh.
Given how big the impact is already, Jason Barnard, a key digital marketing consultant at Kalicube says, going forward “brand SERPs will be accepted as an essential part of any digital strategy. It is Google’s critique of your content strategy and provides a window into your digital ecosystem. Brands will start using these insights to better prioritize their digital marketing efforts and improve the effectiveness of their content strategy both on and off-site.”
For many companies, branded terms are their top organic search terms. Take LinkedIn for example:
With this in mind, it makes sense that Bernard also points to the growing importance of Knowledge Panels, SERP feature information boxes, which explain “people, places, organizations, things.” Here’s an example:
The way your business is positioned in these Knowledge Panels is critical because of their wide reach and prime location on the SERP page. Getting your brand image right on Google is a key part of getting your brand image right in general.
2. SERP changes keep rolling
Knowledge Panels are one type of SERP feature that is growing in importance. SERP features in general became more influential in 2021, along with the importance of optimizing for them. Brodie Clark, SEO consultant at Brodie Clark Consulting, notes:
“Key changes included less visibility for FAQ rich results, which were cut in half through how many rows can appear in SERPs.” Clark also points out one of the most discussed SERP changes from our interviews: The title change update. This update meant that Google more often rewrote the title that showed up on the SERP, instead of using the title specified by a website.
Brodie Clark explains, “Google’s title link update created a lot of buzz in August, which lasted quite a while after…One aspect that was interesting about this change was the disagreement around whether something was “new” from this update. Many were split in their interpretation of the change, which did in fact turn out to be new as described by Google in the various new posts on the topic from Danny Sullivan.”
Director of SEO at Shopify, Kevin Indig also comments on the impact of the title update:
“Google’s title rewrite update was very surprising because the quality was so low. A lot of titles didn’t show better click rates or even a better user experience.”
3. Core Web Vitals take a front seat
Google has been transparent about its Core Web Vitals (CWVs) and their rising importance for ranking factors for top posts and in the future.
While Core Web Vitals came onto the scene in May 2020, their influence as Page Experience signals will continue to be meaningful with 2022 updates expected.
Brain Dean, CEO of Backlinko explains. “In the world of SEO, Google rolling out their Core Web Vitals update was a huge deal.” Dean adds though that “It doesn’t look like the update itself had a massive tangible impact on rankings.”
For Adams, who works primarily in the world of publishing, the focus of many strategies by publishers are changing in response. He explains:
“The introduction of CWV as part of the Page Experience ranking factor for Top Stories news carousels, and the related removal of the AMP requirement for Top Stories on mobile results, has meant that a lot of publishers are re-evaluating their development projects. There has been a trend in 2021 towards abandoning the parallel development track for AMP and instead investing those resources into CWV.”
4. Search intent (by platform)
A sentiment underlined by Similarweb’s Senior Director of Global Content and Social Media, Yael Klass, who stated “with more and more potential customers online, and the rapidly changing SEO landscape, content marketing is the only way you’ll be able to cut through the increased noise online.”
It’s not only how your target audience is searching, but where they are searching. Meaning, although Google is a huge search engine, it’s not the only thing that matters. What else needs to be considered? Social media searches. People increasingly get their content from social media, so you need to match your content’s search intent with all relevant platforms.
Klass points out there has been a “serious spike in LinkedIn engagement since Covid began.” Many people are simply online looking for career advancement and networking opportunities online, while millions of others were forced to find career opportunities online after mass global layoffs. Out of all the networking sites LinkedIn has come out on top compared to job and career websites. 71.15% of visitors came from direct channels from January – October 2021.
And it’s not just LinkedIn. Twitter has a lot of opportunities depending on your audience. Brian Dean explains: “One under-the-radar area we’ve been experimenting with is Twitter organic. Not many people realize this, but Twitter’s user base has increased by nearly 25% since 2019.” Importantly, Twitter users tend to be very tech-savvy. Which is an important demographic for many markets.”
In fact, August 2021 – October 2021, twitter.com ranked in fourth place in the social media industry with the fourth highest average monthly visits (6.68 billion), following right behind facebook.com (21.3 billion), youtube.com (35.4 billion) and google.com (90.2 billion). It’s not surprising then that the organic opportunity is so potent. Tapping into Twitter requires that you are aware of the most engaged audiences there and what they’re searching for exactly.
Ross Simmonds, Founder of Foundation Marketing, echoes the importance of targeted and strategic distribution on relevant platforms, beyond Google, going so far as to say it was one of the most important parts of content marketing in 2021 and will grow increasingly crucial going forward.
Simmonds states, “In 2021, we saw updates to Google’s core algorithm & an increasing number of interactive snippets in the SERP. Google made a bigger shift towards becoming a destination rather than a travel agent for the internet. This shift solidified the importance for brands to think not just about how they create content that is worth ranking — but also the importance of having a diversified set of channels for distribution.”
Forecasting: Bring it on 2022
It’s hard to say what changes this rapidly evolving space will face in the year to come. But, our experts have seen some very telling signs and let us in on some of their secrets to continual success.
1. Interactive content is king
Videos and visuals are already making waves, 2022 will demand even more to stand out. The more time and resources you invest in making your content interactive, the more organic traffic, social shares, and overall impact it will generate.
Dean explains, “I think we’ll see more of a shift towards content interaction in 2022. We’re already seeing most content sites now include a table of contents and expanded sections. But as users become accustomed to not passively reading – but engaging – expect publishers to add more widgets, calculators, and other interactive content in 2022.”
Include interactive content that will keep readers engaged for longer like responsive charts and infographics, games, quizzes, polls, shareable tweets, etc. Not only will you be engaging your audience for longer, but you can increase your reach if your content is shared widely and on different platforms.
2. MUM update to impact
Search engine Senior Strategic and Inbound SEO Consultant at iloveseo.net, Gianluca Fiorelli, noted “of all the updates we experienced in 2021, the introduction of MUM probably is going to be the real game changer.” According to Google, “MUM has the potential to transform how Google helps you with complex tasks.”
Did you catch that? Google is going to be more attune to complicated search intent, so you need to be too.
Fiorelli explains, “This means that we must ensure even more that our websites are always astoundingly visible along all the search journey that a user [does] from, for instance, searching generic information about New Zealand and finally booking a room in a motel in Matamata.”
3. Content distribution please stand up
In the coming year, content marketers will need to rethink their distribution strategy to win the right traffic.
Klass suggests utilizing your brand’s executives in 2022 content distribution. By positioning your business’s leadership as the face of your brand you will not only reach their existing audience but humanize your company. She states, “content will be the only thing that works in long-form, and company executives will need to be more forward-facing and have a strong online presence/personality to build their brand’s identity.”
Okay, so it’s clear why executives need to take a larger role in content creation to amplify your reach, but I hear you asking, why long-form? Brian Dean discovered that long-form content gets approximately 77.2% more links than short articles. External links drive traffic to your website, so the more links the better. Creating content built for distribution is simply the way to go. But, we’ll get into link building more shortly.
Simmonds also emphasized that distribution needs to be a cornerstone of content marketing next year. He predicts, “we’re going to see a continued rise in the value of owned online communities. The world of non-fungible tokens, (NFTs) is showing brands around the globe how important it is to align incentives with customers and the importance of community building. Around the globe, people are signing into Discords, Facebook Groups, Subreddits, and Slack groups to discuss things that are relevant to their interests.
Brands that view this as an opportunity to build a competitive advantage long term are brands that will unlock amazing returns in the months to come.”
In fact, Brandessence Market research reported NFTs grew at a rate of approximately 328% in transactions during the first half of 2021, and third quarter of 2021. Forbes actually found that NFT market caps grew a whopping 1,785% in 2021.
This means going forward, content marketers need to take advantage of opportunities for incentive-aligned NFTs as a marketing tactic is going to change the way brands operate. From couponing and paid media to shared ownership and community building, the rise of NFTs and the blockchain will change the way business is done forever and the quicker marketers adapt, the quicker they will drive results.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss content changes without touching upon SEO. Algorithms are changing every week and more content is being created every day which makes organic traffic harder to win. Simmond underlines, ‘this is why content distribution should be on every brand’s radar. It’s not enough just to create content. You have to embrace the idea of ongoing distribution as well.”
Speaking of SEO, let’s take a look at how it is predicted to look in 2022.
4. Google SEO best practices will evolve
Kevin Indig shed some light on how he expects Google to evolve: “first, Google might take more control of how websites appear in the search results. Second, I expect more SERP Features that draw clicks away from organic results. Google announced that search will become more visual and they’ve kept their word already in 2021. I expect 2022 to be a continuation of that.”
In a quick analysis of search behavior, approximately 97% of traffic is organic.
Let’s use the keyword “winter jackets” as an example here to see what this means for SERP features. If about 96% of all traffic for this keyword is organic, and 66% of those organic searches end in zero clicks, that means only approximately 30% of all possible traffic on this keyword is won by a relevant website. That’s a huge drop. See why SERP features are such a big deal?
Jono Alderson, Special Ops Professional at Yoast, predicts “the importance of performance optimization will continue to grow, especially as Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics expand. Google already announced that new measures for ‘Smoothness’ and ‘Responsiveness’ are likely to be added to their criteria in the near future. And that’s on top of an annual review process which continually raises the bar for what ‘good’ looks like.”
5. Link building will look different
Link building is not simple. It requires a lot of leg work and is very time-consuming. Stacey McNaught predicts this trend will only increase stating, “I think we’re going to see outreach get tougher and tougher and, honestly, I think it’s unsustainable to rely 100% on outreach-led activity for your link building. I expect we’ll start to see people diversifying their link-building approaches more.”
In 2022 we will start seeing more creativity in how people create and distribute content, as well as how they approach external websites for links. The use of social networks as a way of direct reachout, relationship building and proposing partnership opportunities will only continue to grow. Additionally, as the SERP diversifies, it’s safe to say SEO’s will expand their link building efforts to new platforms.
According to Brian Dead 94% of the world’s content gets zero external links and only 2.2% of published online content acquires multiple backlinks.
As discussed earlier, linking is crucial to reaching your target audience. Here’s the breakdown of the word count for the 6% of content containing external links.
What a missed opportunity for a staggering amount of content. It’s no wonder link building is going to need to adapt to keep up with the times.
Who the top marketers are following in 2022
We asked the top marketers in their field who we need to keep an eye on in the coming year to stay up to date with the latest SEO and content marketing trends.
3-2-1 Happy New Year!
2021 was a great year for Content Marketers and SEOs. With so many exciting changes it kept us on our toes. And, 2022 is shaping up to be even better for those who keep their finger on the pulse.
Stay in the know with the latest data and insights on what’s happening in SEO – and win your market with Similarweb Digital Marketing Intelligence.