SEO Will Drive Serverless Website Adoption in 2021

December 29, 2020

I’m ending 2020 with 4 predictions for how we’ll make websites in 2021! My first prediction is that the JAMstack, and serverless front-ends, and headless CMS’s will see a dramatic boost in usage due to real and perceived benefits to search engine optimization.

How things work today:

Web Developers choose a serverless website framework (like Gatsby), and a headless CMS (like Contentful), and a build and deploy service (like Netlify) because it fits their own workflow. Then the excited Developer has to convince the skeptical Marketer on their team to come along for the ride.

How things will work in 2021:

The Marketer will come to the Developer and demand to use Gatsby or something similar because they hear it can deliver perfect scores in Lighthouse. In 2021 Marketers on a hunt for the best performing architecture will drive adoption of the “serverless” or “decoupled” approach to building websites.

Two Spider-Man people pointing at each other, saying "Let's use Gatsby"
In 2021 Marketers and Developers will finally agree on website architecture

I can even tell you when this switch will happen, down to the month.

May of 2021.

That’s when Google will update its website ranking algo to factor in a page’s Core Web Vitals.

When that shift in search rankings happens, and sites drop a notch or two, Marketers will frantically seek answers to their newfound SEO problems.

Marketers will discover that you have two options: pay a lot monthly and spend a lot of time speeding up your WordPress or Drupal site. Or you can adopt a new stack that’s less expensive, more resilient, and more performant.

But Doesn’t Google Already Consider Perf in Search Rankings?

Actually, no.

Google claims to currently use page speed as a ranking signal, but independent tests have never proven that a faster site routinely beats a slower site.

Search rankings chart
Page speed isn’t currently as important for SEO as Google would like us to think

That means SEO professionals recommend making the fastest site possible, but it’s secondary to many other factors. And a secondary factor for SEO isn’t enough to get non-developers to give up their good-enough traditional CMS.

So why do I think Core Web Vitals will be different?

Well, for two reasons:

Reason #1: The Top Stories promise

Google is promising to elevate pages that have strong Core Web Vitals to the Top Stories carousel that only AMP pages have occupied up to now:

The change for non-AMP content to become eligible to appear in the mobile Top Stories feature in Search will also roll out in May 2021. Any page that meets the Google News content policies will be eligible and we will prioritize pages with great page experience, whether implemented using AMP or any other web technology, as we rank the results.

In addition to a ranking boost, and Top Stories eligibility, pages with strong Core Web Vitals will receive an enhanced look in serps to stand out from other results:

In addition to the timing updates described above, we plan to test a visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience.

This change is a huge motivator for website owners, SEO professionals, and Marketers in general!

Remember how overnight every news site you visited on your mobile phone served you an AMP page with a dumb Google URL? Well, now those same organizations will switch to Gatsby, and Next, and 11ty in search of high Core Web Vitals and Google carousel placements.

Reason #2 Lighthouse is the new Pagerank

.Pagerank is Google’s view of how authoritiative and trustworthy a web page and full website is. The better the Pagerank the higher the search results in Google.

In the old days of SEO, Marketers could easily measure Pagerank because Google use to show a little indicator for the page in the Google Toolbar for IE and Firefox. The ubiquitous bar and the simple measurement helped turn SEO into a game, and Marketers obsessed over getting a high score.

Core Web Vitals can be measured with an open-source tool called Lighthouse. It’s baked into Chrome devtools, Google maintains a website for it, and I’m already seeing services integrate Lighthouse scores into their offerings (for example, my colleagues added Lighthouse tracking to Gatsby Cloud).

In 2021 every Marketer will know their clients’ Lighthouse scores by heart. It will be the new video game score to run up, just like Pagerank back in the day.

So, that’s why things are different now. In the past, Google only vaguely promoted page speed as an important ranking factor in search. Now we have an explicit promise of promoted results, and a measurement tool that boils it down to a number.

(Sidenote: “AMP is Under Fire in New Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google” – which is another reason why Google may be motivated to end the blessed status for AMP pages.)

This Chart Makes Me 🤤

Web Developers hate AMP. But that doesn’t matter.

Google blessed AMP as the only page type that could rank in search under the elevated and enhanced “Top Stories” carousel. Below is a screenshot of how AMP-powered results dominate my mobile screen:

The result of this (unfair) SEO change: Marketers wanted their sweet, sweet mobile rankings, so they demanded AMP and got it.

Look at this bananas adoption curve since AMP was announced 5 years ago!

Chart showing a hockey stick growth rate for AMP pages
According to Builtwith, AMP adoption had a meteoric rise

I mean, the push for AMP was so feverish, that random car website agencies evangelized AMP to their clients.

We’re going to see those same Marketers push the “JAMstack”, and static site builders, and high Lighthouse scores in 2021. Only this time, Developers will happily come along for the ride.

The shift is already happening

Brian Dean is a top tier SEO consultant and influencer. He wrote about SEO updates in 2021, and revealed that he’s so concerned with his own site’s Core Web Vitals that he switched from WordPress to NextJS:

Specifically, I hired an agency to overhaul Backlinko’s code. It now runs on Next.js.

It wasn’t cheap. Or easy.

But in the end this significantly improved our core web vitals scores.

Brian, a Marketer, approached Web Developers and said, “Give me stronger Core Web Vitals. I want to be ready for Google’s update!”. And he agreed to adopt a front-end framework that he probably never heard of before this year

We’re going to see that conversation happen a lot in 2021.

And it will be driven by SEO. That’s my first prediction for how we’ll build websites in 2021.

Photo by Clémence Bergougnoux on Unsplash