Google Algorithm Updates 2021: What You Need To Know

Google Algorithm Updates 2021 image

It’s no secret to any digital marketer that Google’s SEO algorithm updates play a central role in making your content visible. The way that they calculate search engine results has an incredible impact on how your website performs. There have been several Google core algorithm updates in recent years, with the latest one happening just weeks ago in November 2021, which included efforts to improve spam updates. 

Google made an announcement on Twitter, posting “As part of our regular work to improve results, we’ve released a spam update to our systems. This November 2021 spam update should be fully rolled out within a week. We encourage sites to follow our best practices for Search.” 

How will this update affect your website? Are you prepared to take advantage of the most recent Google algorithm update? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Google’s algorithm update in 2021, and why you should care. 

What Are Google Search Engine Algorithms?

Let’s back up a bit: what is a Google search engine algorithm? Simply put, it’s an internal process that Google uses to rank content. To be more specific, Google’s algorithms are a complex and sophisticated system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses several ranking factors along with a combination of it’s latest algorithms to deliver web pages ranked by relevance on search engine results pages (known as SERPs). 

The algorithm is mysterious and can be quite vexing. Outside of Google’s inner circle, no one really knows exactly how their algorithms operate. There are many confirmed best practices and a lot of speculation about how to make the most of Google search engine algorithm updates, but no one has the exact formula. If the algorithm was made public, that would allow companies to exploit and manipulate the system. 

That being said, Google does provide a wealth of information about their search engine algorithms. Google Search Central (formerly Webmaster) tools offer plenty of guidance, and their communication channels often include detailed guidelines around what the algorithm values when it ranks content.

How Do You Know If Google Is Launching A New Update?

Google has a robust history of algorithm updates and search index changes. It’s important to remember that Google’s search engine algorithm is dynamic and ever-evolving. Their ultimate goal is to provide the BEST search experience to users, and so the technology giant regularly implements larger core updates, as well as smaller tweaks. 

That can make it difficult to know exactly what you should be doing at any given time. There’s no set calendar for the updates, and sometimes Google won’t even confirm whether or not an update has taken place. We suggest using a SERP volatility monitoring tool to get an idea of whether any significant changes have been made. You can also follow Google on social channels to find their announcements, or ask an SEO expert whose job it is to be in the know. 

You’re generally safe if you follow Google’s best practices for core updates, but even if you know there has been an update, the impacts to your SEO efforts might take time to become apparent. 

How Does An Algorithm Update Impact Seo?

Even though small changes happen all the time, core changes can really impact SEO results – and the performance of web pages. Unfortunately, that means that all of the energy and resources you’ve put into your website until now could be for nothing if you don’t understand and tailor to the latest algorithm updates. 

Core updates can change the ranking signals that Google uses in their search algorithm. For example, an update could eliminate the otherwise positive impact of a ranking signal targeted by your website. Occasionally core updates even penalize websites. For example, the Panda update imposed an automatic and algorithmic penalty on websites with thin content. Some updates even totally restructure the SERP’s layout, since they can add, remove and modify alternative listings in Google’s SERPs. 

If you notice a change in your web page’s search engine ranking, placement, or traffic, it could be that a recent google algorithm update is to blame. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open for news of any updates, and take the time to read about and understand them so that you can take additional measures. 

What Are The Latest Google Algorithm Updates? 

The most recent google algorithm update happened in November 2021. However, some more significant updates also happened in June through August of 2021. This was a broad core algorithm update called “The Page Experience Update.”

Page Title And Page Experience Update

Page Title updates – This involves a new system of generating title tags for web pages. In essence, Google formerly used meta tags and public information to display title tags that were more relevant to a searcher’s query. The new process is designed to deliver titles that work well for any query, decreasing the chance of a webpage displaying different titles depending on search intent. Google is now also using text found on a page to create relevant title tags.

Page Experience updates – This update’s goal is to deliver a better experience to users by boosting pages that offer better page performance (i.e. fast load times, and a non-shifting, stable page, etc). While Google has always had some page experience metrics (such as mobile-friendliness), they are now introducing three new metrics to measure both speed and overall page experience. The latest metrics are called Core Web Vitals.

What Are “Core Web Vitals”?

The new Core Web Vitals are: largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS). The metrics will serve as lightweight ranking signals, while allowing website owners to monitor and improve the loading speed, responsiveness, and stability of their websites, ideally leading to a better user experience (UX). 

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – This data measures how a user perceives the initial load of a page (meaning the visual part of the load time). More precisely, LCP measures the time it takes for the largest block of visual content on a page to load. 
  • FIrst Input Delay (FID) – This metric measures how much time it takes for a page to become responsive. For example, if you click a button on a page, and it takes a moment to respond, it has a slower FID. 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – This number is designed to measure page stability. For example, if you’re reading an article and the page shifts, causing you to need to find your place again, then you’ve experienced a page layout shift. 

How Can You Measure Core Web Vitals?

The scores associated with each metric are cultivated from field data from the Chrome User Experience report. However, other Google reports and tools can help you to discover and decipher the data needed for Core Web Vitals. 

The important thing to note is that all of the metrics are compiled from real user metrics. As part of its Chrome User Experience report (crUX), Google collects anonymous feedback from Chrome users. You can find this data in both the Pagespeed Insights tool and the Core Web Vitals report in Search Console. You can also collect data and insights from: 

  • Lab data, such as from a tool like Google Lighthouse
  • The PageSpeed Insights Tool, which shows an overall score calculated from Lighthouse data, as well as data from the Chrome User Experience Report. 
  • Core Web Vitals Report – This compilation shows how your pages perform for each of the three metrics based on real-world usage data. 

Why Are The Core Web Vitals Important? 

Do these new metrics really matter? In short, yes. 

Industry research shows that there’s a strong correlation between user experience and conversions. According to Google, “Providing a smooth journey for users is one of the most effective ways to grow online traffic and web-based businesses. We hope the Web Vitals metrics and thresholds will provide publishers, developers and business owners with clear and actionable ways to make their sites part of fast, interruption-free journeys for more users.” These metrics help website owners understand and improve user experience for greater visibility, increased traffic, and a higher conversion rate.

How Do You Pass The Core Web Vitals Assessment? 

Every website owner should put their site through an audit using the Core Web Vitals report in the search console. This will give you an overview of where you stand in each area, as well as an idea of problems that are specific to your site. In the Core Web Vitals assessment, you’re looking for all green fields. That means you can simply continue to monitor the metrics and optimize when necessary. If you are scoring orange or red in any fields, further work is necessary. 

It’s worth noting that improving in these areas can require a strong technology acumen. If you’re not a developer yourself, you may need to rely on team members or outsource the work to an SEO expert.

The Biggest Google Algorithm Updates Of 2021 

So what other Google algorithm updates happened in 2021? Here’s a quick breakdown: 

  • Page titles – According to Google documentation, “our new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.” This update also placed particular importance on what a visitor can visually see on the page.
  • Page experience – This update allowed Google to begin using page experience as part of their ranking systems (more specifically, this is where Core Web Vitals were introduced). 
  • Mobile-first indexing – According to Google, this update means that the algorithm “predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query.” This update rewards mobile websites since most web traffic is conducted on mobile devices. 
  • Link spam – Aimed to improve experience by refining inbound and outbound links across sites and nullified links that weren’t attributed correctly and/or came from less than reputable sources. 
  • MUM – Google’s Multitask Unified Model aims to meet modern search demands by using an AI-powered algorithm to improve online search capability. Because the search engine historically lacks intuition, MUM attempts to overcome geographical and linguistic barriers.
  • Product reviews – This enhancement to Google’s ranking system rewarded sites with thorough and thoughtful product reviews.
  • About this result – This update shows users why they get the results they were shown. It was designed as a way to help users properly vet sources that they weren’t familiar with using data sourced from Wikipedia.
  • Passage ranking – Created to surface answers to highly specific questions, this update made it possible to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages. Google can identify passages and even single sentences that are highly relevant to search queries hidden deep within web pages.

The Most Important Google Algorithm Updates In 2020

Obviously, 2021 was a big year for Google algorithm updates! But the dynamic nature of the algorithms means that each year we experience new updates and improvements. In 2020, we saw: 

  • A December core algorithm update, which was the last major one of the year. It had several wide-reaching effects across websites in every language. 
  • An expansion of Google’s BERT, which didn’t directly impact SEO but made important strides for machine learning and improved accuracy. 
  • May 2020 core update, called “broad and comprehensive,” didn’t target any one portion of SEO ranking factors, but worked to improve the algorithm across the board. 
  • January 2020 core update, which was relatively small and wasn’t felt by many SEO experts.
  • Google BERT Natural Language Processing Update was a major initiative that would come to have a massive impact on search queries throughout 2019, 2020, 2021, and continues to impact SEO today. BERT was a significant change to how Google interacted with web pages, using a neural network to read webpages and learn as humans do. Technically this update took place in 2019, but continued to be refined and expanded in 2020. 

How Do You Succeed When The Google Algorithm Keeps Changing?

If the terms “ever-evolving,” “dynamic,” and “continuously improving” make you a little nervous when it comes to Google’s search engine algorithm, you’re not alone. It’s a lot to ask of website owners and administrators to not only keep up with the latest Google algorithm updates, but implement changes to optimize for them. 

What’s a digital marketer to do in the face of a constantly changing SEO landscape? Here are some of the tips we share with our clients to help them be successful, before and after updates. 

  1. Remember that every update is geared toward user experience and helping users find the information they need as quickly as possible. Make those your goals too. Think less about the search engine and more about the end-users who will consume your content. Create content with real people in mind and offer as much value as possible
  2. Develop a site that is easy to navigate. This is part of a great user experience (in fact, it’s one of the most important components). Create a clean, organized, and intuitive navigation based on research of the way people interact with your site and consume information. 
  3. Use a variety of types of content. Everything from images to video to infographics and text matter. Content diversity can help attract traffic and keep their attention, and you never know how content formats will be impacted in algorithm updates – so keep your bases covered.
  4. Consistently monitor your website. Develop a framework of metrics and commit to reviewing data on them frequently. This way you can discover changes in traffic, performance, or other important areas. Dig deeper into reporting for insights on the problems and actionable ways to address them. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As we mentioned above, Google algorithm updates are complex and can be cumbersome to deal with. Unless you’re a developer yourself, constantly monitoring for updates and then implementing the suggested changes is going to feel overwhelming (or worse, get missed altogether). If you really have concerns about the updates impacting your website, consult with a professional SEO expert who can help you to navigate this critical area. 

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