I’m back! Holy cow, a TON of SEO stuff has happened. I don’t know when I will be able to catch you all up on it all but I will do my best. As we look at the end of 2021, another year of covid-19 variants, infections and related political strife, much of the SEO realities we are dealing with are very much colored by all the current events as Google tries to respond to what it sees as misinformation, the growth of Google’s Algorithms, and the ever evolving internet. Several years ago, when I considered whether to choose SEO as a career path worthy to replace working in the games industry, the ever shifting and changing landscape of SEO was a big plus and this year that feature has not disappointed.

Google Update List

The following is a list of Google confirmed Updates and some that are unconfirmed but broadly recognized by the SEO community as updates:

  • Passage Indexing Update — February 10, 2021
  • Featured Snippet Drop — February 19, 2021 — Unconfirmed
  • Featured Snippet Recovery — March 12, 2021 — Unconfirmed
  • Product Reviews Update — April 8, 2021 — Confirmed
  • June 2021 Core Update  —  June 2, 2021 — Confirmed
  • Spam Updates  —  June 23, 2021 — Confirmed
  • Page Experience Update  —  June 25, 2021 — Confirmed
  • July 2021 Core Update  —  July 1, 2021 — Confirmed
  • July 2021 Link Spam Update  —  July 28, 2021 — Confirmed
  • Page Title Rewrites  —  August 16, 2021 — Confirmed
  • Unnamed Update  —  October 2, 2021 — Confirmed
  • November 2021 Spam Update  —  November 3, 2021 — Confirmed
  • Product Reviews Update — December 1, 2021 — Confirmed

In my part of the web, the early year updates seemed pretty typical with brief volatility and things quickly returning to normal or slightly improving. Beginning with the June Core Update and pretty much every weekend since, there has been high volatility with weekly spikes with rare and brief periods of low SERP volatility.

Notable Updates

Page Experience

The Page Experience Update which began rolling out on June 25, 2021 and finishing in late August was certainly the most anticipated and planned for update in recent history. About 2 years ago, Google began down-playing the effects this update would have (or how big of a ranking factor the Core Vitals would be) on rank after the update. No doubt, millions of websites were optimized in anticipation of this update, but there is minimal detectable effect on rank. There is a rank boost with improving the Core Vitals, and if your site is a big offender with Core Vitals then you may see a bump from improving performance, but it’s not a large or major effect on its own. In short, the Core Vitals are performance metrics used by Google to assess a website’s technical performance from the perspective of usability. They are as follows:

  • First Contentful Paint (FCP) — Time to render the first element of a website
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) — Time to render the Largest element of a website
  • First Input Delay (FID) — Time to allow user interaction with a web-page
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) — How much key elements of a page move as the page is rendered

In addition to Core Web Vital metrics, the Page Experience also includes other User Experience factors such as

  • Mobile friendliness of your website (Whether or not there are any imitations to how your site is viewed on a mobile device)
  • Whether or not your site uses HTTPS (secured with an SSL certificate provided by the web host)
  • Whether or not your site abuses the use of intrusive interstitials (pop-ups that cover the screen and force the user to engage them before viewing the website).

While the cumulative effect of fixing problems with these can be significant, taking a page from “Needs Improvement” to “Good” as measured by Google’s Search Console may not have much of a measurable effect on rank, and this has been my experience so far. I recommend doing whatever you can within reason to improve your pages performance with these and other performance metrics, I would caution against focusing too much on these metrics and not on the overall user experience for your website visitors.

June & July Core Updates

This pair of updates was unusual in that some gains that websites may have gained in June were reversed in July, and Google said as much before-hand. These updates appear to be a continuation of the tuning Google is doing to the algorithm to prefer high quality content over thin content — especially in areas or industries where there is more at stake (Termed as YMYL “Your Money Or Your Life”) for the consumer of the information. Think about the low stakes of say a movie or tv show review vs a stock tip on a financial site or a medical diagnosis site. Some info is critical to be given by reputable sources and sites that use thin content or suspicious sources have done poorly over the last several Google Core Updates.

December Product Reviews Update

The December 2021 Product Reviews Update would not seem to have the broad effect on the internet (in the USA, at least) from it’s name as Google has said it should only affect product review articles and pages, but the volatility metrics for all industries in the USA have been affected for the entire month. This usually just means that there is more to the stated official purpose of the update than has been released by Google. I have noticed all year since June, that there have what appears to have been almost weekly unconfirmed updates or changes to the algorithms and index.

SEO in 2021 - Finding the Path Forward

Finding the Path Forward

The way to weather these updates continues to be to do your best to follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines, provide users with the best experience possible and continue to optimize with value to the user in mind. Google continues to try to get better at processing and understanding content with AI, and helping Google’s AI to most clearly understand a website, a company and their business, remains the primary job of SEO.

I can see Information Architecture playing a growing role in this through creating logical structures for un-structured data on the page, which is basically the copy on the visible page. Good and easily understood copy that has a logical outline structure, coupled with good, informative structured data which is in the code of the website and not seen visibly on the page will continue to grow in importance for creating and maintaining successful websites.

It’s been a hectic but fun year to be working with SEO. I am blessed to be doing what I am doing. Happy New Year to all!