Google Algorithm Updates Summary for 2021

  • Samuel Darwin
  • Nov 19, 2021
Google Algorithm Updates Summary for 2021

To stay updated on the latest happenings in search engine algorithms, you have to keep an eye for Google algorithm updates. Thus, we’ve curated a Google algorithm updates summary for 2021 in a single article. It will keep you updated on search algorithm updates and react with the necessary SEO changes needed.

We’ll discuss all algorithm updates that happened within the previous months. Awareness of Google updates is important in keeping your website competitive in terms of SEO. And since we’ve had a lot of major algorithm updates this year, a refresher will be helpful to create more effective content and SEO strategies.

Let’s look into the different Google algorithm updates from January 2021 up to the time that this article is written. We’ll update this before the end of the year if there are more updates that Google has in store for us. Let’s start!

Why Is Google Algorithm Update Needed?

Google updates its search algorithm to make Google Search as user-friendly as possible. Think of it as a security feature to prevent low-quality and spam articles from reaching the top of search results. Google announced some of these changes – especially the major updates. However, most updates are minimal and won’t affect the rankings that much.

Let us revisit the broad core algorithm update and other small updates we’ve had in the previous year.

Broad Core Google Algorithm Updates for 2020

The year 2020 started with an immediate core algorithm update. Google released the news about its broad core algorithm update for the year. Webmasters noticed this change fairly easily and adapted to them quickly.

A broad core algorithm update is a major update that has a huge impact on ranking different web pages. Since there were 3 major updates last year, the release of the major algorithm update for 2020 tackles 3 different points:

  • Affiliate websites got more defined
  • Natural language processing and spam control in indexing websites
  • Expertise, Authority, and Trust (E-A-T) became strong link signals

But, since we will never be certain of the exact impact of each previous core update, it’s hard to tell if these are the only modifications that Google made. It is safe to assume that from the January to the December 2020 core update, the SEO community became more sensitive to bad links and ranking changes.

FEBRUARY 2021: Passage Ranking Update

Now, we will look into the different algorithm updates for this year. We’ll kick it off with the February 10, 2021 update called the Passage Ranking Update. Sentences and clauses, or “passages”, in your content are better understood by AI technology in indexing. Search engine crawlers no longer read your content per word – passages that are contextually cohesive are indexed together.

This update further improved the ability of search engines to understand your content in context. Site owners are inclined to produce high-quality articles that are contextually relevant to their websites. This update will help you find exactly what you are looking for when your input a search query.

FEBRUARY 2021: “About this result” Update

Google's new feature, "About this result", shows helpful information regarding the search result.
Google’s new feature, “About this result”, shows helpful information regarding the search result.

Some of you may have noticed this update and found it to be helpful – me, too! The “About this result” button can be hard to locate, but it provides information that helps improve the page experience. It’s still in beta release, so it’s still in the workshop. We can expect improvements from this feature in the future.

These are the pieces of information you can find in the “About this result” sidebar:

  • Domain information and security measures
  • Search result relevance based on the search query
  • Language of the content

These pieces of information are useful when searching for the right resource. It’s a means to “double-check” whether the result you are about to click is relevant to the search query. This won’t affect your website’s ranking, but it may affect other factors such as organic traffic and CTR.

MARCH 2021: Mobile Content Indexing

Since the rise of search queries coming from mobile devices in 2015, Google confirmed that they are putting mobile-friendly sites as a priority. A mobile-first approach started on the July 2019 core update for new websites after that. But now, it’s applicable for both old and new sites.

For your site to be considered mobile-friendly, it should:

  • Load fast without delay
  • Fit all sorts of screen resolution
  • Have compatible images
  • Perform well on different browser applications (Safari, Google Play, etc.)

This time, even older websites can compete with newer websites in mobile friendliness. If you own an old website, you can steal the top position in SERP. But if you own a new one, you’re going to have to compete with other older websites after this update.

APRIL 2021: Update Re: Product Reviews

Product reviews for link building, also known as product roundups, have been used for getting quality backlinks. That’s why Google decided to take action and improve the quality check for product roundups.

Product reviews shouldn’t be a summary of industry products and tools. It should be an in-depth analysis that provides value and insight for readers. Getting reviews from link farms and low-quality websites will affect your SEO health.

If you sell products as well, you can do a product review of your quality goods. However, this update does not tolerate sales pitches and promotions in the content. See to it that you are objective in your talking points for Google to interpret your content as a high-quality product review.

This product review update last April affected those sites that produce product roundups for links. They are obliged to update and improve their content because of this quality update. If you haven’t revamped your product roundup article yet, you should do it immediately to avoid losing your rank on SERP.

MAY 2021: MUM

MUM stands for “Multitask Unified Model” which is a natural language processing model for Google’s algorithm AI. Its T5 Text-to-Text Framework is much more powerful than its predecessor, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations).

In context, this update improves Google’s problem-solving capabilities. Understanding the search intent better than before can give search results that are more relevant. This is a significant update because it removes language barriers and makes it easier for everyone to find exactly what they are looking for.

MUM is also capable of understanding images and the search intent behind them. For example, if you take a picture of your tire and ask Google, “can I use these for extreme trails?”, it knows how to answer your query. It’s a wonderful update to Google Search AI to make it more robust and flexible.

JUNE 2021: Core Update (Part 1)

The June core update is split into 2 parts. It’s a wonder why Google couldn’t wait for another month to release this Google core update as one. Why the rush?

After a core update, we usually see its effect in SERP rankings after 24-36 hours. However, the 1st part of this core update is a bit slower to take effect. Observable results came a few days after the rollout of the Google update. This makes SEO professionals doubt the legibility of this core update in June.

Here’s what Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison on Twitter) said in a tweet:

Some of our planned improvements for the June 2021 update aren’t quite ready, so we’re moving ahead with the parts that are, then we will follow with the rest with the July 2021 update. Most sites won’t notice either of these updates, as is typical with any core updates… Of course, any core update can produce drops or gains for some content. Because of the two-part nature of this release, it’s possible a very small slice of content might see changes in June that reverse in July….”

Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison on Twitter)

Is It a Faulty Update?

Even when other SEO professionals think that it is a rushed update, it’s not. The launch of the whole update was not ready at the time of release, so they just released a part of the whole update June of 2021. The 2nd part is released the month after, which resulted in a roller-coaster of ranking changes.

And that’s not good for most webmasters. That’s why this update seemed faulty. But, in essence, taking the two core updates together improved SERP rankings.

JUNE 2021: Page Experience and Spam Update

June 2021 is a jampacked month for Google updates. Google released 2 spam updates (June 23 and June 28) consecutively. They also released the Page Experience update and it’s confirmed by Google that the rollout will continue until August 2021.

The Spam Updates deal with link spam on web pages and image results on Google Search. On the other hand, the Page Experience update deals with improvement on Core Web Vitals to rank. These series of updates are responsible for keeping a good user experience upon searching on Google.

JULY 2021: Core Update (Part 2)

The July core update is the 2nd part of the two-part core algorithm update. This update marked the complete rollout of the new indexing algorithm. Because it is now complete, SEO professionals immediately saw the impact of the two-part algorithm update on a larger scale.

Many sites felt the impact of the July 2020 core update within 24 hours after the rollout. According to Google, all sites, whether big or small, can be positively or negatively affected by the broad core update. You can just wait for another algorithm update and see if your ranking is still going down, or you can proactively figure out a solution for the decline.

Like most core updates, Google kept the secret formula for the change. By looking at different websites affected by the update, we were able to find a pattern. Winners of the previous core update (December 2020 core update) became losers after this one. June results were also reversed after this July 2021 core update.

John Mueller said in a report that both June and July core updates don’t affect the same major ranking factor. They are independent of each other, but both updates made improvements on how Google assesses content. Therefore, it’s wise to recheck the quality of your content and modify it to provide more relevance and value to users.

AUGUST 2021: Page Title Rewrite Update

It was mid-August when webmasters noticed that their page titles have been rewritten by Google in a disappointing way. This sudden change dropped the CTR for a lot of websites, and the webmasters are not happy about it. They didn’t even have the luxury to react to the update by changing their titles. Google did it for them.

The new titles were to represent the whole page’s content. However, some page that offers free tools experienced a sharp decline in their CTR. Their new titles were derived from an H1 heading taken from some part of the article because Google thinks that the page was meant for that. Little did they know that this will decrease the organic traffic of that website by an alarming amount.

To bounce back from this anomaly, webmasters need to modify their content a bit. If the page title shown on SERP is an H1 header, then change the header to something that will satisfy both user intent and search query.

Barry Schwartz confirmed this and said in a follow-up report with Danny Sullivan that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Google has been changing titles for a while to satisfy search intent and help pages with bad page titles. However, HTML tags are still the core basis of page title variations if Google decides to change them.

To Summarize

Google has released 11 search algorithm updates this year. This includes:

  • Passage Ranking Update
  • “About this result” Update
  • Mobile Content Indexing
  • Product Review Update
  • MUM NLP Update
  • Core Update (Part 1)
  • Core Update (Part 2)
  • Page Experience Update
  • Spam Update 1
  • Spam Update 2
  • Page Title Rewrite Update

There are also unconfirmed updates that affected search rankings drastically. The effects include:

  • Historical low (since 2015) for featured snippets (February 2021)
  • Featured snippet recovery (March 2021)

That’s it for the Google Algorithm Updates Summary for 2021. If Google releases a new update, we will also update this article accordingly. If you have questions regarding the algorithm updates, leave a comment below. We’ll give an answer to them as soon as we can.

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