SEO in 2021: Google Updates & Strategies to Stay Ahead

Google in 2021
SEO in 2021: Google Updates & Strategies to Stay Ahead
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The constantly changing and evolving landscape of SEO is one of the main reasons why I love working in the industry.

It’s fast paced, exciting and challenging, yet also very rewarding when we see the impact we have on businesses.

The global pandemic has only accelerated the trend of companies moving online, making SEO even more important for businesses to be able to compete.

Google is always making algorithm updates; in the past few months we have seen the June Core Update, the start of the Page Experience Update and two Spam Updates followed by the July Core Update.

As the search engine grows in complexity, there are many new variables at play – over 200 in fact!

Keeping up with these new trends and staying ahead of the curve is crucial for businesses so that they don’t fall victim of the latest algorithm updates.

In this post we will cover:

  • Common themes that we’ve noticed from Google’s latest updates
  • Recent trends in SEO
  • Strategies to use for succeeding in the ever-changing search landscape

Firstly, let’s get up to speed with Google’s recent influx of updates.

Google’s 2021 Algorithm Updates

June & July Core Updates

Google has recently rolled out a two-part Core Update for 2021: one update in June, one update in July.

Both updates seek to improve the overall user experience of Google and improve the quality of results. Over the last five years, Google has decreased the number of irrelevant entries appearing in search results by over 40%. These kinds of overarching improvements to search are the key function of the Core Updates.

The changes made in the June and July updates are all about improving how Google assesses content overall. These updates have caused some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, have caused some previously rewarded pages to do worse.

While this change-up in the rank/reward system can feel unsettling, it actually provides an important opportunity to shift the focus – away from the “status quo” and towards offering top tier SEO optimised content.

Page Experience Update

Dominating the conversation in the SEO community recently has been the rollout of Google’s Page Experience algorithm update.

This involves three user-centric metrics called the Core Web Vitals and are used as an evaluation of page experience.

The metrics are closely related to page speed — measuring how fast the page loads (Largest Contentful Paint), how soon it becomes interactive (First Input Delay) and how stable it is while loading (Cumulative Layout Shift).

What are the core web vitals?

Source: Backlinko

You can have a look at your website’s core web vitals in Google Search Console and see how your pages are performing on a scale from Poor, Needs Improvement to Good.

Although Google has announced that the Core Web Vitals will impact rankings, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not the be all, end all.

They are taking this into account amongst hundreds of other ranking factors, so even if you are scoring poorly for some URLs, they will prioritise the pages in search engine results that have the best content overall.

These are metrics to take into consideration however not at the expense of overall site speed and usability.

MUM Update

In the world of brand new technology, Google is developing something called “MUM” – Multitask Unified Model, for answering complex search queries.

The goal of MUM is to help users get things done with fewer searches. Currently, Google estimates it takes people an average of eight searches to complete complex tasks

Pandu Nayak from Google uses a good example involving hiking:

Imagine you’ve hiked Mt. Adams and now want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, so you need to know what to do differently to prepare. Right now, you could accomplish this with Google, but you’d have to complete several searches, each seeking out different information about your question.

You’d have to think about and ask questions about mountain elevation, climate, hiking trails, types of gear, and any other number of bits of data to piece together your answer.

But, if you were talking to a hiking expert, you could ask, “What should I do differently to prepare?” and they’d be able to give you one, comprehensive and thorough answer.

With this new technology, MUM becomes the hiking expert, providing you with a detailed answer to your complex question. It can compare elevations for you, recognise and direct you toward what kind of gear you might need, and give you information about the weather in both locations simultaneously.

MUM not only understands languages, but generates it, allowing it to develop a more comprehensive understanding of information and world knowledge. It’s also multimodal, which means it understands information across text and images and can even be expanded to audio and video in the future. This new world of complex searches receiving complex answers could revolutionise the way users locate content, offering them access to a wide range of information they might never have found before while piecing together a search for information on their own, bit by bit. So what does this mean for SEO? It will be more important than ever to ensure text, images and all other content is optimised correctly – so that when MUM goes searching for the answer, it finds your page.

Trends & Strategies for SEO in 2021 📈

With these significant changes and updates in mind, how can you possibly keep up? The key is to adjust your strategy accordingly.

As Google evolves, it’s our job as SEO professionals to evolve your SEO strategy along with it.

Below we uncover recent trends that we think you should know about in the SEO world including:

1. Prioritising User Experience

User experience continues to take centre stage as being a main ranking factor. A recent study shows that websites with an above-average “time on site” tend to rank higher in Google – meaning you want your content to be valuable and user friendly. John Mueller also spoke about the connection between user perspective of a site and the site’s SEO performance.

“Sometimes those small differences do play a role in regards to how people perceive your website. If, for example, you have something that is on a financial topic and people come to you and say “well your information is okay but it’s presented in a way that looks very amateurish,” — then that could reflect how your website is perceived. And, in the long run, could reflect something that is visible in search as well.”

Top Tips for Improving your Websites User Experience

Overall, the easier to navigate, understand and use your site the more likely you are to attract users to your pages and keep them there.

A quality user experience is dependent on everything from ease of navigation to readability and overall site structure.

Below are some strategies for improving your websites user experience:

2. Content Focused on Search Intent 🔎

As the algorithms become more advanced, businesses need to place more emphasis on understanding search intent and what Google is deciding to display at the top of their result pages. 

Analysing search engine result pages (SERPs) is now an important practice as an SEO professional, in order to create a competitive content strategy that appeals to the way searchers want to consume it.

We are no longer able to just rely on keyword research tools alone, but must instead dig deeper into what answers users are looking for and the type of content they want to receive in response to specific queries.

“Semantic search”, introduced during the Hummingbird Google update, is how search engines crawl through the abundance of pages on the web and determine the intent and meaning behind a search query. 

Optimising for semantic search is about understanding what your target audience is looking for, as Google isn’t just matching strings of keywords anymore. They are analysing query content and trying to comprehend a user’s search intent, so they will rank content that is relevant with primary, secondary and semantic keywords.

Google used to care about exact match keywords
Google is smarter now

Source: Backlinko

Top tips for creating content focused on search intent

3. Content Quality & E-A-T 🍴

The principle of E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) continues to be important for successfully ranking content in 2021 to answer searchers needs, particularly for Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) pages.

YMYL topics are ones that are considered to directly impact a person’s future happiness, health, finances or safety. During 2020 we saw E-A-T and the focus on high quality health content particularly important as COVID-19 changed Google’s search results significantly.

Google uses these E-A-T factors to help determine the quality of content – which they have reiterated as being very impactful in their search quality guidelines.

According to their guidelines, great content should:

E-A-T is less about SEO and more about improving the quality and trustworthiness of the information being provided to users. Still, the two go hand-in-hand: the less expert, authoritative and trustworthy Google deems your site, the farther it will fall on the list of reputable websites to direct users to when they conduct a search.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to optimise your content for E-A-T, effectively “teaching” Google that your site can be trusted as a legitimate source to direct searches to.

Top tips for optimising your content for E-A-T

4. Mobile SEO is #1 📱

It’s no surprise that we see Google continuing to focus more on mobile than desktop as users make the switch. If you haven’t considered your website from a mobile perspective, then now is definitely the time! Essentially, Google is now ignoring desktop sites, moving to mobile first indexing instead. This means that your mobile website will determine your SEO rankings.

You’ll need to consider how your website displays on different screens. To quickly check how effective your mobile website is, you can either use Google’s free mobile-friendly test or have a look at the mobile useability report in Google Search Console.

5. The Rise of Feature Snippets ✂️

Another trend you may have noticed is that Google now displays search results in different formats instead of the standard list of blue links on the first page.

These are called featured snippets and are often found at the top of SERPs in a structured format such as a Q&A, bullet-points, or a how-to guide.

Search Engine Journal released a highly informative article on the different types of feature snippets.

These snippets in “position zero” are a great opportunity to gain extra real estate in SERPs and make you stand out amongst competitors. It’s also another reason why SERP analysis is becoming more essential during the keyword research process. Also known as zero-click searches, they now account for more than 50% of all Google searches.

Top tips to increase your chances of getting your content featured

6. Google My Business Essential for Local SEO📍

Google My Business (GMB) is now crucial for local businesses as it’s often a users’ first impression of your business.

Hubspot has revealed out of the 5.6 billion searches that take place on Google every day, 46% have local intent. That panel on the right-hand side of Google is their go-to source of information about your business: opening hours, contact information, location and even safety procedures.

Not only does GMB cultivate trust and authority, an optimised GMB listing can single-handedly improve a business’ local SEO ranking. Users can find your business more easily using the Google Maps integration and even send messages to you directly. Customer reviews are also displayed, giving your business immediate social credibility.

In short, if that panel isn’t there, users might simply look elsewhere!

Top tips for optimising your Google My Business listing

7. Quality Over Quantity Backlinks 🔗

Backlinks are links that guide the user from another website to your website. While this previously was seen as a number game, building backlinks has actually become all about quality. The number of links you have may be an indication of the popularity of your content, but having fewer, more authoritative links is believed to help you more in the long run.

In the past, websites with the largest number of backlinks would often rank highest. This meant that the focus was more on quantity over quality, generating thousands of websites with large numbers of low quality, low relevance backlinks.

Low quality backlinks don’t add to the overall user experience within the search engine and can have the opposite of the intended effect — meaning, they can actually cause your site to drop in visibility from the search results page.

That’s why more businesses are beginning to focus on fewer, higher quality backlinks to provide more value — both to business’ SEO and to the user experience. And in 2021, user experience is key.

Top tips for finding and obtaining quality backlinks

Are you ready to optimise your website for 2021?

The ever-changing nature of SEO means you can’t keep relying on the same optimisation techniques over time and expect good results. As such, you’ll want to stay up-to-date with the changing world of SEO. While SEO optimisation can be a challenge, it’s one of the best investments you can make in your business.

Not every challenge is one you have to take on alone. Excite Media offers award-winning SEO services that will help your website rank and make sure that it’s kept up-to-date with the latest SEO best practices.

Contact us if you’re ready to work together in propelling your business in Google search results!

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