september_seo_insight

SEO Insights – September 2021 Report

september_seo_insight

 

In September, Google held its second main search event of the year, Search On ’21, and as expected, the focus was very much on the advancements in search through increased AI.

Google’s search algorithms have become phenomenally complex. Gone are the days of the ‘200+ ranking factors’ that Google used to talk about when trying to explain the many factors that it takes into account for ranking web pages.

And long gone is a results page compiled of 10 blue links. Today we have knowledge boxes, local listings, image and video results, ‘people also ask’ options and so much more, all embedded within the search results.

This constant and exponential evolution of the search results has been necessary in order to keep Google current, relevant and authoritative as the most advanced search engine today. Instead of just crawling the web looking for content, Google’s mission is to now add context to everything it finds.

MUM’s the word

Most of the search advancements talked about at Search On ’21 were around Google’s AI technology called MUM, which stands for ‘Multitask Unified Model’. MUM is a hugely powerful AI technology that has been developed to better understand information and knowledge and be able to offer help based on complex questions, the type of questions that today’s version of Google search cannot effectively handle, for example:

“I failed my driving test last month, how can I be bettered prepared for the next one?”

With MUM’s more advanced understanding of the actual meaning of this phrase and what it relates to, results would likely feature helpful videos, advice and maybe feedback from others who have been through the same thing.

In essence, the results would be much more insightful and helpful than they are today. MUM is able to understand the entire context around the question.

MUM is also multilingual, meaning that if answers are available in another language, they can be presented to the searcher in their own language. It means that ALL information around the world is available to everyone. That’s a very significant advancement.

Now, let’s delve into some of the key search highlights from the Search On event…

Things to know

Google’s new ‘Things to know’ feature is designed to help users better explore and understand new topics. Google gave an example of what this would look like for a search for ‘acrylic painting’:

Being driven by AI means that with results like this, Google will keep learning and better understanding what users want to find related to these types of searches.

‘Things to know’ highlights the need for websites to host a variety of useful and related content around a specific subject. It will help to drive traffic to pages that perhaps previously would not have appeared for these search terms.

This is an exciting and interesting development benefiting websites that have focused on providing a broad range of content around a specific subject matter.

Refine and broaden

The ‘Things to know’ feature allows users to understand more about a specific subject but an additional feature will allow users to refine their search further or, alternatively, to broaden it. For example:

The ‘Refine this search’ feature initially appears similar to the related searches links that appear at the bottom of the current search results:

September 2021 google updates image

However, the new feature seems to appear embedded within the search results, instead of at the bottom of the page, and the suggestions are mostly different and actually possibly more relevant to the search term. Is this going to be an opportunity for websites with content that focuses on long-tail searches?

Related searches currently appear for all search queries but ‘Refine this search’ and ‘Broaden this search’ may only appear for selected queries. We will need to wait and see how this is rolled out.

Inspirational search results

Over the years, we’ve seen images and videos increasingly appearing in the search results, particularly for searches where a visual representation of the website is helpful and desirable, such as when looking for ideas and inspiration.

Google is now taking this a step further and instead of the somewhat messy integration that that we see today, the images and videos are being integrated into a more seamless, natural and visibly appealing set of search results. It appears similar to how Instagram displays its posts and this looks to be quite a positive and welcome change.

We’ll need to wait and see what impact this has on click-through rates from the search results as it’s quite a change from the current search results, with a much greater focus on displaying the images first instead of the text snippets.

As with posts on Instagram and YouTube, this is likely going to encourage marketers to make images more enticing to click. An appealing ‘click-bait’ thumbnail image can generate significantly more clicks than a standard image thumbnail.

More from the event

The above are just some of the search highlights from Search On ’21. You can read more about all of the announcements here.

It is exciting to see the innovations that Google is making in the field of search. As Google SVP, Prabhakar Raghavan, has stated: “Search is unsolved and possibly unsolvable, we’re still bound by human curiosity and cognition.”

And so the evolution of search continues…


August-2021-SEO-Insights

SEO Insights – August 2021 Report

August-2021-SEO-Insights

 

Google likes to keep the SEO industry on its toes and around the 16th of August they released a new update which has seen many SEOs up in arms about it.

This new update is focused not on changing the rankings of pages but instead on changing the title in the search result snippet that the user sees when searching:

August 2021 SEO Insights Blog Image 1

Historically, but not always, Google has used the HTML title tag text as the wording for the title of the search snippet. Following the introduction of this new update, Google is now choosing to change it to make it more appealing to the user and in line with that they have searched for.

HTML title tags are mainly used for SEO purposes to define the subject of the page. Sometimes these can be quite long or appear to be ‘unnatural’ because they have been written in a way that makes them better from an SEO perspective instead of from a user perspective.

Therefore, it makes sense that Google would want to show the user a more friendly title to click on. For example, let’s search for “removals company Manchester”:

August 2021 SEO Insights Blog Image 2 - Removals Company Manchester SERPS image

We can see that the title is shown as “Removals Company Manchester | Pickfords”. This is exactly what we are looking for and the brand name is also included.

However, the actual title tag for the page is this:

Removals Manchester | Removals Company Manchester | Pickfords

Google has chosen to remove the initial part assuming that the middle part is more applicable to the search query and more useful to the user. It’s interesting to note, however, that when searching for “removals Manchester” Google is still choosing to show “Removals Company Manchester” in the title snippet:

August 2021 SEO Insights Blog Image 3 - Removals Company Manchester SERPS image

Does Google now deem it unnecessary to have “Removals Manchester” in the title tag in this particular case?

In most cases, however, Google is choosing to display the main H1 heading tag as the title in the snippet. Take this search as an example:

August 2021 SEO Insights Blog Image 4 - Plumbing and Domestic Heating SERPS image

The actual title tag of the page is this:

Plumbing and Domestic Heating qualifications and training courses | City & Guilds

Google has taken the main heading of the page to display as the title in the search result:

August 2021 SEO Insights Blog Image 5 - City and Guilds webpage

In this case, it is strange that this heading has been used as it doesn’t actually mention “training courses” which is what we searched for. Possibly the actual title tag would have been better in this case?

What’s the big deal?

If this doesn’t alter the rankings of pages then what’s all the fuss about?

The reality is that this change can have an impact on the click-through rates from search results. Users typically scan search results quite quickly, looking for the result that will give them the best answer to their query.

If the text snippet has changed then it means that the link displaying the title may attract less or more clicks to it.

There are many SEOs posting screenshots of the negative impact of this update but, as with any update, there are always winners and losers.

Google will keep tweaking this update as it’s not yet working quite as it should do in all cases, but the important thing is not to panic.

We’ve seen SEOs frantically changing titles and headings, which is a big mistake. Pages generally have multiple queries that they can rank for and the snippet title may change relative to the search query. This update may positively impact some search results and negatively impact others.

We will be reviewing the rewriting of title tags for all of our clients once there is enough data to make a reasonable judgement on click-through rates as a result of the update.

Looking ahead

Could this be the start of Google’s move away from focusing on HTML title tags for ranking purposes? Title tags do make a difference in page rankings but users rarely see them. Change doesn’t happen fast in this industry but perhaps this is the start of the decline of the title tag….

If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this update it’s that it stopped most SEOs from talking about Core Web Vitals for a change!


SEO Insights - July 2021

SEO Insights – July 2021 Report

SEO Insights - July 2021

 

Another Core Update

Another month and another core update from Google. On the 1st July, Google released yet another core algorithm update which was a continuation of the update released in June.

Core updates can be quite significant and are based around Google’s better understanding of the intent behind search queries and are designed to improve the overall quality of search results.

We did witness some significant movements in the results with the latest updates, although we can’t always say that the results have been better since they have rolled out.

We will likely see core updates rolling out on a more frequent basis going forward as advancements in technology at Google means that they are able to make improvements to their algorithms and release them at a much faster rate than previously.

It means that we will likely see a much greater level of turbulence in the search results going forward.

Link Spam Update

An interesting new “Link Spam Update” began rolling out at the end of July. This update is designed to better detect and devalue unnatural links.

Although Google has become much better at identifying these in recent years, it appears that as part of this update Google is trying to get Webmasters to properly tag paid-for, affiliate and user-generated links accordingly.

Back in February 2020, Google changed how it handled links tagged as “nofollow”. Whereas previously Google would obey and not follow any links marked up with the nofollow attribute, in February 2020 they changed how they handled this and the nofollow attribute became a signal instead of a directive. It meant that Google would now choose whether or not to follow links marked as nofollow.

One of the main reasons why Google likely made this change is that its algorithm relies heavily on links and the authority that they pass to other pages and websites. In fear of getting penalised for unnatural links, many websites were using blanket nofollow for outbound links. This was a problem for Google and its algorithm.

However, it seems that maybe Google didn’t quite get it right and needs some help in better understanding which links should and shouldn’t be followed, making Webmasters panic with a fear of penalisation by now stating that they need to assign the relevant nofollow attribute (UGC, Sponsored) tags to outbound links.

Google doesn’t always get things right and it looks like they need a little help from the SEO community now!

CDN Indexing

It is relatively common for larger websites targeting an international audience to use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) such as Cloudflare, to speed up the serving of web pages in different countries.

There was an interesting comment by John Mueller from Google regarding a change to using a CDN and that it can lead to a significant drop in crawl rate:

“If you change your website’s infrastructure then we will change our crawling.

On the one hand, first, to be a little bit conservative and make sure we don’t cause problems and then later on we automatically ramp up again.

So if you change to a different CDN that’s a significant change in the infrastructure and we recognize that change and we hold off crawling for a while and then we ramp up again if we think everything is fast.”

This is a very important comment and insight as to how Google will treat the crawling of website when it changes CDN or starts using a CDN.

A reduction in crawl rate can result in a loss in traffic especially if it’s combined with changes to the structure of website. It means that the changes could potentially take much longer to be processed and therefore, it could take time for rankings to begin to recover after the changes are applied.

Redirects

A common question in SEO circles has often been about “how long should I keep redirects in place for?” At Artemis our position has always been that you should try and keep redirects in place forever so that anyone following old links (including Google) will always end up on the correct (new) page.

Google recently updated its official stance on this:

“Keep the redirects for as long as possible, generally at least 1 year. This timeframe allows Google to transfer all signals to the new URLs, including recrawling and reassigning links on other sites that point to your old URLs. From users’ perspective, consider keeping redirects indefinitely.”

Google’s Gary Illyes expanded on this statement on twitter saying that it takes Google approximately one year to forward all redirect signals, which is why this should be the minimum time that redirects are kept in place for.

However, as we have always recommended, they should ideally remain in place indefinitely.


seo-insights-june-2021

SEO Insights – June 2021 Report

seo-insights-june-2021

 

Google had a busy month releasing several updates in June. They have become considerably more open about these updates in recent times, which is good to see. However, it’s important to note that these are generally the more significant updates as Google actually makes small updates on a daily basis.

Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google released a new broad core update on 2nd of June. These types of updates impact search results as a whole as they are designed to improve the results for all queries.

These updates are designed to improve the relevancy and quality of the search results. Changes in rankings can occur because Google better understands the intent behind the search queries.

Initial analysis of this update appears to show that it wasn’t a very disruptive one.

Page Experience Update

The much anticipated and overhyped Page Experience Update began rolling out on the 15th of June and is expected to be fully completed by the end of August 2021.

Google commented in its announcement:

 “We’ll begin using page experience as part of our ranking systems beginning in mid-June 2021. However, page experience won’t play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August. You can think of it as if you’re adding a flavouring to a food you’re preparing. Rather than add the flavour all at once into the mix, we’ll be slowly adding it all over this time period.”

This update is focused on rewarding websites in the search results that have a better user experience, such a being mobile-friendly, secure, fast, etc.

However, this is not going to be a significant ranking factor any time soon. It is seen as a “tiebreaker” type signal that will benefit a website when two websites are weighted equally for a given search query.

Initially, the update will only impact mobile search results with desktop possibly following much later on.

Refining the user experience is a constant process and is part of the SEO work we do for all clients on a rolling basis.

Spam Updates

There were two spam updates released in June although there were no details as to what these updates were actually targeting.

Clearing spam from the search results is a constant effort for Google, but it’s likely that these updates were designed to target the less obvious spam results, possibly those using black hat techniques which are difficult to be detected by the main algorithm as they would normally be seen as legitimate websites with legitimate links by a search engine.

It is strange that Google announced these spam updates at all. Why let spammers know when Google is rolling out an update targeted at them directly? We can only assume it’s just Google publicly showing that they are constantly fighting spam or just letting spammers know that they are watching and taking action!

Either way, it’s best to just stick to the white hat way of doing SEO instead.


SEO Insights – May 2021 Report

SEO Insights - May 2021 Report

 

May is a big month for Google. Their annual developer conference, Google I/O, takes place in California.

Industry leaders around the world wait in anticipation for the latest Google updates. It is great to see how current products and services are evolving and what is up and coming over the next 12 months.

So, what did 2021 Google I/O have to offer?

Google Search announces AI updates

Let’s start with our favourite – Google Search. A consistent thread throughout the 2021 I/O conference is the ramping up of Artificial Intelligence into products and services.

Google has announced a new update for search called MUM (Multitask Unified Model).

“Today’s search engines aren’t quite sophisticated enough to answer the way an expert would. But with a new technology called Multitask Unified Model, or MUM, we’re getting closer to helping you with these types of complex needs. So in the future, you’ll need fewer searches to get things done.“

So, what can we expect?

MUM is claimed to be 1000 times more powerful than the previous update BERT, it is trained in 75 languages and is multimodal – meaning that it can understand information from text and images and potentially, video and audio in the future!

We might be asking Google if hiking boots in a photo are suitable for a planned hiking trip to Mt. Fuji – an example from the conference.

But what does this update mean for local businesses like yours?

We don’t yet know but the potential is vast and could impact the search landscape across all sectors. These could all be real live scenarios in the not too distant future:

House buyers could take photos of their grade 2 listed home to find a suitable survey for their property.

DIY enthusiasts could take pictures of their wood floor for advice on suitable maintenance products.

Fans of fashion might ask who designed an outfit in a photo or which website has it in stock.

MUM is a massive update that enables a combination of complex search terms, such as transactional and informative, to generate detailed results from trusted sources.

The pace of change may be overwhelming but Google was keen to emphasise that leaps forward are taken responsibly. They will continue to use human raters as part of their evaluation process which is great to know given that AI is now becoming a key pillar in google search.

Find out more about MUM over at the Google blog.

“About This Result” Update

About This Result gif

Google continues prioritising quality content from trusted sources.

A new “About This Result” feature provides details about a website before it is visited. This update is being rolled out to all English search results and will include information such as a description and when the website was first indexed.

Further updates are planned such as what other sources say about the website as well as related articles to check out.

Augmented Reality Update to Google Maps

The search results in Google Maps will now update based on the time of day as well as how busy an area is. Helpful for finding your nearest coffee shop on an early morning road trip!

Google Maps will introduce augmented reality updates to help navigate new areas and locations as well as discover information on local businesses. Reading street signs in a new city or getting restaurant reviews were examples from the I/O conference.

There are over 100 AI-powered improvements planned to be implemented by the end of the year.

These were just a few of the announcements and it is really interesting to see how AI and AR are starting to be used more and more in the products and services that we use each day.


SEO Insights – April 2021 Report

SEO Insights – April 2021 Report

SEO Insights – April 2021 Report

 

Search engine news in April was, yet again, mostly focused around the page experience update. Here’s what’s new…

Page Experience Update Delayed

After all the hype with the imminent launch of the Page Experience Update, the metrics for which are scheduled to be a (minor) ranking factor, Google announced that they would be delaying the launch until mid-June. From that point, it will roll out gradually until the end of August.

Google’s reasoning for the delay is to give webmasters more time to prepare their websites for the update. The reality is that the majority of websites are not ready for this update and it’s not going to be the significant factor that many are hoping it will be.

A gradual rollout also enables Google to monitor the effects of the update on rankings and adjust it accordingly during the rollout.

As a reminder, this is the original diagram from Google showing what’s included in the new update:

April 2021 google update image

Page Experience Report in Search Console

As part of the soon-to-be-released Page Experience Update, Google added a new report in Search Console showing an overview of the status of a website and how it meets the overall requirements of the update.

Here’s an example of the new report:

April 2021 google search console update image

As we stated in last month’s report, it’s important not to get too obsessed with these new metrics and this new data. This update is rolling out gradually and the best, most relevant and most authoritative content is still what will rank the highest, regardless of the overall page experience score that Google assigns to a page.

Of course, it’s important to provide a great experience for your users, but that’s just one part of an overall continuous process of refinement, relevance and freshness. And, as with the optimisation of pages, optimising for the user experience is also going to be part of the ongoing strategy for a website.


SEO Insights - March 2021 Report

SEO Insights – March 2021 Report

SEO Insights - March 2021 Report

 

March was a relatively quiet month for search engine news but there were a couple of interesting new developments which are worth digging into a little deeper.

Zero-Click Searches

Over the years we’ve seen an increase in what are known as “zero-click searches”. These are searches on Google where the user does not click through to a result presented in the search results.

There are many reasons why this might happen but a large one is that Google will very often provide the answer directly to the user in the search results in the form of a featured snippet or publishing a fact. For example…

Searches for the weather:

March 2021 Insights image 1

Searches for information:

March 2021 Insights image 2

Searches for information about a business:

March 2021 Insights image 3

In this case, a searcher on desktop may be looking for our phone number, which Google is displaying in the knowledge panel on the right. The user does not need to click through to our website to find it.

These are just some examples of Google providing a better search experience for users by displaying helpful information at a glance which then may not yield a click-through. The user can still click on any of the results should they want to find out more.

In March, the website SparkToro released a report stating that only 35% of searches actually resulted in a click. Although their methodology in coming to this conclusion can be easily challenged, Google released a response to these claims stating that they send more traffic to the open web every year:

Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created. And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business.

The reality is that as search as evolved, our interactions with search engines has also evolved. We expect Google to know everything and we want answers to our questions presented to us quickly. We expect to not waste time looking for answers and clicking through to 10 different websites to find what we are looking for.

If we need to delve into a topic deeper we are then more accepting of the need to click through to various websites to find the information that we are looking for or to compare different products or service providers.

Having information available instantly is something we have become used to and we all generally welcome this evolution in search.

Ultimately, it’s not about traffic numbers, it’s about qualified visitors landing on a website. If fewer people click through to a website but those visitors are more likely to take an action, that’s all that really matters.

Core Web Vitals FAQs

As we’ve mentioned over the past few months, Google will soon be releasing its “Page Experience Update” which will take website usability, security and speed into account as ranking factors.

Part of this update focuses on the Core Web Vitals metrics, the data for which can be found in Google Search Console.

There is a significant amount of chatter online about this new update with many expecting it to be the silver bullet for improved Google rankings. However, that really is not going to be the case.

Because of the number of questions that people are asking about this update, and in particular Core Web Vitals, Google released new FAQs to answer some of the more common questions being raised.

What’s interesting, and expected, is what they quite clearly have stated in the FAQs about the influence of this update on the search results:

March 2021 Insights image 4

The best, most authoritative and useful content will always outperform a page with a better page experience. This is, of course, completely as it should be. Users want to find information about what they need to know, even if the page it’s on isn’t absolutely perfect.

Where the page experience update may have an influence is when there are two pages with great content and authority and Google rates them at a very similar level. At that point, the page with the better page experience metrics may have a slight edge over the not-so-perfect one.

The rest of the time the impact will be minimal.

However, it’s still very important to create a great user experience as slow or confusing web pages can negatively impact conversions. Page load speed and usability have always been a key focus for us at Artemis and over the past few months we have begun working on all of our clients’ websites to bring their Core Web Vitals metrics in line with Google’s expectations for the new update, if they aren’t already there.

Google’s aim with this new update is to subtly force webmasters and businesses to really focus on their users. We welcome this new update with open arms as we all suffer the frustrations with websites when they don’t respond well, they are not mobile-friendly or they are not secure.


SEO Insights - February 2021 Report

SEO Insights – February 2021 Report

SEO Insights - February 2021 Report

February has been a fairly quiet month with no major updates from a SEO perspective. There is no rest however, as we have to continue constantly improving and adapting websites to better match user search intent and keep on top of Google’s constantly evolving algorithm.

In contrast, the big news of the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown has resulted in changes to the way users are searching and what they are searching for. This impacts traffic and enquiry volumes across many industries; a trend we’ve seen with many of the Government announcements around the tightening and easing of restrictions.

This month we explore some of the top conversations in focus including Google’s upcoming Page Experience Update, the importance of quality links and extra features on Google My Business.

Page Experience Update

Google has announced last year that the Page Experience update would begin its roll out in May 2021. As we draw closer to the date, we’ve been finalising our checks to help ensure your website delivers on the key areas of focus.

The update is going to re-focus on a number of features that have been important to Google for some time. These include the speed a page loads, the amount a page moves around as it loads, and the time it takes before a user can interact with it.

Additionally, the update appears to put more focus on ensuring sites are fully secure, mobile friendly and have no intrusive interstitials (basically a fancy phrase for bad popups).

As the name of the update implies, Google is attempting to create better page experience for users.

The importance of quality links

Another interesting comment came from Google’s John Mueller.

The announcement confirmed something that we have suspected for a long time: the total number of backlinks pointing at a website isn’t important. What matters is the quality and relevance of each individual link.

This means that getting one extremely high-quality link is more valuable to your site than getting a hundred low quality ones.

Our Content and Outreach teams have been working to this principle for a long time; focusing on achieving only the highest quality links for our clients’ sites.

Updates and changes to Google My Business

Google My Business (GMB) has become a vital tool in terms of Local SEO.

With shops, restaurants and other location-based businesses looking set to re-open in the coming months, it’s important as ever that your GMB listing is update accurate and provides helpful information.

This being the case, we’ll be making a great effort to ensure that our clients’ GMB profiles are updated with relevant information – especially regarding opening hours and other attributes influenced by Covid-19.

A new release is messaging via desktop. No longer restricted to the app, you can offer customers the ability to communicate through GMB online messaging from the comfort of your computer or laptop. Need help getting this setup? Please get in touch with us today by calling 01444 645018.


SEO Insights

SEO Insights – January 2021 Report

SEO Insights
Following the disruptive Core Update that Google rolled out in December, January was a relatively quiet month for search updates and if anything, we saw a slight rollback to the Core Update.

This is quite typical behaviour from Google that we’ve witnessed over the years; legitimately good websites and pages can often be adversely affected by updates. There always appears to be a correcting and “unwinding” of the intensity of an update as Google identifies these “errors” and the updates are fully rolled out.

Dynamic Search Intent

2020 was such a strange and unique year that it highlighted some of the intricacies of Google’s algorithm which perhaps weren’t so easy to witness previously. One of these areas is the evolution of how Google dynamically adapts its search results based on how it perceives the intent behind a search term.

It means that a page that at some point ranks for a given search term can quickly lose rankings and be replaced by other pages if Google deems that the intent behind that search term has now changed.

Google’s perception of the intent behind a search term can seem to change quite quickly and its algorithm is swiftly able to detect and adapt to these changes in search behaviour.

From an SEO perspective is means that we need to be constantly monitoring and adapting to what Google now expects the search results to be for a given search term. Static pages of content are, therefore, likely to lose rankings if they are not kept up to date with what a user ultimately expects to see when searching.

Keeping pages up to date, current and relevant has become more important than ever and is going to be a consistent and necessary SEO activity going forward.

Over-Optimisation

We have highlighted this in our previous monthly search updates but we are seeing again that pages which are seemingly over-optimised when compared to competing pages can rank much lower than they theoretically should do.

Over-optimisation of pages causes Google to lose trust in the pages for the terms which are mentioned too many times relative to other competing pages.

In these cases, less is very much more. Winding back the optimisation can often return pages to their actual and deserved ranking position.

Text Position Prioritisation

We are currently running an R&D project to assess the impact on rankings for search terms dependant on their positions on pages. With the move to mobile-first indexing, the prioritisation of where keywords appear on pages appears to be more important than before Google made this change.

Initial findings show that elevating the mention of keywords on pages can improve the rankings of those pages for related search terms.

This is a significant area of focus at the moment and it will mean that we will likely be changing the position of content elements on pages to further improve rankings for target search terms.


SEO Insights - December 2020 Report image

SEO Insights – December 2020 Report

SEO Insights - December 2020 Report image

As we bid a fond farewell to 2020, there is much to reflect upon and even more to look forward to in 2021.

2020 was truly like nothing most of us have ever experienced and for most businesses, their positive plans at the beginning of the year will have taken a significant deviation.

However, here at Artemis we never spend much time looking back. Our focus is, and always has been, on looking ahead, planning and implementing what we have to do with our clients’ online presences to best position them going forward to stay ahead of the competition as algorithms evolve, shopping behaviours change and people adapt to a “new normal”.

Before we look at ahead to what’s in store for 2021 there are two key items of news to discuss from December 2020 first:

1 – Google Core Algorithm Update

It was a big one…and really quite bad of Google to launch it at such an important time for businesses when many might have already suffered a very tough year because of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, they rolled it out over two weeks and it generally changed a very high number of search results.

A core update is defined by Google as:

Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.

We have compiled our initial observations of this update and it appears to have impacted websites in different ways.  However, there are two main areas where we have witnessed significant impacts:

  1. Internationalisation
  2. Page keyword relevancy

We will send more details to all of our clients shortly on these findings and what it means in terms of the resultant focus over the coming weeks and months.

2 – “Request Indexing” Tool is Back

Google removed this useful tool a few months ago but reinstated it in Search Console in December.

This tool is very useful for getting new and updated pages indexed quickly and also for testing the effects of on-page changes.

It appears that Google engineers had not envisaged SEOs using the tool to try and reverse-engineer elements of Google’s algorithm and that’s ultimately why they removed it.

Although it has been reinstated it’s not quite the tool it was before. All submissions are no longer guaranteed to be reindexed immediately (if at all) and we are assuming at this early stage that they will also have updated it to only reindex pages that have had significant quality changes made to them and not just any minor changes.

We will be testing this during January and adapt our use of the tool accordingly.

Now, looking ahead and what’s in store for 2021, there are two milestones from Google’s perspective:

1 – Mobile-First Indexing – March 2021

Although Google has been transitioning indexing to the mobile version of most websites for some time now, for many websites that are still not mobile-friendly, Google has still been crawling their desktop version.

The original plan was for mobile-first indexing to be enabled for all websites from September 2020, but this was pushed back to March 2021 to give more businesses time to prepare their websites accordingly due to the pandemic.

Therefore, as of April, Google will index the entire internet from a mobile perspective. It’s quite a key milestone and a reflection of just how mobile search focused the internet has become.

2 – Page Experience Update – May 2021

This new update that is being rolled out by Google in May is part of their ongoing mission to make the web a fast, secure and pleasant experience for all users.

Whereas traditionally ranking factors have been based on on-page elements (titles, meta tags, content, etc.) and off-page signals (backlinks, citations, etc.), this new update also takes into account how friendly and easy to use pages are for users.

There are seven key areas that all play a part in the Page Experience Update of which three are recent metrics provided in Search Console called Core Web Vitals:

  1. Loading (time) – Core Web Vitals
  2. Interactivity – Core Web Vitals
  3. Visual Stability – Core Web Vitals
  4. Mobile Friendly
  5. Safe Browsing
  6. HTTPS
  7. No Intrusive Interstitials

As with what normally happens with the introduction of new ranking signals, such as the mobile page load speed ranking factor and the HTTPS boost, it’s likely that this update will not be a significant overall ranking factor initially. Over time it is likely to increase but ultimately, Google still needs to return the most relevant results for a search query, and that may still not be the fastest or smoothest loading page.

However, over the coming weeks we will be working with all of our clients to ensure that their websites are brilliantly prepared for when this update rolls out in May.

Looking Further Ahead

It is difficult to predict what other surprises Google will throw at us in 2021 but if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed is that there will be plenty of them.

It’s what we love about what we do. The uncertainty, the constant need to be testing new ideas, predicting the evolution of search and online user behaviour and working with our clients to anticipate the changes we need to make to keep them ahead of the competition.

As we have been delving into the effects of Google’s December Core Update, it has only reinforced the strategy we’ve been implementing for our clients for years, and that’s to focus on the user (speed and structure), quality targeted content (on-page optimisation) and backed up by authoritative and relevant third-part references (off-page optimisation).

There are no shortcuts. SEO is becoming increasingly technical, complex and time-consuming, especially with so many more businesses focussing more of their efforts in 2020 on their websites, organic search rankings and their overall online presence as shopping behaviour has increased online as a result of the pandemic.

2021 brings with it huge opportunities for our clients who have a strong head start over a lot of their competition and they are in strategic positions to benefit from the increase in online search activity. There have been a lot of lessons learned in 2020 and these will be benefiting our clients in 2021.

We look forward to working with all of our clients this year to make it a very successful and positive experience despite the global uncertainties still ahead.