Summer of SEO

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There were so many algorithm updates and changes in the organic search landscape the past few months that this time could definitely be called the Summer of SEO.

In the search engine optimization world, Summer 2021 gave SEOs quite a bit to navigate – including three major Google algorithm updates. Never before has Google rolled out so many major algorithm updates within such a narrow timeframe. As if that wasn’t enough to work with, Google also rolled out a much-anticipated Page Experience Update, Core Update, and Anti-Spam update. It has been a busy few months, but we think things have finally settled down enough to make an evaluation of what happened in this Summer of SEO and how it will impact SEOs. 

A look back at the latest Google search algorithm updates 

  • June 2021
    • 2021 Core Algorithm Update: Google announces the launch of the June Core Update on June 2 and a second one to launch in July. This is the first time Google has launched core updates so soon after another. On June 13th, the June update was finalized and completely rolled out across the web. 
    • Page Experience Update: On June 15th the long-awaited Page Experience Update is released. This update was originally set to release in March 2020 and was later pushed back to December 2020, and again in April 2021. Never before has Google pushed back an algorithm update so publicly. This update is expected to be finalized in August.
    • Anti-”Spam” Update: Google unexpectedly releases an anti-“spam” update on June 23rd. The change specifically targets low-quality sites that trick users into providing personal information or installing malware. However, this can also flag low-to-medium quality sites that feature many indexed submission forms. On June 29th a second phase of the Anti-”spam” update is released
  • July 2021
    • July 2021 Core Algorithm UpdateOn July 1st Google announced the rollout of yet another Core Update. It included the changes originally planned for the previous (June) update but was delayed due to internal limitations at Google HQ. On July 13th the July Core Update was finalized and completely launched.
    • Link Spam Update: Not wanting to have July end without keeping SEOs on their toes, Google released a link spam update. This update is aimed at “nullifying” bad links. So instead of penalizing sites with spam links, Google will choose to ignore or not count the link at all. 

Why Core Updates are an especially big deal

Core Updates from Google are a big deal for SEOs. That is because Core Updates are significant in terms of the algorithm Google uses to rank search results and because their impacts on a company’s website visibility to searchers. According to Google, these updates are meant to help improve the search and user experience and ensure that the search engine is providing the most up-to-date, relevant, and trustworthy results when someone searches on the platform. These updates are the ones that can be most “felt” by SEOs as they can be seen in a pretty quick manner after the update is deployed and need smart, quick action to correct and react to the resulting volatility that can occur. This summer’s rollouts also brought extra attention as three such Core Updates were rolled in succession, something that is incredibly rare. 

What Google Ranking factors are impacted by Core Updates?

The updates that have rolled out this summer are also incorporating additional ranking signals for the search platform in the form of Core Web Vitals. These items specifically take a look at page experience-centric signals. Google announced that three new metrics will correspond with Core Web Vitals and should now be on SEOs radar. They are:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This new metric is associated with page element loading and will measure how much time it takes for the largest content item on your website to load. 
  • First Input Delay (FID): The second metric added by Google is one that measures how much time it takes from a user first interacting with your site (ie: clicking a button) for the browser they are using to respond to that action. 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): The final metric introduced is one that focuses on movement on a page. It will measure how much of the screen (by percentage) is impacted by movement or the layout of the page shifting. 

Screenshot of Google's new SEO metrics

Image credit: Google

These new metrics demonstrate that page speed is no longer the ultimate factor for websites – user experience plus speed must now be considered and implemented by SEOs. 

The impact of Google’s algorithm change and updates

For now it seems that the majority of updates are complete for the summer and SEOs can begin to evaluate the entire picture (and impact) of this Summer of SEO. Below are some of the top observations our SEO team put together evaluating the impact of these many Google updates the past few months. 

  • An increase in “People Also Ask (PAA)” results for searches
  • Websites and individual pages with above-average page speed slowly earning rank over slower pages and websites
  • Losses after the June Core Update were reversed after the July Core Update with some sites even getting an increase in rankings. This is likely due to two consecutive updates. 
  • Websites that took the hardest hit were from industries such as reference sources (online dictionaries and encyclopedias), travel & tourism (hotel websites and review sites), and jobs & careers (LinkedIn and Indeed).
  • Biggest winners include websites from categories (as defined by Similarweb) such as jewelry & luxury goods, hobby & leisure, games, and vehicles
  • Reduced search visibility of non-U.S. ccTLDs in the U.S. search results and vice versa for other countries (think amazon.ca or pinterest.es)
  • With the myriad of algorithm updates and constant reindexing in the search engine results, there have been high levels of SERP volatility. At first glance, “volatility” sounds like a pretty intense word however, it’s not nearly as scary as it may sound. Search volatility is defined by the amount of key phrase position changes ranging from 1 position bump or 89 position plummets. Volatility simply allows us to predict algorithm changes. Given that this season of volatility has finally leveled out to normal levels, we can now deduce what is updated in the algorithm.

Websites that follow SEO best practices and focus on ethical, white-hat practices have nothing to worry about with these updates. Typically, updates such as these check to clean spam sites and webpages that use black-hat SEO practices from the search results. In some cases, under-performing pages can see positive results and, in comparison, over-performing pages can see declines in traffic. 

Need help navigating in the post-Google Core Update world? Connect with our SEO experts today!

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