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Google’s 2021 Algorithm Updates: What You Need to Know and Do


65% of businesses consider traffic and lead generation to be their biggest marketing challenges. Getting customers to your site is essential. If you heavily rely on organic search for lead generation, you should pay close attention to Google’s algorithm update in 2021. The update will impact how well your page ranks.


Even if you rely on other channels like social media for lead generation, the imminent 2021 Google SEO algorithm update could still sway your numbers. These updates aim to reward businesses who improve the overall experience visitors have when navigating their websites. Sites that invest in optimized user experiences can enjoy up to a

400% improvement in revenue. That shouldn’t come as a surprise — the easier it is for customers to navigate your site, the higher the chances they’ll turn into paying customers and even repeat customers.


Since the update might seem overwhelming at first sight, this blog distills the main takeaways. Read on to learn what the 2021 Google algorithm update entails and what you should do to be compliant:


Understanding the Premise of Google Algorithm Updates

Unlike more static software updates, algorithm updates tend to be dynamic. Google is always making tweaks and changes that affect how it ranks sites. However, the majority of these updates aren’t preannounced. Marketers and SEO industry leaders have tools that track these changes to know where to adapt their sites accordingly.


When Google pre-announces updates, it often does so to spook high-ranking sites into compliance. This means that most sites will have adapted accordingly by the time the updates are rolled out.


Most of the past updates were focused on improving trust in Google’s search results and UX, with others focusing on mobile site experience. One update that stood out was during the Chrome browser launch. Google announced that non-HTTPS sites would no longer be considered secure, and this would affect their rankings.


Page Experience is the Focal Point of Google’s SEO Algorithm Update in 2021

Google’s algorithm update in 2021 are mainly focused on user experience. It had been set for January 2021 before it was pushed to May. The update will affect site ranks and will involve visual flags to identify the site that offers the best page experience. As such, a site visitor will know that a site not only has content relevant to their search but that it will also make accessing this content as frictionless as possible.


If your website offers a great experience across different pages, you may see an increase in your rankings, thanks to the Google algorithm update of 2021. For a page to be considered as offering a great experience, it should:


  • Have device-specific optimizations for content and layout.

  • Uphold high levels of security and trustworthiness

  • Offer commendable load speeds

  • Avoid common mistakes/negatives


Common negatives include poor content, design, and development choices. For instance, using intrusive pop-ups on your site could undermine user experience. The use of low-quality and unnecessary pages will also count against you. Besides the application of visual flags to denote a great page experience, the 2021 Google algorithm update also aims at the inclusion of Core Web Vitals to the search signals for page experience.



What are Core Web Vitals, and How do They Affect Ranking?

Core Web Vitals are measurements of how quickly your page is usable to a customer. There are three Core Web Vitals; Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).


To track Core Web Vitals, you need to set up Google Search Console. While Google Analytics helps you analyze how customers perceive your website, Google Search Console helps demonstrate how Google perceives your website.


The Search Console will flag pages with issues according to severity, which could help you comply with the Google algorithm update in 2021. The pages that have deep-rooted issues will be flagged in red, those that need slight improvements will be showcased in yellow, and the good ones will be shown in green.



Largest Contentful Paint

This Core Web Vital is a measurement of the time it takes for a website visitor to see the majority of your website’s content. Inside of Google Search Console, it will be denoted as the number of seconds it takes for your page to load. If many of the pages on your site take a long time to load content, it will perform poorly for this Core Web Vital.


Google Search Console will rate your pages as very bad, poor, or great. If you haven’t yet set it up, testing your pages for this Core Web Vital without the Search Console is fairly easy. Once you open your site, observe how long it takes for the major design elements to load, including navigation elements, texts, visuals, and interactions.


Cumulative Layout Shift

This measures how much the elements of a loaded page move after the first half-second of visitors interacting with it. If elements of a page are moved upwards, downwards, or to the side after the page loads, the page could perform poorly in terms of Cumulative Layout Shift.


Simply observing this movement will help you know how your pages will stack up against the 2021 Google SEO algorithm update if you haven’t yet set up Google Search Console. However, setting up Search Console will paint a better picture of your website’s performance.


First Input Delay

This measures the amount of delay before visitors can start interacting with the content on the page. In most cases, this delay comes from page elements that are still loading.


If you want to test this without Google Search Console, simply tap any of the links on your navigation menu immediately after the page loads. Observe how long it takes to get a corresponding response from the page. However, most of these interactions are measured in milliseconds, which makes it tougher to assess without the help of Google Search Console.


Google PageSpeed Insights as a Search Console Alternative

If you are yet to set up Google Search Console for your site, Google PageSpeed Insights can be a great tool for offering quick insights on your site’s performance. While the tool is aimed at improving average load speeds, it does showcase Core Web Vitals data. When done right, you can find useful insights on how to comply with the Google algorithm update in 2021. You will find this information above the fold, with the option of accessing the mobile or desktop versions.


However, one thing to note about Google PageSpeed insights is that the score displayed at the top is more of an opportunity score, not an actual pass/fail rating. It shows how well Google thinks you have been trying to improve your site’s speed. A site can have a low score and still be fast, and vice versa.


How to Improve Your Site’s Performance

Less than 15% of sites meet the Core Web Vitals Benchmark. The urgency of meeting these benchmarks will depend largely on how important organic search is to your business. Complying with these benchmarks is also vital for businesses that heavily rely on other lead generation channels like social media marketing.


The Core Web Vitals improve site experience, so compliance will ensure that you are leading potential customers to web pages with optimized experiences. Etsy and eBay are great examples of sites that have invested heavily in compliance. These sites have little, quick shifts in content, they load quickly, and interacting with their pages is fairly frictionless.


Start by Investing in Proper Web Hosting

One major issue that could undermine your performance in the Core Web Vitals is failing to invest in good hosting and server environments. Sub-par servers increase First Input Delay and reduce Largest Contentful Paint. To improve performance, consider adding a CDN to your hosting environment or upgrading to hosting environments that offer a CDN. You could also leverage server-side caching to boost server performance.


Optimize Your Video and Image Content

The kind of videos and images you have on your site will determine how ready you are for Google’s SEO algorithm update 2021. To optimize image files, you should:


  • Reduce image sizes or replace background images

  • Remove images above the fold for mobile site layout if possible

  • Leverage next-gen image formats like WebP

On the other hand, while videos can be appealing to visitors, they can heavily impact load time. You should avoid using videos above the fold and swap video thumbnails for image placeholders.


What if You Can’t Change Your Web Host?

Some brands might not have the luxury to change their web hosts, especially those on platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce. For such brands, the first step to becoming ready for the 2021 Google algorithm update is to focus on optimizing videos, images, themes, and templates they choose. This is why choosing the right ecommerce platform is essential.


Next, you should optimize your apps. If your pages heavily rely on an app to load, it could easily affect load time. As such, you should get rid of apps that you no longer need and audit those that you need for their load speed and responsiveness. Unnecessary apps will slow your site down.


The templates you choose will also affect your site’s performance, especially considering that Core Web Vitals are URL-specific. Focus on the templates that you use across most of your high-ranking pages. The more responsive they are, the bigger the boost they will offer when it comes to being ready for Google algorithm update 2021.


Third-party cookies can also adversely affect site performance. You should review your website and remove any third-party cookies that you no longer use. These can be cookies from old emails, SMS marketing platforms, old affiliate programs, and old social network advertising. As long as an item isn’t adding any value, do away with it.


Better User Experience Equals More Sales

Having an optimized user experience will improve your site’s conversion rate immensely. With May’s updates aimed at improving experience, your business stands to gain a lot. Best of all, making changes to your site in line with Google’s 2021 algorithm update will deliver results for a long time. Audit your site today to ensure it’s ready for this imminent update.



Thank you Jordan Brannon!


JORDAN BRANNON

Jordan Brannon is President and Co-founder of Coalition Technologies, a leading US digital agency. For the last decade, Jordan has led Coalition's team of experts as they drive outstanding outcomes to hundreds of businesses through SEO, SEM, Paid Social, Email Marketing and Web Design. Jordan is an annual keynote speaker at the Global eCommerce & Retail Forum, as well as a presenter for BigCommerce, Shopify, Yotpo, and other digital marketing focused events and conferences.


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