Important Google Algorithm Updates of 2021 for Small Business and Local SEO
Last Updated on December 16, 2021
Each year, Google evolves and introduces more updates to its algorithm to improve the search experience. This ensures its users browse on secure, accurate, and more relevant pages. Understanding Google’s major algorithm updates and their impact will help you improve your small business’ search engine rankings and your website traffic. Keep reading to discover important Google algorithm updates of 2021 to help ensure your small business stays on top.
February 2021: Passage Ranking Update
This update is aimed at using AI (artificial intelligence) to better understand your page’s content and context. As a result, it is now easier for Google to rank a particular web page for both an overall topic, as well as subtopics or “passages” within the page’s content.
March 2021: 100% Mobile First Indexing Update
Google noted mobile traffic rising in 2010 and began emphasizing mobile friendliness in 2015. They introduced mobile first indexing in 2016 and made mobile-first indexing default for new websites in 2019. As of March 2020, Google announced that mobile-first indexing will be made the default for all websites, both old and new, by September 2020. Partially due to COVID-19 this was later delayed until March 2021.
In order to ensure your small business website keeps up with this Google algorithm update and improve your search engine rankings, it is important to ensure your website is using responsive design. Not only should you make sure your website adapts well for mobile devices, but you need to also adopt a mobile-first design mentality since the majority of your visitors may actually be accessing your website from smartphones. Specifically, Google has adjusted their algorithms to rank your website in search based upon the mobile/responsive version of your website, not the desktop version.
So, if you were hiding or removing certain content on mobile layouts to keep it simpler on smartphones, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot as it relates to SEO.
April 2021: Product Reviews Update
This update was designed to thwart companies and affiliates who simply generate a list of products with only high-level details. Instead, Google is looking for in-depth expert knowledge of products, far beyond what the manufacturer would state. Quantitative data, expert opinions, product comparisons, and more are helpful in showing the authority necessary for ranking well for a product review.
May 2021: MUM Update
Google’s May 2021 MUM update is a natural language known as Multitask Unifies Model (MUM) designed to help users when there is not an easy or direct answer. More powerful than Google’s BERT update, MUM uses contextual information from many sources to answer complex questions. MUM can also identify relevant answers in a different language other than the one in which the search query was written.
To keep your small business website optimized for MUM, be sure to target relevant, long-tail and question keywords within your website content and have your content exceptionally well structured. For the long version, check out the video below:
June Core Update and July Core Update 2021
Google released an interesting two-part core update. The first part started rolling on out June 2nd and was completed by June 12th. However, this was noted by Google in advance that this would be a two-part update, and the second part began rolling out on July 1st and was completed by July 12th.
Originally, these two core updates were supposed to be implemented as a single update, but some of Google’s planned changes were not completed in time. Thus, instead of delaying the update altogether, Google split the core update into two parts.
The SEO community saw impacts of this two-part core update in a significant way with the search engine rankings fluctuating greatly. There was much speculation on the focus of these updates ranging from assessing overall site quality to rebalancing rewarding sites which have an established history of credibility and authority.
However, the focus of this core update has not been confirmed by Google. Additionally, since there were so many overlapping updates near the same time, it is difficult to assess what was a result of the June/July Core Update vs. another update like the Link Spam Update or Page Experience Update.
June and August 2021: Link Spam Update
There were actually two parts to the Link Spam Update. Part 1 was implemented in June and Part 2 of the update rolled out at the end of August. The goal of this update was to improve how Google understands a quality website, particularly in its use of incoming backlinks to extend credibility to the website. Ultimately, Google is cracking down on malicious or sketchy tactics that some site owners utilize.
June through August 2021: Page Experience Update
Google’s page experience updates have re-introduced metrics known as Core Web Vitals in addition to several other factors to measure overall page experience. Google prioritized these metrics to quantify the user's web page experience. They include:
- Core Web Vitals
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) checks how quickly the largest content on visible on the screen fully loads.
- First Input Delay (FID) checks how fast a webpage will respond to users' first input action.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) monitors the stability of the layout as the page loads.
- Mobile Usability – the page should not have any usability errors on mobile devices.
- Security Issues – if security issues are present on the site, it would likely disqualify pages from a “Good” page experience status.
- HTTPS Implementation – the page must have HTTPS properly implemented.
- Ad Experience – the page must not be using obtrusive ad techniques that interrupt or distract the user from intended actions or accessing the main content of the page.
While Google’s Core Web Vitals have existed for some time, these metrics now have a greater impact on your small business rankings via the full Page Experience update. To keep your rankings up, it is crucial to ensure your website is optimized for quality user experience.
August 2021: Page Title Update
Google has been occasionally changing page titles on an as-needed basis in search engine result pages (SERPs) for nearly a decade. However, starting on August 16th, Google started more drastically changing websites’ page titles, and, in some cases, the titles were far worse leading to misinformation or drastically lower click-through rate (CTR).
This update is ongoing, and Google continues to listen to the SEO and web developer community as feedback and criticism is provided.
November 2021 Core Update
The November core update started rolling out on November 17th, 2021. Google specifically stated this is another update specifically geared towards fighting spam within the search engine results.
Even though this was labeled as a spam update, many in the digital marketing and SEO community voiced significant concerns with a core algorithm update being released so closely to the holiday shopping season, particularly Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The update was slated to take approximately 1 week to fully roll out. However, Google confirmed that the update finally finished rolling out on November 30th, 2021. As such, the core algorithm updated overlapped the full Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping holiday.
November 2021 Local Search Update
Google rolled out a significant algorithm update impacting local search which was implemented starting on November 30th and finished on December 8th. While Google called this the "November Local Search Update," it could arguably be called the December Local Search Update due to the timeline at which it was rolled out. Note that this update was likely responsible for a large portion of the fluctuations most rank tracking tools were seeing on a local level the first week in December - not to be confused with the December 2021 Product Reviews Update.
According to Google, this update "...involved a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results." From early data, we believe two of the local ranking factors affected may be the following:
- In our opinion, Google does consider the presence of keywords in a business name. Under this theory, a keyword rich name usually outperforms a generic name, all other factors equal, especially on Google Business Profiles that largely power the local pack. However, this update may be now discounting the value of keywords in the company name, which is a considerable improvement in our opinion as it better polices companies who change their name solely for keyword stuffing purposes.
- Some data also suggests that Google is increasing the value of the proximity of a relevant business to the searcher. Note that proximity, or vicinity, was already a factor, but it may have received a slight boost in this update. As a result of this tweak, many in the SEO industry are dubbing this the "The Vicinity Update."
Likely, there are far more adjustments that Google made within this update and the overall weights of various factors for local search algorithm. However, the above two are items that are possible changes given early data we are seeing.
December 2021 Product Reviews Update
Yes, you read that right. Google confirmed that they are rolling out yet another update related to product reviews, similar to the update rolled out in April. The Product Reviews update started rolling out on December 1st and implementation should complete in roughly three weeks.
If you have made improvements to your content regarding in-depth reviews of products or services, you may see ranking improvements. According to Google, this second product reviews update is introducing and rewarding two new best practices for writing product reviews:
- "Provide evidence such as visuals, audio, or other links of your own experience with the product, to support your expertise and reinforce the authenticity of your review."
- "Include links to multiple sellers to give the reader the option to purchase from their merchant of choice."
For a consolidated list of Google's advice on product reviews, check out Google's article on how to write high quality products reviews.
Other 2021 Updates
While we mentioned only a handful of algorithm updates, there were literally thousands. According to Google, in 2020, they performed 17,523 live traffic experiments and implemented 3,620 changes to how the search engine works. Additionally, when exploring the research study by SEO and SEM tool giant, Semrush, volatility of the search engine rankings is drastically higher in 2021 than it was in 2020.
Most of these updates focused on surfacing quality, relevant content specifically from credible and authoritative businesses and resources online. As such, we still recommend focusing on what we describe as the three pillars of SEO:
- Website Structure
- Quality Content
- Site Credibility
Need Some Extra Tools to Help with Your SEO?
We understand not everyone has a budget to hire an SEO agency like ours. However, we still want to help you! As such, check out a couple of our favorite SEO tools below to keep you ahead in the SEO world:
Semrush’s tools provide unparalleled SEO and digital marketing tools for keyword research, SEO auditing, content marketing, link research and building, competitive insights, and more. Semrush is exceptionally robust and may take a bit of time to learn, but it’s one of the absolute best on the market in our opinion. Redeem a free trial of Semrush!
BrightLocal is one of our favorite tools for tracking and reporting on search engine rankings. Additionally, they have great tools for local citation building and monitoring, local SEO audits, and reputation management. Start a 14-day free trial of BrightLocal!
Contact Our SEO Specialists for Professional Help
At Igniting Business, our SEO specialists are here to help you keep up with complex algorithm updates and adapt your SEO strategies to keep your small business ahead. To learn more about our ongoing SEO services, contact us today!
At no additional cost to you, we may receive a commission if you click on some of the links on this website and make a purchase.