Major Updates, Product Reviews, Page Experience and Beyond


From an SEO perspective, 2021 can be summed up as stressful, not only because of several algorithmic updates throughout the year, but also perhaps because of the timing of some of these updates. With the rollout of the COVID vaccine, some companies started to return to normal, but then the Delta and Omicron variant rocked it all – was it too much for some to handle?

It was also perhaps a little too much for Google to manage: the search engine launched the Page Experience update late, never reached its deadline for mobile-first indexing this year, and has seemed to rush twice later. big algorithmic updates towards the end of the year.

RELATED: SEO Review 2021: Endless Updates, Headline Rewrites, GMB Becomes GBP & More

Major Google updates in June, July and November rocked the SEO industry

Base update for June 2021. Google was slow to release its first major update of the year, the June 2021 major update, which began rolling out on June 2, 2021. This update ended approximately ten days later. its debut on June 12, 2021. This kernel update appeared to have been a slow rollout which had a bunch of mixed results based on data provided to us by multiple data providers.

Picture: Semrush.

July 2021 base update. Shortly after the June main update, Google released the July 2021 main update on July 1, 2021 – it was a bit like the second part of the previous June main update. This update took approximately 12 days to roll out, ending July 12, 2021. Unlike the June main update, the July main update was quick to roll out according to data providers.

Basic update for November 2021. Then, several months later, Google sent us the November 2021 main update, which began just before the big holiday shopping season on November 17, 2021. This update rolled out during Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber ​​Monday and ended on November 30, 2021, 13 days after the start. The main November update hit hard and quickly according to the data, but many SEOs felt blinded by the timing of this update.

Google’s April and December product review updates were new to SEOs

Not only did we have three major updates in 2021, we also had two product review updates. The Product Reviews Update was a new kind of update, focused on content written around products and ensuring that Google only ranks the best and most useful product reviews in search results.

April 2021 product review update. Google’s first product review update landed on April 8, 2021. Google was keen to tell us that this is not a base update and that it only got impacted English content, but much of the same recovery advice mirrored that from a base update. Google did indeed complete the rollout of this update on April 22, 2021, but there may have been edge tremors later, so it took around two weeks to roll out. This update was a big update, but not nearly as big as a typical base update, the data providers said.

December 2021 product review update. If the first product reviews update in April was not enough, Google launched a second product reviews update named the December 2021 product reviews update which started on the 1st. December 2021. This update lasted about three weeks and ended a few days before the Christmas break, around December 21, 2021.

A comparison of rank volatility between April and December Product Review updates.
Image: RankRanger.

The update seemed more important than April’s product review update, according to data providers. Of course, scheduling a product review update three weeks before Christmas could also put Google in the category of people disconnected from the ecommerce ecosystem.

Google’s spam and link spam updates provided some transparency for SEOs

Google has also released a few spam-related search algorithm updates, on which Google has been outspoken and transparent in terms of timing but, for obvious reasons, did not give too many technical details.

Anti-spam update of June 23, 2021. Google released an anti-spam update on June 23, 2021, which started and ended on the same day. This was a 24 hour update on targeted spam efforts in Google Search.

Spam update of June 28, 2021. Then, the following week, Google released Part 2, the June 28 spam update. This update also started and ended on the same day, a 24 hour rollout.

July 2021 link spam update. The following month, Google released a July update on link spam that began on July 26, 2021. Google said the rollout would be completed in about two weeks, but it was completed after about four weeks, two. more weeks than expected. The rollout ended on August 24, 2021 and targets spam links that attempt to manipulate Google search results.

Google’s page experience update was delayed a bit but has gone live

Google postponed the launch of the page experience update for a few months, but it went live on June 15, 2021. This rollout took a long time – it went on for a few months and ended around September 2, 2021. As a reminder, you shouldn’t have seen huge Google search ranking changes for this release. It was a slow rollout and Google initially advised against expecting drastic changes.

Mobile and desktop page experience factors.
Image: Google.

Google has said that next year, February 2022, the page experience update will be incorporated into desktop search.

Google’s local update in November

Not to be outdone by algorithmic web search updates, Google also confirmed after the rollout ended that it performed a local search update in late November. This update started on November 30, 2021 and ended on December 8, 2021.

A before-after showing how a business with a keyword in its business name lost visibility after the "Proximity update"
Image: Joy Hawkins

This update seemed to focus on proximity factors and was codenamed Vicinity Update by the local SEO community.

MUM, classification of passages and sub-themes

Classification of passages. Google has talked about the rating of passages in 2020, but it was not until February 2021 that Google started using the rating of passages. Passage Ranking is a way that Google ranks specific passages on a web page in search; this is not a visual update of the search results but an update of the ranking.

MOM. Google also introduced MUM, Multitask Unified Model, which is 1,000 times more powerful than BERT.

Sample vaccine search results, provided by Google MUM
Examples of vaccine search results, provided by Google’s MUM. Image: Google.

It was first used this year to understand the hundreds of variant names of COVID vaccines. Google has many ambitious plans for MUM in Google Search and beyond and has already expanded its use cases later in 2021.

Sub-themes. Google launched another AI-based ranking system called Subtopic Ranking in November 2020. But Google didn’t tell us that it went live until 2021.

Mobile-first indexing has been delayed again

Google’s mobile-first indexing initiative, which began in 2016, has been delayed again and is slated to end in March 2021. Google has decided to remove the deadline this year and has said it will be done. when it was finished. So if your site has not yet moved to mobile indexing first, hopefully it will be in 2022, but Google will not give us any more timelines for this initiative.

Other Google Algorithm Changes, Updates, Adjustments, or Topics

It has been a busy year. Google confirmed in 2020 that it released more than 4,500 changes for search. I suspect that number will be higher for the year 2021.

Google also released a predatory update, as I like to call it, that demoted libelous content in its search results.

The company also released an image search update in February that reduced duplicate images in its image search results.

Google’s title tag changes caused a stir in the SEO industry. The company confirmed after posting the change that it made changes to the headline snippet and what Google uses to display the headline snippet. He also explained why he made the changes and a month later made some changes to this title snippet algorithm.

Breakdown of the 6-month volatility of Semrush for 2020 and 2021.
Picture: Semrush.

Finally, the data showed that Google search results were more volatile this year than any previous year. SEOs have been working hard with all of these changes and there has been a greater awareness of work-life balance in this space.

I would expect more to arrive in 2022, so hopefully this wildly busy 2021 has set you up for it.

Catch up on the biggest PPC news of the year or zoom out to see how 2020 has unfolded for the SEO industry:

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About the Author

Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land Contributing Editor and member of the SMX Events Programming Team. He owns RustyBrick, a New York-based web consulting company. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular research blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is called Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.


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