2021 Google algorithm updates will make an impact this year

Google algorithm updates
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With Google releasing back-to-back algorithm updates, the second half of 2021 was a busy time for SEO professionals. Publishers are still looking at the analytics to try to figure out how individual updates will impact the performance of their content.

Looking ahead, a recent article in The Drum has highlighted three Google algorithm updates that could make a real impact in 2022.

  • Keeping up with the changes that Google makes to its Search infrastructure is crucial for digital publishers chasing organic traffic. But keeping up isn’t always easy; Google made 4,500 ‘improvements’ to its search in 2020 and Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land expects the 2021 tally to be higher.
  • Schwartz says that from an SEO point of view it made for a stressful year, both because of the number of Google algorithm updates but also because many of the changes were introduced very late in the year. He pointed out that, of the three core updates Google made, the first didn’t come until June and the last landed late in November.
  • Acknowledging the bottleneck, Dave Colgate, head of SEO at Vertical Leap, wrote in the Drum:

There were so many updates crammed into the second half of the year that we’re still catching up on the analytics to find out which update affected what.

Key updates

Colgate believes the impact of last year’s algorithm updates will become clear this year and has identified three updates in particular that he expects to play a key role in search for 2022.

Multitask Unified Model

Google began to introduce Multitask Unified Model (MUM) technology in June last year. It is an upgrade to the part of the algorithm that understands the context of complex questions to reduce the number of searches needed to deliver relevant answers.

This aspect of Search was previously powered by BERT and Google says MUM is 1,000 times more powerful as it is ‘multimodal’ meaning it understands information from multiple formats simultaneously. However, Colgate says it’s important to remember that it took several years for BERT to fully mature, so the impact of MUM is likely to increase over time.

Page experience and Core Web Vitals

In June Google rolled out the page experience signal. This combined existing web vital signals – mobile friendly, safe browsing, HTTPS, no intrusive interstitials – with three new core web vitals to score the overall user experience of individual pages.

The new three core web vitals are:

  • Loading times
  • Interactive elements (e.g. links or buttons)
  • Visual stability: movement of layout elements after loading

Google has said further changes to core web vitals are likely, with public liaison of search Danny Sullivan hinting that this is another update that could become more important over time.

Core Updates

Colgate highlights three core algorithm updates in the second half of 2021; back-to-back updates in June and July and a surprise update in November. The last update came just ahead of Black Friday shopping season, and was seen to hit ‘your money or your life’ (YMYL) pages hard.

Colgate said this suggests YMYL and E-A-T continue to play an increasingly important role in algorithm updates. E-A-T — expertise, authority and trustworthiness — features heavily in the guidelines used by human evaluators to score the quality of results in Google Search. Colgate said:

It’s telling that Google’s expectations for content quality continue to become more demanding, and there are no signs of this stopping in 2022.

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