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Google’s Summer of Updates 2021 & What It Means for Your SEO

By Katie Gilbaugh | Digital Marketing Strategist
A graphic showing steep spikes and dips on a bar graph.

There is a lot happening in the SEO world this summer that could have major implications for your search appearance and, in turn, your sales funnel. The Google Page Experience Update has officially started trickling out, and part one of a two-part core algorithm update is well underway. The chatter in the SEO industry following any of Google’s changes can sometimes be hard to follow, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to analyze the discussion regarding these SEO changes that are keeping us all busy and paying debatably much-too-close attention to our clients’ Google marketing platform.

We’ve assessed analyses and opinions of industry experts such as Lily Ray, Marie Haynes, Neil Patel, multiple Google team members in the Twitter sphere, and more. Here’s what we’re taking away from it all and what we think you, as a business owner, need to know.

Why are my keyword rankings fluctuating so drastically?

A screenshot taken from Google Analytics that shows a sudden spike in traffic beginning in mid-May of 2021.

It is to be expected that your keyword rankings fluctuate slightly both up and down each month depending on the competition and search volume for a given keyword, but seeing a sudden spike or dip in your impressions that sticks over time is usually a clue to something else going on. More often than not, these more severe climbs or falls are due to changes in Google’s search engine ranking algorithm.

Summer 2021 Search Engine Visibility Changes

Search engine visibility takes metrics like keyword rankings, click-through rates, and more into account and measures how broadly visible your website is in organic search results. In short, large-scale and drastic changes in keyword rankings can mean big changes in your website’s general visibility. And when it comes to what SEO experts are seeing across the web this summer, we can see that the man behind the curtain (Google, that is) is busy with a few different changes in the works.

Change #1: The Page Experience Update

The Page Experience Update has been a long time coming in the SEO world. This update, which started in June, will be slow and gradual, seeing its finish come August. The changes rolling out along with this update focus heavily on (you may have guessed it) page/user experience. Google’s Core Web Vitals play a key role here. If you haven’t heard about metrics like LCP, FID, and CLS, you can read more about the core web vitals and what it may mean for you here.

What does it mean for you as a business owner?

While extremely important in maintaining or improving long-term search ranking stability, the Page Experience Update is unlikely to be the reason behind these sudden changes in website visibility scores and keyword rankings. We recommend consulting your website developer or digital marketing team to audit and optimize your Core Web Vitals metrics so that you have nothing to worry about as Google continues to refine their search engine algorithms.

Change #2 Google’s June & July Core Updates

Google’s broad core algorithm updates are deep-seated changes to the way in which Google ranks content for search engine results. These rudimentary updates tend to have bigger and more obvious impacts than updates like the Page Experience Update that roll out over a longer period of time. What’s different about the core updates this summer? They are actually slated to happen in two phases! Phase one started on June 2nd, 2021 and part two is expected sometime in July. While there is a lot of speculation and postulating in regard to what exactly Google is changing with these core updates (core updates come with thousands of factors), there appears to be a few common and noteworthy observations.

Not Focused Solely on YMYL Websites

Whereas recent updates have focused heavily on Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) websites (websites which provide information that users depend on that may significantly impact their finances or quality of life), this most recent change seemed to be a mixed bag. According to SEMrush data, the top categories of websites that saw the most volatility after the update were health, autos & vehicles, pets & animals, science, and travel. Perhaps surprisingly, finance and lifestyle category sites appear largely unaffected, so the algorithm changes may not necessarily be specific to Google’s focus on E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness).

User-Generated Content Websites See Decreases

Websites relying on user-generated content like Tripadvisor, Quora, and even YouTube were among the hardest hit with this update. While this could mean a number of things, some are speculating that Google could be making changes to the types of results it will show for longer-tail search queries. For example, whereas a query like, ‘pacific northwest beach trips’ may have previously favored Tripadvisor ratings for hotels, Google appears to now pull a featured snippet with a list from HGTV: A screenshot of a SERP for the query, "pacific northwest beach trips"

Compounded Impacts of the Product Reviews Update

It is worth mentioning that Google also recently completed an update to their product reviews. This update gave better positions to product review pages that contain more detailed and helpful analysis with original research when compared to others.

What does the June Core Update mean for you?

Depending on your industry, the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) may vary in how much it has changed or will change come July. Regardless of industry or website category, one thing is still certain: this update (and every other change to Google’s search algorithm) is meant to help users find the best answers that most effectively and comprehensively meet their needs. For some search queries and keywords, the type of answer provided to users may have changed as Google gets better and better at identifying search intent. If you are unsure whether or not your site content meets quality standards when it comes to core updates, Google has made that information available on the Google Search Central Blog.

How to avoid negative impacts from Google core updates

What can you do as a business to make sure your website ranks the best that it can? The answer is the same as it always has been: provide content that users care about and want to find. When in doubt, figure out which pages Google elevated above yours in the SERPs for your target keywords and critically think about why that might be so. While this may look different and may require some adapting as Google continually refines its search algorithm, with the right SEO expert on your team, you can roll with the punches and keep up.

Work with a Webspec SEO expert to help your organic rankings

Unsure where to start? Our SEO strategists are eager to help you navigate your industry’s SERPs and come up with a plan to rise up in the rankings. Contact our team today to get started:

Katie Gilbaugh

Coming from The University of Iowa, Katie joined the Webspec Digital Marketing team in 2017. Katie works on an ongoing basis with her clients to turn their business goals into targeted and specific digital marketing efforts, and particularly excels and specializes in website content and SEO. Outside of work, you can find her (usually successfully) juggling the hats of wife, mother of two, and Birth Doula, or enjoying time outdoors with family and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

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