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Google Algorithm Updates in 2021

Core updates, passage ranking, mobile-first and more

Updated 7. 1. 2022 | Martin Benes |  Image result for linkedin icon

It is common knowledge that Google is constantly updating its algorithm several times a day. For example, in 2020 Google confirmed to have released over 4500 changes to the search algorithm. Throughout the year, there are however a few larger adjustments that significantly impact the search results listings and bring strong fluctuations in performance.


The first month of the year happened to be quite uneventful in terms of algorithm updates, since the last confirmed core algorithm update happened just a month ago in December 2020. Even though not many important updates happened this month, the rest of the year will surely make up for the big algorithm updates.


So called “Passage ranking update” rolled out in the beginning of the year and the major outcome is that specific passages of a single page can be also ranked. The goal is targeting highly specific informational queries and providing the answer directly in the SERPs.

No longer needs the user to click away from Google and the company is one step closer to removing the middle step of accessing third party sites for more information, as we have seen with the weather or currency exchange queries.

Even though the following update does not directly impact the rankings, it is also worth mentioning. “About this result” is a new feature that is visible next to each search result and provides additional information about the site.


The rollout of mobile-first indexing was finally completed in March of 2021 after several years of delays. That means that a site needs to be primarily optimized for mobile devices in order to rank also on desktop. This is a big update, as it can not only lower the rankings significantly but also potentially remove the site from the index completely. 

In order to maintain and improve the rankings, it is recommended to utilize a responsive design, implement lazy loading for faster page speed and optimize visual elements on site, such as removing pop up windows or making the buttons large enough.


In April, Google introduced a so-called “Product reviews update” which increases the importance of in-depth product reviews for higher rankings. Based on their internal testing they decided to punish a thin review content even more and therefore simple summaries of products without providing useful analysis will have a hard time ranking from now on.


The MUM update happened in May and is a significant improvement in the AI and NLP model. In 2019 we could see the BERT update which, compared to the current MUM, is far less powerful.

It is now more important than ever to focus on a user intent rather than specific keywords in order to help the algorithm choose your website to rank on top positions.


In June, Google rolled out an update focusing on spam sites detection. It is therefore important to make sure that a site contains only useful and informative content for the users and that the backlink portfolio looks natural and healthy. Besides that, it is a must to have the SSL certificate implemented and potentially noindex low-value page completely. 

June also brought the first major core update of this year rolled out by Google on June 2, 2021. 

June was also the month of introduction of the revised Core Web Vitals metrics that strongly influence the mobile experience and thus the rankings as well. The three metrics 

  • LCP (largest contentful paint): The amount of time to render the largest content element visible in the viewport, from when the user requests the URL.

  • FID (first input delay): The time from when a user first interacts with your page (when they clicked a link, tapped on a button, and so on) to the time when the browser responds to that interaction.

  • CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): CLS measures the sum total of all individual layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of the page.

The Core Web Vitals health can be checked in the dedicated Google Search Console report or PageSpeed Insights tool.


Just a month after, Google announced the second major update of the year, July 2021 Core Update which was released on July 1, 2021.

This month, Google also released a follow-up link spam update, similar to the one in June. 


The page title update was introduced this month and it is quite a significant one for SEOs. Basically, Google has claimed more freedom to adjust the page titles according not only to the user query but also more importantly to the overall topic represented on the page. The titles are generated from headlines, ALT tags and referring link anchor texts. 

With that being said, the time of putting a specific keyword first in the title is coming to an end, as Google can change the wording anytime based on the user's insight detection.


September was a month of several algorithm updates, for example on 24th - 25th, 16th - 17t or 4th of September. These were detected and covered by Rusty from Search Engine Roundtable so feel free to read more about them there.


October was very similar to the previous month of having several unconfirmed algorithm updates detected just by the ranking volatility for example provided by MozCast

One bigger update happened on 2nd and 3rd of October according to Rusty.


For the third and final time this year, Google rolled out the last confirmed core algorithm update called the November 2021 Core Update which started on November 17th and was completed on November 30th. This time, the focus was on local search and the rankings were impacted quite heavily either direction. In some cases, the core update helped to bring the performance back to the pre-June level when the first confirmed core update happened. 


In December, Google is updating the previously rolled-out (in April) product review update. This time, it is recommended to also add visuals or audio elements and link to multiple sellers to provide the option to purchase from various merchants. 

Overall, the year 2021 did not have any shortage of impactful algorithm updates which makes continuous testing more important than ever, since the only consistency in SEO is change as we have seen this year. I would assume that in 2022 we can expect even more rollercoaster updates, since the algorithm is always evolving and the content creation rate is increasing exponentially. 

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I'd be happy to chat about anything regarding SEO and the latest Google updates. Feel free to get in touch with me via email martin@benes.me or connect with me on Linkedin.

Martin Benes SEO - Benes.me

I am currently working as Technical SEO Manager for Zalando in Berlin. Previously living in Malta and working in the iGaming sector as SEO Manager. My journey began as SEO Specialist in Prague in the digital agency environment. At the moment, I am finishing my master's thesis about synergies between SEO and PPC and how to maximize the traffic using both channels in the overall strategy.




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