The world of search and SEO is in a state of constant and rapid change. This year, Google has released over 50 confirmed and unconfirmed updates that have dramatically shaken up rankings across the board. As we head into the final quarter of 2021, there are many important SEO updates that every business with a website should be aware of. In this article, we’ll go over our main takeaways from September with your monthly SEO update.
Google Title Generation
At the end of August, Google published a blog talking about how they’ve started using a new system of generating titles for web pages. They released another blog update on September 17th with further explanation about refining the system based on feedback.
From this announcement, we learned that Google only uses the page’s actual title elements around 87% of the time. That means the page itself specifies H1 tags and meta descriptions. The rest of the time, Google uses its own prescribed titles around 13% of the time. We’ve seen some fluctuations in rankings and updates to title tags based on this information, along with many other SEO experts online.
Google Page Experience Update
Initially, Google started releasing the long-anticipated Page Experience Update in June. And they Tweeted that it is now fully out and live for Google search as of September 2nd. In a Reddit thread, Google’s John Mueller said that the Page Experience Update is an actual ranking factor. It’s a major contributor to the search algorithm and should not be downplayed in importance.
Some improvements to the page experience report included removing redundant Safe Browsing and Ad Experience widgets from the report. This report provides a summary of the user experience of visitors to your site. Google evaluates page experience metrics for individual URLs on your site. It will use them as a ranking signal for a URL in Google Search results on mobile devices.
Google clarified that Safe Browsing isn’t used as a ranking signal any longer despite announcing that it would be initially. Safe Browsing systems continue to play an important role in keeping Google Search users safe, and any flags will continue to show in Google Search Console.
Lighthouse is an automated website auditing tool that helps developers with opportunities and diagnostics to improve the user experience of their sites. It’s the brain behind running audits through Chrome and PageSpeed Insights to 8.3.0 and then to 8.4.0. This past month Google announced some updates that include bug fixes and incremental changes, and overall shouldn’t change how you use these tools or what to expect from them.
That said, 8.3.0 did introduce steps to start analyzing what happens after the page is loaded, with that feature dubbed “Fraggle Rock”. However, that is still in the early phases. The 8.4.0 update helps improve LCP for your website based on the Page Experience update requirements.
Google MUM Update
Google released a blog showcasing some upcoming features of their MUM (Multitask Unified Model) technology. MUM is a new search algorithm feature Google launched earlier in 2021. MUM searches across languages and images to find answers to complex questions. The feature they are running with the most is the ability to search with images instead of just text.
One example shown is that a person can see a pattern on a shirt in an image and ask Google to find other results with that same pattern (even on different clothing, like socks). They also mentioned using MUM to help understand follow-up questions to queries before the user even asks for it. Also, they will provide that information in places like the “Things to Know” section.
Last but not least, they mention being able to get more information from videos and offer more visual search results for queries like “Halloween decorating” by providing visual examples of different ways to decorate. MUM is yet another step into enhancing natural language processing and creating an interactive search experience.
Best Practice for E-commerce in Google Search
Google came out with a best practice guide for e-commerce websites, a rare look behind the scenes of how to really optimize your website if you have an e-commerce feature. It’s a great resource for SEO companies and clients to use when creating or managing their websites.
The set of guides is for developers who are building websites and want to ensure that the site works well with Google. The focus is on online commerce sites (e-commerce). But many of the points are equally relevant to sites that list products only available at brick-and-mortar stores. When you share your e-commerce data and site structure with Google, they can more easily find and parse your content, allowing your content to appear in Google Search and other surfaces. It can also help shoppers find your site and products.
The guide covers a wide range of topics – some examples are “Recommended URL structuring” and “Where can your e-commerce content appear in search”. We’ve simplified these best practices in a way that can help you take action on your own website today. Take a look at our in-depth guide to e-commerce SEO here!
Google Search Console Data Delay
Google noted that they experienced delays in the information displayed in Google Search Console on September 21st. They resolved said issues by the 23rd. Users reported seeing pages listed as “crawled, not indexed” even though they actually were indexed. Google stated that it was simply a delay in displaying that information in Google Search Console and indexing, crawling, or ranking of sites was not affected during that time.
Unconfirmed Algorithm Updates
Unconfirmed algorithm updates are released frequently throughout the year, but we (and other industries) have noticed significant fluctuations as a result of several unconfirmed algorithm updates that occurred through the month of September. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Round Table documented four separate updates that caused notable changes through the industry, both positive and negative.
The suspected dates that the updates were released on are:
- September 4th
- September 9th – 12th
- September 16th – 17th
- September 24th – 25th
Have you noticed a change in your keyword positioning and traffic patterns around those days? If you’ve been negatively impacted, get a free website analysis and see how you can take action now to improve your website’s organic strategy and presence on search engines!
Straight from Google’s John Mueller
John Mueller is Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst. And he’s made himself very popular lately in helping people understand Google’s algorithm and answer questions from the search community. Here are a few of the most interesting insights he provided in the past month.
200+ ranking signals ‘misleading’
In a recent SEO Office Hours session, an SEO professional asked John which of the 200+ ranking factors are the most important for increasing your rank? He basically replied that internally, Google does not use that number anymore and they really don’t rank the signals. Literally, dozens to hundreds of factors go into the search rankings and there’s no way to give a specific number. Ranking depends on location, industry, website type, theme, competitiveness, content, and so many other factors.
Does Google Understand Sarcasm?
John responded to a question during a Q&A hangout asking how well Google understands sarcasm. John noted to avoid sarcasm in your content when it comes to important and critical information for your users or Google to avoid misinterpretation. That doesn’t mean satire or entertaining content does not belong on your site. This fits into the growing importance and emphasis Google is putting on MUM technology and its focus on understanding context.
Major Website Changes
John made a point that when majorly overhauling your site or changing domains, there should be notable website improvements. Otherwise, what is the point of website rebranding or a new site launch?
One other example is when a company decides to update their old site that has many pages of good content and condenses it down to a smaller site with far less content. That means the site has less to offer, so it’s expected that their search performance will be impacted negatively.
John responded to a question about content strategy, specifically comparing a site with fewer pages but more content per page to another site that has many pages but with shorter-form content. John explained that both have merit depending on the circumstance and end goal. For example, e-commerce sites tend to have many pages with less content, where a service-based business might have far more content per page to better explain the business.
If you’re not sure what is right for your website, talk to an SEO expert who can help you better understand keyword and user intent which will guide the content creation portion of search engine optimization. Remember to use strategic keywords, err on the side of creating the best possible user experience, and provide your site visitors with genuine value.
Get Help from the Experts
As always, Boostability is here to help you if you need some guidance on how to improve your visibility and traffic on Google. Get in touch with one of our digital marketing experts and see how our affordable small business SEO services can help you! We have teams of experts analyzing and testing these updates, and forming campaigns based on the data.