Google Algorithm Updates to Expect in 2021


Google has evolved a lot in the past decade. With dozens of native applications and countless updates, Search wasn’t the only product the company has been focusing on.

Of course, being the most profitable (currently estimated at around $400 billion and evaluated as the most sophisticated search algorithm in the world, Google Search is central for people who work in marketing, data and sales, given its strict approach to data and its countless applications for audience targeting.

With this in mind, here are some predictions of what Search is looking into with the updates which are expected to happen in 2021. 

Forget Keywords: Intent Is The New Metric

As everyone knows, Google has evolved a lot in terms of content analysis and how their bots perceive content. Of course, relevancy still is a valuable metric but, since they decided to adopt complex machine learning frameworks i.e. Tensorflow and other Jupiter-related tools, the old way of “looking for keywords” has decreased drastically.

To properly explain this: picking a keyword after search volumes is still a valuable strategy from a marketing perspective, but don’t expect to achieve incredible results with keyword stuffing and simple link building.

Tensorflow operates by referencing and checking words within a sentence and evaluates the overall writing to understand whether what is said makes sense or doesn’t.

There are plenty of examples of this, most of them mainly coming from AI-related studies run by OpenAI. Keyword intent basically refers to the creation of pieces of content that will overall work together with your desired keyword, but they won’t necessarily have an exact match.

This is very important since it will open to a far bigger number of solutions for SEO professionals all around the world, especially those who heavily invest time in understanding new technology in SEO. 

A Dedicated (Yes, Another One) Mobile Update

The technical level many applications have reached on mobile is insanely high. There are dozens of app developers who have stated the fact that modern search engines can’t deal with the level of mobile sites.

This mainly happened when React Native was launched, since it effectively had let developers create architectures with the same features that we see on desktop, in a mobile environment.

Of course, this opened to a number of black-hat and unethical procedures within the SEO industry, given the fact that dynamic content is still a bit of a grey area from a crawling perspective.

This mobile update will cover the technical aspects of how mobile sites are indexed and ranked upon Search, which is a much-needed thing given the disparity that normally happens with their desktop version.

A website which is ranking extremely well for a competitive keyword is obtaining painful results on desktop is happening frequently. That is because, most of the time, the technical optimisation for mobile preclude having a perfectly working desktop architecture unless you’re using a headless CMS. 

Core Vitals 

At the beginning of July 2020, Google released its Core Web Vitals update, which was covering 3 main metrics, all of them revolving around UX, speed and indexability. Although still in a very embryonic form, Google has updated such core vitals from their previous version (Lighthouse) pointing out how a specific number of “renowned” ranking factors has become completely obsolete.

It’s clear that Google is valuing the front end side of websites even further nowadays, instead of merely relying on a number of bulky back-end related optimisations which most of the time don’t achieve anything.

It’s extremely important, for a successful SEO strategy, to look into these and keep them optimised with a simple Core Vitals Web Extension, which could be downloaded for free on Chrome and Firefox.

Core Vitals are extremely useful from a web development perspective as well because they give front end developers the chance to numerically evaluate their build and, therefore, create something which won’t require an insanely high amount of work from SEO professionals who will pick the project. 

Let’s face it, link building isn’t that big of a deal anymore. Having 400 do-follow links pointing to your site, regardless of the fact that they have good DA or not, won’t achieve much.

Currently, link profiling is being forgotten by Google since they announced that the vast majority of their external “referencing” when it comes to ranking, comes from neural networks who work together to understand if a page is relevant to what’s said in its front end.

Now, link building could still be useful from a marketing perspective once you’ve achieved your desired rankings, however, from a purely rankings-related point of view, there is no point in wasting hundreds of hours in looking for a hot guest post since it has been proven multiple times that there is no ranking correlation (anymore).

Of course, picking a fresh site and expecting good rankings without a link profile is crazy, therefore “some” form of link building should be done, but essentially: don’t prioritise link building over the content and your site’s technical side.

Google will likely reinforce this with an update, which will encourage more websites to focus on technical aspects rather than trying to build countless links.

Integration With Other Applications 

In 2021, it’s possible to create a business profile almost anywhere. Google’s own ‘Google My Business’ for example, will most likely see a big update before the end of this year. Many SEO professionals are speculating that the service will be “assimilated” by other apps in order to provide users with that very same result on every proprietary app Google owns.

This would basically mean that multiple companies could create profiles on Maps and other flagship applications, therefore improving their social signals in a number of different ways.

The integration of search with other applications also refers to the fact that there will potentially be a number of other SEO strategies which could be adopted towards, specifically, these proprietary applications.

For now though, these are mere speculations, so we can safely say that these will still have further developments. 

The Evolution Of The Algorithm Itself 

We’ve spoken above how Google is trying hard to implement more and more machine learning related frameworks like Tensorflow and Jupiter-related technologies, what many are forgetting about is the mathematical part of the algorithm itself: Google currently operates with a turtle-ish algorithm which is based around multiple sources being cross-referenced via a bot.

With this in mind, it’s extremely important to understand the fact that there will be more and more pieces of tech being applied to the technology that stands behind the algorithm Google is currently running.

One of them is the NLP (Natural Language Processing) which is a Tensorflow-operation which cross-checks each word within a sentence and gives it a number of values, such as intent, sentiment, relevancy and many more (depending on the engine you’re using).

NLP is definitely one of the biggest elements within the AI industry, given the fact that it’s the fastest learning model for text-related AI such as GPT. In the next couple of years, we will likely see further algorithmic updates on this end. 

Design? Yes Design

Now, core vitals are important but so is UX and, therefore, design and functionalities are fundamental to better rank your website. There are precisely 46 elements which cover UX SEO and they can all pretty much be summed up under one single term: simplicity.

With modern technologies and the chances of you being able to create a powerful online portal, the temptation of creating something which won’t work for the ‘non-techy’ user is pretty high.

That would, in fact, be one of the main reasons why your website doesn’t convert or, worse, doesn’t rank. Simplicity and accessibility are two of the most crucial elements

Google is looking into when updating their ranking algorithm but, for now, we can only state that a simple site, with a fast architecture and which follows the “3 click rule” will perform extremely well. It’s important to look into UX, but it isn’t everything you’re looking for when building a website for SEO purposes. 

To Conclude 

The algorithmic challenges that Google has are pretty intense and it’s worth mentioning that what they normally do gets completed by other companies with totally different algorithms.

It’s extremely important to understand that Google, in terms of rendering algorithms, is the most powerful player in the tech sphere and will keep on being one for at least the next 30 years, unless someone comes up with an insanely powerful quantum algorithm which instantly understands what the user’s data wants.

That would be the only competition available for Google but turns out that they also own the most powerful quantum computer in the world. 

Regardless of your SEO knowledge though, it’s extremely important to understand the fact that SEO will become a purely tech matter and the “marketing” side of things will naturally be cast out in the next couple of years so get ready, and start learning! 

About the author

Alex Thomas

I've been involved in digital marketing for over 10 years and have worked with global and local companies on large scale SEO and PR campaigns. In my current role at Breakline, I'm responsible for winning new business, creating, implementing and overseeing SEO campaigns, social communications, online and offline media relations.

By Alex Thomas
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