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How to react to Google’s June 2021 core update

04.06.2021
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Google have announced a new core update, rolling out from June 2nd. So what does that mean for your business and how should you respond?

What is a Google core update?

The job of a search engine, such as Google, YouTube and Amazon, is to help users find what they’re looking for. After all, if the results weren’t relevant, we’d quickly get frustrated and go somewhere else.

In order to show relevant results, each search engine has its own algorithm – basically a complex set of rules – to decide what content to show at the top of search results. Depending on which search engine you’re using, this content can include things like web pages, images, videos, products and social media posts.

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When it comes to search, there’s always a lot of attention on Google. As the biggest search engine globally, changes can have a huge impact for businesses trying to pull in more traffic from search results.

Google’s algorithm takes into account over 200 ranking factors. The balance of all these factors are tweaked almost constantly, with small updates often taking place multiple times a day.

Every now and then, there’s a core algorithm update, which is a more significant change in how the algorithm works. These updates affect all websites to some extent – in all languages, countries and industries. Historically, core updates have shaken up the search results landscape leading to big wins and losses for organisations.

Read more – What is SEO and how does it work?

Why does the Google core update matter to my business?

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There’s an old joke that the best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google…

…yep, it’s not especially funny – but it’s true!

People can usually find content that matches what they’re looking for on page one – particularly as search engines continue to develop to produce more relevant results. Very few people click through to the second page of search results – let alone page 3, 4, 5 and so on.

So ranking in those top spots is vital for businesses who want to reach people looking for the products and services they provide.
It’s not just ranking on the first page that counts – the top three organic results generally get around 75% of the website visits that follow a Google search.

What do we know about the update so far?

It’s been a while since the last core update, back in December 2020. So far, we know that this update started rolling out on June 2nd, and it should be fully rolled out within a week or so.

To keep everyone on their toes, Google’s also announced a second core update which will take place in July, as some features weren’t ready in time.

On top of that, Google’s said that this isn’t the long-expected Page Experience update – including the new Core Web Vitals metrics – which will start rolling out mid-June.

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All in all, it should be an interesting few months for search marketing!

There’s not been a lot to see so far, although tools which show the volatility of search results have begun showing a bit more movement on some trackers today (June 4th).

Read more – How to optimise your website to get more traffic

What’s the Page Experience update?

This one’s been on the cards for a while – Google announced the Page Experience update way back in May 2020, giving website owners more than a year to prepare.

In short, the update is focused on users’ perceived experience on a website – separately from the quality of content, which is important for ranking in its own right.

Core Web Vitals, part of this update, is mostly focused on how quickly users perceive your site to load – mostly how long it takes to show the bulk of content and allow users to interact, rather than being fully loaded. You can find a new report in Google Search Console to see how your pages are doing for the three metrics:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how long it takes for the largest element on your page (such as a hero image, video or large section of text) to be ‘painted’ (made visible to users).
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measures the movement of visible elements on screen. Ever clicked a button by accident as everything shifted while a site was loading? That’s CLS.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – how long it takes the browser to respond to a user’s first interaction with a page – such as clicking a link.

Alongside Core Web Vitals, the Page Experience update will also look at:

  • Mobile friendly website
  • Safe browsing – no malware, unsafe downloads etc.
  • HTTPS security certificates
  • Interstatials – commonly known as pop-ups, which detract from the user experience.

If you’ve followed any search engine optimisation (SEO) updates before, you might recognise that these last set of factors already play a part in how Google ranks websites. The new Page Experience ranking factor will pull together these existing factors with the new Core Web Vitals metrics to rate the user experience of a web page – outside of the actual content.

It’s expected to start rolling out from June, slightly later than initially planned. It’s not clear yet how significant a different this update will make – the content of a web page is still the most useful part to a user, and Google suggests that Page Experience will be used as a ‘tie breaker’ when sites have a similar quality of content. Over time, it’ll gradually become the norm for sites to improve their page experience.

How should I respond to the updates?

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With a second core update due next month, Google has already said that a small number of websites may see gains or losses in rankings this time around which are then reversed in the second update.

Given the low volatility of search results for this update so far, you probably won’t have seen much change yet. Keep an eye on the amount of traffic you have coming through to your site over the next few weeks, and any changes in ranking positions – both of which can help you assess the impact on your website.

Whilst it’s stressful when ranking changes have a big impact on your business, take some time to see how things settle and respond in a considered way – rather than kneejerk reactions and changes which could potentially damage your site further in the process.

Google has been moving more and more towards providing a great experience to users over recent years – both in the quality of content presented, and the actual experience of browsing a website. Changes which improve this aspect of your website are generally safe to make. Making improvements gradually over time can help you to measure which alterations are having a positive effect and allow for a change of course if things move in the wrong direction. Avoid trying to ‘game’ the system with tactics such as buying links to your website or shoving in the search terms you want to rank for more times than necessary.

Whilst we’re yet to see the full impacts of this update, Google has said that most site’s shouldn’t see too much movement. We’ll have to wait and see if that turns out to be true.

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Hannah Wade

Founder of HeyYou! Digital. Avid drinker of tea.

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