Earlier this month Google released a broad core algorithm update called the 'June 2021 Core Update'. This particular update is significant because Core Web Vitals metrics will now start to impact site rankings.
Later today, we are releasing a broad core update, as we do several times per year. It is called the June 2021 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates is here:https://t.co/e5ZQUA3RC6
This will be followed by the July 2021 Core update. Here's more information about that…
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 2, 2021
Specifically, this update is part one of a two-part rollout of Google's algorithm update that focuses on prioritizing pages with great user experience and testing visual indicators that may enhance overall page experience.
This is all part of Google's public call to evaluate page experience for a better web. With this set of core updates, Google is now gradually rolling out the inclusion of user experience as part of their ranking algorithm.
We've mentioned in a previous article that Google's Page Experience Update will consider the three Core Web Vitals metrics, which mainly focus on page loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
Google's target date for fully rolling out the Page Experience Update is set from mid-June to the end of August this year. Granted, there will surely be a lot of changes in terms of the way Google ranks pages this year.
What Do We Know About the June 2021 Core Update?
Google finally released this update on June 2, 2021, at around 6:30 PM ET. The June update is the first part of the two-part update, which also has a close roll-out schedule for its second installment, set in July.
This core update in particular was a global one, meaning it was not specific to any region, language, or category of websites. It's one of Google's 'broad core updates' which they release several times a year to improve search results - these often have important legal consequences for e-businesses, so professionals in lawyer marketing should certainly take note of these changes.
Prior to the June Core Update, Google released a previous set of core updates last December 2020, which we also wrote about here.
The July 2021 core update has no set release date yet from Google, but we know so far that it will be the next set of updates to supplement this month's update. While Google has typically released updates within six to seven months of each other, many web admins are wondering why these two updates are so close in terms of timeline.
Google reported that this is because some of their planned improvements for the core update were not fully ready to be released entirely in June. They decided to move forward with what was prepared for the June update and deploy the rest by July.
According to Google's Public Liaison of Search Danny Sullivan, it is likely that most sites will not notice any significant effects in their site performance following the two updates:
Some of our planned improvements for the June 2021 update aren't quite ready, so we're moving ahead with the parts that are, then we will follow with the rest with the July 2021 update. Most sites won't notice either of these updates, as is typical with any core updates....
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 2, 2021
That being said, as is to be expected with any Google algorithm update, site rankings may either go up or down. Some may remain stable. Google mentioned that changes experienced by some webmasters due to the June update may still possibly be reversed in July. Hence, there are no specific guidelines yet for this set of updates.
However, they reiterated Google's guidelines on how to perform well on search in general, which you can read here.
Of course, any core update can produce drops or gains for some content. Because of the two-part nature of this release, it's possible a very small slice of content might see changes in June that reverse in July....
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 2, 2021
Google regularly releases several core updates yearly to improve search results. According to Google, it 'receives billions of queries every day from countries worldwide in 150 languages,' hence the need to constantly improve to serve its users effectively. 'We're always looking for ways to improve these systems so we can display the most useful results possible,' Google adds.
According to Google, they have effectively decreased the number of irrelevant results on SERPs by over 40% in the past five years because of these updates.
What Are the Effects of This Update?
Generally, the June 2021 Core Update was slow to roll out, with its effects on rankings or traffic mostly felt by specialists only a few days post-launch. Unlike other core updates, which would typically make noise within the SEO community immediately due to their repercussions on site rankings, this update remained largely unnoticed for a couple of days.
For many marketers and SEOs, only after three or more days post-launch did they notice ranking changes on the sites that they managed.
This is of massive importance to legal entities online - who cannot afford to be behind the clock when it comes to industry standards and regulations. If you're figuring out SEO for lawyers or internet marketing for lawyers, these changes can directly influence the way you handle your online presence.
Various data providers had different experiences with the update, with some sites seeing huge drops or gains while others remained largely unaffected. Based on a report gathered by Search Engine Land from various data providers, some of the categories where changes were health, autos & vehicles, pets and animals, science, and travel.
Some noticed traffic drops in blog pages, specifically content that did not have highly optimized title tags or had long-winded content. Basically, we at dNOVO have noticed over past couple of weeks after the rolloutthis particular update seems to focus on content that gives users what they are looking for in a quick, straightforward manner. Overall, this seems consistent with Google's aim to lead more web admins in the general direction of improving page and user experience.
Here are some other pretty significant changes that came with the update:
Adjusted Core Web Vitals metrics
Core Web Vitals (CWV) are real-world metrics centered on users, and they score pages based on load time, interactivity, and stability of content as it loads.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures site loading performance. An indicator of good user experience is LCP occurring within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
- First Input Delay (FID) measures site interactivity. Pages should have an FID of 100 milliseconds or less to provide users with a good user experience.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures the visual stability of your page. Pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
In relation to this, Google has made improvements on the metrics associated with CWV:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) now includes offscreen elements by pinpointing the largest element even if it is removed from the page DOM later or if several images of the same size all qualify.
- The threshold for achieving 'good' First Contentful Paint (FCP) scores is now at 1.8 seconds (previously just 1 second).
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) scores will no longer be undermined by long browsing sessions as smaller 'window' sessions are capped at 5 seconds and marked as ended by a 1-second gap as a boundary.
How to use lab and field data for optimization
Lab scores in Page Speed Insights are now calibrated to represent your site's upper percentiles. This is to take into account worst-case scenarios (ex. slow internet connection, browser problems, etc.). Google has calibrated it to provide developers with feedback that will help them to troubleshoot issues more easily.
On the other hand, field data is collected for Chrome User Experience reports and will indicate your audience based on browsers with real-world usage of your website.
What to Do if You Are Hit by the June 2021 Core Update
So, what should you do if your site is affected negatively by this recent core update?Google has previously given advice to websites that core updates may have negatively impacted. As a general rule, Google says that 'there's nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update.'
More importantly, Google assures negatively-impacted sites that they have not violated Google's 'webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines.'
In fact, due to the nature of core updates, which focus on improving how Google's system assesses content overall - Google asserts that there's nothing in a core update that specifically targets certain pages or sites.
That being said, they are also aware that sites that may perform less well following a core update will likely seek ways to improve their performance: 'We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don't try to fix the wrong things. Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.'
Again, a negative impact on your rankings following a core update does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with your pages. Google's advice is to focus instead on creating the best content that you can.
If your site has been negatively affected by a core update, here are a few more pointers from Google:
Focus on content
When Google launched its Panda algorithm in 2011, Google defined its parameters for defining high-quality sites. Even back then, the company's focus was on the two things that remain relevant to webmasters today: user experience and content. 'Our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google's current ranking algorithms or signals,' Google announced.
Today, Google's advice remains the same. The company has reiterated the importance of producing high-quality content as the key to surviving each wave of change brought about by various updates: 'We suggest focusing on ensuring you're offering the best content you can. That's what our algorithms seek to reward.'
To help site owners assess their content in light of changes in rank, Google has also released an updated list of considerations when thinking about content:
Answer content and quality questions
These questions were formulated by Google to help content managers and creators assess the overall quality of their content. This list addresses basic content problems such as fact-checking, plagiarism, originality, and analysis. It also includes some questions to help you think about the user-friendliness of both the content and the overall page. You may find the original blog post here.
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
- Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
- Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
- Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
Answer expertise questions
Google formulated these questions in relation to Google's E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness), which is part of their Quality Rater Guidelines and an important part of their ranking algorithms. Basically, Google wants you to create high-quality content that conveys your expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in the field or topic that you are writing about.
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site's About page?
- If you researched the site producing the content, would you conclude that it is well-trusted or widely recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
- Is the content free from easily verified factual errors?
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
Answer presentation and production questions
This set of questions focuses on ensuring quality in terms of grammar, spelling, stylistics, and overall writing technique. They also help you think about page experience in terms of site aesthetics and layout, particularly when translated to mobile devices.
- Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
- Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care?
- Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
Understand how your content stands against others
These questions help you think about your content in relation to others'. Specifically, Google wants you to consider whether or not you are offering added value to your site visitors when they browse through your site. It places a premium on giving users what they need instead of focusing solely on search engine rankings.
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site, or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Do a quick audit on the types of content that were affected
Google suggests asking consultants for feedback for an honest assessment of your content, as well as doing a quick audit of the drops you experienced. Specifically, it may be helpful to look at your analytics to see a broad view of which pages performed poorly after a core update. Here are some helpful points to consider:
- Among the pages that performed poorly, is there a specific topic or group of topics that were affected significantly more than the others?
- Is there a common theme, tone, or style of writing connected with the drop in traffic or rankings?
- Is there a pattern among the titles and headings of these affected pages? Consider the wording, messaging, length, and calls to action to find what works and what doesn't.
Get to know Google's Quality Rater Guidelines and E-A-T
As previously mentioned, Google's E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is an important part of their Quality Rater Guidelines and ranking algorithms. Google has a comprehensive guide on Search Quality Evaluation Guidelines, which you can find here. Google assesses page quality based on the following factors:
- The true purpose of the page - According to Google, websites that are not beneficial to users automatically receive the lowest rating. These are the pages that 'are created with no attempt to help users or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform/deceive users.'
- How well a page achieves its purpose - Depending on how well a page achieves its purpose based on these (pages 20-55) criteria, a page will be scored according to the following scale:
Page Quality - Most Important Factors
Google assesses the following factors when analyzing page quality:
- The Purpose of the Page
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness
- Main Content Quality and Amount
- Website Information/information about who is responsible for the Main Content
- Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the Main Content
Keep following SEO best practices
Coupled with high-quality content and a focus on overall user experience, another step to take to ensure recovery of traffic and site rankings would be to keep following SEO best practices. If possible, you might even want to look for ways to further improve your site's SEO strategy.
Work on improving Core Web Vitals and revisit Page Experience
As we've discussed earlier, Core Web Vitals are essential factors in ranking highly in search engine results. Given that Google's latest update (and likely other succeeding updates) focuses on CWV as metrics for site rankings, it would do your site well to revisit these parameters and try to improve site performance.
On the same note, page experience is also something that Google highlighted as something that webmasters should focus on, starting with these 2021 updates. Revisit the following page experience signals on your site and try to improve on them:
- Safe browsing
- No Intrusive Interstitials
Generally, Google points webmasters in the direction of focusing on constantly producing high-quality content. After all, user experience is at the core of their algorithms and, therefore, most of their site updates.
There is no specific timeline with regard to 'full recovery' in terms of site rankings and traffic for sites that may have been hit by a core update. However, Google suggests that since broad core updates are done regularly, as long as you work on improving your content, you should see an improvement in your site's performance, usually by the time the next core update rolls around.
We'll see how this update affected our clients in particular, but as of now, as with other site managers, we've seen gains and losses across the board. Although it might be too soon to judge since the July 2021 Core Update is also set to launch soon, most of our clients have not experienced any drastic changes in search ranking and traffic.
Google has stated the same regarding this particular update and has highlighted that reversals may still occur by the time next month's update is in effect.