Serendipity Online Marketing

All Major 2021 Google SEO Updates


  • Google updates its rule set thousands of times a year, but most have only a minor impact on the results. Some, however make a huge impact and are called Core Updates  there being three in 2021. These were released in June, July, and November, with another one possibly being put into the wild in October.
  • There was a bit of fuss in February when Featured snippets in the Your Money and Your Life area were unexpectedly removed but then were restored in March.
  • Product reviews came under scrutiny in April, those using marketing and sales-centric language being penalised.
  • Google also released multiple spam updates throughout the year, although these should not worry any websites that follow Google’s link building guidelines.
Google updates
Google updates

February 2021

Passage Indexing

This change allows Google to pick out just one sentence or paragraph from a long article, helping users find an answer to a niche query. The big difference being that this rule set looks at all of an article rather than just the Titles and subheadings.

I believe that there is some connection with the way Google uses Fraggles, in that small ‘passages’ of text (in this instance encased in Anchor Tags) can be located by Google, the user in this instance being taken straight to the piece of text on the page, rather than the top, something I am not sure happens with Google Passages.

April 2021

Product Review Update

This is an update that may be considered by some to be just one of the many minor tweaks that Google makes and not a major update. However, as it had a huge impact for Ecommerce users, it is included in this list.

So, what was it all about. Well, basically Google noticed that there were a lot of product reviews which really ‘pushed’ a product rather than giving a factual review. Especially where these reviews used popular search words or where they directed the user towards Amazon.

The action Google took was to remove many product review sites from its top listings.

June 2021

Multitask Unified Model – Also known as MUM

This change could be considered to be an extension of the Passages update, as it is all about Google getting better at really ‘understanding’ what the topic of page is, rather than just concentrating on the keywords that were used. This started with BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), but it is believed that the MUM update is 1,000 times more powerful, being able to read other languages rather than just English whilst also including misspellings. Google say that the update also allows them to use nuance to better meet the expectations of Search.

From an SEO point of view, the most important issue here is that pages that has relied on getting ranked just by including lots of keywords are likely to see their rankings drop as Google ‘sees though’ this SEO trick. Instead, it will rank copy that better answers the question included in the Search Phrase.

Spam Updates

For a long time now, Google has waged war against sites that use Black Hat linking techniques such as ‘spammy’ links. This all started with the Penguin update. This was for a long time run every now and then, all the time getting better and better at finding the links that Google believed to have been created just to get better ranks. It did not get it right all the time though, which meant that some sites got clobbered when they should not have.

Google then changed things by including the Penguin rules in the main algorithm. So rather then being run now and then, these days, all sites are continually checked for ‘bad’ linking practices. Another big change is that Google now tends to just ‘ignore’ these links rather than actually penalise a site for having them.

This change can therefore really be said to be an upgrade to the Penguin update that is now embedded in the main rule set.

Page Experience

This update, which continued to be deployed in stages through to August, uses a lot of signals to determine what a Good Experience actually is. This includes such things as whether the site is using HTTPS, does not have lots of intrusive adverts or pop ups (known as intrusive interstitials) and is mobile friendly.

It also includes all the Core Web Vitals signals like Largest Contentful Paint  (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Google has even gone so far as to provide a ‘Page Experience Report’ in Google Search Console to help website owners ‘tune’ their site to achieve a better User Experience and potentially better rankings.

Core Update (June and July)

These Core Updates are more about Google re-arranging things than anything else and are not something that people can do much to combat. However, saying that, it is believed that sites with very thin content or bad linking structures did suffer.

The message here is that you should always provide content that answers the questions users are asking or fully covers a topic and also do not build spammy links.

July 2021

Link Spam Update

Another tweak to the rules on spammy links, reinforcing the point that Google now just ignores Spammy Links, rather than actually penalising sites that have them. This is important for those worried about so called Negative SEO. This is where sites were being targeted by competitors in an attempt to reduce their ranks by the creation lots of bad links (using money keywords etc).

This practice never worked that well, but is now highly unlikely to cause anyone any trouble now.

August 2021

From an SEO point of view, the Title Tag is the most important ‘real estate’ on a page, being used by Google to ‘set the scene’ on the content of the page. It is well known that a good Title can make a lot of difference to rankings, which has in turn lead to SEO experts (like me) to fully optimise them.

It seems that Google has decided that in some instances it will not display the Title on the page in its results (SERPS), instead using something of its own creation.

The thing is that Google may welll actually take the Title on the page into account when deciding on the rank for that page, even though it then goes on to rewrite it.

This means that the Meta Description becomes even more important. It’s job has always been to act as an elevator pitch, to try to drive the user to the site. So, if Google does change the Title, the best thing that you can do is to make sure that your Description really does give good reasons for visiting your site.

October 2021

Core Update – Possibly?

Google have denied making any BIG changes in October. Nevertheless, there was a higher level of traffic / ranking changes this month.

November 2021

Spam Update

Yet another alteration to the rules regarding backlinking. As before, any site that does not try to cut any SEO corners was not affected, however, anyone who saw a big drop in traffic late in 2021 should have a good look at their linking strategy.

Core Update

This update seemed to have affected mobile searches than anything else. However, its full impact is still being assessed at the moment.


As you can see, Google keeps on making changes all the time, the above just covering the major ones.

The biggest message here is that it is always best to stick to creating good, useful content that answers people’s questions or otherwise entertains or educates them. You should also link out to authoritative content and make sure that the backlink profile is not ‘spammy’.

If you follow these guidelines you will find that your site is never aversely affected by any change that Google makes. I have been doing SEO for 21 years now and can say that none of the site I have worked on has ever lost rankings because of a Google change, simply because I follow the rules.

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