The SEO community is all abuzz lately with multiple updates from Google. Here’s your guide to three updates making SEO news so far in 2021.

3 SEO updates to know in 2021

3 SEO updates to know in 2021.

1. Passage ranking

In short, this was an update that Google made to how their search algorithm indexes and ranks passages within longer pieces of content. According to Google, this isn’t something that SEOs or content creators need to think about or optimize for.

Naturally, with any algorithm update, there were a lot of questions and a lot of surmising going on before the update happened.

The update, announced in October 2020, sounded like something SEOs should be thinking about because of the way Google worded it:

“Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right, since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep in a web page. We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to better understand the relevancy of specific passages. By understanding passages in addition to the relevancy of the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for. This technology will improve 7 percent of search queries across all languages as we roll it out globally… this improvement applies to how we rank web pages overall.”

That sounded like a big deal, so there was quite a bit of buzz about it in the SEO community. That is, until Google came in and explained that we should largely disregard it, because there’s nothing to be done as far as optimizing for it.

Google’s John Mueller explained it this way:

“…because a lot of the changes that we make like these are essentially changes that we make because we notice that web pages are kind of messy and unstructured. And it’s not so much that these messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages. It’s more well we can understand these messy pages more or less the same as we can understand clean pages.”

3 SEO updates to know in 2021: Core Web Vitals

2. Core Web Vitals deadline looming

When Google first announced in May 2020 that the page experience update, featuring Core Web Vitals, would become a ranking signal, they said it would be rolled out “sometime in 2021.” Then in November 2020, they announced the official timing: May 2021.

What seemed far away is now here, and if you’re not yet familiar with the page experience update or you haven’t done anything about it yet, it’s definitely time.

The update is all about the performance of your site. How quickly your site loads has been a ranking signal for 10 years now, so it’s not really a huge surprise that Google is getting more technical with this.

You can think of Core Web Vitals as site speed, but broken down further into three categories:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint: How long it takes for the largest image or text block in the viewable area to load
  2. First Input Delay: How long it takes to be able to interact with your site (click a button, fill in a form, etc.)
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift: How much your content moves (shifts) unexpectedly during load time, potentially causing the user to misclick elements on the page

Thankfully, we were all assured recently by Google’s Danny Sullivan that this update won’t be causing huge, overnight ranking changes.

In a Search Central Live Fireside Chat, he said:

“I think it’s not a case of start being all super concerned. And understand that we want to make sure that this is coming in a moderated fashion…

But over time what will happen is, as more and more content is coming up in page experience and if you’re in a situation where things are all relatively equal, the things that are more page experience and oriented are likely to start doing better.

So it’s not… I don’t think freak out but do pay attention to it, do understand that it’s a new thing that you need to keep in mind.

That’s why we’re highlighting it.”

In other words, do what you can, but don’t panic. Just keep it in mind and work on it when possible.

3 SEO updates to know in 2021: Google Question Hub

3. Google Question Hub is now open

This is a feature that Google has had available for a while in other countries, but they just recently opened it up to us here in the U.S. in beta.

Question Hub is meant to be a resource for content publishers across the web. Here’s a screenshot from their “How it works” page:

3 SEO updates to know in 2021: Google Question Hub Screenshot

Basically, it’s meant to inspire content creators to answer users’ questions that aren’t already answered anywhere on the web. 

While this is a neat idea in theory, so far, I’m not seeing much there. I’m assuming it’ll keep picking up and taking off as time goes on, but it’s pretty lean right now.

For instance, if you were a commercial construction company, you might look for questions about commercial construction. When I look at the questions that come up for that phrase, I’m seeing stuff like:

“What commercial building are they constructing on 25a and Vernon Valley Northport?”

Hm, that’s not helpful. I also see this one, though:

“Who does reviews of commercial property appraisals and what is the fee structure?”

That one could be a content idea.

As another example, I’m a book blogger in my spare time, and when I search “reading,” I get stuff that just doesn’t make much sense:

“How to find a story that was deleted and now want to read?”

However, this question also popped up:

“What is a good book to read to my grandmother?”

Now THAT’S a really fun content idea that’s really niche but could make for a great article. If I wanted to follow up on the question, I could write an article, then click the “answer” button and provide my link to my article.

Slim pickings on Question Hub right now, but it could be fun to sign up for it and keep an eye on its progress.