August 2021 Google Algorithm Update
Google regularly rolls out different updates in a year. Being the most used search engine globally, Google updates its algorithms to encourage webmasters to build better sites, content, and experiences. These updates also enable Google to fulfill its mission to deliver the best answers to users’ queries.
For our websites to function properly, we need to heed these updates and change our websites accordingly. This improves our SEO ranking and increases our visibility online.
What Is the August 2021 Google Algorithm Update?
Initially, Google announced to roll out another update by May 2021, but it was pushed back to August. The update technically started around June, but its full effects were all felt around August.
Google’s Ranking Factor: What Is It and How Does It Affect Our Website?
A ranking factor is what Google takes into account when it decides to rank our websites in the Search Engines Results Pages (SERPs). Google considers several factors to determine whether a website should rank on the first, second, or thirtieth page of the search results.
Google looks into many factors when ranking websites, and nobody knows the complete list of these factors. Google has over 100 ranking factors and changes them regularly, making it challenging for anyone to memorize or keep track of all of them.
As far as we know, Google considers the following when ranking a website:
- Keyword density
- Length of posts
- Real business information
- Social signals
- Speed and performance of the website
- Title tags
- URL structure
When we consider these factors while making our website, we’ll have better chances of appearing at the top of the SERPs. Appearing on the first page of the SERPs is essential because most online users would trust a website displayed on the first page of the SERPs.
In fact, a study shows that 25% of online users will only click the first Google search result. This means that the farther our website ranks in the SERPs, the less online traffic we’ll have.
Google still looks into the above mentioned factors when ranking websites but will now include Page Experience. For our website to rank high in the SERPs, we need to learn what Page Experience is and how we can adapt this variable to our website.
What Is Page Experience and Why Does It Matter?
As the name suggests, Page Experience is a new combination composed of five factors that influence the experience of a user when browsing a webpage or website:
- Core Web Vitals
- Ad Experience
- Mobile Usability
- Security Issues
Google looking into a website’s mobile-friendliness, SSL certificates, and the number of popups is no longer new; the search engine has been using these factors to determine how our website ranks in the SERPs for years.
The biggest change that comes with User Experience is the Core Web Vitals. Simply defined, Core Web Vitals are standardized metrics that help developers understand how online users experience a website. Although Core Web Vitals were created solely for developers, these metrics can also help site owners determine their user’s experience on a webpage.
Core Web Vitals was launched on May 28, 2020, but they’ve never been considered ranking factors. Because of Google’s algorithm update in August 2021, this can change.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are composed of user experience benchmarks — which Google takes very seriously. These benchmarks are:
- Interactivity (also known as the first input delay)
- Load time (also known as the largest contentful paint)
- Visual stability (also known as cumulative layout shift)
The importance of these benchmarks has increased through the years as Google likes to throw hints at webmasters. Because of Google’s focus on Page Experience, we can expect that Core Web Vitals, along with its benchmarks, will be part of the search engine’s ranking factors.
The three benchmarks behind the Core Web Vitals might seem unfamiliar to many because the terms change over time. For example, the measurement of load time is now called the “largest contentful paint,” or LCP. Regardless of if the terms changed, they still mean one thing — the time a user has to wait before anything shows up after typing their queries.
For us to adapt to the Core Web Vitals, we need to understand how each benchmark works. The more we know about the Core Web Vitals, the easier it’ll be for us to change our website and ensure that it still ranks high in the SERPs.
The section below will break down the benchmarks of the Core Web Vitals:
First Input Delay or FID
First Input Delay (FID) refers to the time a user takes action, like clicking an icon or navigating to another webpage before the website responds or becomes interactive. This vital measures that time gap. The benchmark for the FID is 100 milliseconds from when the user makes an action until our website responds.
Unlike other web performance metrics, we can’t measure FID using Google Lighthouse. Instead, we need to maximize Real User Monitoring (RUM) to determine how fast our website responds to users’ actions. RUM is a passive monitoring technology that records and analyzes all interactions on a website.
Once we know how long our website responds to a user’s actions, we can quickly determine if there are any problems with our site’s performance and fix them right away.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is a measure of a site’s loading performance. We’re looking for how long the important details in our web pages appear — to be “painted.” LCP is basically another metric that measures site speed.
Google’s benchmark in measuring LCP is within 2.5 seconds after the page first starts loading. We can easily measure our site speed by using Google Lighthouse.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS attempts to measure movements of a webpage as new content — whether it’s advertisements or images. CLS is calculated based on how much of the webpage is moving about and how often it moves. Any shift of the content is annoying to users as it makes them lose their place in the article they’re reading or drives them to click the wrong button.
A website that shifts unexpectedly can hurt our Google rankings. The search engine mandates that a “good” Page Experience should have a CLS of less than 0.1, as measured by Google Lighthouse.
What’s Going To Happen Next?
Even if Google rolled out its update in August 2021, nobody exactly knows what’s going to happen next. Sure, we know now that the search engine will look into our website’s Page Experience and use it as a factor in our SEO ranking, but we still don’t have any idea how big of an impact this will have.
Will Google focus more on Page Experience when ranking websites and look into other factors less? Or will Page Experience matter more than other ranking factors? Google’s algorithm is mysterious — and the August 2021 update is not an exception.
In February 2011, Google announced an algorithm update, known as Panda. This update was made to eliminate webspam and black hat SEO tactics. It significantly affected websites across the globe because many were penalized as they had low-quality content and were perceived as low-quality sites.
Conversely, the algorithm updates made by Google in 2018 didn’t cause any issues to most webmasters. The Medic, released in August 2018, is a Google algorithm update that aims to improve the identification of expertise and authority online by using core ranking factors to assess quality and expert content.
Although Google announced that Medic was a global update, it only affected health, medical, financial, and legal websites. This update gave us information about E-A-T or expertise, authority, and trustworthiness but didn’t prompt all webmasters to make drastic changes to their websites.
Why Would Google Roll Out Different Algorithm Updates?
The algorithm updates Google announces every year are evolutions and shouldn’t be taken as a revolution. Google is the number one search engine in the world, and it aims to remain in that position by improving its services. How can they do that? By regularly updating their algorithms to constantly provide accurate and high-quality information.
If users type in a question in Google and receive an inadequate answer, they won’t be happy about the service and will likely look for another search engine to use. Offering the best user experience is the primary goal of Google — hence the Page Experience update.
Moreover, user experience translates to Google’s revenue. The more happy Google users are, the more money the search engine makes.
How Can We Protect Our Website From This?
Regardless of how the Page Experience will impact our website, we need to take measures in order to protect it. How our website looks and functions can affect our position in the industry and, ultimately, our success.
To protect our website from Google’s latest algorithm update, we should make sure that everything is in order. We can make use of Google’s new Page Experience report available in the Search Console as this will give us feedback on how Google perceives our website. We can also use Google Lighthouse to check our site’s CLS and LCP.
When it comes to testing our site’s performance, Lighthouse and the Search Console Page Experience report are our best bets. Lighthouse tests page by page while the Search Console provides more comprehensive findings of our website.
If our website is clean after using these tools, we don’t have anything to worry about. We can continue running the same website despite Google’s Page Experience update. However, if we receive reports that our website has problems, like missing data or mobile usability issues, we need to fix them right away.
How Can We Fix Our Website?
Fixing a website requires skills and experience, resources which the average website owner often lacks. Once we find out that our website needs to be fixed, we should contact professionals right away. Fixing a website means changing its codes, and attempting to do this with DIY hacks will only do more harm than good.
Instead of using different strategies we’ve read online to fix our website, it’s best to reach out to professional and experienced developers and let them handle the job. They can address any issues our website has and ensure that it adapts to Google’s algorithm update.
Google’s algorithm update launched in August 2021, the Page Experience, is part of the search engine’s ranking factor. However, this just answers the “what” question but doesn’t really give us any idea on what will happen next.
As long as our website is in order, we don’t have to panic. We can always test out the performance of our website using various tools and hire professionals if there is a need to fix anything.