The Two Most Important Search Marketing Updates for 2021

There will be innovations in SEO in 2021. Google has already announced two updates for the first half of the year. I would like to give an outlook on Search Marketing Trends 2021.

While it is not common for Google to announce its updates in advance, it may be because these upcoming updates have been a long time coming and are not completely new.

Search Marketing Update #1: Desktop content will no longer be indexed

As of March 2021, desktop content, i.e. the display of the website on a computer monitor, will no longer be indexed, but the mobile version of the website will be. In this context, Google’s “mobile-first indexing” strategy has already been underway since 2017. This means that Google examines the content of the mobile version of a website first, includes it in the index and calculates the rankings for that page.

One option, historically,  is to create a separate website for the mobile version, which is often recognizable by the fact that there is an “m.” at the front of the URL. This separate website is designed and created solely for mobile playout. The two websites (desktop version and mobile version) may contain different content.

Google Search Console helps you to optimize your (mobile friendly and responsive) website

Newer websites, on the other hand, are predominantly responsive websites. This means that the website layout (the design, photos and all HTML elements) adapts to the device used to access the website (tablet, PC, cell phone, etc.). If you still have a website which doesn’t resize once you access it on a smartphone, then now is a good time to think about a website relaunch.

How do you know if your website is even mobile indexed? Using Google Search Console, look under the item “Coverage” at the top right and you will see the note “Main Crawler: smartphone”. This is the indicator that your website is indexed mobile. Occasionally, Google continues to crawl with the Desktop User Agent to identify any differences between the two versions. In 2019, Google has already moved 70 percent of all indexed pages to mobile first indexing (MFI). The rest will follow soon. Webmasters themselves can do relatively little in the process. According to Google, a page is moved when it is “ready”.

Google Search Console: Coverage
Google Search Console: If you choose “Coverage” in the menu, you’ll see the main crawler of your website in the top right corner.

In addition, Google Search Console gives you detailed information about the loading time of your website or any problems with the mobile view.

Tips for mobile indexing:

  • Check that your content is viewable on mobile.
  • Make sure that your main content is the same in the mobile and desktop versions.
  • Optimize your website not only for a big monitor, but also review it in smaller dimensions.

Search Marketing Update #2: Google Core Web Vitals as Ranking Factor

From May 2021 on the next major update will become effective, which is about the so-called Google Core Web Vitals. Behind this is that the user is in focus. This is not new, but Google is now setting a clear deadline for user-friendliness and, above all, user satisfaction and user experience. This is now underpinned with clear numbers and indications – the Core Web Vitals. You can also find these in the Google Search Console under Improvements > “Core Web Vitals” or in Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool, although I recommend the Search Console for its clarity.

search marketing updates
Google Search Console: To check, if your URLs need to be improved concerning Core Web Vitals, choose the menu “Core Web Vitals” on the left hand side.

These “Search Signals for Page Experience” will be incorporated into Google rankings starting in May. In addition, Google plans to highlight websites that meet the Core Web Vitals in the search results (SERPs) sooner or later, eventually analog to marking encrypted websites with a green lock. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to estimate how strongly this ranking factor will then actually affect the ranking of individual websites. We will have to wait and see.

What can you do in terms of Core Web Vitals?

Studies have long shown that visitors appreciate it when the user experience on a website is good.

When there is a positive user experience:

  • Websites are visited more often and used more intensively (longer dwell time, more subpages are viewed).
  • Users have a stronger trust in the domain, brand or content.

Of course, this doesn’t work alone, but only goes hand-in-hand with good content, which you should always keep in focus.

What metrics do these core web vitals include?

While we’re actually getting into the fairly technical realm of SEO here, I still think it’s important that you know the background and how it works. The Core Web Vitals show metrics that are meant to make the user experience on the site measurable.

It revolves around the following three metrics:

1) Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

How fast does the page load? The LCP shows how long it takes for the main content of your page to become visible to the user in the browser. Here, too, Google Search Console offers assistance and shows you this value in a traffic light system (green, yellow, red). It is recommended to check what is the biggest element of the page before it is built. Once you have uncovered it, you can optimize it (often it is images that may be adjusted). Also check if your server’s response time has optimization potential.

2) First Input Delay (FID)

This value measures the time from the user’s first interaction to when the browser responds to that interaction (e.g., the time from clicking a link to opening the page).

Options for optimization of FID are here (selection):

  • Minimize JavaScript
  • Check: Are all third-party tracking pixels really important?
  • Are possibly too many plugins integrated?

3) Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

This is an effect you probably already encountered when you opened a page: You want to start reading, but suddenly the content jumps away because, for example, an ad “reloads” into the content.

This happens when parts of the content are loaded gradually (asynchronously). In principle, there is a good will behind this. This asynchronous loading is intended to keep the loading time low for the user. But it interrupts the reading flow and is unfortunately rather annoying for users. The CLS value is used to measure how often elements that are already visible are subsequently moved again.

Classic approaches to checking are:

  • How do advertising banners affect the page?
  • Are images given the appropriate dimensions (space is kept free to avoid displacement during asynchronous reloading)?
  • Do web fonts load afterwards?

The importance of the two new major Search Marketing Updates of 2021

In our opinion, those two updates have a huge impact on your SEO strategy for 2021. Try to use Google Search Console or the Pagespeed tool to find out which values you can fix or improve for your website. Ask yourself if you can turn the screws yourself and, if necessary, seek external support for optimization. How much the values will actually affect the ranking cannot be predicted at this point. As soon as the changes are implemented, there will be studies and findings about them.

Basically, make sure that your website is responsive, easy to navigate, and content is accessible quickly. This gives you the foundation for a good roadmap. With this, you are setting very good user signals that will have a positive effect on your ranking.

Although these technical elements are crucial for a good Google ranking, let me have a closing sentence on my comment above: “… this goes hand-in-hand with good content”. What actually is “good content”? In today’s marketing world, good content is defined from a user’s point of view and Google uses this as an additional ranking factor – it’s called “content relevance”. Follow our blog to learn more about this best practice.