Last updated on February 3rd, 2021
It’s hard to imagine what words future historians might use when looking back on 2020. While there are probably plenty of words that come to your mind, we feel confident that most people will reflect on this past year as… tumultuous (to put it lightly). From a global pandemic and unprecedented natural disasters, to nationwide protests and an election to boot, this year has certainly been one for the record books and one that many of us are keen to leave behind once and for all.
While many of us have understandably turned our attention to all of the happenings around us, it’s worth remembering that the online world has continued changing and it certainly has seen some pretty significant changes over the last year. Some of these changes were expected, while others were specifically due to the coronavirus and its impact around the world.
As we look forward hopefully to a new (and better) year, we thought it was a good time to reflect on the most significant and important Google algorithm updates, along with other important developments in the world of search engine optimization.
Google’s core updates
A few times a year, Google rolls out updates to its search algorithms. For them, it’s a routine update and entirely logical. In fact, in explaining why they do it, Google likens it to a list of your favorite 100 movies. You need to update it periodically to adjust for new content you like. Of course, that means dropping off content that no longer makes the cut.
Over the last few years, Google has rolled out a core update approximately every 3 months, though this varies somewhat. However, in 2020, that schedule has varied. Google only rolled out 2 core algorithm updates in 2020:
- January 2020 Core Update. On January 13, 2020, rolled out a broad core algorithm update which may have had a positive or negative impact on your side depending on your industry—or perhaps no impact at all. According to analysts, the big winners of this update were health, online shopping and gaming websites.
- May 2020 Core Update. On May 4, 2020, Google released another broad core algorithm update. These broad updates are intended to result in noticeable changes in search across all countries and languages; however, in general, news sites most benefited from this update, according to SEMRush, while offline entertainment venues saw declines.
If you’ve noticed drops in your organic search traffic this year, it’s unlikely you’ll find consolation in Google’s assurances that their changes don’t mean you’re suddenly doing something wrong. Your business survival may be at stake.
Here’s what to do:
- Do a thorough audit of your Google Analytics data and find out what specific pages on your website have experienced the dropoff in organic traffic.
- Review the content on those pages. Have there been changes in your particular field that have rendered some of the information outdated? Is there new information that you haven’t incorporated into the content? If so, then Google’s analogy to a Top 100 movie listing applies. You may have a viable piece of content, but it’s being beaten out by someone else.
- Update the content to make it current. You’ll have to wait a few months for the next Core Update, but Google will revisit your content eventually and hopefully your traffic will recover after you’ve optimized it.
- Let this entire experience be a good reminder that you should always be improving and updating your best-performing content. Moving forward, make certain you have planned content audits that will enable you to stay one step ahead of algorithm updates when it comes to new information.
No more “double dipping” in featured snippets
The “structured snippet” is the box of content that appears at the very top of the search results. If you type in a question where there’s a basic answer, you’ll often see that answer in bold with a link right underneath it.
In the past, the page that won the jackpot of getting the snippet was rewarded twice. They were also high in the ensuing organic search results. However, on January 22, Google announced that webpages chosen to appear in the featured snippets section would no longer appear twice on regular Page 1 organic listings.
In other words, if a website is elevated to the featured snippet position, it will no longer appear in the search results listings, too, as was the case prior to this update. Google’s goal in rolling this out was to “declutter the result” and help “users locate relevant information more easily.”
The change also effectively eliminates the “double-dip.” Now, the website still gets the snippet, but will not also be listed below. It’s a noteworthy change but it doesn’t alter the fact that the snippet is the grand prize of organic search.
Many changes can be attributed directly to COVID-19, and these changes will likely persist, at least to some degree, moving forward. Here are the major lifestyle changes in 2020 that have impacted online search and will continue to affect SEO in the coming year.
- More people shopping online. People who have gotten used to ordering groceries from the comfort of their living room won’t all be anxious to run out and stand in line on a Saturday again, even after the pandemic is over. If your business sells anything people might deem “essential,” you’ve likely had to change your delivery system to accommodate more online shoppers. While we may see an increase in in-person shopping again after the pandemic abates, it’s wise to keep your online shopping tools and knowledge handy for a while.
- Traffic to content-rich sites (like news publishers) is up significantly. Some of this is undoubtedly driven by the temporary phenomena of the presidential election and concerns about the pandemic, but this trend is also driven by the fact that more people are working from home now. Someone who doesn’t have to worry about their supervisor looking over their shoulder is more likely to explore content on another website during some downtime.
- The year of video conferencing. Speaking of working from home, the sudden surge of remote workers was great news for video conferencing sites. Zoom, for instance, experienced growth of nearly 3,000 percent in the first 4 months of the quarantine. Furthermore, with quarantines limiting social interactions, more and more people have turned to video gatherings as a way to keep connected with family, friends and coworkers. As with online shipping, this unprecedented growth rate will eventually subside, but this period has made many employers rethink their work environment and we may very well see a rise in working from home—or at least workplace flexibility. Companies that have been able to see how their entire workforce handles working from home may be less likely to pay large sums for office space in the future. Remote working was already on the rise—up 140 percent over the last 15 years—before the coronavirus.
So, where do we go from here?
The changes in online behavior that have resulted from COVID-19 will likely continue far beyond 2020, at least to some degree. While some trends will certainly taper off some in 2021, some changes are here to stay for good.
For instance, if we measure data against 2019 online user behavior, the chances are good that we will continue to see an increase in online shopping, content consumption and video usage in the coming year—legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And of course, this will all happen in conjunction with Google continuing its regular core updates, which means that all business owners will have to step up their games with regards to SEO. The best way to do that is to return to the basics.
Evaluate your content and ask yourself if you would find it truly valuable if you were a searcher. If not, develop it further. If so, make sure the technical aspects of SEO are perfect. For instance, ensure that you have unique titles and descriptions for each page, your site loads quickly, coding is properly streamlined, etc. Pay attention to all the important factors of search engine optimization that make your website stand out.
If you’re able to accomplish this, we guarantee that 2021 will be a much better year—at least as far as your digital marketing endeavors are concerned.