All About Algorithms: Google Ranking Updates in Q1 2021

Mar 9, 2021 | Google Updates, SEO

As we near the end of Q1 2021, we’ve already seen one major Google algorithm update, accompanied by several more minor ones. While these algorithm updates didn’t drastically reshape the landscape of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), they are still significant and newsworthy.

What Google Algorithms Updates Are

Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. A search engine like Google will then use multiple algorithms on top of ranking factors, all done in milliseconds, to rank webpages based on relevance. This results page is called a SERP, short for search engine results page.

As of publishing, Google currently makes thousands of changes every year to SERPs with algorithm updates. Some of these updates are more significant than others in changing SERPs and are given unique names – like Penguin & Panda. After each Algorithm update, there is a timeline of 1-2 weeks until what specifically was updated for how Google ranks webpages.

Google Passage Ranking – First Major Algorithm Update in 2021

On Wednesday, February 10th, Google Passage Ranking was made live in the US – immediately impacting around 7% of all search rankings. While 7% may seem rather small, when considering the huge amounts of content Google ranks on its search engine every day – we are looking at millions of rankings being impacted by this algorithm update.

Google has publicly addressed why this update was made and how this update will impact search results:

“Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right,” said Google, “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 not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages. By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for.”

Google said passage-based indexing will affect 7% of search queries across all languages when fully rolled out globally

What it looks like in search. Google provided these visuals to demonstrate the change:

Passage Ranking

What can you do to update your site for Passage Ranking?

Focus on providing excellent content is the general statement Google makes in response to this question, and in this case, the answer is fairly on-point. Passage Ranking doesn’t change how Google crawls and indexes websites, just how it ranks webpage based on the search being made. At the most basic level – for Passage Ranking, this will allow a page that has the best answer to rank higher, even if this answer is further down the page. Before Passage Ranking, Google placed more value in having content most relevant to a search query be further up on a page.

Minor Ranking Updates in 2021

While SEO Roundtable has recorded several minor updates throughout the year, on February 8th and 17th, only one was particularly impactful.

On February 19, different Search Engine tracking platforms published that they recorded a drop in Featured Snippets being shown by 40%. We have yet to see the number of Featured Snippets trend back upwards. That said, most of the loss in Featured Snippets being displayed on Google were in the medical & financial fields.

This is significant because it coincides with the Passage Ranking Algorithm update, though Google has not publicly stated these two updates are connected in any way.

Next Major Google Algorithm Update in 2021 – Page Experience

ASTOUNDZ has already published quite a few articles on the coming algorithm update later this summer, called Page Experience.

2021 Search Ranking Factor: The Introduction to Core Web Vitals

What you MUST know about SEO in 2021!

We are currently outfitting all our websites with speed & performance optimizations in preparation for this update. If you need help getting your site optimized for the Page Experience update, reach out to our team of SEO Experts.


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