Google News March 2021

There were no official updates to Google’s algorithm in March 2021, but there were many changes to note in search engine results and some interesting information from Google you may need to know about.

March 3rd also marked a year for working from home for Google Search staff.

Featured snippets are back!

For certain searches Google may highlight the first result in the form of a featured snippet. This snippet has the particularity of presenting text before the link to the page. Sometimes the text part of the snippet is formatted as a list or table. Often there is an image that illustrates the snippet, even on desktop.

Example of a featured snippet in Google search results
Example of a featured snippet in Google search results

There were reports that there was a large reduction in the number of results with featured snippets from February 19th – the MozCast Feature Graph showing that the use of featured snippets had fallen from 7.5% to 4.5% of search results overnight.

MozCast screenshot from @ShalomGood https://twitter.com/ShalomGood/status/1370410189602615299
MozCast screenshot from @ShalomGood https://twitter.com/ShalomGood/status/1370410189602615299

On March 11th, featured snippets started to return to the search results with Moz showing that they featured in 7.3% of searches again from March 12th.

Screen shot from https://moz.com/mozcast/features
Screen shot from https://moz.com/mozcast/features

SEO expert Glen Gabe commented that he thought that this was probably a bug from Google rather than an intentional update.

Many feel that featured snippets reduce click-thrus from Google (in the screen shot at the top of the article, the answer to the user’s question is in the featured snippet so they do not need to click on the “Pricing” link to get the answer). This period with fewer featured snippets gives site owners an opportunity to analyze their traffic in February and March to see whether featured snippets have a positive or negative influence on traffic.

Zero clicks

By coincidence, on March 24th, Google actually responded to allegations that it is sending less and less traffic to websites by publishing the article “Google Search sends more traffic to the open web every year” on The Keyword blog. The article debunks the idea that an increase of zero-click searches has led to a decrease in traffic from the search engine, by stating that Google has sent more traffic to other websites every year since its creation.

This post is mainly a reaction to Rand Fishkin’s latest installment of his Zero Click research published just a few days earlier with data from Similarweb. This shows that 65% of searches do not result in clicks to other websites and he insists that this is a bad thing for the web and SEO.

Google argues that this type of analysis is based on flawed methodology and ignores the increasing use of Google to find quick facts, directions to businesses or telephone numbers.

Local 2-packs

Another SERP feature change that many noted in March was in local results on mobile. Users noted that local packs normally containing 3 results are now showing only 2 results. Publishing on the LocalU site, Joy Hawkins illustrated this change with a few screenshots and commented that if this change rolled out fully, it would also give a big advantage to the first result or ads placed by Google Ads at the top the local pack.

Screenshots from Joy Hawkins
Screenshots from Joy Hawkins

It may also increase the number of users who click on “More places” to go to Google Maps where they can find and compare more results. Again, an illustration of what Rand Fishkin calls a zero-click-search as the click on “More places” keeps users in Google or sends them to the Google Map application.

Many unconfirmed algorithm updates

Barry Schwartz and Marie Haynes are good sources of information on Google’s algorithm updates. Although there were no official updates in March, both Barry and Marie were giving regular alerts about what appeared to be important changes in search results:

  • March 1-3 – big traffic changes for Marie’s client sites and chatter reported by Barry.
  • March 5-6 – more significant changes spotted by Marie. Changes that happened on March 1st seemed to be reversed during this update.
  • March 11 – in parallel to Featured Snippets returning to search results, Marie noted unconnected traffic changes so deduced that there was another parallel update to Google or a change that touched both ranking and featured snippets.
  • March 11 – BrightLocal also reported that there were big local ranking changes according to its LocalRankFlux tool.
  • March 19 – Again Marie noted changes in client traffic data, normally at a level she would see during an official Google update. Again, backed up by Barry who also noted that website owners were reporting indexing problems.
  • March 26 /28 – Marie and Barry again reported big changes and once again concluded that this was possibly a further update in a very busy month.

So far, however, Google has not given any indication that any major updates were launched in March although they regularly remind us that the algorithm is tweaked constantly, possibly every day. There remains the possibility that these changes were tests or bugs.

Clarifications about the SharedArrayBuffer object message

On March 15th many WordPress users will have received an email notification from Google Search Console warning them about the use of “SharedArrayBuffers” on their website. The mail confused many, including the technical SEO wizard Barry Adams.

@badams on Twitter
@badams on Twitter

The messages were not restricted to WordPress sites, but the mail from Google generated some questions on WordPress.org as it appeared that certain plugins or themes were causing this error to be flagged by Google.

On March 19th, Google felt obligated to publish a blog post, “Clarifications about the SharedArrayBuffer object message” to explain the problem and remind us that this issue stemmed from a CPU vulnerability called “Spectre” or “Meltdown” discovered in 2018. Sites received messages because Google detected JavaScript on those sites that could use SharedArrayBuffer object incorrectly when storing data. In future versions of Chrome (from version 91) this code will no longer work. There is no suggestion that this will have an impact on Google Search.

Google suggest that site owners receiving these messages should try and identify the source of the problem and report it to 3rd party solution providers if they are concerned.

Plugin and theme developers should be attentive to these messages and make sure that their code is up to date. As always, we recommend that WordPress users update their plugins regularly. SEOPress does not use SharedArrayBuffer objects and is not concerned by these warnings.

Updated Video Guidelines

On March 17th, Google updated their video guidelines that help web owners understand how to rank videos in search results. These new guidelines feature a new video by Danielle Marshak that explains how Google indexes and features videos in search results.

The video concludes with 5 best practices:

  • Make your videos available on the web
  • Provide structured data with VideoObject markup
  • Include high-quality thumbnails
  • Submit a video sitemap
  • Make video content files accessible

Reminder: SEOPress PRO users can manage a video sitemap in SEO, XML / HTML Sitemap and the VideoObject schema is included as one of the many structured data types offered by our Structured Data Types feature.

Core Web Vitals FAQ updated

A new ranking factor from May 2021, Core Web Vitals featured prominently in SEO news in March. In reaction, Google added a thread to the Search Console Help forum to give more answers to Core Web Vitals questions. This FAQ now answers 27 questions on the themes of metrics and tooling, page experience and SEO, top stories and AMP.

For an introduction to Core Web Vitals, also see our article Core Web Vitals and WordPress SEO.

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