After promising to be more careful in the timing of updates, Google released two important algorithm changes in early December causing a lot of volatility in the search engine’s results leading up to the Christmas holidays. As the officially announced updates concerned online product reviews and business listings in local search results, we can imagine that ranking changes had a big impact on Christmas shopping behavior.
It is a further reminder that ranking in Google has a massive real-world impact on businesses all over the world.
November 30th – November 2021 Local Search Update
On December 16th, Google announced via a tweet on its @googlesearchc account that an update to local search results had been released at the end of November. This update affects the ranking of businesses in Google Maps and by consequence, the business featured in local pack features in Google search results.
The update started on November 30th and ran through to December 8th. It is felt that Google had not intended to release information on this update, but did so following reaction from the local SEO community as reported by Barry Schwartz in his article Google Local Search Ranking Algorithm Update Last Week.
The announcement linked through to the Google Business Profile Help page How to improve your local ranking on Google. This guide explains that local ranking is determined by Relevance, Distance and Prominence. Analyzing the results of this update, Local SEO expert Joy Hawkins called this the Vicinity Update as she feels that the main change made to the local ranking algorithm during this update was in an increase in the importance of proximity of a business to a searcher.
See our article Understanding Local SEO for more information on how local results work.
Our November 2021 local search update has concluded. It began Nov 30 and ran through Dec 8. It involved a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results. General guidance for businesses remains the same as covered here: https://t.co/uyXFfmUEIR
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 16, 2021
December 1st – Product Reviews Update
Google announced a new product review update on December 1st via a blog post on the Google Search Central site and Twitter post on the @googlesearchc account (in recent months Google updates have been announced by @searchliaison which was strangely quiet in December).
The blog post indicates that this update follows on from the product reviews update released in April 2021 and is based on the automatic assessment of a page’s content. The post introduces two new best practices for product review:
- Provide evidence such as visuals, audio, or other links of your own experience with the product, to support your expertise and reinforce the authenticity of your review.
- Include links to multiple sellers to give the reader the option to purchase from their merchant of choice.
We can therefore imagine that these are two signals that Google is analyzing in this update. Do product review posts contain unique visuals or other media? Do pages only link-out to just one retailer? The later case would be typical of sites linking out to Amazon using affiliate links, for example.
The tweet published on December 1st indicated that this update concerned English-language pages only. However, during the Google Office Hours Hangout recorded on December 24th, John Mueller said that he had assumed that the update was released globally and that there was certainly nothing that he could think of that could prevent it being released in all languages.
Certainly, there was a lot of volatility in search results all over the world during the first 3 weeks of December, pushing many to complain about the timing of updates – some suggesting that their Christmas vacations would have to be canceled or shortened to deal with changes.
Mordy Oberstein of SEMRush confirmed via a tweet that their measurements show that December 2021 was the month with the most volatility in 2021.
Google News December Video
On December 23rd, Google released a new News video featuring anchorman John Mueller who also ran a live Google Hangout on New Years Eve.
Other news to discover in the video is information on November and December updates, Log4j vulnerability, how to pause a website in Google Search, the SEO section of the Web Almanac 2021 and John Mueller eating artificial snow.
SEO & Devs Videos
Google also launched a new video series in December hosted by Martin Splitt. According to the introduction to the series trailer the series “Aims to bridge the disconnect between SEO and developers by highlighting the intersection of the two professions.”
The first two episodes are
- SEOs & web developers: friends or foes? with Surma a Google Chrome developer discussing topics like how SEOs can help developers with constraints and requirements, loading performance and accessibility.
This series may interest you if you are a technical SEO having problems communicating with developers or if you develop themes or plugins for WordPress and want to learn more about SEO. However, it will not be relevant for website owners working with an agency who created their WordPress sites – it is just too technical.
Review of 2021
December completes a full year of monthly Google update reviews by SEOPress. We have brought you the Google news that is the most important for WordPress site owners who want to improve their ranking and increase traffic. Google update expert Marie Haynes said that she thought Google made a LOT of exciting changes in 2021. It was certainly a very eventful year. Here is a useful guide to the news covered by SEOPress in 2021:
- January 2021 – No official updates. Unconfirmed Algorithm Updates, Google Analytics Spam, Google My Business Updates, Google Australia to Close? Google Search Console Updates, Google Search Central Videos.
- February 2021 – Official Passage Based Ranking Update, More Unconfirmed updates, Changes to Image Search, Site Kit featured on Off the record, Product search tips, Google still in Australia? Google Dark Mode.
- March 2021 – No official updates. Many unconfirmed algorithm updates, Featured snippets are back! Zero clicks, Local 2-packs, Clarifications about the SharedArrayBuffer object message, Updated Video Guidelines, Core Web Vitals FAQ updated.
- April 2021 – Official Product Reviews Update, Page Experience Update (Core Web Vitals) Delayed, More Unofficial Updates? Web Spam Report / Reminders on Protecting Sites from Hacking, Google FLoC and WordPress.
- May 2021 – No offial updates. Happy MUM Day! Dubious Developments and Suspicious Shifts, Search sessions at Google I/O, Schema.org Validator.
- June 2021 – Official June Core Update, Official Page experience update, Official Spam Update.
- July 2021 – Official July Core Update, Official Link Spam Update, Unconfirmed Update, More information in the About This Result feature, Analyzing Google Search Traffic Drops.
- August 2021 – Official TITLE Tag Update, End of Official Link Spam Update, Author.URL Property Added to Article Schema, Lighthouse Scores DO NOT affect Ranking
- September 2021 – No official updates. TITLE tags are back! New search features for automobiles, John Mueller confirms that WordPress themes impact ranking, Google Search Console bugs and delays, New Best Practices for ecommerce in Google, New search features announced during the Search On 2021 event.
- October 2021 – No official updates. Huge unconfirmed update, Continuous scroll in mobile search results, Quality Raters Guidelines updated, Don’t publish posts as “Admin” in WordPress, IndexNow.
- November 2021 – Official November Spam Update, Official “broad” Core Update, Desktop Page Experience update in 2022, The future of SEO.
- December 2021 – Official November 2021 Local Search Update, Official Product reviews update, Google News December Video, SEO & Devs Videos.