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When Google releases a major algorithm update, it can take weeks or months to fully understand the effect. Google itself tends to be tight-lipped about the updates, preferring to point website owners and businesses to its general webmaster guidelines for advice on an update. 

Because of all this, we are just starting to grasp what Google’s recent algorithm updates did to search engines. One thing that has become quickly apparent, though, is that one of the biggest losers from Google’s 2020 algorithm updates has consistently been online piracy. 

This is most clear in a new end-of-year report from TorrentFreak and piracy tracking company MUSO

How Google’s Algorithm Updates Affected Digital Piracy

Overall, the analysis shows that site traffic to piracy sites from search engines has fallen by nearly a third from December 2019 to November 2020. Notably, the two big periods leading to this loss of traffic line up perfectly with Google’s algorithm updates earlier this year. 

In January 2020, piracy traffic began dwindling shortly after the January 13th core update. 

After experiencing a short uptick at the start of the COVID pandemic in March, the May 4th core update then hit online pirates even harder, sending piracy traffic plummeting. 

Early indications from the public and some analysts suggest the December 2020 core update continued this trend, though it is too early to know for sure. 

Interestingly, TorrentFreak and MUSO say they corroborated the findings of their report with operators of one of the largest torrent websites online:

“To confirm our findings we spoke to the operator of one of the largest torrent sites, who prefers to remain anonymous. Without sharing our findings, he reported a 35% decline in Google traffic over the past year, which is in line with MUSO’s data.”

Is Google Completely Responsible?

It should be noted that while Google’s algorithm updates likely played a large role in the decline of search traffic to piracy sites, other factors almost certainly contributed as well. 

TorrentFreak’s report shows that direct traffic to piracy-related sites experienced a gradual 10% decline over the course of the year. This may suggest overall interest in pirating content may have fallen somewhat on its own. 

Additionally, 2020 was a unique year with less content coming out than usual. The COVID pandemic disrupted pretty much every industry, including creative industries. Music releases were pushed back or cancelled as it became difficult to safely record in studios. The closing of theaters led to the delay of many major movies, and TV creators had to completely rework how they wrote and filmed their shows. 

With less content from major studios and artists, it is highly likely users just had less available content that they were interested in pirating. 

Why This Matters

The good news is that the vast majority of business-related websites have absolutely nothing to do with online piracy and therefore should be safe from these effects of Google’s most recent algorithm updates. 

The less good news is that Google’s core algorithm updates are designed to impact a huge portion of websites around the globe, and certainly had impacts outside the realm of digital piracy. 

Still, we felt it important to highlight a real-world way a major Google algorithm update can impact an entire industry on a wide-scale within search results. 

Ultimately, the takeaway for most website owners is that keeping an eye on your analytics is essential.

If you are watching, you can respond to major shifts like this with new strategies, optimization, and even ask Google to recrawl your site. If you aren’t monitoring your analytics, however, you could lose a huge chunk of your traffic from potential customers with no idea why.

I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that 2020 changed everything for businesses around the world – no matter what industry you are in. The spread of COVID-19 accelerated the migration of small and local businesses to the internet, making having an online presence no longer an option but a necessity. 

In turn, these changes have had a massive impact on digital marketing, driving a wave of new competition and seismic shifts in how we connect with customers every day. 

For better or worse, many of these changes are bound to stick around well into 2021, influencing the ways we shop, advertise, and connect with customers for the foreseeable future. 

With this in mind, predicting next year’s search trends is a little easier than it has been in the past, with some clear indicators of what businesses need to do to stay relevant and efficient in a post-COVID world. 

The 5 Online Marketing Trends You Need To Know In 2021

The Effects of COVID Will Linger

The most obvious trend brands will need to be prepared for in 2021 will continue to be the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccinations are finally rolling out and we can be optimistic to relatively soon be returning to something resembling normality, it is also clear that many shopping habits and consumer behaviors are permanently changed. 

For example, virtual events and trade shows are all but guaranteed to stick around. Now only do they provide an easier and more affordable way to bring together top members of your industry from around the country, they do it without massively interrupting your day-to-day operations. 

Likewise, many customers will continue to prefer using online ordering and curbside pickup from local businesses out of convenience well after social distancing is a thing of the past. 

Social Media Purchasing Goes Mainstream

For years, social media has been a major tool for consumers to find and learn about new products they otherwise would have never known about. Recently, though, they have been expanding to allow shoppers to not just find products, but to buy them right then and there. 

The ease of going from discovering something cool to making a purchase without ever having to leave your current app is fueling a rush to provide the best social shopping experience and this trend is only going to get bigger in 2021. 

We Are Past Peak Facebook

Facebook has been the undeniable king of social media for more than a decade now, but the platform has been facing increasing challenges that are getting hard to deny. 

In sheer numbers, the social network still far outranks any other platform out there, but a growing number of its users are aging, with younger demographics turning to hipper alternatives like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. 

Add in the continuous issues with the spread of fake news, concerns about echo chambers, a relatively recent data breach scandal, and recent calls for the breakup of Facebook’s extended network of services (including Instagram and WhatsApp) – it quickly becomes clear Facebook is past its prime and is no longer the single platform you should be focusing on. 

Video Content Is The Standard

For the past few years, my year-end lists have consistently included one thing – video content has been increasingly important for brands looking to maintain effective marketing and outreach. 

Well, call 2020 the tipping point, because video content is no longer “on the rise”. It is the standard and it is here to stay. 

While blog content remains important for technical SEO and connecting audiences with some specific types of information, the data makes it very clear that consumers prefer the quick, digestible, and entertaining nature of videos over long, often repetitive blog posts. 

At this point, rather than clicking to your blog page shoppers are more likely to check out your YouTube and Instagram page when trying to find out the details of what you offer and why they should choose you over the competition. 

Mobile SEO Is Now an Oxymoron

Since Google introduced its “Mobile-First Search Index” the writing has been on the wall. Having a mobile-friendly website was no longer an option or convenience. Mobile-optimized websites were quickly becoming the first thing anyone – including search engines – were likely to see when checking out your brand. 

With the recent announcement that Google would be dropping all desktop-only websites from its primary index starting in March 2021, the final nail is being pounded into the coffin. To be included on search results from the biggest search engine in the world, your website must be compatible with all the current mobile-friendly standards. 

With all this in mind, the age of considering separate SEO tactics and strategies for mobile users is long gone. There is just “SEO” and you must plan for mobile users if you want to have a chance of succeeding. 


We are all hoping that 2021 is a little less chaotic and a bit smoother than the past year has been. Still, even if we have the most tranquil year in history, there are bound to be a number of surprising new twists and factors in how Google ranks websites and content for users. If you want to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world, it is important that you stay up to date with all the latest from Google and be prepared to respond. 

Google confirmed this week that its most recent broad core update, which began rolling out on December 3, 2020, is now completely rolled out to all search users.

Google’s SearchLiason account announced “the December 2020 Core Update rollout is complete,” yesterday following almost two weeks of anxious waiting from webmasters and SEOs.

What We Know

Google is notoriously tight-lipped about its “secret recipe” used to rank websites around the world. Still, this update was big enough that the search engine felt it necessary to alert the public when the December core update started rolling out. 

This may simply be because the update rollout is global, affecting all users in all countries, across all languages, and across all website categories. 

However, early signs suggest the algorithm update was uncommonly big, with many reporting huge gains or losses in organic traffic from search engines. 

What Is a Broad Core Update?

Google’s “broad core updates” are essentially a tuneup of the search engine’s systems. Rather than adding a specific feature, targeting a singular widespread issue like linkspam, or prioritizing a ranking signal, a core update more subtly tweaks Google’s existing systems. This can be rebalancing the impact of some search signals, refining Google’s indexing tools, or any other combination of changes. 

What To Do If You Are Affected

The first thing any webmaster should do is thoroughly check their analytics to ensure they haven’t experienced a significant change in search traffic. 

If you have, you will be disappointed to hear that Google has not provided any specific guidance for how to recover from this update. In fact, the company suggests a negative impact from a core update may not even reflect any actual problems with your website.

What the search engine does offer is a series of questions to consider if you have been affected by a recent core update. Though not as useful as actual suggestions for fixing lost rankings, these questions can help you assess your site and identify areas for improvement before the next broad core update.

With the announcement that Google will begin including the “Core Web Vitals”  (CWV) metrics in its search engine algorithm starting next year, many are scrambling to make sense of what exactly these metrics measure and how they work.

Unlike metrics such as “loading speed” or “dwell time” which are direct and simple to understand, Core Web Vitals combine a number of factors which can get very technical.

To help you prepare for the introduction of Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal next year, Google is sharing a comprehensive guide to what CWV measures, and how they can affect your website. 

What Are Core Web Vitals

The first thing to understand is what exactly Core Web Vitals are. Simply put, CWV are a combination of three specific metrics assessing your page’s loading speed, usability, and stability. These three metrics appear very technical at first, but the gist is that your site needs to load quickly and provide a secure and easy to use experience. As for the specifics, Core Web Vitals include:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load.
  • First Input Delay (FID): Measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have a CLS score of less than 0.1.

Importantly, in the new guide, Google reaffirmed its intention to start using Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal in 2021. 

“Starting May 2021, Core Web vitals will be included in page experience signals together with existing search signals including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.”

Does Every Page Need To Meet CWV Standards?

In the help document, Google explains that the Core Web Vitals standards it set out should be seen as a mark to aim for, but not necessarily a requirement for good ranking. 

Q: Is Google recommending that all my pages hit these thresholds? What’s the benefit?

A: We recommend that websites use these three thresholds as a guidepost for optimal user experience across all pages. Core Web Vitals thresholds are assessed at the per-page level, and you might find that some pages are above and others below these thresholds. The immediate benefit will be a better experience for users that visit your site, but in the long-term we believe that working towards a shared set of user experience metrics and thresholds across all websites, will be critical in order to sustain a healthy web ecosystem.

Will Core Web Vitals Make or Break Your Site?

It is unclear exactly how strongly Core Web Vitals metrics will be able to affect your site when they are implemented, but Google’s current stance suggests they will be a significant part of your ranking.

Q: How does Google determine which pages are affected by the assessment of Page Experience and usage as a ranking signal?

A: Page experience is just one of many signals that are used to rank pages. Keep in mind that intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page with a subpar page experience may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

Other Details

Among the Q&A, Google also gives a few important details on the scope and impact of Core Web Vitals.

Q: Is there a difference between desktop and mobile ranking? 

A: At this time, using page experience as a signal for ranking will apply only to mobile Search.

Q: What can site owners expect to happen to their traffic if they don’t hit Core Web Vitals performance metrics?

A: It’s difficult to make any kind of general prediction. We may have more to share in the future when we formally announce the changes are coming into effect. Keep in mind that the content itself and its match to the kind of information a user is seeking remains a very strong signal as well.

The full document covers a wide range of technical issues which will be relevant for any web designer or site manager, but the big picture remains the same. Google has been prioritizing sites with the best user experience for years, and the introduction of Core Web Vitals only advances that effort. 

Find out more about Core Web Vitals here.

Google is adding a new set of ranking signals to its search engine algorithm in the coming year, according to an announcement this week. 

The search engine says it will begin factoring “Core Web Vitals” as a ranking signal starting in May 2021, combining with already existing user experience-related ranking signals. 

Google has been measuring Core Web Vitals since earlier this year, assessing the speed, responsiveness, and stability of web pages. 

These factors are what Google calls the Core Web Vitals:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load.
  • First Input Delay (FID): Measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have a CLS score of less than 0.1.

These signals will be joining the already announced page experience signals:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security
  • Intrusive interstitial guidelines

“These signals measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.”

Based on recent data assessments, this should concern the majority of websites out there. A study published in August suggests less than 15% of all websites would pass a Core Web Vitals assessment if the signals were implemented today. 

The search engine has also hinted at the potential to introduce new labels in search results, highlighting pages with the best user experience. Though nothing is set in stone, this would provide even more motivation for pages trying to maintain the best place in search results. 

For more information about updating your site for Core Web Vitals, you can explore Google’s resources and tools here

A lot has changed at Google over the past few years, but one thing remains the same – the majority of people will click the top link on any search result page. 

A new study of over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that an average of 28.5% of users will click the top organic result for a given search. 

From there, the average CTR for results sharply declines. Listings in the second place receive an average of 15% of clicks, while third place falls to 11%. 

By the time you get to the last listing of a results page, links receive only a 2.5% click-through rate. 

You can imagine what the CTRs for anything after the first page would be like. 

Other Factors Influencing Search CTRs

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of variance in the actual click-through rates for some results pages. In the study, Sistrix found click-through rates for listings in the first position swung from 13.7% to almost 50%. 

While the relevance of the top listing has some effect on its CTR, the study suggests another major factor is the SERP layout. 

For example, search results including sitelinks extensions significantly outperformed those without. 

On the other hand, the study found that search results including featured snippets had a significant negative impact, dropping click-through rates by at least 5% on average. 

Similarly knowledge panels reduced the average CTR from 28% to 16%.

In these situations, the researchers believe users don’t feel the need to investigate further when provided with quick answers directly within the search results pages:

“The CTR in the first two organic positions drops significantly compared to the average. Many users appear to find the information they are looking for in the Knowledge Panel – especially on their smartphones, where each time a page is loaded it takes a lot of time.“

For more information, you can explore the full study report here.

Google is making a change to how featured some featured snippets function by taking users directly to the associated text when clicked. 

Featured snippets are the highlighted search results that appear at the top of some results pages, showing a specifically relevant bit of text.

The company announced the update through its Google SearchLiason Twitter account, which posted:

“As we have done with AMP pages since December 2018, clicking on a featured snippet now takes users to the exact text highlighted for HTML pages, when we can confidently determine where the text is.”

While it is a relatively small change, it makes featured snippets even more useful to searchers (and thus, more essential for businesses to put in place). 

Surprisingly, the company says there is no additional code or special markup needed to prepare your featured snippets for this change. 

Instead, the search engine is essentially using a trick that highlights specific text by tweaking the URL for each snippet.

As Roger Montti explained over at Search Engine Journal, this is a feature previously used for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which has the dual benefits of being easy to implement and trackable.

Google appears to be testing the idea of integrating its normal web search into search results on YouTube. 

Reddit users have been reporting seeing results and links to traditional web pages when doing searches on the video platform, as you can see in the screenshot below:

YouTube Showing Google Search Result

As you can see, Google places a single web page result among the video results, with an option to click the link or jump to a search directly on Google. 

The test appears to be limited, with many (including myself) being unable to replicate it. However, there are enough reports to conclude this is a legitimate test and not a glitch or hoax. 

So far, reaction to the move has been mixed. Many have decried the potential new feature as “annoying” and said they would “ryin the YouTube experience.”

However, there have also been those who see potential in the concept, saying it could make it easier to leap to Google when YouTube doesn’t provide the results someone is hoping for.

As one user described:

“Sometimes I’m looking for a tutorial but I want a video explaining it, and if it doesn’t exist now I have the option to do a quick Google search in the app.”

Personally I see some utility in integrating a single, non-obtrusive link within video search results. Obviously, those searching on YouTube are primarily looking for exclusively video content, but there are certainly scenarios where users are moving back and forth between YouTube and Google. This would be a convenient option for those situations.

Google will soon be updating their search ranking algorithm with a new ranking signal. This new signal will combine a number of existing signals with a recently introduced metric known as Core Web Vitals. 

The search engine says the goal of the new update is to better rank pages based on the quality of users’ experiences with the site. 

In addition to the new ranking signal, the company announced a few other changes it will be making to its systems in the coming future:

  • Incorporating page experience metrics into rankings for Top Stories in Search on mobile
  • Removing the AMP requirement for content to be shown in Top Stories

The “New” Ranking Signal

While the new signal is being called the Page Experience Signal, it actually combines a few existing search ranking signals with the recently introduced Core Web Vitals details. The metrics being brought under the umbrella of Core Web Vitals include:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security certification
  • Following intrusive interstitial guidelines

As the company said in its announcement

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”

How To Monitor Your Core Web Vitals

To help prepare webmasters for the coming update, Google has also created a new report section within Search Console. The goal is for the new report to replace the need for a suite of tools aimed at specific issues such as page speed and mobile-friendliness.

The tool can also filter data based on those which are “Poor,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Good.”

When Will The Update Happen

While the update doesn’t really change all that much regarding how webmasters and SEO specialists should approach managing sites, the company sees it as important enough to give a significant notice ahead of the release. 

In fact, Google says these changes to the algorithm will not be happening before 2021. Additionally, the search engine will provide another notice 6 months before it is rolled out.

In recent weeks, LinkedIn has been updating its algorithm it uses to rank content with new signals like “dwell time” or how long users spend with each piece of content. 

Even more, the company has also revealed its secret ranking recipe by using a blog post to dig deep into exactly how it ranks content. 

How LinkedIn Ranks Content

Similar to other major algorithms like those used by Facebook, YouTube, and Google, LinkedIn tries to tailor users’ feeds to their specific interests and niches. To do this, LinkedIn follows a specific process.

When a user logs on, there tend to be tens of thousands of potential posts the social network could choose to show you. To filter these down, the algorithm first applies a lightweight ranking algorithm referred to as a “first-pass candidate generation layer”. This helps choose specifically which posts you might see based on a number of factors including connections and keywords. 

From here, the algorithm now has to determine what order these posts will be shown in. 

As the company describes, “If Alice’s connection Bob recently shared an interesting article, what determines where Bob’s post will appear in Alice’s feed?”

For this, LinkedIn looks at what it calls “viral actions” which include:

  • Reacts
  • Shares
  • Comments

Based on individual users’ actions, the algorithm weighs these interactions with content to determine which content is most likely to create user engagement.

How Dwell Time Fits Into This

While LinkedIn’s algorithm has largely been successful at curating a feed with content most likely to generate user actions, the company says it has noticed some downsides to this approach. 

Specifically, actions like clicks and shares are relatively rare when compared to the total number of people seeing each piece of content. In the grand scheme, focusing on some binary metrics like clicks may miss out on other more passive forms of engagement which may reflect quality content. 

In other words, LinkedIn’s old system could see simple measures like whether someone clicked a post, but it wasn’t factoring in more complex metrics like how long a person was spending with a piece of content after taking action. 

This creates problems when content simply doesn’t live up to its promise or users could potentially share misleading posts to drive clicks.

When this happens, people might click on a post and almost immediately return to their feed.

With the old system, these posts would get rewarded for the number of clicks made, despite the content being unsatisfying. 

Because of these issues, LinkedIn says accounting for dwell time provides numerous advantages for its algorithm:

LinkedIn Dwell Time Benefits

How This Affects You

Overall, this update should have very little negative impact on those already creating informative and engaging content on the professional social network. If anything, you may benefit as the new algorithm punishes those sharing clickbait.

However, it is unclear if LinkedIn’s latest system also accounts for the overall length of content. This could potentially create issues where shorter updates might be downplayed over more in-depth content simply because people spend less time with each individual post. This may be something to keep in mind as the impact of this update takes effect.