Get in touch with our team
Feature image for 10.05.2021


12 min read

April 2021 Google Algorithm and Search Industry Updates

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

In this month’s search industry update, we delve into:

  • Google’s Product Review update
  • Why is Daily Mail suing Google?
  • When has the Page Experience Update (Core Web Vitals) been postponed to?
  • Google Search Console’s improved Performance reports
  • DuckDuckGo’s plans to block Google’s FLoC
  • The new Apple App Tracking Transparency feature on iPhones and iPads for paid social advertising
  • Google’s update to the Cumulative Layout Shift metric

Ready to discover how the latest updates and news in the digital marketing industry will impact you? Read on.

Google rolls out Product Review update

On 8th April, Google launched the product reviews algorithm update. In its Search Central blog announcement, the search engine stated that the update is designed to reward ‘product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products.’ This change should result in more useful, high-quality reviews surfacing at the top spots in the SERPs.

It’s worth noting, that this algorithm update only affects sites that publish reviews of products – not ecommerce sites that feature on-page product reviews, but rather sites that post content with the explicit purpose of reviewing products from elsewhere. Examples include publishers such as TechRadar and Running Shoes Guru.

With the rollout of the product reviews update, Google intends to rank sites more highly if they publish reviews containing original analysis based on independent research. Linking the update to E-A-T, the search engine goes on to say that it also helps if reviews are ‘written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well’.

Digging deeper into exactly what Google is now looking for in product reviews, the original post lists the following criteria:

  • Does the person who has written the content have expert knowledge about the products?
  • Have they shown what the product is like physically, or how it should be used, with unique content beyond what has been provided by the manufacturer?
  • Have they provided quantitative measurements about how the product measures up in various categories of performance
  • Have they explained what sets a product apart from its competitors
  • Have they covered similar products to consider, or identified which products might be best for certain circumstances?
  • Have they discussed the benefits and drawbacks of the product, based on research?
  • Have they described how the product has improved from previous models or addressed issues which could help users in making a purchase decision?
  • Have they identified key decision-making factors for the product’s category and reviewed how it performs in those areas?
  • Have they described key design choices and how they might impact users, beyond what the manufacturer has said?

What does this mean for me?

If you own or work on a site that publishes reviews of products, you should annotate your analytics and rank-tracking software to reflect the launch of the update on 8th April. Check to see if there were any major shifts in organic traffic to the site and keyword rankings on this date or in the weeks that followed.

In cases where your site has been adversely affected by the product reviews update, don’t panic! The first step is to have a close read of Google’s guideline criteria (listed above). Check through any content that has seen a drop in rankings and traffic to see if you can answer yes to all of these questions in relation to your review.

Depending on the number of reviews that have been impacted by the update, you may want to go back and amend your content so that it aligns with Google’s new guidelines more closely. In practice, this could just mean specifying the characteristics that set a product apart from its competitors in your review.

Even if you don’t amend old content, you’ll want to adapt your approach going forward. Fortunately, Mordy Oberstein provides a helping hand in his analysis of the winners and losers from the product reviews update. He identifies three common elements that distinguished reviews that saw ranking increases from those that dropped off:

  1. Buying guides
  2. Product specs
  3. Deep, rich, and non-salesy review content

When amending old reviews and creating new content, be sure to include a buying guide that clearly demarcates the key decision-making criteria for the product category, provide the technical specs in a list or table, and keep your review content strictly objective and informational (with no marketing or sales-like language).

Daily Mail sues Google over allegations of manipulating the search results

The owner of the Daily Mail newspaper announced on April 21st that they were suing Google over allegations that the search engine reduced the organic rankings of news outlets if they did not regularly spend via Google Ads.

The newspaper alleges that Google is more likely to show articles produced by local news outlets than the Daily Mail on stories such as the recent comments made by the Duchess of Sussex about the Royal Family. Google has called the claims of being anti-competitive ‘meritless’.

What does this mean for me?

The claims reflect the concerns held by some by a supposed relationship between Google’s advertising platform and the algorithm it uses for its organic results. Google has repeatedly said that any such relationship does not exist, and the majority of SEOs and digital marketing professionals would likely agree. It is unlikely that the Daily Mail will win their case, but it is worth monitoring nonetheless.

Google postpones Page Experience Algorithm update to June

The search engine giant announced on April 19th that it would be delaying the rollout of the Page Experience algorithm update to mid-June. The update was originally set to roll out in May, but Google has said that the new time frame would allow more websites to prepare.

Google also announced that while the rollout would begin in June, the update would not be completed until August. It is thought that a gradual rollout would allow the search engine giant to monitor the impact and make any required changes.

What does this mean for me?

The news was well received by many SEOs who have been scrambling to prepare their websites for the new algorithm update. Our stance is that while the updates are unlikely to cause much volatility, it is still worthwhile prioritising resource to improve Core Web Vital signals ahead of mid-June, as it could be a deciding factor between some competitors.

Our Technical SEO Specialist, Charlie delivered a webinar on the update in February, which you can watch back.

Google Search Console gains improved data filtering and comparison on Performance reports

An update to Google Search Console has made it much easier to dig deeper into your Performance report data and make comparisons, with new data filtering options and an enhanced comparison mode.

New filtering options in Search Console

Previously, users could only narrow down queries using the ‘queries containing’, ‘ queries not containing’, and ‘exact match’ filters. In addition to these options, Google has now added the ability to filter using regular expressions (regex).

There are several use cases for this, the most important of which is the option to filter results using multiple queries at the same time. For example, if your brand is referred to using several different variations such as ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’, ‘Abercrombie and Fitch’, or ‘A&F’, you might want to filter by all of these queries at once. To achieve this, you would use the regular expression: Abercrombie & Fitch | Abercrombie and Fitch | A&F.

Enhanced comparison mode

Google has also improved the comparison mode within Search Console Performance reports. When comparing different date ranges or devices, you can now view multiple metrics side-by-side, with significantly more width allocated within the report. New columns have also been introduced to show the difference between the metrics.

What does this mean for me?

Both of these new Google Search Console features enhance your ability to drill down into the data in your Performance reports. Regex has been a long awaited addition within the SEO community, offering much more refined filtering capabilities. The new comparison mode makes it possible to gather all of the data you need in one place.

DuckDuckGo Announces Plans to Block Google’s FLoC

In last month’s search industry updates blog, we spoke about the fact that Google will not replace third-party cookies when they are phased out, but will instead revert to group-level user-tracking data through a new mechanism called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts).

This new technology should allow advertisers to collect the data they need in an anonymised form without tracking any users individually. With FLoC in place, it would still be possible to track site visits and interaction data but only on mass, with no individual identification.

FLoC may in theory seem like an ideal solution that offers enhanced privacy yet still facilitates personalised online ads. However, some critics such as search engine DuckDuckGo take issue with all forms of user tracking, even with group anonymity.

DuckDuckGo has announced that it plans to block the new user-tracking software via its Chrome browser extension. The main criticism it levied against FLoC was that users are already being tracked without any requirement to give express permission as is currently the case with cookies.

In addition, all FLoC tracking has already been blocked from DuckDuckGo’s search results. This is no surprise, however, as the search engine blocks all forms of user tracking and isn’t just singling out Google.

What does this mean for me?

This move shouldn’t impact your ability to track users or serve personalised online ads unless a large proportion of your traffic comes from DuckDuckGo (a fairly rare scenario). Even if this is the case, the change shouldn’t have any effect on your digital marketing because third-party cookies can’t be used to track visitors who arrive on your site via DuckDuckGo anyway, so you won’t notice the difference.

Apple introduces App Tracking Transparency feature for paid social advertising

Apple has introduced a new feature to iPhones and iPads which allows users to say no to having their data collected by third party apps.

Considering that Facebook uses user data, and the advertising that the data can generate, to make their platform so profitable, this could seriously impact their business model.

Every iPhone and iPad has a unique device identifier called the IDFA (identifier for advertisers). Social platforms which provide paid social advertising use IDFA to target ads and estimate their effectiveness.

However, when iPhone and iPad users now update their software to iOS 14.5, the new App Tracking Transparency feature will force app developers to explicitly ask for permission from users to use their IDFA.

Recent findings from Flurry Analytics found that roughly 4% of users in the US are allowing apps access to their IDFA tag. This is based on a sample of 2.5 million daily mobile users.

What does this mean for me?

Facebook has argued that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature could seriously impact small businesses that use paid social to attract new customers. They have also warned that the update could cut revenue earned by businesses through its ad network.

In their latest blog, Facebook pledged to create “new advertiser experiences and measurement protocols” for its paid social clients. They also admitted that the collection and use of user information in paid social needed to “evolve” and rely on “less data” in the future, so we can expect significant changes on the advertising platform in the future.

For more information on its impact, check out Senior Paid Social Specialist Amy’s blog on How iOS14 Affects Marketers and PPC Specialist Fraser’s guide on Apple’s Updates to IDFA and how this will impact paid advertising. We also discussed what these changes mean to marketers in our recently recorded webinar on The Future of Digital Marketing Measurement.

Google changes the Cumulative Layout Shift metric

Google has announced changes to the CLS metric, after receiving feedback from webmasters and developers. The change is to make it fairer for pages with a long session time, or those with infinite scroll implemented.

Developers completed a large scale analysis to identify where the changes needed to be made. They have chosen to change the metric to a maximum session window with a 1 second gap, capped at 5 seconds. Session windows were chosen as they group the layout shifts together most intuitively. Google has gone into more detail about the decision in this blog post.

What does this mean for me?

Luckily, no page will have a worse CLS score as a result of this change, as it is still capped.

55% of all pages will not see a change in CLS at all at the 75th percentile. This is because their pages either do not currently have any layout shifts or the shifts they do have are already confined to a single session window.

The rest of the pages will see improved scores at the 75th percentile with this change. Most will only see a slight improvement, but about 3% will see their scores improve from having a “needs improvement” or “poor” rating to having a “good” rating. These pages tend to use infinite scrollers or have many slow UI updates, which made the previous scoring system unfair.

We have written an in-depth guide about Core Web Vitals. Check out Hugo’s full Core Web Vitals summary to find out more.

Have you been affected by the latest search industry updates? Get in touch with our SEO team to discuss a Google algorithm recovery strategy or our Paid Social team on how to work with iOS14 today.