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7 min read

August 2021 Google Algorithm and Search Industry Updates

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

A little late of schedule, Google announced that its Page Experience update had been fully rolled out as of 2nd September. Aside from that, there were several other algorithm and search industry updates. In this post, we’ll explore:

  • The completed roll out of Google’s Link Spam Update
  • Google rewriting meta titles in SERPs
  • Google limiting one ClaimReview element per page
  • Safe browsing no longer being a page experience ranking signal

Following our approach in previous posts, updates are set out in terms of their significance using our traffic light system – a red light is used for a key update that should be a priority, a green light is for news that is less immediately significant, and amber signifies that the update is of moderate importance.

Read on for the latest news and updates in the search industry.

Google originally said the link spam update would take two weeks to roll out. However, it took a total of 4 weeks, and therefore an additional two weeks to complete. Google did not address why there was a delay in the roll out. 

The reason for this update was to improve the quality of the search results. This algorithm is designed to be effective at identifying and nullifying link spam more broadly, across multiple languages. 

“Sites taking part in link spam will see changes in Search as those links are re-assessed by our algorithms,” Google wrote.

What does this mean for me?

If you see any big changes to your rankings over the last month, it might be related to this update. Make sure your links are natural and in accordance with Google’s webmaster guidelines. 

Google has stated that  “Site owners should make sure that they are following the best practices on links, both incoming and outgoing. Focusing on producing high-quality content and improving user experience always wins when compared to manipulating links. Promote awareness of your site using appropriately tagged links, and monetize it with properly tagged affiliate links.”

Google has started rewriting title tags in SERPs

Over the course of August, we saw Google starting to rewrite title tags in SERPs

For many years now, the search engine has been known to make small tweaks to title tags – for example, adding the brand’s name at the end or modifying the title to make it more relevant to a user’s query. However, the changes we are now seeing are more significant.

In most cases, title tags are being replaced with the h1 tag on a given page. Other SEOs have noticed that the new titles have been derived from alternative sources, including other headings on the page and even the anchor text of internal links pointing to the page:

Google’s announcement on how it generates web page titles had this to say about the sources of the new titles:

“We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags or other header tags, and content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments.

Other text contained in the page might be considered, as might be text within links that point at pages.”

Where previously some titles were adapted to suit a user’s query, Google has now opted to go with one universal title for each page irrespective of the search term used:

“Before this [update], titles might change based on the query issued. This generally will no longer happen with our new system. This is because we think our new system is producing titles that work better for documents overall, to describe what they are about, regardless of the particular query.”

Whilst the update is well-intentioned, numerous commentators on Twitter have pointed out instances in which the new title tags are either a much worse fit for the page or even misrepresent what a particular page is about –  see the full discussion for examples.

What does this mean for me?

In some cases, the updated title tags have resulted in a massive decrease in the number of users clicking through to a page from the search results, causing a drop in traffic to the site. Wordstream reported that title rewrites had dropped its CTRs by as much as 37%. So, how can you tell if this update has affected your site?

The first step is to identify which (if any) of your site’s title tags are being rewritten. If you have access to the SEO tool, SISTRIX, you can make use of their new title changes functionality: enter your domain name, then navigate to SERPs > SERP-Snippets > Show title changes. The interface displays the title tag of a page in red and the changes in green:

If you don’t have access to this tool, Andrew Charlton has created a free title checker script that works in Google Sheets. He’s shared a demo of the tool on Twitter – you can register and download it to get free access to up to 600 requests per month.

Once you’ve identified any new titles, consider whether the changes are problematic or if they might actually be for the best. Look at how the CTR of the page has changed, as well as other engagement metrics that could indicate a mismatch between the new title and the content of the page (e.g. a dramatic increase in bounce rate or reduced time on page).

Should you find that Google is replacing your title tags with h1s, the simple solution is to change your h1 tags to match title tags more closely. Alternatively, choose a different h1 that you’d be happy being used as both the heading and title of a page.

Whichever way you respond to title rewrites, bear in mind that the keywords you use in your original title tag are what Google looks at for ranking purposes – whilst the new titles might affect CTRs and could hinder the performance of a page over time, they shouldn’t have any direct effect on your organic rankings.

Google now limits one ClaimReview element per page

If your web page reviews claims made by others, you can include ClaimReview structured data on your web page. ClaimReview structured data can enable a summarised version of your fact check to display in Google Search results when your page appears in search results for that claim.

Google has updated its technical guidelines for Fact Check structured data, meaning that a page must only have one ClaimReview element and that multiple fact checks per page is no longer allowed.

Guidelines now state that “to be eligible for the single fact check rich result, a page must only have one ClaimReview element. If you add multiple ClaimReview elements per page, the page won’t be eligible for the single fact check rich result.”

What does this mean for me?

If your site does show fact check rich results in search and you are using multiple ClaimReview elements on a single page, you may want to try removing all ClaimReview elements apart from one in order to adhere to guidelines. Google’s guidelines now only allow one per page and thus your rich results for Fact Check may stop showing if you are showing more than one per page.

Make sure to review the guidelines for Fact Check rich results 

Google drops safe browsing as a page experience ranking signal

Via Search Engine Land on 4th August, Google announced the removal of the safe browsing signal from its page experience update. The company made the decision after recognising that issues such as site hacking weren’t “always within the control of site owners”.

What does this mean for me?

Having a secure site will always be important for users so that makes it important for site owners and search marketers. But it’s good that this won’t be a ranking signal that could otherwise affect a site that went under attack despite their security measures, for example.