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5 min read

January 2021 – Google Algorithm Updates

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

We have combined the most significant Google algorithm and search industry updates from January 2021. As always, we have analysed their impact on websites and digital marketers alike. The traffic lights signal the impact and severity of each update.

In this blog post, we discuss:

  • Google News performance report added to Google Search Console
  • Index Coverage Data Improvements in Google Search Console
  • Google has started crawling sites over HTTP/2
  • Google threatens to remove its search engine from Australia
  • Google redesigns the mobile search results

Google News Performance Report

Google has launched a new dedicated performance report for Google News publishers in Google Search Console. This report can be found under “Performance” for any site that appears in Google News.

What does the report show?

  • Clicks, impressions and CTR for your performance on Google News from and from the Google News app on Android/iOS
  • It helps news publishers answer questions about:
    • How many times have their articles appeared in Google News?
    • Which articles perform well in Google News?
    • How does user behaviour vary by country?
    • This does not include the “News” tab in Google Search, which is covered in the performance report for search, filtered to the news search type.

What does this mean for you?

This allows news publishers to fully understand how their content is performing in Google News.

If you are a Google News publisher, this new addition to Search Console will allow you to understand how many clicks and impressions your content is getting through and the Google News app on Android and iOS. 

This data should allow you to understand if your headers need to be optimised to improve click-through rates, or if your content is topical enough to be featured.

Index Coverage data improvements in Google Search Console

In response to feedback from the SEO community, Google has made several changes to the crawl errors report in Search Console:

  • The generic “crawl anomaly” issue type has been removed – all crawls errors will now be mapped to an issue with greater granularity.
  • Pages that were submitted but blocked by robots.txt and made it into the index are now highlighted as “indexed but blocked” (warning) instead of “submitted but blocked” (error).
  • A new issue has been added: “indexed without content” (warning).
  • Soft 404 reporting is now more accurate.

What does this mean for you?

The changes to the crawl errors report offer an additional layer of granularity when it comes to analysing the reasons behind crawling and indexing issues.

Google has started crawling sites over HTTP/2

Google’s Gary Illyes announced on Twitter that the search engine had started crawling his personal website using HTTP/2:

Compared to standard HTTP, HTTP/2 is a transfer protocol that enables crawling with greater efficiency. Googlebot will now be crawling sites that are HTTP/2-enabled using the newer protocol, which should increase crawl efficiency.

To learn more about the technical improvements that the newer protocol brings – including multiplexing and additional security – check out our guide to HTTP/2.

What does this mean for you?

There are no changes to be made from our side but this new approach to crawling will reduce the strain on our servers; it will also make the crawling process easier from Google’s perspective.

Google threatens to remove its search engine from Australia

The Australian government is in the process of passing new laws that would make tech giants like Google and Facebook pay Australian media outlets for news content.

These new laws would include Google having to pay outlets for clicks onto news links and for the right to use snippets. Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia in retaliation.

An inquiry into the influence of platforms such as Google and Facebook found that they held too much market share and threatened democracy. According to The Drum, Google Search accounts for more than 90% of search in Australia, and 98% of mobile search traffic. 

Google has said it is willing to pay some fees to publishers, and has demonstrated this by recently agreeing to publishing rights with French news publications. However, the tech giant has refused to work under the proposed legislation, resulting in a standoff between Google and the Australian government. 

What does this mean for you?

  • If you promote your products or services in Australian search results, this news is significant. Google’s withdrawal from Australia would mean that both paid and organic traffic from Google to your site would stop.
  • Google currently accounts for 51% of all online advertising in Australia, meaning that a massive channel would be lost. 
  • This would result in competitor search engines such as Bing taking Google’s lost market share, which could see a boost in popularity for the search engine. 
  • In the long-term, the Australian legislation could spark a series of similar measures across other countries, including the UK. 

Google reveals new mobile design

Google has launched an ‘easier to read’ mobile design, with readability and accessibility in mind. The updated search engine results feature an edge-to-edge design for a more modern look, and they have described the rounded edges as having a more ‘Googley feel’. 

There is now larger text throughout the results pages, so that it’s easier to scan through when looking for a webpage or the answer to a question. 

Google has started rolling this out in the US, and it should reach UK mobile devices very soon. 

What does this mean for you? 

Whilst this change will not impact rankings, it’s a continuation of the work Google is doing to make their search engine more accessible and user-friendly. With the introduction of Core Web Vitals in May, it’s clear that everything they are working on is to improve the user experience.

If you need some tips on how to optimise your content for mobile, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Optimisation