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10 min read

March 2021 Search Industry & Algorithm Updates

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

March was another busy month in the world of search and digital marketing. From the introduction of Google’s new tracking solution to Bing’s latest SERP feature updates, there’s lots for catch up on. We’ve summarised the most important updates from March below, and have marked them as either very important (red), important (amber) or slightly important (green).

Google Won’t Replace Third-Party Cookies With an Alternative Solution in the Chrome Web Browser

Having previously announced that third-party cookies will be dropped from Google Chrome by 2022, Google has now stated that this user tracking software will not be replaced with an alternative solution.

This move is designed to preserve the privacy of individual users as they browse the web, as Google’s statement makes clear:

“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.


Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products”

The operative word here is ‘individuals’ – advertisers will still be able to track users for targeting purposes using aggregated and anonymised data collected via a new Google mechanism called FLoC.

This new method of group user tracking offers the best of both worlds: advertisers will still have access to the data they need to create and monitor the effectiveness of campaigns, whilst the activity of individuals no longer needs to be tracked.

What does this mean for you?

The fact that there will no longer be individual user tracking via third-party cookies in Chrome shouldn’t have any effect on you or your digital marketing efforts. The introduction of group user tracking via FLoC is designed to ensure a smooth transition for advertisers and users alike, enabling advertising yet also protecting individuals’ identities.

PageSpeed Insights Scores Improve Following Update

As of 3rd March 2021, scores provided by Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool improved across the board for all sites. This has nothing to do with site performance enhancements or any action from site owners, but rather an update in the way these scores are obtained.

In its most recent release, PageSpeed Insights began collecting data via HTTP/2 network requests rather than HTTP/1.1 as was previously the case. HTTP/2 is a more advanced network connection protocol that allows for faster transmission of data.

PageSpeed Insights was considered notoriously harsh in its scores before – and this explains why. Now that your page performance scores are calculated based on HTTP/2 requests, they will provide a more accurate representation of how fast your site loads and should also improve.

What does this mean for you?

Although there’s no action required on your part as a site owner, the switch to HTTP/2 is a definite improvement for you: you’ll now have access to much more accurate data on your site’s performance via PageSpeed Insights, enabling you to make more informed decisions.

Microsoft Bing Updates Search Results with Five New Features

Microsoft Bing has launched five new updates to their search results which combines text information with visually appealing imagery. Their aim? To evolve the search engine results further than a list of links, and to provide users with a better experience.

Bing describes their combination of rich imagery with text-based information in a single view as “more intuitive and engaging.” The new format should allow users to find what they need without having to skim through large amounts of text.

We break down the new search features below.

Intuitive highlighting of content

Bing has adapted their search results to intuitively highlight content that the user is engaging with.

In the below example, you can see how Bing presents their search results in a card-based format for recipe queries.

When you click on one of the recipe cards, Bing extracts useful information from the recipe page and displays the content inline – meaning the user does not have to leave the SERPs.

Though Bing and we have used recipes as an example, the new feature could also be applied to other types of searches such as DIY and “how to” queries. 

Searchers now have the ability to conduct a visual search to find similar-looking items in an image. 

In the below example, we searched for “living room decorating ideas”. If a user were to be looking for decoration inspiration and found a product in an image that they liked which they wanted to purchase, they would only have to click the first icon on the right (camera symbol) to be presented with similar items to purchase.

Improved carousels

Bing has updated their carousel experience with hover-over images which provides users with top-level information to avoid overcrowding the search results.

In the below example, we searched “documentaries about global warming” and Bing provided a rich carousel with the relevant information that a user might need to quickly decide what they want to watch.

Infographic-inspired experiences

In Bing’s goal to provide both style and substance, they have updated the search results for broad topics such as “Kenya” and “giraffes” to include text and visual results into an infographic-inspired experience.

In the below example, we searched for “elephants” and saw these search results in the wild. 

Richer results for local searches

Bing has applied the design approaches shown above to their local answers to help users wanting to stay close to home and want to be a tourist in their own hometown, in light of the pandemic. 

Note that the local search features are only available in the US currently. 

What does this mean for you?

  • Recipe creators should ensure that their content is formatted correctly with clear Ingredient list (with possible substitutions), Calories per serving
  • User reviews where relevant
  • Don’t be blinkered by Google and consider other search engines such as Bing in your strategies

Recipe creators should ensure that their content is formatted clearly and logically with an ingredients list with possible substitutions, calories per serving and other useful information that Bing can aggregate into their search results. Where possible, user reviews should be published to each recipe too.

The new updates also highlight the fact that digital marketers should not solely focus on Google as the search engine to optimise for and to incorporate Bing into their strategies too.

New Structured Data for Education Sites

New structured data has been launched by Google for “practice problems” and “math solvers” on educational sites. By implementing the structured data on relevant pages, educational sites can be eligible to feature in Google Search as rich results.

According to Google, practice content and maths assistance have been some of the most requested queries from learners. They also claim that the rich results present an opportunity for educational sites with relevant material to increase brand awareness in the search results and potentially increase traffic as a result of the enhanced appearance.

What does this mean for you?

Digital marketers for educational sites with eligible content can take advantage of the new schema by following the best practices outlined by Google. You can also use Google’s Rich Results Tool to ensure that your implementation is correct so that your site can potentially feature for rich results. 

If you are considering implementing practice problems structured data to your site, it will be incredibly important to add all recommended properties that are relevant to your content. Google has found that users look for the below signals to determine if the educational content online matches what they are learning in school and are key considerations for learners when deciding what material to use:

  • Topicality
  • Grade Level
  • Curriculum standard

It is also important to only implement the math solvers structured data if your website is an official math solver. Do not add this structured data to pages where users cannot submit math equations for a step-by-step solution, as it is highly unlikely that you’ll appear for a rich result and can result in wasted time on your behalf. 

Google argues against idea of ‘no-click searches’

Google published a blog post in March tackling the widely-publicised issue of ‘no-click searches’ i.e. a search that does not end with a click onto a website. In recent years, many digital marketers have produced reports on this phenomenon, including Rand Fishkin. 

In a report published on March 22nd, Spark Toro revealed data showing that almost ⅔ of searches in 2020 did not result in a click. Reports like these have raised concerns within the search industry, as many regard this as a threat to traffic and conversions.

However, Google has now published an article to refute this claim, instead arguing that it is sending more traffic to the open web than ever before. It claims that the nature of search is complex, and what may initially appear to be a no-click search is not in fact the case because users may simply reformulate their queries or connect with a business directly. 

What does this mean for you?

Google’s decision to tackle this issue head on is interesting, as it has remained relatively quiet up until now. It is an interesting perspective, and while there is weight to the argument that Google is harming website traffic by taking content and displaying it on the SERP itself, it is also worth bearing in mind the increasingly complex nature of a user journey. There are a plethora of ways for a user to navigate to a website or contact a business directly, and it is the job of an SEO to adapt to this new reality as much as possible.