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Google's Core Update Is Live. Did It Tank Your Site?

June 18, 2021
Tracey Wallace

Google’s big 2021 search engine algorithm update, the Core Update, finished rolling out on June 12 — and now is a good time to check to see if your site was affected. 

Table of Contents

Google’s big 2021 search engine algorithm update, the Core Update, finished rolling out on June 12 — and now is a good time to check to see if your site was affected.

You can do that by annotating the date in your Google Analytics instance, and measuring channel traffic from organic search over the next weeks and months.

If you see a clear drop beginning close to that annotation on June 12, your site was affected.

SEO experts didn’t expect this Google update to be all that impactful overall.

“Core Web Vitals is dumb” tweeted John-Henry Scherck, an SEO expert and owner of Growth Plays.

“Core Web Vitals is dumb” tweeted John-Henry Scherck, an SEO expert and owner of Growth Plays.

For some individual companies, though, this update could be a big deal.

See, the Core Update has now officially shifted how Google measures page experience, adding  three new components to the equation, which Google calls Core Web Vitals:

  1. Loading speed (LCP)
  2. Interactivity (FID)
  3. Visual stability (CLS)

Previously, Google measured page experience using only four factors:

  1. Mobile friendliness
  2. Safe browsing
  3. HTTPS/SSL, or encryption
  4. Intrusive interstitials

Now, we’re up to seven.

According to Google’s announcement, the rollout of the Core Web Vitals helps clarify user experience expectations for top ranking content. To have what Google considers “good” Core Web Vitals, websites need to hit the following benchmarks.

To have “good” Core Web Vitals means that for 75% of page loads, your site needs…

  • LCP of 2.5 seconds or faster
  • FID of 100 milliseconds or faster
  • CLS of 0.1 or less

Why do Google algorithm updates even matter?

Content marketing is often touted as the best way to build long-term brand value. In my personal opinion, it absolutely is. High-quality, consistent content marketing builds a moat around your brand, making it harder and harder for your competitors to catch up.

Yet, content marketing is about far more than publishing content . It’s also about distribution, and the biggest distribution channel for content is Google’s own search engine.

This is why search engine optimization, or SEO, is so important in content marketing — though it might as well be called Google’s search engine optimization (GSEO?) since Google takes the cake in terms of number of monthly web searches each month.

So when Google makes an algorithm update, any brand that has invested in content needs to pay attention.

Google updates can make – or break – entire businesses

Historically, Google’s algorithm updates could make or break your business. I started my career in 2010 working at Demand Media, a media company that was really a content farm, which published content based on search queries on sites like eHow (“How Long Do I Bake a Thawed Raw Apple Pie”) and Livestrong (“How to Lose Belly Fat Super Fast”).

On February 23, 2011, Google’s Panda algorithm update hit content farms hard, and affected up to 12% of sites of the web at the time. It cracked down on poorly-researched content and other content quality issues.

Companies like Demand Media, which IPOed in 2010 based on their success, nearly went out of business.

Companies like Demand Media, which IPOed in 2010 based on their success, nearly went out of business.

Of course, not all of Google’s algorithm updates are that noteworthy. In fact, Google rarely mentions when they update the algorithm, though SEO platform Moz keeps a fantastic record.

Big businesses don’t have as much to worry about

While Google algorithm updates hypothetically apply to all companies in the same way, SEO experts aren’t so sure.

Scherck explained that the latest algorithm update from Google shouldn’t cause major issues for most large companies or B2B organizations. Instead, he believes that the search giant will continue to prioritize their rankings, even if their Core Web Vitals aren’t optimal.

Nigel Stevens, CEO and Founder at Organic Growth Marketing, agreed. He predicts Google will either continue to offer top spots to these large organizations, like Shopify and Zapier, regardless of their Core Web Vitals scores, or it will quickly reverse the algorithm update when these companies begin to fall in the search rankings.

Google is a business after all, and while they own their algorithm and can update it as they see fit, they also know that the major players have invested heavily in rankings and expect to appear on page one regularly.

Users expect to see large companies on page one –– even if their content is subpar.

Not only that, users expect to see large companies on page one –– even if their content is subpar.

“People expect to see them,” Scherck told MarketerHire. “People want to see them.”

This makes it challenging for start-ups to compete.

But what if you’re a start-up?

I think about this a lot. I’m the director of marketing at MarketerHire right now: a startup where we’re investing heavily in content. Not to be outdone by the bigger brands, here are the things we’ve done to prepare for this update, and what you should consider doing, too.

Add an annotation to your GA instance.

As I mentioned up top, try adding an annotation to your Google Analytics for June 12, and track your organic search traffic. If you begin to see a big dip, this algorithm update could be why.

Use the Google Lighthouse tool.

Google Lighthouse is a free tool that helps you to understand your Core Web Vitals, and work to improve them. Beyond that,, if you experience your site loading slowly, that’s a good sign that you need to optimize your images (more on that below) and improve page load speeds.

Work toward relevancy, consistency, and quality.

Write content for your audience. Publish consistently. Make sure it’s quality. Engage with your readers and understand what they like and what they don’t, and then work to give them more of what they want. Your ultimate goal is to optimize for the human reading experience, not the Google bots.

Optimize your images.

Far too many folks forget to optimize your images for the web with tools like TinyPNG or Squoosh. Reduce image size to no larger than 1,000 px width, and then use an image compressor  to reduce the image file size ever further. This will help improve page load speed.

If you haven’t tiny-ified your images, go through all of them on your site and update them.

If you haven’t done this at all, go through all images on your site and update them.

While you’re at it, think about accessibility. Include alt descriptions on your images — not only metadata.

Build a distribution plan.

Build a distribution plan that extends beyond Google. You might leverage your social media channels, an influencer marketing program, and even PR. Start to build your newsletter and email list, and actively monitor it for engagement.

Channels like social media and email are a good indicator of your content quality. The higher your engagement over time, the better the content. Just remember, consistency, relevancy and quality matter. Great content sites aren’t built overnight

Don’t be discouraged.

Finally, don’t let the power of the big brands get in your way. They were once small, too.

Don’t let the power of the big brands get in your way. They were once small, too.

Tracey Wallace
about the author

Tracey Wallace is the Director of Marketing at MarketerHire, the leading digital marketing talent platform. She is also the founder of Doris Sleep, a sustainable bed pillow company. She writes regularly about leadership, e-commerce and tech marketing for MarketerHire, SAP and Entrepreneur.

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