How The SEO Landscape Has Changed In Q1 Of 2021

April 20, 2021

Sophie Glew

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This post was written by Ed Ziubrzynski, Head of On-Site SEO at Fibre Marketing.

After a turbulent 2020 headlined by the Coronavirus pandemic, brighter pastures are seemingly ahead. As search frequencies begin to return to normal, and affected industries begin to reopen, 2021 is already looking more promising and far more positive than 2020. 

That being said, the current state of the pandemic isn’t the only thing that has changed since the start of 2021.  

As search engines such as Google continue to update their ranking algorithms and SERP features to best serve results to search engine users, we have witnessed changes in the SEO landscape as well as physical. 

Mobile Speed 

Page speed has long been a Google ranking factor, as they look to serve the best possible experience to their search engine users and, if a website isn’t optimised for mobile, the quality of the user experience is affected – reducing the value and quality of the result Google has returned for their given query. 

However, as of May 2021, Google’s Ranking algorithm will be updated to place a greater focus on speed metrics that websites need to obtain in order to compete organically. 

This has resulted in both clients and competitors placing a greater focus on their mobile speed scores in order to maintain and raise their levels of organic visibility. 

Core Web vitals

As it is very rare that Google offer explicit information into how their search ranking algorithm will be updated, this has been a key area of focus throughout the first quarter of 2021. See our previous article on why Core Web Vitals are becoming ranking factors here

Featured Snippets 

Featured snippets are a key area of interest for me. In being the Head of On-site SEO here at Fibre Marketing, working to improve the visibility of our clients through the acquisition of featured snippets is a priority of mine. 

Featured snippets in a nutshell are short snippets of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results in order to quickly answer a searcher’s query. As these snippets appear above all other organic results, they earn their name of position 0.  featured snippet

Throughout February, Mozcast reported that there was a significant drop in the number of featured snippets Google was far lower than previous months – resulting in false alarms of broader algorithm updates throughout February and early March. 

We have since seen the number of featured snippets return to normal levels and also increase across industries. 

Although we didn’t witness any declines in client traffic and organic visibility, it has further highlighted the potential and requirement to obtain featured snippets. 

Backlinks 

Backlinks have always been a sensitive topic of debate within the SEO industry. Some SEO’s swear by the number of backlinks into target pages and the domain as a whole, whereas others prefer a quality over quantity approach to their content marketing strategies. 

In February this year, John Mueller confirmed that “the total number [of backlinks] essentially is completely irrelevant” in a Google SEO office-hours hangout. 

John further went on to state that “I don’t think we differentiate like that in our systems. From my point of view, I would tend not to focus on the total number of links to your site, or the total number of domain links to your website, because we look at links in a very different way.” 

Here at Fibre Marketing, we have always taken a quality over quantity approach to content marketing – finding success through creating a number of quality backlinks on publications specific to your industry. 

Ultimately, what matters most to Google when reviewing links is how relevant each one is to the website it’s pointing toward. 

This has been confirmed by John Mueller saying that “We try to understand what is relevant for a website, how much should we weigh these individual links, and the total number of links doesn’t matter at all. Because you could go off and create millions of links across millions of websites if you wanted to, and we could just ignore them all.” 

A quality link obtained from a single relevant source can send a stronger signal to Google about how that page and your organisation should be represented within your industry. 

There could be one really good link from one website out there that is, for us, a really important sign that we should treat this website as something that is relevant because it has that one link. I don’t know, maybe from like a big news site’s home page, for example. So the total number essentially is completely irrelevant.” 

Google often offer very little information when it comes to how to best satisfy individual components of their ranking algorithms, however, it is great to see have it confirmed that Google look more into the quality of links and what they mean for target pages and your domain, over the overall number of links pointed towards your website.  

The full hangout session with John Mueller is available here 

Conclusion 

To summarise, the biggest changes we’ve experienced in the first quarter of 2021 is the rise in prominence of mobile speed scores, and what it means for organic performance going forward. 

Turbulence within the number of featured snippets appearing for search queries was interesting to witness, however as of the time of writing this article, these have returned to normal amounts – and we are beginning to see a greater number of featured snippets being generated for users queries. 

Finally, the importance of link quality over quantity has again been reinforced, with Google confirming the number of links for your website are irrelevant when it comes to their algorithm judging the quality of a website and individual page.  

Overall, there have been plenty of positives to report within this first quarter, and the importance of website quality and link quality is testament to how Google looks to best satisfy the queries of their users – focusing on both overall quality of experience, as well as the quality of backlinks pointing to a website. 

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