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Google July 2021 Update is Over – What Happened?

Google's July 2021 Core Update is over and the search marketing community experiences it differently depending on strategy

Google July 2021 Update is Over – What Happened?

Google’s July 2021 Core Algorithm update is now fully rolled out. Any subsequent changes you’ll see in rankings will probably be due to the normal shifting of search results.

The announcement was made by Google SearchLiaison this afternoon.

This generally means that the new search index has fully rolled out to all the data centers and that the search results should remain relatively settled.

If you lost rankings it’s probably safe to no longer expect a last minute reprieve, it’s time to get to work understanding what happened.

Background of the July 2021 Core Algorithm Update

Google rarely says what is involved in the core algorithm update. But Google has said that a core algorithm update is one that introduces changes across a wide range of the indexing and ranking processes.

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The July 2021 update was preceded by two spam updates, which was unusual.

Earlier this year Google announced that it was fighting spam with a new anti-spam AI, so it’s not far fetched to speculate that Google may have introduced more efficient spam fighting features that allow it to perform the task at a faster pace.

Less ccTLD Domain Crowding in Search Results?

Domain crowding is when the same domain ranks repeatedly in the search results.

For some search results sites with multiple country code top level domains (CCTLDs) like .uk, .tv, .ca domains tended to dominate Google’s search results.

Lily Ray noticed that Pinterest ccTLDs lost visibility after Google’s July Core Algorithm Update.

She tweeted:

“Here are the different Pinterest ccTLDs, which saw huge visibility increases in the U.S. throughout 2020. Those sites are taking a nosedive right now.

We have already noticed for some ecomm clients that product/category pages are replacing spots previously held by Pinterest.”

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July 2021 Update Speculation and Anecdotal Observations

Quality Links

A common observation I’m seeing in many Facebook groups is that solid on-page and off-page SEO practices are paying off with stable rankings.

Steven Kang (@SEOSignalsLab), founder of the popular SEO Signals Lab Facebook group said that he has seen minimal changes from the recent updates and credited avoiding things like low quality links.

Steven shared:

“I’m not noticing much. Very little fluctuations even for high search volume keywords.

I have a client ranking for 300k monthly search volume. It’s fluctuating between 1st and 2nd. Even for 10k+ keywords for other clients.

Then again, I don’t do low quality links.

WebmasterWorld Update Discussion

Publishers and SEOs in the WebmasterWorld forum speculated on a wide range of things that may have changed.  Although this kind of discussion can be unreliable sometimes what people are talking about lines up with what is going on.

One of things they’re talking about is an increase in People Also Ask (PAA), a query refinement feature designed to get users to the answers they want to see.

Another observation of interest is in there being similarities in the ranking losses in images and the regular organic search engine results pages (SERPs).

One forum member observed:

“What I found interesting is that the losses in image search mirrored the losses in web search despite being separated by a week, and being different search systems.”

Low Quality Sites in the Search Results?

There is also anecdotal evidence of a seeming increase in spam in Google’s search results since the recent spam updates that is persisting through the July 2021 Core Algorithm Update.

Although Google is actively trying not to show low quality search results, arguably questionable search results continue to show up in Google.

For example, this is a screenshot of Google’s search results for Instagram Account Hacked, taken on July 7th shortly after a Google spam update.

Google’s algorithm ranks this at position two, you be the judge if you agree that this is a great search result.

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Search Results for Instagram Account Hacked

PDF Ranked Above Search Engine JournalThis is a screenshot of the PDF file that is ranking in Google:

Screenshot of Top Ranked PDF

Top Ranked PDF

 

Now that Google’s July Core Algorithm Update is over that same PDF continues to rank in position 9.

PDF Still Ranking After Google July 2021 Core Update

PDF in Search Results

Search Community Notices Low Quality Sites

One person remarked on how bad some search results in Italy were:

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Scraper Spam in Search Results

There are also spam pages generated from scraping Google’s featured snippets that are ranking number one.

I was shown dozens of examples of multiple sites that were scraping Google’s featured snippets and combining that from other scraped websites to create new web pages and ranking in the number one position, outranking the legitimate websites from which the content was scraped from.

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Part of what is helping these sites rank is having obtained links from quality websites that don’t appear to be selling links (but maybe they are).

Many of these scraper sites didn’t exist prior to November 2020 and others appeared in January 2021, all of them with tens of thousands of pages of scraped content.

I verified the information that was shared with me.

Here is some of what this person (who wishes to remain anonymous) shared with me:

“Not even a year old, 50,000 pages indexed getting MILLIONS of visitors from Google in just a few months from launch.

  • Refresh the page and the words change
  • Try the rating stars and they are fake
  • Most of the “see full answer” links open other people’s sites in a full screen iframe

As I said, pure spam, but LOVED by Google.

In fact the owner replicated the site and each variant is doing equally well. …that spam site is able to rank for brand names, medical terms and more.

The backlink profile is the cream of the crop, it’s got links from mainstream media, psychology sites and trusted kids sites run by doctors.”

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I checked the backlinks and the person who showed me these top ranked scraper sites may be correct about the spam getting a boost from the quality links.

What it Means: Sites Didn’t Do Anything Wrong

Google says that sites that lost rankings don’t have anything to fix.

Most in the search community find that statement from Google to be debatable.

It’s true in the sense that the search community likes to probe sites that lost rankings in order to find and fix technical issues as well as quality issues, like ads above the fold.

But those kinds of technical issues are not likely why a site typically loses ranking, so “fixing” those kinds of things seems to be what Google means when there is nothing to fix.

On the other hand, there are things to be fixed.

For example, after the Medic Update many sites lost rankings for health and medical related queries. The reason they lost rankings is because Google’s algorithm began associating medical search queries with scientifically proven answers. Alternative healing sites like Oz lost traffic because of that change.

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It’s not that there was something wrong with alternative medical sites. They just weren’t relevant for the user intent inherent in medical search queries which demands proven not speculative health remedies.

It’s common to view a loss of rankings or traffic as a sign that the web page did something wrong. But that is not always the case.

The search industry needs to broaden the way it reviews ranking changes by expanding their reviews beyond picking apart the affected site looking for clues.

Review the Search Results to Understand Ranking Changes

Search professionals need to review the search results to gain a full understanding of what changed and why it affected the sites that lost rankings.

MANY times Google’s updates change how Google understands what queries and/or web pages mean (i.e. BERT). That can result in different sites moving up, sites that conform to the algorithms new understanding of what a user is looking for when they make a particular search query.

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  • Some sites may lose positions not because they did something bad but because the algorithm’s judgment of what is relevant changed.
  • In other cases Google may introduce query refinement features like People Also Ask (PAA) which can lower a web page from position two to a virtual position 5 (while technically still position 2).
  • But the People Also Ask (PAA) feature can also mean that another site, appearing within the PAA feature may gain more traffic because it’s more topically relevant for the user making a particular query, gaining traffic for a query it may not have otherwise been rewarded with.
  • The site that dropped to beneath the PAA didn’t do anything wrong and neither did the site that ranks in position 1, which in theory may lose some traffic to one of the sites in the PAA query refinement feature.
  • Google might also introduce more FAQ rich results which can impact site visibility in the search results (positively and negatively).

Those are just a few examples of how factors that are external to a website may negatively influence the rankings.

This idea that sites lose positions because of something “bad” they did is an outdated form of analyzing or conceptualizing what happened in an update.

So if your site has suffered a negative search performance change it’s a good practice to look outside your site first to try to understand what may have changed then return to your site and see if any insights are to be gained.

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Roger Montti

Owner at Martinibuster.com

Roger Montti is a search marketer with over 20 years experience. I offer site audits, phone consultations and content and ... [Read full bio]

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