Google Search Algorithm Update for May 2021

While Google updates its search ranking algorithm on a daily basis, it generally announces big changes ahead of time.  And we have a big one coming around the corner quickly that may impact the way your site ranks in search results.

No one knows the exact algorithm that Google uses to rank web pages in search results. Experts say there are over 200 ranking factors to consider. Google’s May 2021 update will focus on “page experience,” which includes three metrics called Core Vitals as well as four additional page experience signals.

This is all about providing a better mobile experience for the user. Here’s what all that means in detail.

Core Vitals 

The three metrics Google will be weighting more heavily in search results are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). These are all related to the speed of your website – how fast it loads for the user.

LCP looks at the largest graphic on any page and measures how long it takes to fully load. Google wants this speed to be 2.5 seconds or less. Things like videos, sliders, and large background graphics may need to be made more efficient.

First Input Delay is something Google created. It measures the time it takes the browser to respond to the first user interaction on that page. Google wants this measurement to be less than 100ms. FID can only be measured in real time. We will be using Total Blocking Time to check this metric. It is slowed by excessive use of JavaScript and custom CSS.

CLS is how much shifting has to occur as the web page is displayed in your browser. Shifting happens when size parameters of graphics are not included in the code. The browser has to move things around once something fully loads if it didn’t know how big it was going to be in the first place.

Other Page Experience Signals

In addition to the Core Vitals, Google mentions four signals that will be part of the May 2021 roll-out:  mobile-friendly, safe browsing, HTTPS, and no intrusive interstitials.

All of our sites are mobile-friendly. We have been offering mobile-friendly or responsive sites for at least four years now. However, Google will be getting pickier with this update. One example is button size and the white space around it. Buttons must be at least 44 x 44 pixels with at least 15-20 pixels of white space around them. This is to allow for “fat thumbs” on the smartphone when clicking buttons.

Safe browsing means Google will prevent pages with malware, harmful downloads, uncommon downloads, or that are deceptive from ranking. Unless you have questionable third-party apps installed, this should not affect your site’s ranking.

HTTPS-security is another thing we have been offering for many years. All of our sites are secure.

Interstitials are popups, including ads, opt-in boxes, chat features, and other items that may cover up content on your page. Pages with intrusive interstitials will be penalized.

What We’re Doing

Google has a new report in its Search Console webmaster tool called Core Vitals that can tell us which URLs need attention. In most cases, however, it will display Not Enough Data.

We are currently auditing Diamond, Platinum, and Pro package websites for Core Vital metrics using CatchPoint’s WebPageTest. Most of the newer sites are just fine; however, your site could require changes if your site:

  • Is not using one of our themes
  • Has not been redesigned in a while
  • Has a slider on the home page
  • Has a video on the home page
  • Has a large background graphic on the home page

We will be able to do a lot behind the scenes to fix these metrics. In some cases, all we need to do is replace a graphic with a compressed graphic. With the older sliders, we will replace those with a single compressed graphic. In other cases, we may need to redesign your home page.  In extreme cases, we may need to replace your theme or redesign your site. There is no extra charge for any of these changes for Diamond, Platinum, or Pro sites.

We will start working on these Monday, April 19, 2021 and should be complete over the next few weeks with Diamond and Platinum packages.  We will start on the Pro packages after that. Premium and Starter packages do not include advanced SEO. (I’ve copied Starter and Premium subscribers to alert you to this change in case search ranking has become important to you.)

If we have to make a substantial change to the look of your home page, we will reach out and let you know.

Your Action Items

In most cases, you won’t have to do anything; your site metrics are “green” across the board and you have a healthy report card with Google already.

In a few cases, we will reach out to you if we need to “perform major surgery” on your site to get the metrics under control. So please wait to hear from us. And I’m sorry in advance that we may have to bother you before the May 17 (June 15 for some) tax deadline.

If you have third-party items on your site, such as chatbots, chat windows, popups other than exit intent, and anything that is not standard from our foundational sites, it could affect page experience and ranking. You do not need to worry about things like appointment buttons, login buttons, or payment buttons. View your site on your smartphone and decide if these third-party add-ons are getting in the way or slowing things down. If they are, they need to be removed.  Just send us a request and we’ll get it done.

If your website or marketing goals have changed over the years, some of you on Starter, Premium, or Pro packages may want to upgrade to Diamond or Platinum so you can receive more attention or higher ROI from your website results. Currently, 45% of our client base is on Platinum or Diamond packages.

If you want to read the announcement from Google directly, here is the page:

As always, feel free to grab a time on my calendar for any reason.