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2021 Google updates round up: everything businesses need to win at search

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2021 Google updates recapped everything businesses need to win at search


30-second summary:

  • There have been three core updates in 2021, released in June, July, and November, while another was rumored but unconfirmed in October
  • Featured snippets that fell under the YMYL algorithm were unexpectedly removed in February, then restored in March
  • Product reviews came under the microscope in April, with marketing and sales-centric language penalized in favor of expertise on review-centric websites
  • Multiple spam updates unfolded throughout the year, though these updates should not impact any website that follows Google’s guidelines

Successful SEO strategy is akin to dancing the tango with Google updates. Unfortunately for copywriters, the Big G can be an unpredictable partner at times. In addition to daily algorithm tweaks that go unnoticed, we all brace ourselves for core updates that have a sizeable impact on page ranking and performance. Throughout 2021, Google has confirmed a handful of updates.

Further updates have also been speculated by experienced web-based professionals, reporting these to aid others in remaining on the right side of an adjustment. Throughout this guide, we’ll discuss the updates rolled out by Google in 2021 to date.

Complete list of 2021 Google updates

As promised, let’s review all the algorithm updates issued by Google during 2021, major and minor alike. Some of these are official, confirmed by Alphabet themselves. The core updates are an obvious example of this. Others were noticed by webmasters of influential brands and discussed online. These unconfirmed updates are marked in red below.

1. Passage indexing (February)

The passage indexing update, announced in October 2020, is probably better described as passage ranking. The purpose behind the update is simple and noble. It will pick out one particular sentence or paragraph from a long-form article, aiding a niche web query and avoiding irrelevance.

Essentially, this update seeks out keywords and terminology in an entire article rather than focusing primarily on titles and subheadings. At the time of writing, Google projects that this will impact around 7 percent of search queries. At this point, the passage indexing update also only applies to copy written in US English, though this will eventually become global and translingual policy.

Now, you may be wondering how this differs from a featured snippet. The short answer is that a snippet is chosen based on the whole web page, seeking relevance to the subject at hand in all aspects of the query. The passage indexing update can pick up on a small element of a broader discussion that would otherwise be banished to the mid-page and beyond. Speaking of featured snippets, however…

2. Featured snippet drop/featured snippet recovery (February and March)

In mid-February, MozCast noticed that featured snippets vanished from countless SERPs on Google. This involved a decline of some 40 percent, the largest in over six years. Snippets that revolved around medical or financial advice were particularly impacted. Some of the keywords and terms that experienced this plummet included:

  • Acne
  • Autism
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Investment
  • IRA
  • Lupus
  • Mutual funds
  • Pension
  • Risk management

As you’ll see, the YMYL broad algorithm appeared to be a particular bone of contention. We’ll never know for sure, as this update – if indeed there was an update – has never been confirmed or denied by Google. What’s more, around a month later, these snippets returned as though they had never been away.

Without any explanation behind the mystery, it’s impossible to offer advice to webmasters on how to avoid a future unwarned absence of featured snippets. The fact that YMYL was hit so hard suggests that it was a deliberate action, though. Whenever working within this niche, proceed with caution – especially if relying on SERPs for ecommerce opportunities.

3. Product review update (April)

April’s product review update was also critical to ecommerce sites and those that collate product insights. Google is adamant that this has not been a core update. However, the approach that content marketers must now take mirrors the core updates that arose later in the year.

Following the review update, it’s more important than ever that product reviews remain strictly factual. That means discussing a product’s qualities (or lack thereof) without clear and obvious attempts to push for a sale from an affiliate. Sites that used their copy to talk up the qualities of a product using popular keywords and directing consumers toward Amazon were typically penalized.

Thin copy, as always, captured Google’s attention too, and not in a positive manner. Meaningless, fluffy words designed to pad out a page, along with repetition, will see a page slide down the rankings. A product review site that hopes to remain in good stead with Google must remember the fundamental rules of E-A-T. You can still attempt to make a sale, but not at the expense of demonstrating expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

4. Multitask Unified Model aka MUM (June)

June was a busy month for Google, starting with the Multitask Unified Model update, better known as MUM. This update could be considered a logical extension of the previously discussed passage indexing update. MUM also used AI to improve the search experience for users, replacing BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers).

It’s claimed that MUM is at least 1,000 times more powerful than its predecessor. In addition to providing greater, much more insightful data for users, MUM works to eradicate language barriers, including misspellings, leaning upon nuance to meet the expectations of a search.

Perhaps more importantly, MUM means that irrelevant content, picked up through a questionable use of keywords to game the SEO system, will soon disappear from the top of the page in favor of more appropriate content. The core update that came later in the month garnered most of the headlines, but don’t sleep on the impact of MUM.

5. Spam updates (June)

Next in June came a spam update, which took place over two weeks. In theory, this update should not have impacted any website operating under white hat SEO rules. It was designed purely to keep content relevant and appropriate, battling against sinister tactics.

As always, though, there was room for error with this update. It’s always advisable to keep on top of the latest webmaster guidelines laid out by Google. This way, a site is considerably less likely to fall foul to a misunderstanding and accusations of black hat traffic-hoarding.

Updates to Google’s Predator algorithm could also be considered a crucial part of this update. Google has been taking lengths to protect people from harassment online, and a big part of this is downgrading sites that seemingly exist purely to denigrate a reputation.

6. Page experience update (June)

Page experience update sounds like a grand event, comparable even to a core update. In reality, this was a pretty low-key affair. It was also a slow procession, kicking off in June and rumbling on until August. All the same, there will be a degree of ebb and flow as a result. Discuss the update with your UX designer and ensure it remains at the forefront of your thinking.

One of the biggest takeaways from this update is that AMP is no longer essential to rank as a top new story. That could make a sizeable difference to any reporting site. The usual caveats still apply, though – sticking to the established policies of Google News is non-negotiable. Although AMP is no longer critical, ensure your news articles remain mobile-friendly, hosted on a fast and secure server, and unfold devoid of interruptions such as intrusive advertising.

7. Core update (June and July)

Here’s the big kahuna that has every web admin across the globe on tenterhooks – Google’s major summer core update. In 2021, Google announced two updates over June and July, both of which would be connected.

As always, there were winners and losers from this update. In a recurring theme, YMYL sites appeared to lose a great deal of traffic throughout the update – especially in June, when the changes were most volatile. Thin content in any niche also seemed to be a particular focus of this update, with such sites pruned cautiously.

However, some sites that were previously heavily penalized may have experienced a little bounce back. It has been claimed that the biggest priorities of the June and July updates, other than thin copy, have been domain age and the use of backlinks.

Review the traffic of any old sites that you wrote off after the game-changing updates of 2019. These sites may have experienced a revival in page ranking and could be worth reinvestment. Just be mindful that Google may consider this an oversight and reverse the decision at any moment.

8. Link spam update (July)

Another spam-detecting algorithm rolled out in July, this time focusing on backlinks. What’s interesting here is that Google referred to this update as ‘nullifying’ spam links, not penalizing them.

Essentially, Google will just stop counting inappropriate links toward a page ranking and quality score. Naturally, though, it would feel like a punishment if a site relied upon these links previously – this is an important Google update for link-building professionals to pay attention to.

Keep an eye on the links on your site if you have seen a drop in traffic, ensuring that they meet Google’s link scheme standards. It could be all too easy to fall foul to this update based on outdated copy that has not been updated in some time and now links to an altered and irrelevant online location.

9. Page title rewrites (August)

Here’s an interesting update from August. Google started to adjust carefully selected page titles, leading to different ‘headlines’ in search results. This may have SEO consultants across the world wailing and gnashing their teeth, seeing meticulously curated messaging adjusted according to Google’s whims.

Rest assured, the page titles are not undertaking complete rewrites. We are talking about adjustments, not wholesale changes, to title tags. All the same, it could be enough to leave a webmaster frustrated with the outcome. Nobody wants to be accused of click-baiting, especially when the news industry has a questionable reputation with a cynical population segment.

There is little anybody can do to prevent this. To retain some measure of control, though, keep your H1 headings short and readable, and be mindful of your H2 headings. These may be used, in part or whole, to adjust the title of a search result.

10. Speculated core update (October)

We previously discussed how, back in February, MozCast acknowledged some strange patterns pertaining to featured snippets that Google never acknowledged. Something similar unfolded in October when various significant webmasters noted sizeable changes in traffic and performance. This led to claims that Google had engaged in another core update.

Much like February, these changes remain unconfirmed. However, as we’ll discuss in a moment, there was a reasonably seismic core update in November. Given that the previous update unfolded over two months, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Google adopted the same practice this time around.

11. Spam update (November)

Another spam update occurred in November 2021, once again targeting infractions that break Google’s general content guidelines. A website that does not contravene basic regulations or cut SEO corners should remain unaffected. Do keep an eye on your traffic and performance, though. If you notice any fluctuations, it could be time for a refresh of your content.

12. Confirmed core update (November)

Finally, we had another core algorithm update in November. At the time of writing, this was still a very recent development. As a result, the impact of the update will become more apparent over time. Some early responses and acknowledgments have been noted, though.

The most significant adjustment appears to be mobile searches, which were declared 23 percent more volatile than the previous update. Again, much like earlier in the year, featured snippets and ‘quick answers’ in the YMYL niche seem the most heavily impacted. Health and real estate, in particular, have seen a big change in performance.

Now, it’s worth noting here that Google felt compelled to address the timing of this update. Danny Sullivan took to Twitter and accepted that an update just before Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season is not ideal for ecommerce sites – especially those that already adjusted their copy based on previous updates.

Source: Twitter

It will be interesting to see if this will change how Google approaches algorithm updates in 2022 and beyond.

This concludes our trip through the Google algorithm updates of 2021. Just remember, more tweaks and changes are made each day. Most of these adjustments have little to no impact on the performance of your website. If you have spotted a change in fortunes, though, review when this occurred. You may find the answer lies above.


Joe Dawson is Director of strategic growth agency Creative.onl, based in the UK. He can be found on Twitter @jdwn.

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How To Get More Followers On Instagram: 22 Tips To Try

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How To Get More Followers On Instagram: 22 Tips To Try

Are you looking to get more followers on Instagram, but don’t know where to start?

There are many ways to increase your followers on Instagram – some people buy them or boost posts, but these tactics only work temporarily, and can backfire over time.

Instagram has become the go-to social media network for sharing photos and videos with more than 2 billion active users today.

As a result, Instagram marketing and having a high follower count can boost exposure and visibility for businesses looking to reach their target audience.

Here are 22 strategies to get more followers on Instagram without breaking the bank. From increasing likes to posting high-quality images, all of these tips are tried and tested:

1. Have A Plan & Create A Content Calendar Full Of Great Ideas

We usually focus on ideas, delivery, and optimization when we create great content.

It should be no different when we share photos and videos on a business or brand’s Instagram account.

It’s important to take time to brainstorm engaging content ideas that align with seasons, holidays, your business’ upcoming events, and (most importantly) your overall traffic and sales goals.

Although, you can still be flexible and post spontaneously as ideas come to you.

But having a library of ideas and a (tentative) schedule will keep you ahead of the game instead of scrambling for something to post.

And depending on your business, you could post several times a day or several times a week.

So, make an Instagram content plan and stick to it.

2. Only Post Well-Composed Images & Videos

Businesses should only use high-quality photos and videos when posting to Instagram.

By high-quality (I mean crystal-clear) unpixellated shots. Instagram, above all else, is a visual platform.

Businesses can’t post blurry photos or images that have part of the image cut off.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be to a National Geographic standard. It just needs to be in focus.

Low-quality content won’t get engagement and might even cost you some followers.

3. Experiment With Different Filters & Dimensions

Just because you’re a business doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with filters and use different dimensions.

In fact, you should use filters on your content.

The more creative and original your photos are, the more likely people will share and follow your account.

You could also download photo editing apps to touch up your photos.

When it comes to dimensions, don’t feel relegated to the square – use the landscape and portrait options.

4. Use Instagram Analytics To Feed Your Persona Research

With an Instagram business account (which is free), you’ll have access to analytics that shows when your audience is most active.

Use that data to optimize your posting schedule.

Instagram also gives you insights into your audience’s age, gender, and location breakdown, which can be a starting point for your customer persona research.

5. Tag People In Your Photos Who Interact With Your Brand

Another way to be discovered by people who aren’t following you is to tag relevant accounts so that you show up in their tagged feed.

If you own a fitness studio, you could take a group shot after a Body Pump class and tag every person in the photo. Then it’ll populate all their tagged feeds.

Their followers will see the post and discover your studio.

But this strategy also applies to other brand and business accounts.

If you can share the spotlight and tag others, do so. It’ll circle back to bring you more Instagram followers and leads.

6. Optimize Your Instagram Bio With Branded Hashtags & CTAs

Your Insta bio should be used to feature branded hashtags, a link, and a call-to-action, which is crucial when looking for new Instagram users.

This section lets users discover who you or your brand are and whether they will follow you.

But don’t sound desperate or come across as spammy.

You want to let users know who you are and why they should follow you.

Make sure this section is updated when needed.

7. Ask Questions In Your Posts & Include CTAs

At the end of each post, include a clear call-to-action or a question to boost engagement.

CTAs include things like:

  • Learn more – link in bio!
  • Double tap if you want to see more videos like this!
  • Follow us so you’ll never miss an update.

You can also post questions. This will help keep your audience engaged, show that you care what your audience wants to see, and give your ideas for what to post in the future.

8. Add A Link To Instagram To Your Website & Email

Make sure existing clients and customers find your Instagram by adding an icon to your social links or embedding Instagram content on your site.

You can also link to your brand’s Instagram account from your email signature.

And use a plugin to feed your latest Instagram posts directly to your website.

This can be a great way to promote your new account to people who regularly visit your site, building your following of clients.

9. Cross-Post Your Instagram Content to Facebook & Twitter

Cross-posting Instagram content to Facebook and Twitter can drive users back to your Instagram profile.

Users who didn’t know you’re on Instagram and following you on other platforms will also discover that you’re on Instagram since the post will note it was shared from Instagram.

You can adjust your settings for every post to cross-post automatically, or you can do it manually for select posts.

10. Run Contests & Campaigns To Increase Brand Reach

Once you’ve started growing a follower base, you can hold contests and campaigns that can attract more users to your page.

For example, you can drive traffic to your website or sell your product by running an inspiring Instagram contest.

You can either ask users to like, comment, use a specific hashtag, or ask your followers to tag a friend.

When you ask users to tag a friend, it exposes your brand and page to more Instagram users online.

It is an effective way to increase your brand awareness and reach and a key hack to get more Instagram followers.

11. Look At What Your Competitors Are Doing

Another best practice for how to get followers on Instagram is to look at what your competitors are doing and learn from it.

Researching their accounts might reveal hashtags you didn’t think of, influencers you have yet to reach out to, or other strategies that can inform your own.

Also, note which of their posts are performing the best – that can serve as another clue as to what can work on your account.

12. Interact Across Instagram (Follow, Like & Comment On Other Posts)

Strategically engage with users who will potentially like your profile.

Practically, that means interacting with potential customers and brand allies by liking, following, and thoughtfully commenting on their posts.

Start with your hashtags: Click on your frequently used, relevant hashtags to discover others posting similar content.

Another good practice is interacting with those who are already following you. You should follow them back and like their content.

The more you engage, the more you’ll show up in others’ feeds and get noticed.

Plus, it shows you’re an authentic, real account who believes in reciprocity!

13. Don’t Use Too Much Text In Your Photos

In general, you want to save the words for your captions. People go to Instagram for visual content.

So, posting a lot of text in an image is outside the norm.

A short, positive quote or statement is excellent but only attempts to fit a partial product description or long message in the image.

If you’re looking for ways to add text to photos, Canva is a free tool that comes in handy.

14. Never Include Logos & Watermarks On Your Images

Stamping your logo onto your Instagram post disrupts your content and users’ experience.

People don’t expect to see logos or watermarks on Instagram posts. While it’s not advised to put a logo on your content, you can include branding.

For example, if you’re a B2B company posting a behind-the-scenes shot of your employees, have them wear shirts with your logo.

Or, if you’re a fashion retailer, you could occasionally include a strategically placed bag in a photo with your store’s name.

Keep it subtle, or you’ll risk being unfollowed.

15. Use The Right Hashtags To Capture New Audiences

Using hashtags on Instagram will get you in front of new audiences searching for the type of content you’re posting, whether they’re following you or not.

If you have a local business, make sure to include local hashtags, as well.

Take the time to research hashtags and find the best ones for your particular content.

It’s easy to identify which hashtags get the most traction.

When you start typing # and your word, Instagram shows how many posts have been done around that word.

Hashtagify.me is also an excellent tool for finding hashtags that are getting much traction.

You can type in your primary hashtag, which will show you its reach, related hashtags and their reach, all the hashtags related to those, and so on.

How Many Hashtags Should I Add To An Instagram Post?

It’s common to stick to five to seven to avoid looking spammy. But you can add up to 30 hashtags.

Where Should I Add The Hashtags On An Instagram Post?

You can add them directly to the post or in a separate comment immediately after posting – it’s an aesthetic choice.

Some users prefer to add single periods separated by line breaks after their caption and then add hashtags.

Whatever you choose to do is fine, but keep it consistent across posts, so you have a streamlined, professional look.

16. Use Geotags To Reach Local Audiences

Another way to get found in by users who aren’t already following you is to geotag your content – but not necessarily with your store location.

Try using your city or a nearby (relevant) landmark that gets many searches.

When people are searching for that nearby location, they can now come across your content.

If your content is doing exceptionally well, it can even be featured at the top of the search.

17. Only Add Links To Your Bio

Any link you include in an Instagram post will not turn into a clickable link – instead, it will just serve as an annoying and lousy experience as your audience tries (and fails) to open it.

Rather than including an unclickable link, direct people to click the link in your bio.

They can easily click that and head to your site to check out all you have to offer.

Be sure to put your link in the “link” section when you edit your bio, and mention that in your post.

And, because space is limited, use a link shortener like Bit.ly to save room.

You can optimize the link further by customizing it, so it’s not a random string of characters but a meaningful word or two.

18. Tag Products In Images & Videos To Drive Conversions

Take advantage of Instagram’s tagging feature if you’re selling a product.

Businesses can tag photos or videos with product links.

To use this feature, you must have a business page on Facebook complete with a product catalog.

It’s a great user experience for users, and it’s a huge win for businesses looking to drive conversions seamlessly.

19. Create A Branded Hashtag For Your Events

Create a branded hashtag for your next event.

It will give your brand exposure and curate a unique stream of all the content from your event and allow others to connect and engage with your brand and other people at the event.

Leading up to the event, you can use your branded hashtag to promote the event, and after the fact, you can use it to post follow-up content.

20. Repost When You Get Tagged To Showcase Positive Reviews

Whenever a user tags your business or brand, get extra traction from it by reposting it directly to your feed.

Showcasing positive reviews and mentions is a great use of Instagram for business.

Make sure to reach out to the user and thank them for their post and ask if you can have permission to repost it (Instagram’s terms of use note that you should obtain written permission to repost a user’s content).

Most likely, the user will agree.

You can repost manually or use an app like Repost for Instagram.

Either way, remember to credit the original poster in the caption and tag them in the photo.

21. Use Instagram Ads To Get In Front Of Your Audience

Consider devoting ad spend to promoting your Instagram profile.

You can create effective carousel ads through Facebook’s Power Editor and promote your content.

If you’re running a specific contest or marketing campaign, you can use Facebook advertising to push the content in front of more audiences.

With the ability to target your customers based on their interests and behaviors in Power Editor, you can ensure that your posts will be viewed by Instagram users who will be interested in your business.

While some of these strategies may work better than others, find the ones that work well with your business or yourself.

22. Get Your Account Verified 

Getting verified on Instagram (or any other social media platform) never hurts your engagement.

The little blue tick gives your brand credibility, trust, and authenticity.

While only some will qualify for Instagram verification, it’s something to strive for.

Getting verified is one more way to stand out from your competition and deliver a trust signal that your business is real.

To be considered, your account must be:

  • Authentic (you must prove you are, in fact, the brand or business you claim to be).
  • Unique (only one account per brand can exist).
  • Public.
  • Complete (with a bio, profile photo, and at least one post).
  • Notable (Instagram must deem your brand “well-known” and “highly searched for”).

Final Takeaways

If you want more followers on Instagram right now, take advantage of these tips.

Make sure you utilize Instagram analytics, research your hashtags, post high-quality images, and create engaging copy and CTA.

If you use these tips as a guide, you’ll set yourself up for success in meeting your Instagram goals.

More Resources:


Featured Image: SPF/Shutterstock

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