Free: Assessment Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?

Score My Website

Free: Assessment

Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?
Take this free 6 question assessment and learn how your website can start living up to its potential.
Score My Website
Search Engine Optimization  |   Web Design  |   News

Google's May 2021 algorithm update is a very, very big deal

Liz Murphy

By Liz Murphy

Mar 1, 2021

Google's May 2021 algorithm update is a very, very big deal

"That's a problem for Next Week Liz."

I tell myself that a lot, whenever I kick a proverbial can down the road. For example, when I punt project deadlines until after a big vacation that's coming up because, as an act of self-care, I decide that I need to be "more realistic about what actually needs to get done before I leave."

Of course, the outcome is always the same.

I come back to an absolutely terrifying mountain of work-shaped poop, which is then inevitably followed by me unleashing a gushing waterfall of muttered expletives and other colorful descriptors directed solely toward Pre-Vacation Liz's complete lack of foresight.

I mention this unfortunate habit of mine because I want to prevent you from falling into the same trap about a looming Google search algorithm update slated for rollout in May 2021 that has massive implications for website owners just like you.

You may have forgotten about it, since it was announced way back in May of last year and then again in November...

...if you even remember hearing about it at all.

On top of that, you may not have even realized it was such a big deal considering you need a master's degree in Google Buzzwords and Product Terms to understand what the announcement even says. 

So, this is your heads up that the May 2021 Google algorithm update is something you need to care about today – not tomorrow or next week. 

Now, let's talk about why.

What you need to know (the short version)

  1. All online searchers want one thing – a great page experience from the websites they land on from search results.
  2. In response, last year Google added new metrics measuring page experience to Core Web Vitals for website owners, noting "an upcoming Search ranking change" in future, taking those into account.
  3. Well, the time has come, and these "page experience signals" will be rolling out in May 2021 as part of an algorithm update, meaning how well you measure up against these page experience factors will positively or negatively affect your rankings after this update takes effect.
  4. Now is the time to take action against any page experience metrics in Core Web Vitals where you're falling short. Do not wait.

What you need to know (the long version)

When it comes to a business website, page experience is a big deal to your ideal buyers – and likely you, as well, when you're off-the-clock, roaming the internet as a private citizen and money-spending consumer. 

And when I say "page experience," I mean that literally:

  1. How quickly a website page loads once a link is clicked on from search results.
  2. How seamless user interactivity is – for example, with no delays in button-tapping and site response or desired action.
  3. How stable page content is as it loads for a user on the screen.

That's why Google announced last April that they were introducing three metrics specific to page experience into Core Web Vitals addressing site speed, interactivity, and stability.

Core Vitals Integration

Prior to that update, Google was already measuring websites for responsive design, safe browsing, security, and intrusive pop-ups as a means to properly rank website content in search results, with only the most relevant sites (with the best page experiences) rising to the top.

What does all that Core Web Vitals jargon even mean?

Think about your business website like a patient in a hospital.

Your Core Web Vitals from Google are simply measuring the "vitals" (à la Grey's Anatomy) to determine its health, from a page experience and rankings standpoint, in the following categories:

  1. Site speed and page load time
  2. Site design across devices (smartphone, tablet, computer)
  3. How safe and secure your website is
  4. Ease of use and interactivity (e.g., are there UX glitches or delays?)
  5. Visual stability of your website content
  6. Presence of annoying pop-ups or things that block primary page content

All together, these metrics form a scorecard that tells you how great your website is (or isn't ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) from a user-focused page experience perspective. And, the lower your scores are in these key areas, the lower your business website pages will rank starting in May 2021. 

Why in May 2021 and not before now?

Us digital marketers and business website owners love to cry foul about how we're always being personally victimized by Google whenever they make an update to their core algorithm. 

To be fair to Google, however, the search engine giant does not like to make massive changes (like this one) without lots and lots of advanced warning. That's why they mentioned it last spring and then again in the fall, the latter of which included the May 2021 timeline for rollout. 

This change, in particular, has been handled with great care and understanding on the part of Google, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the added strain that has placed on business owners and leaders who have been scrambling for the past year trying to adapt to a new virtual-first digital sales and marketing landscape.

In a May 28 statement, the Google team noted:

"We recognize many site owners are rightfully placing their focus on responding to the effects of COVID-19. The ranking changes described in this post will not happen before next year, and we will provide at least six months notice before they're rolled out.

We're providing the tools now to get you started (and because site owners have consistently requested to know about ranking changes as early as possible), but there is no immediate need to take action."

Well, that was true back then.

But, as I mentioned at the start of this, now is the time for Next Year You to take action on the thing Last Year You didn't need to worry about. 

That's because, sometime in May, all of these disparate page experience metrics are now going to be rolled out with this approaching update as a bonafide ranking signal in Google's core algorithm. 

How to prepare for this Google algorithm update

1. Accept that this is a big deal (and plan accordingly)

Before I tell you what you need to do, I need to be very direct with you about one important thing.

If you do not directly oversee maintaining and updating your business website, you will almost certainly need to call on the support of your in-house or third-party website developers for assistance with setup, access, and any required actions as a result of your findings.

This is not negotiable.

While you may be tempted to throw up your hands because this is just a bunch of "technical stuff" that "probably" isn't really that big of a deal, trust me when I say you need to make this a priority for yourself and with your website development resources, because this is a big deal.

(That's why I said so in the headline of this article.)

2. Follow my Google Update Doomsday 2021 Checklist

OK, with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, your Google Update Doomsday 2021 Checklist is fairly straightforward.

FIRST, you need to get your butt into Core Web Vitals, which you can find in your Google Search Console under the "Enhancements" menu on the left:

Screen Shot 2021-03-01 at 5.14.07 PM

...if you don't already have Google Search Console set up, then uh... yeah, do that step first and then load up Core Web Vitals.

SECOND, you need to take a look at your Core Web Vitals to see how they match the Good, Needs Improvement, and Poor ranges:

Screen Shot 2021-03-01 at 4.52.24 PM

Source / Google

What the heck do these scores mean? Great question...

  1. LCP stands for "largest contentful paint" and it measures your site speed and page load times.
  2. FID stands for "first input delay," and that measures your site interactivity and how quickly it responds to user action.
  3. CLS stands for "cumulative layout shift," which measures the visual stability of your website.

When you look in the backend of Core Web Vitals, it'll look something like this:


Source / Backlinko

THIRD, take action on scores where you ranked as "needs improvement" or "poor." By the way, if you've made it this far on your own, this is where you may need to call in the website development calvary to make the backend and technical SEO changes you need to bring those scores up.

By the way, your content still can't suck

Yes, this update will undoubtedly create thousands (if not millions) of very definitive website traffic winners and losers, as soon as it's released. 

That being said, don't let this other absolutely mission-critical nugget from Google slip by unnoticed:

Screen Shot 2021-03-01 at 5.52.49 PM

In short, substance will always trump style:

  • Some sites will outrank others that have a better experience if they publish the best content/information.
  • Having a great page experience will not mask the fact that your content sucks. Your content has to be relevant and good.

That means you still need to be creating content that answers the most pressing questions of your buyers and making that information easily found on your website. That means building a peak-performing business website laser-focused on the needs and wants of your buyers, instead of around your own self-serving priorities.

Free: Assessment

Does your website build trust with buyers and bring in revenue?
Take this free 6 question assessment and learn how your website can start living up to its potential.

Related Articles

Content Marketing and AI-Powered Generative Search

September 20, 2023
Vin Gaeta Vin Gaeta

9 SEO Best Practices for Stronger Organic Traffic in 2023

November 18, 2022
Kimberly Marshall Kimberly Marshall

Video SEO: How To Optimize Videos To Drive Traffic to Your Website

May 9, 2022
Kevin Church Kevin Church

37 Eye-opening SEO Statistics To Nail Your 2022 Search Strategy

April 28, 2022
Ramona Sukhraj Ramona Sukhraj

10 Reasons Why Your Website Is Not Ranking In Google

February 10, 2022
Jolie Higazi Jolie Higazi

Google Shares New Tools to Audit Website User Experience

August 12, 2021
Paul D. Grant Paul D. Grant

Google: Website Content Quality More Important Than Quantity

August 10, 2021
Paul D. Grant Paul D. Grant

How Long Tail Keyword Research Can Drive Business

August 9, 2021
Kevin Church Kevin Church

How to Optimize Videos On Your Business Website for Search

July 23, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google: 'Here's how to prepare for the future private web'

July 16, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Too many internal links in content can confuse Google about site structure

July 9, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google July 2021 core update rolling out over next 2 weeks

July 2, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Inbound Marketing Help: My Traffic And Leads Are Down. What Can I Do?

June 28, 2021
John Becker John Becker

Finally, Google page experience core update is rolling out

June 18, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

What is a Featured Snippet? [Definition + Examples]

June 10, 2021
Kevin Church Kevin Church

Google June 2021 core update live, July core update coming

June 4, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google's June page experience core update will be mobile first, then desktop

May 21, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google confirms demise of Q&A search feature, Question Hub lives on

April 26, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Big Google algorithm update moved to June with new performance report

April 21, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

No, changing page publish dates won't increase Google search rankings

April 10, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google: 'zero-click search' claims and data 'misleading'

April 5, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

3 quick SEO fixes that will increase your website rankings right away

March 30, 2021
Hannah Woods Hannah Woods

10 Google Analytics metrics you absolutely must track (updated)

March 29, 2021
Magdalena Day Magdalena Day

Meet the new Google My Business review management view

March 20, 2021
Liz Murphy Liz Murphy

Google Ads help: Top 10 reasons your Google Ads campaigns are failing

March 10, 2021
Jason Linde Jason Linde