Doing the work of Search Engine Optimization is ever-changing, and keeping up with those changes is half the battle, as we all know. We follow SEO subreddits, we’re subscribed to notifications from Google liaisons on Twitter, we get every email Search Engine Journal sends, and it is still hard to keep track of the shifting sands of the bugs, fixes, tweaks, and updates of Google. But this article will cover the major changes made in 2021 and break them down so you know how to react and keep thriving.

2021 Search Engine Optimization Changes

Over the summer of 2021, beginning in June and ending in August, Google made “page experience” core updates that will deeply impact your SEO in both strategy and action.

Let’s start at the beginning – Google has a new neural network they use for SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) called MUM (Multitask Unified Model) that replaced BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). BERT was also a neural network and tried to understand context, but was a bit of a weakling compared to MUM. As SEO professionals we found that keywords still mattered. But poor BERT got the boot.

The new MUM goes beyond keywords, deeper into the query, and seeks to solve the problem or question being posed with up to seven related answers. So instead of making multiple queries to solve an advanced set of questions, Google wants MUM to solve them in one query.

Google uses an example of a person who has climbed one mountain and now wants to climb a different one – the query they use is “I’ve climbed Mt. Adams, what do I need to do differently to prepare to climb Mt. Fuji next fall?”.

MUM would then answer things like the elevation of both mountains, weather on the new mountain, different gear needed, trail conditions, etc. It’s presenting nuanced, highly customized, almost human, answers that can pull information from the web that is published in up to 75 languages and give it to you in a nice little package. It’s machine learning that is trying to bring SERPs to the next step of that evolution. If you’d like to see Google’s presentation here is a MUM short video.

On top of the changes presented with MUM, Google also wants us to focus highly on CWV (Core Web Vitals). There are three top issues with CWV that Google wants to see optimized just for our new MUM:

  1. Largest Content Paint – Google is checking to see how long the largest content element on the page takes to load.
  2. First Input Delay – This is the reaction time between a user’s first interaction with your page and the browser.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift – This is how long it takes your website to quit fiddling with itself and finish loading. Ever navigated to a web page only to wait while it resizes and moves stuff around? Annoying. MUM is watching.

What does Google want from the CWV? Well, MUM feels the need for speed baby. All of the above need to move as fast as possible. Ferrari it up but don’t let it catch on fire.

What does this mean for SEO going forward?

Content should be quality over quantity, or quantity of quality if you have the time and/or budget. We can’t write lightweight blogs focusing on keywords anymore and expect to see results in our rankings.

We have to become educators with deep insight into our topics and provide more than weak sauce, spammy information disguising a sales pitch, followed by a call to action. We have to provide genuine, usable information to users and that is what will make Google take notice.

Right now – in September of 2021 – you are likely seeing volatility in your SERP results as MUM rolls out and gets on her feet. It’s important for us to communicate to our clients what is happening and how this will continue as MUM learns and the tectonic plates of Google shift and resettle. It’s just going to take time.

Is this the beginning of the end of SEO?

Not at all, for MUM specifically. This is the beginning of a new era of SEO that will require us to know even more about our clients, dig deeper into the cogs of their web machines and get them ranking as highly as possible.

It is less possible now for a small business owner to do their own SEO – it’s going to require an SEO spearhead and a team behind them to make the changes needed to keep a website slick, content-rich, and images and video high value. Don’t be scared – MUM will be there for us. But now is the time to prepare our clients for a change in budget for content – more time is going to be needed for researching, concepting, writing, shooting, and graphic arts.

It’s a brave new world and this is just another step toward the eventual mind-meld of humans and machines. But for now, keep on keeping on, fight for those rankings, and get the traffic your business deserves. We keep up with the change trends so you don’t have to. Let’s chat over a cup of coffee and discuss your SEO development. Contact us today to get started.