While it’s been slightly less turbulent than 2020, last year was another big one for the digital marketing world. There’s a lot to fit into our digital marketing roundup for the year 2021. From Algorithm updates and Analytics to MUM and Meta, here are the top things you need to know.
For a monthly look, you can find each of our monthly updates from the year that was 2021 below.
We have a section each on SEO, Paid Media, and Analytics. Don’t forget, you can always subscribe to get these monthly updates straight into your inbox via Insights Club.
SEO and UX - Optimising page experience
Maximizing page experience on the websites they lead to has always been an indirect focus of Google’s algorithm. But, over the last year, we’ve also seen a glut of updates that use direct measurements of page experience and usability to populate the search rankings.
Core Web Vitals was the longest-heralded of these. It was initially planned for May 2021 but finally started to roll out in mid-June.
Core web vitals, at its heart, is about Page Experience and usability. It meant that Google would incorporate three core factors into its assessment of a website as a whole
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) - Measures page load speed
- First Input Delay (FID) - Measure page interactivity
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - Measures how stable a page is once a user has loaded it
In November, we released our page speed analytics console, enabling us to accurately track and improve Core Web Vitals metrics across huge enterprise websites.
Other changes such as a greater focus on website accessibility, have further blurred the boundaries between SEO and UX.
‘Price drop’ labels appearing in images, launched in January, and continuous scrolling, launched in November, are other examples of Search Page changes directly prioritizing user experience.
The launch of MUM
The launch of Google’s MUM algorithm in September wasn’t a game-changer in its own right. But, it does reflect the wider trend of Google finding and highlighting contextually relevant topics for the user right on the Search page.
MUM, standing for Multitask Unified Model, was an overall redesign of how Search works for users. In short, it used advanced AI to make search a much more visual experience.
This took place across three main areas
- Things to Know: Finds and highlights information that’s relevant to your search.
- Topic Zoom: Allows the user to get as granular or broad with a topic as they wish.
- Visual Exploration: A much more visual approach to explore search queries. (depending on the topic).
MUM changed how users interacted with the search page. We will no doubt start to see and adapt to the impacts this has on search behaviors in the years to come.
Algorithm updates galore
Since June there has been a raft of algorithm updates impacting the search landscape.
There were several core algorithm updates in the latter half of the year: June, July and November. Coupled with other major updates, these saw volatility on a wide scale.
The Link Spam update in July tried to be “even more effective at identifying and nullifying link spam more broadly, across multiple languages”. A challenge then, to anyone engaging in low-cost and spammy link-building.
In August, Google updated how they generated page titles, now selecting whatever they counted as the ‘main visual title’. Rather than listening to the Title tag, they could now pick from the Title Tag, Headline 1, or any other page headlines. The change initially led to a large number of oddly displaying page titles within the SERP, like the example below.
This even saw some erroneous headlines from Google themselves. But, Google has so far stuck to their guns here.
Paid Media Stories
The rise and rise of data privacy
In January, we looked at the impacts of iOS 14 on paid media. This was the first of many browser updates that looked to dampen the use of third-party cookies.
Google announced their own similar intentions in January. Although, as we reported in June, this has since been delayed to 2023.
Browsers are engaging in a privacy arms race. Users become more clued up and mindful of the amount of tracking data being collected on them. The updates have all formed major challenges to tracking tags that Facebook, in particular, relies heavily on. They also increase the value in companies improving their 1st Party Data, as well as the importance of Server Side tracking.
Trust us, we have your best interests at heart
The rise in data privacy also fed into the wider trend of platforms increasing automation and reducing the amount of data available to advertisers.
Google announced the end of Expanded Text ads, leaving only the highly automated Responsive Search Ads for advertisers.
Google also heavily limited the amount of search term data available within Google Ads. This was another major step in cutting visibility on the nitty-gritty of campaigns.
The improving algorithms for all platforms have shifted best-practice away from granular structures, and more towards broad campaigns that the algorithm can optimize.
Ad formats and channels are ever-changing.
This ranges from the relatively small tweaks, such as Google revealing deals related to your search in July.
Then there are the major shifts. TikTok hit one billion users in 2021, a rise that shows no signs of slowing.
This growth has pushed established brands to compete. Instagram introduced ads within their reels format in June. Reels are Instagram's equivalent of TikTok. Keeping a close eye on which features visitors are using is crucial to getting the most valuable ad spots.
Launch of Google Analytics 4
Although it launched in October 2020, uptake was slow on Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Since the start of the year, there have been a raft of new features to broaden its appeal and increase uptake. We even said in April that the timing wasn’t quite right yet to switch to GA4.
For example, Google announced a data upload feature for GA4 in March.
But, two of the biggest additions are:
- Improvements made to the machine learning-based attribution. Google even announced in September’s round up that they were making the Data-Driven Attribution model the standard within GA4.
- The integration of Search Console in October. Linking data from Search console and analytics gives GA4 a valuable view on the user journey before they encounter your website.
GA4 is becoming increasingly valuable, and something that companies should now consider again the impacts of switching over.
App privacy and tracking
We discussed app privacy a few times over the course of the year. Android enabled new user control on users’ privacy within apps in July, for example.
This was just one of several changes in the last year. If your company has an app, and you haven’t already reviewed your tracking infrastructure during 2021 in response to these changes, you need to review this as soon as you can. The likelihood is that you are no longer tracking app usage as effectively as previously you could.
Launch of Insights Club
In June we announced the launch of Ayima Insights Club. We’ve loved sharing our learnings with the hundreds that have joined so far. We also have a lot of exciting plans for members going into 2022. Sign up today if you haven’t already!
Ayima has started working with a lot of new and exciting clients in 2021. We’re proud of the trust that has been placed in us by every single one of them. We generally keep pretty quiet about the great work that we do, in most part due to the privacy our clients expect in us helping them to maximize their impact on Google. But, the start of the year is as good a time as any to be openly proud of our work, and proud of what our clients have achieved with us.
Finally, our people are what define us as a company. We’ve had people across the world engaged in enormous projects with high stakes, working hard to get the results our clients need. Ayima employees have spoken at several leading industry conferences in 2021, with many more to come in 2022. We’ve launched new wellbeing initiatives in the face of the rapidly changing ways in which people live and work. For another challenging year, our staff have been everything and more.
Interested in learning how to take your SEO into the future? Our experts are on hand if you’d like a more in-depth personal analysis or a bespoke strategy. Get in touch with the team here, we'd love to hear from you.