Latest SEO news updates from January 2021

Posted on 05/02/2021 by Rachel Holey

Can you believe that we’ve completed the first month of 2021 already? So much has happened within a month it's hard to keep track of everything going on.

I already feel like the year is passing me by and there has already been lots going on around the world. Lockdown 3.0, Biden’s new presidency, Elon Musk surpassing Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest man, Bernie Sanders goes meme-viral, Burger King’s logo change and most recently, the passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore. 

This has all happened in just a few weeks and I’m sure there is plenty more to come this year. 

What about the world of digital marketing? If you’re anything like me and have signed up to newsletters from big SEO players like Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, Moz and Semrush, there will be endless blogs flying into your inbox every day. 

We know the intention is there, but who actually has the time to keep up with them? Especially in this current climate, time has never been so precious, which is why I’ve listed the most notable SEO highlights of January 2021, starting with the mothership of search, Google.

Google’s SMITH wins over BERT

Just to quickly go back to basics, Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times every year. Some updates are more sophisticated than others and come with funky names, but they all aim to improve the way it returns the most relevant webpage on its search engine results pages (SERPs) based on a user’s search query. 

BERT was one of them, which was rolled out towards the end of 2019 and aims to better understand the complexity of the human language, casual search queries and long-tail keywords.

SMITH came along last November and claims to be better at understanding longer-form content better than BERT. Put simply, SMITH understands passages within an entire document and page, whereas BERT can only understand words and a few sentences.

Is Google actually using SMITH in its algorithm?

As with all updates, Google keeps its cards close to its chest and doesn’t actually reveal which specific algorithms it’s using. Until Google formally announces that SMITH is in use, it is purely speculative to say whether it’s live and kicking.

Google’s question hub

Content creators, you’re going to love this. Google has recently launched its Question Hub, which is a tool that surfaces unanswered questions for you to solve.

How does it work?

When a user searches for something specific or asks a question, Google will log this in their Question Hub, ready for content marketing kings and queens to see when they log into their Google account.

Google's Question Hub

Gone are the days of having no idea what to write about, especially if your business or client operates in a niche industry. This will definitely level-up your keyword and content strategy.

The only downside at the moment is that it is only available in the US, India, Indonesia and Nigeria.

When will it arrive in the UK?

Google hasn’t said, but I personally signed up to the waiting list, which can be found on the Question Hub page, so will be notified when it will be launched in the U.K. so watch this space.

Google My Business performance reports 

We speak, Google My Business delivers. Over the years, digital marketers have felt that its insights section has been somewhat lacking, but now new performance reports have been rolled out and are now ready for you to use for your local SEO.

Google My Business Performance Reports

A couple of metrics that are available to see include the number of calls and messages you’ve received in a timeframe, as well as the search terms used to find your listing in Google Search and Google Maps. Data can now be viewed up to six months ago as opposed to only three months, which is definitely more useful.

Google My Business Performance Reports

However, the reports are missing valuable insights, such as website clicks, photo views and some other metrics that were previously available. This may explain a rushed release, but hopefully, all data points will be eventually migrated over to the new platform. Another space to watch.

Google Search Console coverage reports

January seems to be the month of insights as Google has also updated Search Console’s coverage reports, which now better informs digital marketers on issues that could prevent Google from crawling and indexing webpages.

Google Search Console Coverage Reports

More specifically, Google has added more granular index coverage statuses and categories among other changes so you’ll be able to figure out exactly what the issue is and how to fix it.

Google supports Black History Month

To support Black History Month, Google has updated shopping search results with a new label identifying black-owned businesses following a 600% increase in search interest over the past year.

Google's Black-Owned Shopping Label

Businesses can now add the black-owned attribute to their products in the Google Merchant Centre to make it easy for searchers to find them. However, this is currently only available in the US and despite it being in celebration of Black History Month, it is a feature that’s here to stay so fingers crossed it’ll be available in the UK soon.

Mueller hypes up Digital PR

John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, has recently praised digital PR on Twitter, going as far to say as it can sometimes be more vital than technical SEO. 

The Twitter discussion came into fruition after a tweet was posted about how digital PR salaries are on the rise and that talent is starting to be recognised. Mueller then replied appreciating what digital PR achieves and that “it’s a shame it often gets bucketed with the spammy kind of link building.”

John Mueller's Digital PR Twitter Discussion

It’s nice to see that the reputation of SEO is reaching beyond keyword rankings and traffic and that it is seen to work in harmony with digital PR to build quality and genuine backlinks to build trust, authority and expertise.

Duplicate content isn’t a negative ranking factor

Speaking of Mueller, he has recently busted the myth that duplicate content is a negative search ranking factor. 

He clarifies that it’s normal for sites to have a degree of duplicate content and that Google’s algorithms are smart enough to handle it. This means that having repetitive content is not something that would cause a site to rank lower in search results. It’s just that Google will show one page and not the other, not that rankings will drop. Music to our ears.

Backlinko’s new SEO guide

Backlinko’s founder, Brian Dean, has released the new ‘Definitive Guide To SEO In 2021’ and if it’s not already, it should be at the top of your reading list. 

Far from your average SEO trend predictions blog post, this guide will cover everything you need to know about strategies that are already working, Google’s Core Web Vitals, domain authority, visual search, user intent and lots more.

Yoast SEO news

Yoast is one of my favourite WordPress plugins that helps you optimise your webpages from a technical, content and keyword perspective as well as improve your content’s readability. 

Yoast updates are released every couple of weeks, so as long as the plugin is updated, you can enjoy its new features, tips and tricks on a regular basis, ensuring that your content is the best it can be.

Recent releases include more languages (Norwegian and Turkish) and estimated reading time, which allows your website to tell your visitors how much time it’ll take for them to read your content. Setting your readers’ expectations right from the get-go is always a plus.

Shopify is hiring

Shopify, a market-leading ecommerce platform, has huge news. It’s planning on hiring 2,021 engineers in 2021 in order to “remove barriers for entrepreneurs all over the world to start and grow their businesses.”, which is really positive to see considering such unprecedented times.

Shopify Is Hiring

Whether you specialise in front end or backend website development, data science, research and development or production, there will be a technical role available and they’re open to anyone as Shopify adopts a remote policy.

Psst… Hallam are also hiring and we’re just as good as Shopify.

DuckDuckGo hits a new record

DuckDuckGo has recently celebrated a milestone as it reaches 100 million searches in a single day and is also on track to hit 90 million daily average searches for January 2021, which is 73% more than last year.

DuckDuckGo Hits A New Record

Furthering these amazing results, the search engine also reached #7 in the iOS App Store for free apps and #1 for utility apps as well as #2 in the US’ mobile search market share, surpassing Bing and Yahoo. Seems that 2021 is DuckDuckGo’s year already.

That’s a wrap

Here endeth January 2021 SEO highlights and I hope you’ve found them more useful than trawling through all of your deleted blog newsletters or searching for news you didn’t even know existed. Whilst there’s more that’s happened in the world of SEO this year so far, I hope I have given you a good place to start, but if you have any questions or need some further advice, please feel free to contact us. Stay tuned!


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