Google's SEO Surprise: About the November 2021 Core Update

December 3, 2021

A few weeks ago, SEOs got an early holiday gift of sorts from Google: the November 2021 Core Update. 

Keep reading to learn everything we know about this update, how it differs from other updates this year, and what its effects can mean for you and your websites.

What Is the November 2021 Core Update? 

On November 17th, 2021, Google surprised SEOs worldwide by releasing the aptly named November 2021 Core Update.

Announced in a tweet from Google Search Central, it was revealed bright and early that the update would roll out later that day—and it did just two hours later. 

 

Let's break down some important deets from the aforementioned 168 characters. 

For one thing, Google classified this update as a "broad" one, which essentially means having no specific target in mind. Broad updates exist to improve Google's search system and algorithms as a whole. 

Similarly, they directly mentioned that this update is not unlike others they put out "several times per year." As explained further in their site owner guide from 2019, this type of update is frequently released to ensure Google presents E-A-T content to their users. As you'll probably recall, Google released other core updates in both June and July. 

According to the thread from the above tweet, the November 2021 Core Update finished rolling out 13 days later on November 30th, 2021. 

What Did the November 2021 Core Update Do?

The short answer? Not as much as originally anticipated. 

Although many digital marketers have offered different explanations, much of the consensus now is that November 2021 wasn't as big of a deal as it seemed at the time. In fact, some experts have alleged it wasn't more impactful than day-to-day ranking fluctuations. 

That said, there were still some changes. 

As any seasoned SEO knows, core updates come with ups and downs. "Tremors" and shifts in volatility were felt, and different sites found themselves with a higher or lower rank in the SERP. 

In terms of visibility during this update's lifespan, Sistrix (creator of the Sistrix Visibility Index) noted significant improvements across reference sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, Britannica, and Thesaurus/Dictionary.com. Social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube, along with a few online news sources, saw the most significant declines in visibility.

Others that generally seemed to have net positive effects were e-commerce sites like Amazon and Etsy. As for overall negative effects, industries like healthcare, law, and government had noticeable losses. 

It's important to remember that broad updates do not target specific sites or industries. Rather, their collective changes tend to focus on how Google finds, analyzes, and positions quality content. This is part of the reason why some websites in the same niche have greater success than other sites within their sector; if the former creates better content, they're going to perform better regardless. 

Your biggest takeaway from all this? We're still learning about the effects of this update, so don't lock in on one piece of data until we've zoomed out enough to see the big picture. 

How Is the November 2021 Core Update Different from Other Updates?

One surprising difference between the November 2021 update and its predecessors in June and July is the time it was announced. 

In an article all about search updates, Google states that they will "give notice when these kinds of updates are coming." In the summer updates, Google gave at least two days’ notice—this time around, they only gave two hours. 

On top of this, many were quite surprised that a new update would show up a week or so before a major online shopping period, arguably the biggest of the year. (However, Google did release their December 2020 update during the holiday season, so the timing on this one isn't too out of the ordinary.)

Other differences between this and prior core updates, as gathered by data from Semrush, include higher volatility across desktop and mobile (12% and 23%, respectively) and a faster comedown than seen over the summer. According to their proprietary Semrush Sensor, a return to stable numbers came just two days after the initial spike in volatility on the 17th. 

Despite these differences, don't forget that November 2021, July 2021, and June 2021 were all broad core updates: system updates that focus on improving Google and not targeting particular sites. 

How to Survive Core Updates in 2022

For starters, breathe. It can definitely be overwhelming to read these updates about updates and even harder to know where your site stands afterward. Taking a step back from all the buzz can help you figure out your own next steps. 

Secondly, recite this "mantra" from Google at least 100 times over: "There's nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update." If your site's rank is lower after November 2021, it might not be because its content is bad. It could just be that formerly underrepresented sites now align with new search expectations and rank a little better. Therefore, try to view updates as an opportunity and not an obstacle; doing so will help you find new ways to create and optimize content that will help your site succeed. 

Lastly, don't make the mistake of not staying on top of industry news. Although Google can decide to announce system changes at a moment's notice, following digital marketing agencies (hint hint) and hubs will help you rise above any demands an update can bring. 

An expert digital marketing agency can help you craft a successful strategy through the holidays and into the new year. Contact the team at Perfect Search for a comprehensive site and strategy audit.

Copywriter
Sarah Kincius is a Naperville resident and student at Loyola University Chicago. She loves going to the Green Mill to read whatever's etched on the bathroom stalls (and to listen to the music, of course). Sarah is currently teaching herself Italian from a book she found in Wisconsin.

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