5 Major 2021 Google Changes

1. Google’s Naked Domain Change

Google’s Search URL address algorithms changed recently. To help users search for the most relevant information in the quickest way possible, Google created the “naked domain.” This is a domain address without the “www” prefix. An example is ABC.com (naked) instead of www.ABC.com.

Naked domains seem innocent at first. But think of all the links a website establishes through the years. If a customer to your e-commerce store clicks on a link on Yelp or in your social media pages, your visitor might get an error message (404) and be prevented from finding your website altogether. To fix this you need to know your domain host.

Your domain host. If you do not know where you domain is hosted, several places on the internet can provide this information, including whois.com and lookup.icann.org. A domain name search will reveal the server on which your website is listed. From this location, you will be able to write changes to your domain settings.

Google Toolbox. Google has its own set of tools you can use to diagnose common naked domain issues. Go to toolbox.googleapps.com/apps/dig and enter your domain name. In the results, look for your “rcode.” If it says “NOERROR,” then your domain settings are Google approved. No further changes are needed in your domain settings.

This exercise is to give you peace of mind that your domain settings are up to date. If your Google Toolbox rcode reports an error message, such as “DNS name does not exist” (error code 0x0000232B RCODE_NAME_ERROR), this indicates a type of verification error. There can be several causes, and it may take some detective work to discover the initial cause. Most likely you will need professional tech support for troubleshooting.

2. Safe Browsing and HTTPS

According to Computerworld’s latest calculations, the Chrome browser will attain a 70% share of all browser use by March 2021 and reach 71% by September 2022. This is a market share that cannot be disregarded.

Some users browsing with Chrome may encounter an error message while trying to access e-commerce websites. The error happens if Chrome detects that a website’s domain name settings are asking for a redirect from an insecure domain.

Let’s say your customer is clicking a link to http://ABC.com, but your e-commerce store has moved to a secure domain (https://www.ABC.com). The error message assumes security vulnerability.

To fix this, program your domain name settings and make sure your website certificate includes www.ABC.com as the common name or subject and both forms of the name: www.ABC.com and http and https as subject alternative names, or SANs. Once this is set, Google will trust the entire redirection path without seeing a security risk.

3. The March 2021 Mobil Index Change

Is your online store mobile-friendly or does it offer mobile-first indexing? Mobile-first indexing simply means the mobile version of your website. Google has announced that by March 2021, it will favor mobile websites over desktop versions. Currently, Google already favors mobile-optimized websites.

According to Insider Intelligence, mobile sales accounted for 45% of all e-commerce transactions in 2020, totaling $284 billion. Already, two types of Googlebots or crawlers—one that mimics a user on desktop and one a user on a mobile device—are sent to rank your website.

By June of this year, Googlebot will look first to find your mobile site. If you have not configured a mobile-friendly site, it will then look to index your desktop version. If Googlebot discovers a lack of a mobile-friendly website, it will negatively affect your rankings by 50% or more.

Therefore, it will be imperative that your website is not only mobile-ready, but fast loading and consumer friendly. Most modern websites, such as Shopify stores, are already optimized for mobile.

To find out if your website is Google-compliant and mobile-optimized, type in your URL at search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.

4. Google Page Experience Metric

Among current ranking factors, Google intends to use page responsiveness as one of the newest search ranking benchmarks. What exactly is this? Google’s Metrix will measure things like page load times and screen appearance variation, on tablets, desktop sizes, and most important, mobile devices. Responsiveness encompasses the overall integrated user experience and is based on three core vitals:

  • Largest Contentful Paint – LCP measures the point in the page load timeline. Your page loading time speed should be below 2.5 seconds.
  • First Input Delay – FID measures responsiveness to the user’s clicking, scrolling, and typing. FID measures only the “delay” in event processing. It does not measure the event processing time itself nor the time it takes the browser to update the UI (user interface) after running event handlers.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift – CLS measures the visual stability of a webpage and how much your page content shifts as a page loads or as the user scrolls.

Google plans to weigh the overall page responsiveness factor quite high. Websites that tumble below the new benchmarks are going to be left behind in the rankings and experience a significant drop in traffic.

5. Punishments for Pop-Ups

One popular sales channel tool on e-commerce websites is the pop-up message. It is used to remind shoppers about something in their shopping experience. There is no standard size of a pop-up ad or shape, but what is universal is that a user needs to close the pop-up ad before proceeding further. For advertisers, pop-up messages remain one of the more effective methods to influence online consumers.

Google proposes to punish websites that aggressively use pop-ups to delay or prevent visitors from viewing content that they were seeking originally. Google will lower rankings for websites that serve difficult-to-dismiss pop-ups or those that keep repeating responsiveness when a viewer is trying to read content. Google will not, however, punish sites for pop-ups about disclaimers or cookies, or even pop-ups with reasonably sized banners. It all gets back to the user experience and your website page.

Steps to Take

Gather team members who work on your website to discuss these five changes made by Google that will have influence over your web presence. Maybe that team is singular and consists of only you. What can you do today? Here are three actions to take:

  • Mobile optimization. Even if you did the test mentioned earlier and learned that Google said your website is optimized for mobile, view your website yourself on several devices. Optimize your mobile by leveraging browser caching, reducing code, and scaling images. Your mobile website needs to be responsive.
  • Domain configuration. Make sure your domain is configured correctly for searches that include https:, www, and naked domain searches.
  • Content improvements. Finally, focus on your content. Google itself is encouraging content to be engaging, fun, or informative. A Google blog page advises: “Great page experience doesn’t override having great page content.”

Customers do not just want to purchase items from a business. Customers want an entertaining or informative experience. Offer shoppers detailed specs of your products, reviews of products, and possibly video demonstrations. For those emotional shopper types that may not have made a purchasing decision yet, offer content that calls to their spirit or helps them to learn something new.

In 2021 it will be crucial for small business owners to keep informed on Google optimization news and changes. With a constant effort to keep your business at the top of Google’s rankings, you will be able to compete on equal footing, no matter the size of the other businesses.

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