What happened in SEO during Q4 2021

by David Broderick

Blink and you might have missed Q4 2021.

So, we’ve pulled together the most important developments in digital marketing from the end of 2021 to make sure none passed you by.

Read on for a summary of the biggest stories and hottest topics in search right now.   

The most popular stories from our Rich Snippets newsletter

Get up to speed with the ten most popular links we shared in our weekly Rich Snippets newsletter during Q4 2021:

1. Brodie Clark’s Google SERP Feature Notes

Ever excitedly shared a screenshot of a shiny new SERP feature you’ve just spotted only to find out it’s been around for months?

Brodie’s SERP feature notes document each new Google test and feature as its launched to help you stay bang up to date with the state of the SERPs.

2. Towards an animation smoothness metric – web.dev

In November, Google announced Smoothness – an upcoming Core Web Vitals metric that’s set to quantify how much scrolling or animation makes a page “stutter” or “freeze”. 

This accompanying web.dev article covers everything you need to know about the new CWV metric to get ready for it before it goes live.

3. How Much Higher is CTR Above the Fold? – RankRanger 

How much does above the fold status on page one of the SERPs matter today?

According to this in-depth article from Mordy Oberstein, click-through rate was about 30% higher for results that appear above the fold compared to those that appear below it.

There is – of course – an “it depends” aspect to this scenario that makes Mordy’s full case study well worth a read.

4. A Curious Case of Canonicalization – Gent of Search

Got a page showing up as “Crawled, currently not indexed” in your Google Search Console Index Coverage report?

Dive into his case study from Adam Gent to find out how to debug the issue and get those pesky pages indexed.

5. Step-by-Step: Integrate Google Search Console with GA4 – Digital Debrief

This excellent step-by-step guide to integrating GSC with GA4 from Krista Seiden is jam-packed with screenshots and important caveats to help save you hours of frustration.

6. 10 insane things we learned from Buzzfeed improving their CLS score

In this three-part series of blog posts, BuzzFeed Engineer Ian Feather documented how his team overcame a reliance on third-party embeddable content and ads to improve BuzzFeed’s CLS score from 20 to 79. 

7. List of HTTP Headers: Definitions, Types, Usage, Syntax, and Directives – Holistic SEO

MVP of your bookmark bar, Koray GÜBÜR, is back again with the ultimate list of HTTP headers.

HTTP responses (like 200 OK) are loaded with useful and even critical information in the form of headers. They’re useful for SEO and debugging.

This reference guide has header fields with their respective values, classifications, and even meatier technical insights. 

8. Image SEO: The Ultimate Guide – Itamar Blauer

This guide from Itamar Blauer walks you through the five steps to picture-perfect image SEO, from technical discovery through compression and into alt tag optimization. 

There are also optional sections for advanced image SEO strategy, like sitemaps and image redirects for site migrations.

9. SEOs & Web Developers: Friends or Foes? – Google Search Central

SEO is cross-team, cross-functional, and in some cases cross-eyed from long days in front of screens. We need the skills of developers to execute important changes!

Who better to foster good relationships between SEOs and devs than the dynamic duo of Martin Splitt and Surma?

Catch their video series to find out how to learn to play nice with the devs in your life.

10. Rich result status reports – Search Console Help

Back at the start of October, Google added long-awaited details to its structured data report. 

New errors that can appear in some structured data types include:

If you encounter any of these, you’ll get more details in the UI.

The troubleshooting section in the Search Console Help center guide to rich result status reports now also includes invaluable information.

The hottest topics in our Slack community

Here’s a peek behind the curtain at the hottest topics from our exclusive Slack community during Q4 2021:

1. Our community’s biggest wins in 2021

When we asked our community to let us know their biggest success stories from 2021 they didn’t disappoint.

Some of our incredible members’ successes last year included:

It was awesome to hear the heights some of our amazing members reached this year – and even better to see shout-outs to so many community members who helped them get there.

2. The Traffic Think Tank awards arrive

One of our favourite parts of this year’s Traffic Think Tank Live was recognising some TTT MVPs at our very first Traffic Think Tank Awards. 

We sent our six sensational winners physical trophies – and it was great to see them getting so much love when their photos started getting shared in Slack.

Here’s what those TTTrophies look like on some of our worthy winners’ shelves:


3. Google AdGrants troubleshooting

One of our favourite things to see in our Slack Mastermind is someone who’s new to an area of digital marketing and gets their questions answered by a seasoned pro with years of in-the-trenches experience.  

When a TTT member was looking for help with a Google AdGrants campaign that wasn’t getting any impressions, non-profit expert Cord Blomquist was happy to help them troubleshoot the problem in a thread that racked up 46 replies full of invaluable insights.

4. Kristin Tynski came up with press-worthy content ideas for TTT members

Not for the first time, the incredibly generous Kristin Tynski offered to come up with press-worthy, data-driven content ideas for TTT members’ sites – free of charge. 

Several members took Kristin up on the offer, and she came up with content ideas for a dozen sites in niches as varied as WordPress hosting, craft beer, and transcription services. 

5. Building an e-com empire

One TTT member couldn’t say no to a great deal they saw on 10,000 sq/ft worth of fancy dress stock, which they added to their ever-expanding e-commerce empire…


6. The fallout from Google’s product reviews update

At the start of December, Matt shared a tweet highlighting a serious shake-up for affiliate sites from Google:


This sparked a discussion around the impact Google’s recent algorithm updates have had on affiliate sites, with Ian sharing what we’ve been seeing with the TTT canary sites – one of which was hit badly.

Other community members chipped in with what they’ve noticed, which is generally either no changes yet or a small drop down the SERPs on just one of their sites.

Obviously this is all still early days, and only time will tell what the long-term impact is going to be.

7. ​​Scaling a remote-first agency during COVID

In one of his fortnightly Slack threads, Blake Denman, a Traffic Think Tank Community Advocate, took a deep dive into how he approached scaling his agency during the pandemic.

Blake laid out thirteen tips for growing a remote-first company, including:

8. Running an agency on Notion

When a TTT member asked the community whether it would be worth switching their agency’s operations over to the project management software Notion, resident Notion experts JH Scherck and Ronan Kelleher were happy to share their 2¢.

JH said it’s a great tool, and anyone can get the basics. However, “its database object model takes a while to wrap your head around, any that’s where the real value lies”.

Ronan added that what most Notion users are missing is databases, and the challenging part is knowing what merits having its own database and what doesn’t.

9. ​​Neurodiversity in SEO

Another of Blake’s fortnightly Slack threads focused on neurodiversity in SEO after he was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s (now a part of ASD).

In the thread, Blake walked through his tips for hiring and working with people with ASD.

He also shared a call for neurodiversity in SEO:

“I’m sure there are many great SEOs out there that are on the spectrum. When you hear the word Autism, ASD, et all, to some, it might be thought of in a negative light. Disorder is in the name, makes sense, right?!

In my opinion, I think it’s a super power. I’m able to think logically devoid of any emotion. 

One of the symptoms of ASD is exhibiting strong, special interests. One of my strong/special interests is local SEO. I’ve been able to use ASD as a strength for my career.”

10. TTT’s favourite deep work playlists

When Ian asked for deep work music suggestions, several members were happy to share the tunes that help them lock into intense focus.

Suggestions ranged from brain.fm to Hans Zimmer’s movie scores to the Night Rider Spotify playlist

Ronan Kelleher also shared a few playlists he’s curated:

All pretty chill stuff that’s conductive to deep focus… until Kyle Faber recommended BABYMETAL, which made Tom Feeley feel “as if I liquefied a pack of Skittles and mainlined it”. You do you, Kyle.

Want to stay on the ball with all things SEO without having to wait until our Q1 2022 update? Sign up to our weekly Rich Snippets newsletter and join Traffic Think Tank to get real-time updates and join the discussion.

And if you want to catch up on what you missed earlier in the year, catch up on our quarterly highlights from Q3 2021 and Q2 2021.

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If you want the best results, you should think of the Traffic Think Tank as a community support group, like AA for SEOs who want to get better. If you want to get your money’s worth and see improvements in your SEO, take group participation seriously and studiously.

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