Almost 70% of all online experiences start at a search engine (BrightEdge, 2019) and 9 out of 10 searches happen via one of Google’s search engines from YouTube to their conventional search product we all know and love.
It should come as no surprise then that search engine optimization is a key component of doing business on the internet in 2021 and what Google says carries a lot of weight. While they aren’t known for routinely publicizing what goes into making their ranking decisions, they do periodically release information on issues they feel are of particular importance.
Google has announced it is making one of the largest changes to their search algorithm they’ve made in the last decade, the Page Experience Update. Read on below to learn what it is, how it will impact your business and what to do next
Table of Contents
- What does user experience have to do with SEO?
- How is Google measuring user experience and what metrics/signals does it use?
- How will page experience impact rankings? Links and content vs page experience
- What does this mean for my site?
- When will the page experience update launch?
- How can I improve my page experience scores?
- Get ready: Google Page Experience Optimization Checklist
What does user experience have to do with SEO?
When it comes down to it, search engines are all about giving users what they want. To that end, search engine optimization isn’t about tricking Google or jumping from tactic to tactic trying to find the magic formula; it’s really about helping Google (or any search engine) do the one thing they want to do: provide the best search results for their users so they come back.
How do they ensure this? By taking steps to understand what users actually want (sometimes better than they understand themselves) and eliminating low-quality content.
While traditionally SEO has been almost exclusively focused on highlighting authority and expertise, which can be best summarized as links and content, new tracking metrics are giving us deeper insights into how much user experience is tied up in the overall interaction with a site. While Google has previously used certain aspects of user experience (e.g., requiring mobile-friendly sites or pushing for secure browsing via SSL), they weren’t considered core components of ranking decisions.
How is Google measuring user experience and what metrics/signals does it use?
The core change Google is making in the mid-2021 update is combining several older metrics, which may sound familiar to those who’ve heard about past updates including the mobile-friendly update in 2015. So what metrics is Google using for their page experience index? There are 4 key components:
- Core Web Vitals
- Site Security
- No intrusive interstitials
Core Web Vitals
There are three page performance metrics that help highlight how a user perceives a site. They go beyond simple page loading speed and look at interactivity and design stability. They may have technical-sounding names, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), but they have relatively simple explanations.
LCP and FID go hand-in-hand to measure page performance. LCP measures how fast a page loads and FID measures how quickly a site processes interactions. CLS, on the other hand, looks at design stability. It is the most complex of the 3 in a way, but to summarize it most simply it measures how much parts of the page move as it loads. For example: have you ever seen a testimonial carousel that changes heights as it scrolls through? That would have a negative impact on CLS measurements.
Google wants to make sure your site works well on mobile phones in both design and function. It’s important not to fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on design; your major site functionality should also work on mobile. Whether you are selling products or services online or simply providing information on where to find your local medical practice, it’s important that mobile users are able to do what they need to do on your site.
Ensuring your site meets Google’s safe browsing recommendations and loads via HTTPS is important to show that your site is secure. Having a site free of malware and deceptive content as well as protecting user data by loading via HTTPS are important signals that your site experience is important.
No intrusive interstitials
While it may sound technical, interstitials can be boiled down to one thing: don’t prevent your users from seeing and interacting with your content. For example: a popup that suddenly blocks all of your page content with an ad for your latest blog update, would be pretty intrusive.
How will page experience impact rankings?
It is vitally important to understand that page experience is not going to completely replace getting links and having great content. Just like before the update, you want a balanced combination of all the signals that matter.
The key takeaway with the Page Experience Update, is that having bad page experience will carry more importance than ever before. Bad experience was always a concern, given the importance of encouraging users to interact with your content, but now there will be directly measurable metrics to consider when assessing your page experience.
What does this mean for my site?
The good news for most sites is that the Page Experience Update is mostly about providing new tools for assessing user experience rather than introducing some kind of game-changing new penalty. The old standards, links and content, are still important and haven’t really changed, but being able to accurately assess how you deliver the content will help you provide a better experience for users.
When will the page experience update launch?
At this point you’re probably wondering when all this is supposed to happen. According to Google’s previous announcements on the topic, May 2021 was when they initially expected to start rolling out the update. This seems to have been pushed back slightly to mid-June based on the most recent information published in late April.
Due in large part to how many ranking factors Google considers, they often take a measured approach to making these kinds of updates, electing to do a phased rollout rather than flipping a switch. To that end, it is expected that this update will not be fully implemented until August 2021. During this time you may see fluctuations in rankings or other effects of the update as things catch up and bugs are eliminated.
How can I improve my page experience scores?
Given the timing, you may be worrying about how to check how your site is performing and optimize for these new metrics. The great news is that Google has added several new reports in their free Search Console product that provide a nice overview of how your site is performing and which pages needs the most improvement.
Using the new Page Experience Report, you’ll be able to see the percentage of good URLs, the total views of good URLs, and lists of pages with issues broken out by page experience signal. For example, if 23 pages on your site aren’t loading via HTTPS, the HTTPS signal will show 23 pages. You can click on each signal to go into the detailed report and see the types of issues, which pages have problems, and information on fixing the issues.
Let’s talk about Core Web Vitals for a minute. The Core Web Vitals report in Search Console is a great way to get started correcting issues with LCP, CLS, & FID, but these metrics are also reported in Page Speed Insights and the Chrome User Experience Report, which are likely easier to work with when you are investigating specific pages. To learn more about working with Core Web Vitals, see Google’s post Getting started with measuring Web Vitals, see Google’s post Getting Started with Measuring Web Vitals.
Getting ready: Google Page Experience Optimization Checklist
- View the Page Experience and Core Web Vitals reports for your site
- Ensure Your Site Meets Safe Browsing Standards
- Run a Safe Browsing Status Report: https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/search
- Run a Sucuri Site Check report https://sitecheck.sucuri.net/
- Update site software like WordPress themes and plugins
- Use SSL & HTTPS
- Ensure Your Site Meets Safe Browsing Standards
- Eliminate unnecessary intrusive interstitials
- Improving Core Web Vitals
- Implement Caching to speed up page loading
- Ensure you’re loading your code in an optimized way
- Optimize your images
- Resize images to be optimal sizes rather than resizing with html or css
- Use lossless compression to reduce image file sizes
- Tighten up your site design to eliminate issues
- Improve Mobile-Friendliness
- Eliminate Layout Shift
To wrap things up, starting in June 2021, Google is going to start taking page experience into account when it comes to determining rankings. As we established early on, search engines are all about giving users what they want and this doesn’t replace the traditional elements of good SEO, but rather couples them with a handful of new metrics that can help you establish whether your site is delivering a good user experience in addition to providing authoritative content users are seeking.