When you visit a webpage and get frustrated, you’ll probably go elsewhere, right? Whether it’s down to longer than usual loading times, annoying pop-ups you can’t get rid of or simply poor visibility, these affect your experience and brand perception.
User Experience (UX) is nothing new, but it is becoming more important than ever with the Google Page Experience Update which began rolling out on the 15th June 2021 and will continue through to the end of August. Google is constantly looking for ways to get better at spotting good and bad websites, which is why regular updates to their algorithms exist.
As the update continues to roll out, page experience is becoming a lightweight ranking factor for reaching the top of the searches. Google is testing visual indicators that highlight pages that have met all of the page experience criteria.
We know new updates can be alarming, and there’s definitely some fear around the Core Web Vitals, but don’t worry, Google themselves have said that you definitely shouldn’t panic if you’re not ready. It’s a lightweight ranking signal used as more of a tiebreaker between two sites if all else is equal. This means there’ll always be time to prepare and integrate it into your SEO strategy.
While there’s been a lot of buzz and panic about the update, Google recommends SEOs and site owners don’t focus all their time and attention on the update or oversell it to clients. The update is, however, the perfect excuse to finally ask your web or performance team to make these improvements. Remember, even with this update, site speed may be important, but it isn’t the end of the world when it comes to rankings and traffic – content is the answer.
Introducing upcoming ranking signals for Google Search based on various aspects of page experience–combining Core Web Vitals and previous UX-related signals.
Read our pre-announcementhttps://t.co/L3IrB2dOnM
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) May 28, 2020
(Danny Sullivan announced the roll-out of the update on Twitter)
What is the Page Experience Update?
Don’t get the wrong idea – this really isn’t anything new and should already be a part of your long term plan for success. It’s all about having intuitive user-friendly pages throughout your website, something you’ve likely already considered. Google will reward businesses that design and create pages that users actually enjoy.
There are five main factors that contribute to how user-friendly your website is. These include:
- Core Web Vitals
- Safe browsing
- Having HTTPS
- Intrusive interstitial content
Introducing Core Web Vitals
Web Vitals is a newly introduced initiative from Google to give developers useful guidance on their website’s speed and performance, leading to better user experience. As part of this, Core Web Vitals are the three signals that you’ll want to look for to measure your speed metrics which come from the Chrome User Experience Report and use actual user visits and interactions. These are:
1. Largest Contentful Paint
This is how long it takes for the main content of a page to load. By this, we mean the time until that moment where most of the content is visible to the user whether that be images, text, video etc. Google’s expects this to be less than 4 seconds, and ideally lower than 2.5 if possible. Most users will engage with the page as soon as possible, rather than waiting for it to fully load.
2. First Input Delay
This relates to the responsiveness and interactivity of the site. When a page is first loaded, you may click on a link or a drop-down menu and there’s a delay before it actually executes the action. This metric measures the time taken from clicking to the browser responding. It’s worth knowing that if a user’s first interaction is while the page is still loading, you’ll get a higher FID and vice versa, which can make the results difficult to interpret. A good FID is lower than 2.5 seconds.
3. Cumulative Layout Shift
This is all about visual stability and unexpected layout shifts. You load up a page and immediately click the link you want. Suddenly, the link moves down and something else takes its place, perhaps an ad, and you find yourself being redirected to a completely unrelated page thanks to this misclick. That frustration, which has always been difficult to quantify, is now a metric.
You’ll find this more commonly on websites not mobilised for mobile, but poorly lazy-loaded images and adverts are culprits too, so it’s worth exploring image optimisation plugins. This metric is measured between 0 and 1 (no shifting and maximum shifting) and you should be aiming for 0.1.
Measuring Core Web Vitals
To see how your website is scoring across these three metrics, there are several tools you can use. Google Search Console is one option, and ideal since it’s Google own data you’re searching for, but you can only get a Core Web Vitals report once a month, making it difficult to use when you’re making frequent changes. Instead, you may want to use other tools alongside it like PageSpeed Insights, WebPageTest.org and GTMetrix.
Keep in mind that since Google provides Core Web Vital data for free, you shouldn’t be overpaying for tools that offer the same.
Continue to think content first
One thing hasn’t changed: useful, engaging content is still valued above all else. This is always going to be the factor you want to focus on. Google has said it “will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.” If anything, page experience is a tie-breaker, distinguishing two pages with similar content and quality.
Google will be testing out visual indicators for page experience, designed to inform a user if they can expect a great experience if they click. This has already proved useful with Google’s lightning bolt AMP label, which we’d expect it to be similar to. The idea is that it will help users find the search result they want to visit faster.
If testing is successful and the data demonstrate that it’s worth displaying, Google will roll this out with the Page Experience update.
The announced Core Web Vitals are not permanently set in stone and are instead designed to change based on what users consider a good web experience. This means each year, Google have said they will be adding new page experience signals to consistently align themselves with what users really want.
What does this mean for AMP?
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) will no longer be required to reach the featured Top Stories on mobile devices. Instead, page experience scores will become a vital factor in this. This is great news for businesses without the budget for AMP projects.
What should you be doing?
Now you’re up to speed on what the Google Page Experience Update is, how do you get your website equally up to speed? One of the most important ways to success is to focus on each section or page of your website, rather than just on the website. Keep this in mind as you work out your next steps, using the following suggestions:
- Improve your page load speed
- Audit your plugins
Only keep plugins that you really need and uninstall the rest ASAP. You should consider changing or removing plugins that make a lot of requests.
- Check your caching
Having no caching or having it wrongly configured can cause you issues. Check with your host or developers for their own caching recommendations.
- Review how you use ads and images
They must add value to the usefulness of the page and not detract from the content users want to see. In general, people want fewer pop-ups and intrusive objects getting in their way.
- Optimise your site for mobile
You can use Google’s mobile-friendliness test to see how you’re doing.
- Make your site more secure
Get your website an SSL certificate and switch to https for added trustworthiness and security.
- Check your site for security issues
Google Search Console allows you to generate a security report. The key things to avoid are malicious or deceptive content – that means clickbait titles too.
- Compare with competitors. Check out your competitors’ pages and see how their user experience compares to yours. Remember, you don’t just want to match their page experience, you want to beat it.
Google’s John Mueller explains the Page Experience Benchmark (from 2:17…)
[From 2:17, Google’s John Mueller explains]: "Last episode, we talked about a core web vitals, a set of foundational metrics for website developers to help build and improve online user experience. Now we've announced that they will be a part of the Page Experience benchmark, a future Google Search ranking factor.
The Page Experience benchmark uses the core web vitals in other words, metrics for speed, interactivity and stability. It also uses other search signals such as mobile-friendliness, HTTPS security, and the intrusive interstitial guidelines to provide a holistic picture.
We've now updated various popular developer tools like Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights to show these metrics, making it easier to spot and improve web pages. The thresholds we use for the Page Experience benchmark are based on high-quality user experience and verified to be achievable with data from the Chrome User Experience report.
It's not yet decided when we'll start using these elements as a ranking factor, but we'll let you know at least six months before we start using them in Search."
If you want to check your site's performance already, an overview graph is waiting for you in Google Search Console. So check that out."