Good old Google have announced a new algorithm update due in 2021. It’s called the Page Experience Update and it will combine previous user experience signals such as page speed, secure content and mobile friendliness with new metrics called Core Web Vitals. These new metrics focus on interactivity and page stability as well as increased scrutiny of page speed. No longer will slow sites be acceptable to Google! My take from it is pretty straight forward. It means that if Google thinks your website visitors will have a poor experience on your pages, then this could impact your rank positioning. Quite a worrying thought especially when we think about to updates like Panda and Penguin.
I think it’s important to look at the positive though. Google have given us time to prepare. Most likely because we’re in such a huge time of uncertainty due to the pandemic. But we should be grateful, they are giving us time to get our ducks in a row. Let’s assume though that the update will reward sites that score better against these Core Web Vital metrics – the ultimate reward being improved search rankings. They haven’t confirmed the actual impact is yet though.
We’re going to 6 months’ notice prior to deployment of this update. From previous (announced) updates we know that they typically roll-out in the US first before rolling out across other regions and taking approximately 2 weeks to fully deploy in each region once announced.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what the update looks like. Previous metrics include mobile-friendly, Safe Browsing, HTTPS and No Intrusive Interstitials. Is that your 10% off pop up? Think about it.
The new Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads. Google said page experience specifically is not a ranking score, but rather, each element within has its own weights and rankings in the overall Google ranking algorithm. But what I take from this is again, Google is thinking about the user.
Google is rolling these out across all relevant tools including Search Console and they consist of:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
How well is your site doing? https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Why are they launching this update?
Over the last few years Google has moved increasingly to reward sites that offer a better user experience alongside content that meets a searcher’s need and a strong technical foundation. They have released updates that reward faster page load speeds, websites that are friendly for mobile viewing and provide better security through https whilst penalising those that serve intrusive ad or app interstitials or aren’t safe from malicious intent (hacking, phishing etc.). As Google’s crawling capabilities and consumer search expectations become more sophisticated it makes sense that Google would want to prioritise serving good page experiences over poorer ones.
On-site experience is even more important on mobile devices and as mobile traffic continues to outweigh desktop or tablet it is prudent for Google to incentivise improved experiences.
Why is this important?
Meeting the criteria for the update and scoring better than your competitors will lead to ranking improvements which should drive increased organic traffic and revenue. We all want to move up the rank positions and overtake our competitors.
Improving user experience metrics should lead to an improved conversion rate as even small enhancements in page load speeds can have a dramatic impact on conversions.
Google has confirmed that great content is still critical to organic success saying;
“While all of the components of page experience are important, we will rank 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. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search,”
This implies that the ranking benefit could be similar to the https update which acted as a “tie-breaker” between two otherwise equal sites. Despite this small boost, later developments with Chrome flagging non-secure sites as unsafe would add even more value to ensuring all content is served securely.
This is another step towards encouraging better user experience on site from Google and it is likely that there will be continued changes to the algorithm to reward sites that provide a better experience. Acting early to prepare for this update will put your website in a position to capitalise on future updates whilst benefiting from improved conversion rates.