If you want your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to be up-to-date, you’ll need to incorporate it into your approach.
In some cases, you may need to play catch-up in your on-site page experience metrics to ensure rankings are not negatively affected.
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The Basics of Google Page Experience
Google Page Experience is a new update – a ranking signal that’s being incorporated into Google’s search algorithm. Its main purpose is to improve overall user experience by promoting webpages with great UX design and punishing webpages with poor UX design. As we all know, the algorithm developers are working tirelessly to move us away from traditional link building and into other factors as much as possible.
In Google’s own words:
“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”
If you’re experienced in the SEO industry, you might be surprised that this information is being treated as “new.” After all, Google has always tried to optimized its Google search results for user experience. For example, there are several ranking signals that already exist that favor sites with good user experience, including:
- Mobile-friendliness. The majority of search users are mobile users and mobile usability report so it makes sense that Google wants to promote webpages that are mobile-friendly.
- HTTPS. Several years ago, Google made a major push to get the web up-to-date with HTTPS security standards.
- Safe browsing. Google makes an effort to keep users on the web safe – at least as much as it can – by prioritizing safe browsing.
- Poor interstitial pages. Spammy popups and other interstitials that are unwelcome have been frowned upon by Google since its inception.
- Click-through rate (CTR). CTR is a good indication that your web page is appealing enough to attract traffic. Higher CTRs can help your site rank pages higher.
- Dwell time. How long a person spends on a given page of your site says a lot about how satisfied they are with what they’ve encountered.
- Bounce rate and exit rate. A high bounce rate on a given web page is a signal that it’s missing something important or misleading visitors – and it’s a surefire way to plummet in Google search rankings.
However, these elements are being revisited and refined – and they’re being combined with other factors to cumulatively form a more comprehensive package of signals.
But here’s the bottom line: Google page experience metrics are an effort by Google to give search users a more positive experience, and sites that make an effort to improve their UX will be rewarded with higher rankings.
When Does Google Page Experience Start Influencing Rankings?
It’s been over a year since Google first announced Google Page Experience as a new ranking signal. But it hasn’t had a significant impact on SERPs yet.
When Google first announced the rollout of Google Page Experience, they said:
“We recognize many site owners are rightfully placing their focus on responding to the effects of COVID-19. The ranking changes described in this post will not happen before next year, and we will provide at least six months notice before they’re rolled out. We’re providing the tools now to get you started (and because site owners have consistently requested to know about ranking changes as early as possible), but there is no immediate need to take action.”
Currently, we’re expecting to see the first impact of Google Page Experience around August of 2021. In line with past Google updates, we don’t expect to see the search results of this new ranking signal hitting all at once. Instead, we expect to see a trend of increasing volatility over a period of a few weeks to a few months before things start to settle down and become more predictable.
So that means you have plenty of time to make changes, right? As long as you’re done by August?
Wrong. According to Google, it could take up to 28 days for your website changes to manifest. In other words, if you start making changes to your website in August, it could be September before the index is updated – meaning you’ll be behind a full month.
Ideally, you’ll be done updating your website by the end of June – or at least by the end of July.
Though, as with most aspects of SEO, you’ll need to plan to make periodic adjustments in the future, rather than making a single massive change.
How Important Is Google Page Experience?
Just how important is this Google Page Experience thing, anyway?
If you ignore it, will you be permanently removed from the internet? Or will you barely notice anything?
It’s hard to say for sure, since we don’t know exactly how much of an impact this will have on ranking. It’s a ranking signal that Google felt compelled to announce more than a year in advance – so it’s reasonable to suspect that this will have a major impact on search engine rankings moving forward. Because of that, we’re highly recommending that all webmasters take action to fall in line with Google’s new expectations.
That said, this is still just a small collection of Google ranking factors among more than 200 – and you might already be compliant with some of its requirements. If you don’t make any changes to your website, there’s a small chance you won’t be affected at all. And if you are affected, you might only lose a few ranks. With our current knowledge, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to hold apocalyptic consequences for your website. But you also want to avoid any plummet in your rankings.
There are two important additional considerations here.
First, you should know that not many websites are working proactively to prepare for the Google page experience report. According to research Screaming Frog, as of August 2020, only 12 percent of mobile search results and 13 percent of desktop search results passed Google’s performance test for Core Web Vitals. That means this could be a critical competitive opportunity for you; if you’re ahead of the curve, you could get the jump on your rivals and finally climb to the top of the SERPs.
Second, you should know that user experience is important even without Google’s deliberate oversight. More on that in a moment.
The bottom line here? It’s important. And it deserves your attention.
The Value of User Experience
Let’s talk for a moment about user experience (UX).
Google Page Experience is basically Google’s way of incorporating UX evaluations into its search ranking algorithm. It wants to intentionally rank webpages higher if they provide high-quality UX.
But good UX design is going to benefit you no matter what, even if you’re not optimizing it specifically for search engines. With better UX design, your visitors will be happier, they’ll spend more time on your website, and they’ll be more likely to buy from you. Incidentally, you’ll see a lower bounce rate and higher dwell time – factors that have been influencing your rankings for years.
UX has measurable qualities, but it’s largely a subjective factor. Good UX in SEO is all about making your visitors feel good while navigating your website. Google is attempting to apply a precise series of evaluations to ensure this, but there are steps you can take beyond adhering to these requirements to boost the UX of your site.
According to Peter Morville, good user experience is encapsulated by a “honeycomb” of factors, at the center of which is the perceived value of a site.
These factors include:
- Usability. How easy is it to learn how to use your site and navigate it?
- Usefulness. Do people find utility in the type of content you provide and how you provide it?
- Desirability. Do people genuinely want what you have to offer?
- Findability. Is it easy for people to find what they’re looking for and search your site quickly?
- Credibility. Are you perceived as a credible authority on your chosen subject matter?
- Accessibility. Can users access this site from any device and any browser?
If you design and improve your website with these factors in mind, you’ll provide a better experience for your users and, in the process, likely comply with Google’s latest recommendations for webmasters.
The 7 Core Ranking Signals of the New Google Page Experience
While there are some nuances to Google’s latest planned updates, we are familiar with the seven “Core Ranking Signals,” the first 3 of which are considered Core Web Vitals:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP). LCP is a measurement of how long it takes for a webpage to load its most meaningful content. Ideally, your website will load this content in 2.5 seconds or less. If it takes more than 4.0 seconds, you’re in need of some major changes.
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS). CLS measures the prevalence and intensity of unexpected shifts in your web content, such as when a block of text suddenly teleports downward as you’re reading. These shifts interfere with user experience for obvious reasons. It’s measured as a multiplicative of the “impact fraction,” a measure of how much content is shifted, and the “distance fraction,” a measure of how far it’s shifted. You should be aiming for a CLS of 0.1 or less. A CLS of more than 0.25 is problematic.
- First input delay (FID). FID is a measure of how long it takes a webpage to respond to a user input. You should aim for a measurement of less than 100 ms. FID of higher than 300 ms is a potential issue.
- Mobile friendliness. Mobile friendliness has long been a ranking signal. Pages that load quickly on mobile devices, with full content and easy readability, are valued higher than pages that get distorted or don’t load properly on mobile.
- HTTPS. An SSL certificate is all it takes to upgrade the security of your site. Google preferentially ranks sites with HTTPS over those with unsecured HTTP.
- Safe browsing. Your web users should be safe from fraud and privacy violations when browsing your website. Google’s Safe Browsing evaluation can help you learn more about this area.
- No intrusive interstitials. “Intrusive interstitials” are pieces of content or entire pages that forcibly load and distract a user from their main motivation when interacting with your site. They could be annoying popups, surprising intermediary pages, or something similar. If they’re considered a nuisance or a distraction, they detract from a positive UX.
How to Adjust Your Website to Accommodate Google Page Experience
Want to make sure you’re in full compliance with Google’s new page experience metrics standards?
Your best bet is to take a phased approach.
Phase I: Review Google Page Experience Core Ranking Signals
First, you’ll want to spend some time reviewing the basic tenets of Google Page Experience and the Core Ranking Signals that will boost you to a better place in the SERPs. Fortunately, this guide covers a lot of the ground you’ll need to review here – so you’re already in good shape.
Phase II: Identify Problem Pages of Your Site
Next, you’ll want to use Google’s tools (covered in the next section) and your own reasoning to identify the pages of your website that are problematic. You’ll want to measure their objective performance, including metrics like FID and CLS, as well as more qualitative aspects, like mobile friendliness.
Come up with a list of pages that need attention and improvements that could set them up for success.
Phase III: Apply Fixes
That said, if you can figure out which pages need attention and why they need attention, it should be obvious which fixes you need and how best to apply them.
Phase IV: Collect User Feedback
After making some initial changes, it’s worth gathering some user feedback. How do people feel when using your site? Do they find any of your content distracting or unpleasant? Do users with different devices or different browsers have very different experiences?
While Google’s metrics provide tidy, objective benchmarks you can use to evaluate your core page performance, qualitative user experience still matters; even if it doesn’t boost your SERP rankings directly, it will improve your reputation, visitor behavior, and more.
Phase V: Commit to Ongoing Improvements
You might feel motivated to make a sweeping round of changes to your website in anticipation of Google Page Experience – and that’s a good thing.
But a single, major batch of improvements isn’t going to be enough to help your site grow and improve in rankings. For that, you’ll need to commit to an ongoing series of improvements over the next several months and years – and keep up with the latest SEO news in case Google changes things further or adds new Core Web Vitals.
Measurement Tools for Core Web Vitals
There are many third-party tools that can help you measure your core web vitals report and other metrics important for Google Page Experience, and you might even be able to design and build your own.
However, we’ve found the best approach is to use Google’s own collection of tools like google search console for webmasters and developers.
- The Chrome User Experience Report.
- PageSpeed Insights. (incidentally, here’s how to drastically improve your PageSpeed Insights score)
- The Core Web Vitals Report (in Google Search Console).
Easy Ways to Improve for Google Page Experience
If you’re looking for some fast, easy ways to improve your website to comply with Google’s new Core Web Vitals report and Google search ranking factor, these are some of the best steps you can take:
- Utilize responsive design.
- Get an SSL certificate.
- Improve site security.
- Review your popups and plugins for intrusive interstitials.
- Use modern formats for images.
- Place encoded SVG images as background images in CSS.
- Use local CSS and JS libraries to minimize large JS libraries.
- Get rid of excessive main thread tasks.
- use the Google search console tool
- Eliminate icons that aren’t commonly used.
- Use standard fonts.
- Use an efficient caching plugin.
- Eliminate non-composed animations.
- Make use of a content distribution network (CDN).
Generally speaking, your goals are to improve web performance (including site speed), improve security, and ensure accessibility for all users.
Easy Ways to Improve Overall User Experience
You can also follow these steps to improve the overall user experience of your website:
- Keep popups, ads, banners, etc. minimal and unobtrusive.
- Test your website for issues.
- Keep everything fast and streamlined.
- Get notified of performance issues.
- Proactively check for vulnerabilities.
- Stay updated.
- Minify CSS.
- Err on the side of minimalism.
- Get feedback and keep improving.
Preparing for Google’s new page experience report shouldn’t require a massive overhaul of your existing site. Instead, your new strategies and design choices should be in line with your old ones, assuming you’ve always been interested in improving user experience.
If you start soon and commit to ongoing positive changes, you’ll get a competitive advantage and increase your rankings in search engines. Of course, if you fall behind, it could be detrimental to your visibility and web traffic.
As with most major Google updates, the requirements and possibilities can feel overwhelming. If you need help coming up with a strategy, or executing your planned changes, SEO.co can help. Contact us for a free consultation today!