On May 28th, Google announced yet another ranking algorithm, called the Google Page Experience update. (Read more about the Google update made earlier in May here.) Contrary to Google’s standard operating procedure of not making an announcement till after the deployment of its algorithms (if at all), this update is not expected to go live until sometime in 2021.
What is Google Page Experience?
Google Page Experience is an evolution and consolidation of previous algorithms targeting the user experience such as mobile-friendliness and more recently, page load time speeds. This announcement formally acknowledges user experience as a ranking factor in 2021. More specifically, it is designed to judge web pages based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.
Why does this matter?
If Google thinks your website users will have a poor user experience on your web pages, it may penalize the rankings of those landing pages which will negatively impact the volume of organic traffic. Conversely, a positive page experience can increase rankings in search engine results pages contributing to traffic growth. Google has yet to determine how much of a factor page experience will be weighted in its overall algorithm.
What does Page Experience look at?
As mentioned earlier, Google Page Experience is made up of several existing Google search ranking factors, including the mobile-friendly update, Page Speed Update, the HTTPS ranking boost, the intrusive interstitials penalty, safe browsing penalty, while refining metrics around speed and usability.
Of particular note is how Google Page Experience examines layout shifts, which are visible elements (such as images, buttons, content) that change position from one frame to the next as a web page loads. This has nothing to do with speed, but everything with preventing a bad user experience — like hitting a wrong button on your smartphone, because an ad loaded at the final moment.
Google is attempting to measure and quantify all of these elements using “Core Web Vitals”.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Launched by Google at the beginning of May 2020, Core Web Vitals is an initiative to provide guidance to developers to improve site experience. They include real-world, user-centered metrics anchored on three specific focal points:
Scores are given on these three focal points using the following metrics:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures loading performance i.e. how quickly the page’s “main content” loads — the bulk of the text or image the page is serving up. To provide good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
First Input Delay (FID) measures interactivity — how quickly the browser reacts when you first click on something on the page. To provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures visual stability when stuff jumps around on the screen — for instance, if ads rearrange the text you’re trying to read. To provide good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
Image Source: Google Core Web Vitals
Google is going to use these new metrics — combined with existing experience ranking factors, to help with ranking pages. 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.
Here is a chart that Google provided to explain how it all works together:
Image Source: Webmaster Central Blog
Great Content Still The Most Important Factor
Google made it clear the quality of your content still reigns supreme in getting good rankings in Google Search, regardless of poor page experience. “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,” Google wrote.
It is highly likely that highly-searched keywords that your website targets are very competitive. Thus, in order to rank well in Google, it is imperative to make sure your website not only has great content but is also buttoned up from a user experience lens.
Page Experience Scores will play a huge factor in the Top Stories selection, instead of AMP
Google will no longer require Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) format for getting your news pages in the Top Stories section. The Top Stories section is a highly-contested piece of prime real estate in Google search engine results pages for news sites. Now, any well-built, Google News-validated site can aim for that top spot. What will matter is that Google will look at the page experience scores and this will play a vital role in what content shows in Google’s Top Stories section. If your site publishes a lot of content, having good page experience metrics is imperative to generate more traffic from Google.
If your website already has AMP, you are in good shape as the majority of AMP pages do extremely well in terms of page experience metrics. AMP will continue to surface in the Google mobile search results if you have AMP pages. However, what is changing is your AMP pages will now compete with pages with high Page Experience metrics for the Top Stories section in Google.
How to Prepare for Google Page Experience
Google has not provided a hard date for the deployment of Google Page Experience saying it will go live sometime in 2021, giving us at least 6 months to prepare. You can prepare now for all of these ranking changes with the tools listed below:
Lighthouse in DevTools is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages.
PageSpeed Insights analyzes the content of a web page, then generates suggestions to make that page faster and incorporates the new metrics
Chrome User Experience Report API provides user experience metrics for how real-world Chrome users experience popular destinations on the web
Experience section in DevTools Performance panel can help you detect layout shifts.
Search Console’s new Core Web Vitals report for a summary of how your site performs based on real-world usage data (sometimes called field data).
Web Vitals Chrome Extension for quick access to Core Web Vital metrics from your Chrome browser
In short, the announcement of this algorithm is a good thing, helping to improve the overall user experience online making for a better internet. It is also much appreciated by webmasters, SEOers and site owners to have advance notice from Google for a change.
We should also not be overly alarmed at this new algorithm.
There is no way to know whether these new signals will make a significant difference in rankings until Google starts implementing them. Google has made it abundantly clear that they will continue to place a significant emphasis on high-quality content. Pages with great content can still rank well with poor page experience. As such, primary efforts should be made to produce exceptional content that is of value to the user. However, if your website is in a very competitive niche, keep in mind that page experience metrics will be the tiebreaker if your content is of similar quality to the competitor(s).
We encourage you to start having discussions with your design, development, and SEO teams about getting ahead of this algorithm. Use the tools Google has provided to get websites ready for this update. We will keep you posted on when this new update is going live and what else you can do to prepare for this change.
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