Google’s upcoming update is crucial because it confirms something that we already know: user experience is an essential ranking factor.
The dubbed “Google Page Experience Update” will roll out in 2021, and it will prioritize quality websites that users like using. Basically, what Google’s been telling us for a long time now.
Google announced this in a webmasters blog about evaluating page experience for a better web experience, which gave us an early look at how Google will treat user and page experience as search ranking factors. To be honest, all of the recent updates and general optimization tips we’ve been getting from the search giant just reminds us that, when it comes to ranking, quality is key.
SEO content is essential to help Google understand the context of your page, but it is that much more powerful on a user-friendly website. This is why, at SEO Toronto, we actively preach to our Clients the power of refreshed, substantial content on fast, user-friendly sites.
The Plan According to Google
The Update & When it’s Happening
The update, which Google is aptly naming the “Google Page Experience Update,” will roll out at some point in 2021. In other words, we all have enough time to prepare and assess our pages accordingly. According to Search Engine Land, Google will give us a six-month heads-up before implementing these changes..
This timing is a direct result of Google wanting to give business and site owners time to respond to any pressing needs regarding COVID-19. The idea is really to give us all time to plan for the update before needing to utilize resources and take action.
What to Expect
Google is a shining example of quality, informative content; their blogs are a substantial resource for anyone interested in knowing their plans. They often release blogs ahead of a big update so that SEOs and businesses alike can know what to expect and plan for (for the most part).
In their more recent webmaster blog, they laid out some action items that we can expect with this update.
New Signal: Specifically, Google shared that a new signal will come with the update. This signal will combine Google’s current signals with the core web vitals metrics for a well-rounded assessment of a given page.
Top Stories Metric: Google will integrate Core Web Vitals and other user-based metrics into how Google assesses pages for its Top Stories feature.
AMP: This update will remove the need for AMP (accelerated mobile pages) to be eligible to appear in the Top Stories Feature. That said, Google will still support AMPs.
Updates: Google officially updated its developer tools to help owners of sites learn how to better optimize their page for page experience before this update rolls out.
Understanding How Google Understands Page Experience
- Mobile Responsiveness
- Page Speed
- Safe Browsing
Once this update is live, Google will take all of these factors into account to assess a given page and measure its user experience.
Core Web Vitals
In late May, Google announced Core Web Vitals, a group of experience-based metrics that it would use to measure the user experience of a page.
In preparation for this update, Google replaced the speed report function on the Google Search Console with these Core Web Vitals. This way, users can analyze their page experience based on Google’s metrics and make changes accordingly before the update rolls out.
That said, that’s not the only place where you will be able to see, measure, and monitor these metrics.
So, apart from Search Console, where can you see these metrics? They're coming (or in) a lot of our tools, such as Chrome Dev Tools, Lighthouse, CrUX, Page Speed Insights, etc. They're also in https://t.co/s55K8LIOKY , and there's a JS library if you want to measure for yourself.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 28, 2020
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
Used to: Measure loading performance (i.e site speed, page speed, etc.)
Benchmark: Should occur within 2.5 seconds of a page loading.
There’s a ton of information about them starting at https://t.co/LPlEXdVKxy – that’s where I tend to go. LCP is similar to the page loading speeds you’ve probably looked at, but it tries to figure out when the primary elements are visible, which is what users care about.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 28, 2020
2. First Input Delay (FID)
Used to: Measure a page’s reactivity and interaction.
Benchmark: Page should respond to a user’s interaction within a maximum of 100 milliseconds.
Back to You Mueller:
First Input Delay / FID is cool because it measures responsiveness – what’s the user’s first impression when they try to interact with your page? For me, it’s usually the point at which I turn back and try other sites, even if I give them the benefit of a doubt during loading.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 28, 2020
For FID we have docs at https://t.co/hUEO9RC6nH (these URLs are kinda predictable, huh?), and tips on optimizing at https://t.co/ZAAxt0xA2T . An interesting quirk of this metric is that you need a user to measure it. pic.twitter.com/PQKkMQzKJ5
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 28, 2020
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Used to: Measure the visual stability of a page (i.e Are there shifting elements?)
Benchmark: A CLS of less than 0.1. is a signifier of a good user experience. If content, buttons, or images shift as a page loads, this signifies to Google that the page is not reliable.
Take it Away Mueller:
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 28, 2020
Not every Core Web Vital element will be weighed equally as a ranking factor. That said, Google will not be sharing how much each element is weighted. It’s important to balance these elements accordingly for an overall seamless page experience.
The Factors: What Other Elements Are at Play?
Within the three main categories of the Core Web Vitals are a larger group of elements that need to work together to ensure your site has a great user experience. After all, a website can load fast but not be responsive on mobile (and vice versa). For optimal optimization, all these factors need to be balanced.
We know that both on-page optimization and off-page efforts like link building are significant ranking factors. That said, a handful of technical on-page factors impact user experience and play an essential role in ranking your website.
Site speed refers to the rate at which a site runs and loads pages. The type of content on a page often impacts this; its images, coding, etc.
A lot of the time, sites aren’t even aware of the components that are making it run slowly — but now, Google definitely will. With the help of site speed optimization, you can ensure that your site loads fast so users will want to stick around.
ImpactBnd reported on a study that showed that half of the users on the web expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If a website doesn’t load in 3 seconds, users tend to abandon the site altogether.
Positive user experience relies on the secure, safe browsing of a site free of malware, spam or unsafe ads (among other things as well).
Security is an increasingly prevalent metric used to measure a website’s user experience, as it directly correlates with a site’s trustworthiness.
The May 2020 core algorithm update demonstrated how E. A. T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) helps to establish a page’s credibility to Google.
Security is not only a core web vital; it is directly related to how pages, those with quality SEO content included, rank. Security builds the overall credibility of your site with users and consumers, as well as Google.
One signifier of a page’s security is if it is served over HTTPS. If it isn’t, make sure to secure your site with HTTPs sooner rather than later.
Overall, website security is essential because, without it, it’s going to do a lot more harm than good for your business — especially if it is one that requires sensitive information like credit card numbers for the purchase of a product or service.
It is essential now for websites to be mobile-friendly. The good news is that, while some other page experience metrics may be harder to assess, it’s easy to identify if your site is responsive on mobile.
Obviously, you can check a given web page on your phone, but you can also run your web page through Google’s mobile-friendly test. If the Google gods tell you that your site is in fact, not responsive, then it’s time to consider why. This could be because of page speed, the size of your images, your overall navigation, etc.
At the end of the day, content is still king. These page experience metrics will act as a tie-breaker to help Google truly serve the best pages based on overall quality.
Google’s moves towards prioritizing user experience as a ranking factor do not make it pay any less attention to the overall quality of a page’s content.
Think of a site offering a good user experience as the icing on an already optimized cake. If your cake isn’t already optimized, then, well, the icing can’t do all that much.
So, What’s Next For Google & SEO?
More User Experience Metrics
Core Web Vitals and the overall page experience update isn’t where user experience metrics will begin and end for Google.
Google has made it known that more used-based metrics are on their way. They shared that they will be including more signals and ranking every year to ensure they are ranking pages that cater to users’ needs not just based on content, but based on experiential expectations.
In other words, technical SEO matters now more than ever before, and it will only matter more as Google develops new metrics to measure page experience.
Keep Giving the Users What They Want
The big takeaway from this update is that Google is actively working towards being able to measure websites based on if they are actually valuable or not. Great content that is hard to read or doesn’t load fully is not nearly as valuable as great content on a page with fast load speed.
We already know that Google rewards good content. This update will simply (but notably) confirm the different metrics and measures that Google will use to assess pages to identify the content most worthy of being visible on the SERPs.