Oh boy. Another Google algorithm update. (As if 2020 hasn’t thrown enough at us, ey?!) But is Google’s page experience update going to be another technical head trip? An overdose of coding complexity? More tomfoolery and trickery designed to mess with your site, your search rankings, and your serenity? Or is it – surprise, surprise – just this once going to be simpler than you expect?
You’re in luck. It’s the latter. While ‘page experience signals’ being included in Google Search ranking might sound complicated, it really isn’t. Especially not when you have us to guide you through it. Plus, Google has thrown us all a bone by warning us in advance of the expected update, allowing SEOs and online businesses around the world to prepare for the update and get your site up to scratch before the fact. (Side note: See? 2021 is already shaping up to be better than 2020… if the notoriously secretive Google can throw us a bone this big and juicy, just imagine all the other good stuff that can happen.)
Anyhoo, without further ado, we present to you everything you need to know about Google’s new page experience update, coming to an interwebs near you in May 2021.
What Does Google Say About the 2021 Page Experience Update?
Back in May 2020, Google announced that “page experience signals would be included in Google Search ranking. These signals measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.” (Jeffrey Jose, Product Manager on Search, Google Search Central) Fast forward to just last month, when Google gave us an exact date for when page experience signals would begin affecting ranking: May 2021. In an unprecedented move on Google’s part, they also gave us exactly what those page experience signals would be, as well as tips on specific tools to use to improve said signals, giving us absolutely zero excuse not to get our acts together and get our online assets up to scratch. Or search, as the case may be.
So what are the page experience signals you need to improve on for 2021?
“The new page experience signals combine Core Web Vitals (loading, interactivity, and visual stability) with our existing search signals including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.” (Don’t worry, we’ll unpack these in a bit more non-tech-speak detail if you keep reading.)
(In addition, Google has also announced that they plan to test a visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience: they are currently working on a visual indicator on their SERPs that identifies pages that have met all of the page experience criteria, and this too will launch in May 2021 pending testing. Watch this space for more details on that!)
Long story short, you have every reason in the world to improve your page experience signals – for Google’s sake, your visitors’ sakes, and for the sake of your own online success and, ultimately, business success.
So, What Does This Actually Mean (In Normal Person Speak)?
Okay, so you’re still not sure what page experience signals are, exactly, and what the page/user experience update means for your website?
In a nutshell, page experience, or user experience, signals include things like site speed, site security, mobile-friendliness, intrusive interstitials (those annoying interactive ads that keep disrupting our internet searches which we all hate so much), and so on and so forth.
With Google’s new update, each of these will become a direct ranking factor, i.e., how good they are, and how well your website performs in relation to each of these, will directly affect how well you do in Google’s search results rankings. In other words, Google is scoring/ranking you for these and if they give you a positive page experience score, they will directly improve your ranking and show your site higher up in SERPs. A negative score? Say goodbye to any chance of making it out of Google’s graveyard of page 2 and beyond.
What Are The Important Page Experience Signals Affected?
We’ll now go through the signals affected, as outlined by Google above, one by one:
Core Web Vitals
Core web what now? These are performance metrics designed to measure how user-friendly a page is. The three current vitals Google is focused on with this update measure loading performance, interactivity, and stability of your page.
Also known as Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). LCP measures how quickly the content on your site loads. In other words, how fast does any given page on your website load. Ideally, LCP should be 2.5 seconds or less for any given page.
Also referred to as First Input Delay (FID): FID is basically checking how fast the page in question is interactive? More simply: when a user clicks on something, a button or a form, or a video, how fast can the browser you’re on start to process that and produce a viewable result that isn’t slow, glitchy, stop-start, or result in a spinning circle of Internet death (Apple rainbow circle anyone?)?
Also referred to as Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS looks at the stability of your layout – i.e., whether content jumps around as the page loads or, ‘How fast is your page stable?’. If objects or text on the page shift around suddenly as your site visitor tries to view them or interact with them, it’s going to cause significant annoyance for the user, and Google will flag that as bad user experience. Google calculates your layout shift score by looking at impact fraction and distance fraction, both of which are metrics that look at how unstable elements move on a page. A good CLS score is 0.1 or lower.
Test your core vitals: To help us all get ready, Google released a variety of tools that we can use to start improving page experience. Their advice?
Step 1: Do a site-wide audit of your pages to see where there is room for improvement and run a Core Web Vitals report via Google Search Console. This gives you a good overview of how your site is doing as well as an opportunity to dive deeper into any issues you discover. (Check out our blog ‘How to Use Search Console Like a Pro’ to help you here.)
Step 2: Once you’ve identified opportunities and areas of concern, you can use tools like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse can help you fix any issues. A Lighthouse report gives you an overall user experience score (for core web vitals and other factors), along with recommendations for improvement. Install the tool in your browser, or download the Chrome extension to run a report. PageSpeed Insights measures the loading and running speed of your page on both mobile and desktop. Copy and paste your URL directly into the tool to run a report – no download required.)
The other four main Other UX (user experience) signals that form part of the 2021 page experience update are:
Mobile-friendliness has long been a key ranking factor in search. This looks at how well your page and website performs on mobile devices, and if it doesn’t, well good luck. Here’s everything you need to know about what, why, and how to make sure your site is mobile friendly.
Test yours: Open up your browser on your phone, type in your website’s URL and perform a mini-test on your own website to see how user-friendly the experience is. Be honest. Now get a friend to do the same. What do they think of the page load speed, what it looks like, how easy it is to read, how easy it is to find things? Now do the technical test: head over to Google’s mobile-friendly test to find out if your findings match up with Google’s. Finally, if they don’t match up, believe them over yourself. Trust us.
Safe browsing: how safe is your site from malware and other malicious or deceptive content? Essentially, this metric measures whether your page is safe for the user or whether visiting your site might put their personal information at risk.
Test yours: A Security Issues Report run on Google Search Console shows you how well your site fits Google’s “safe-browsing” criteria. Honestly, though, even if safe browsing wasn’t a direct ranking factor, why wouldn’t you run this report to make sure your site is safe from all the dodginess that lurks out there? #justsaying
HTTPS: does your site/page use a secure HTTPS connection? This second measure of how safe your site pages are for your user also continues to increase in importance. Not only has Google Chrome been marking all HTTP sites as “not secure” since July 2018, something which can send potential users screaming for the escape button faster than you can see ‘hacker’, Google also continues to place increased importance on HTTPS as a ranking factor. I.e., if your site isn’t secure, Google will penalize you on the SERPs.
Test yours: Does your URL have a little ‘closed’ lock to the left of the URL itself? Or simply check to see if your URL in your browser’s search bar starts with http:// or if it has that saving-grace ‘s’ added on at the end, making it https://. Also, be sure to read this…
No Intrusive Interstitials
The no intrusive interstitials metric looks at whether your page contains pop-ups or other advertisements that obscure content on the page and make reading or navigating difficult for the user. For example, does your site immediately have a pop-up ad where the person can’t enter your site before dismissing it? Or is there a pop-up the minute users arrive that covers sections of the main page content? GET RID OF THOSE SUCKERS. For the sanity of your user, yourself, and the search safety of your site. (Note: login pages or legally required interstitials like age-verification pop-ups will not be penalized. Google is clever like that.)
Test yours: Check your site before you wreck your site. It really is as simple as opening up every page on your site to see if any annoying ads pop up. And by annoying, we mean ads that hamper your experience, navigation or vision of any page on your site in any small way. If you find them annoying, trust us your user will too, and Google will punish you for it.
Since many of these Page Experience signals already factor into Google’s search algorithms many SEOs will have already got their clients’ page experience signals in tip top shape – the good ones anyway. But this announcement does mean if you haven’t been paying attention to your page experience, now you really, really need to. And while it might all sound terribly technical it doesn’t need to be. Just remember this: if you find your site and pages easy to navigate and use, your users will find it easy to navigate and use. The signals outlined above, just provide you with a roadmap to make sure that navigation isn’t flawed.
Are your page experience signals up to Google’s standards?
If you feel like it’s all just too much to wrap your own core vitals around and your head and heart just aren’t into it, at 1st on the List our dedicated, expert SEOs can do it all for you! Contact us today to get ready for Google’s May 2021 user experience update by calling toll-free 1-888-262-6687 or contact us online.