Google’s long-awaited page experience algorithm update finally began to roll out on 16th June 2021, after its original launch date was postponed. Information about the planned update has been publicly available since 2020, giving marketers months to prepare; however, it appears Google was the one in need of additional prep time.
This update officially welcomes page experience to the search engine’s collection of key ranking signals – AKA the factors its crawlers use to determine where a page should rank.
With the launch, Google welcomed a brand-new page experience signal to the fold called Core Web Vitals (CWV) which, in their own words, focuses on ‘…the aspects of loading, interactivity, and visual stability.’ Together with the existing metrics of HTTPS, mobile-friendliness, safe browsing and no intrusive interstitials, this update puts more emphasis on user experience than ever before. In the eyes of many industry professionals, it signifies an official passing of the baton from website-centric practices to user-centric SEO.
An article on Google’s Search Central blog stated that they will begin utilising page experience as part of their ranking systems from mid-June 2021, but it won’t fulfil its entire role until late August. (1)
So, what does the update entail and how will it impact SEO? Let’s dig in.Core Web Vitals: explained
The most talked-about part of the page experience update is the new ranking signal: Core Web Vitals. This signal can be broken into three key parts – all of which relate to on-page functionality:
1.Largest contentful paint (LCP): Relates to page loading speed. A page that loads in less than four seconds is considered good, however Google recommends all sites aim for sub-2.5 seconds loading time.
2. First input delay (FID): Relates to page interactivity – for instance, the time on-page before buttons become clickable. 100 milliseconds is the gold-standard.
3. Cumulative layout shift (CLS): Relates to visual stability. If your site is unstable, with text shifting before you can read or click, you’re likely to struggle in the CLS department. Google recommends striving for less than 0.1.
Anyone who’s followed Google’s gear-shift towards user experience over the last few years won’t be surprised by this development. In fact, all three CWV components have long been considered standard best-practice for SEO’ers. However, this algorithm update has levelled-up their status from important to mandatory. Any site that wants to rank on the coveted first page (hint: this should be you) must take heed going forward. (2)
Along with the introduction of Core Web Vitals, the update puts even more emphasis on four existing search signals: HTTPS, mobile-friendly, safe browsing and no intrusive interstitials.
HTTPS: Websites must now be served over HTTPS. Sites that continue to use unsecure HTTP protocol will be actively penalised by Google. If you’re currently on HTTP and switch to HTTPS, you will likely see improvements in your site’s rankings
Safe browsing: Similar to HTTPS, websites must not contain intentionally deceptive or malicious (Malware) content.
No intrusive interstitials: This tongue-twister refers to on-page content accessibility. Think: intrusive ads, pop ups or broken widgets.
Mobile-friendly: With more searches taking place via mobile than ever before, Google has made mobile-friendliness mandatory.
All four of these factors were important before, but now, if you want your site to continue performing or to improve, they’re mandatory.
Given that Google updates its algorithms all the time, you may be wondering why this change is any different. Well, the fact that they’ve chosen to fundamentally change the way they crawl and rank pages is significant.
Once upon a time, site owners would tick technical SEO boxes purely for search engine gain. Most didn’t care about their end users; they only cared about visibility. Google knew this. They knew and they allowed it to happen, because it meant that people were investing time into amplifying their search engine presence.
But end users’ matter. After all, if someone visits your website only to leave 10 seconds later because of a bad experience, there’s no value in their visit. On the contrary, websites that provide users with insightful content and a satisfying experience will naturally retain traffic and achieve stronger rankings in the long-term.
The page experience update puts site owners on notice. Those who have been practicing this grey-hat approach to SEO must now focus on their end users.
Is your website responsive? Well-designed? Does it display well on mobile phones? The answer to all of those questions should be a resounding ‘yes’. If you said ‘no’, it’s time to strategise.
There are some quick-wins to be gained in this update – for instance, optimising images to improve load time. However, this type of SEO is dynamic. Metrics must be monitored and updated overtime for the best possible results.
First, you’ll need to analyse your website’s current performance. There’s no use making
ad-hoc changes in the hopes of improving; you may end up doing more harm than good.
The following tools will help detect and resolve issues:
Create a document with all of the key findings and break each one down into actionable tasks with a desired outcome. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of changes required. Just remember: your site doesn’t have to be perfect. Websites rarely are (if ever). Instead, focus on the most important elements for your specific kind of site and niche, then order them based on priority. For instance, a competitive e-commerce store may need to invest more resources than, say, a local plumbing business.
Google is pushing users closer to the centre of their stage with every algorithm update. So, it’s fair to say the days of website-centric optimisation are over.
This article was created with advice from our in-house SEO specialist, Florencia Estévez.
1: Understanding page experience in Google Search results.’
2: Web Vitals.’ Source: https://web.dev/vitals/
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