Google’s Page Experience Update: What You Need to Know
Recently, Google announced an update, the Page Experience update meant to move webmasters to optimize their websites for user experience and engagement.
Ever since Google released the mobile-friendliness update, it signaled a new era of the elevation of user engagement signals as an important ranking factor. Now, metrics such as bounce rate, dwell time, and click-through rates affect the performance of SEO.
Therefore, over the years, it has driven businesses to optimize their sites to be more user friendly through factors such as page speed, responsive sites, and HTTPS, among others. Yet, it seems Google is not done yet. Instead, it takes it to another level with the announcement of the Page Experience update.
However, the Page Experience update will be released next year, and Google has promised to give a 6-month advance notice prior to its release. So why does this matter now?
Core Web Vitals
To understand the coming update, it is important to discuss ‘Core Web Vitals’, which forms its basis. In fact, the Page Experience update elevates Core Web Vitals to ranking signals in order with the existing factors such as mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitials guidelines. The graphic below summarises the changes:
So, what about the Core Web Vitals?
Recently, Google transformed the speed report page in Google Search Console into Core Web Vitals. Core Web Vitals integrates with the Google Chrome browser to measure the performance of websites according to the real-life experience of Chrome users. This user experience report is actually by PageSpeed Insights to measure site loading speed metrics.
The newly introduced Core Web Vitals measure three important factors:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): this metric assesses the loading speed of webpages. It measures page speed according to a page loads the largest content element (the main content on the page). That means a page that quickly loads an irrelevant element, such as loading indicator, can no longer pass off as quickly. Having a good LCP score means the LCP loads within 2.5 seconds.
- First Input Delay (FID): FID assesses how responsive a webpage is. It measures how quickly the site responds to user interactions (tapping a button, clicking a link, or any interaction with other page elements). A page with a good FID score must have a response rate within 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): the newest metric of the three, CLS, assess the stability of page elements. It aims to prevent awkward situations when a page element shifts, causing the user to inadvertently tap a different link or button from the one they wanted. A good CLS score must be less than 0.1. You can boost your CLS score by optimizing images and ads on the page to prevent unwanted layout shifts.
These metrics have been existing for some time and are easily measurable from the Search Console and tools that Google has specifically provided. The difference is that from next year, they would become official ranking factors and so site owners need to double up on their efforts to optimize the user experience of their sites.
However, the other metrics below are already part of Google’s ranking factors.
Mobile-friendliness: the introduction of mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor is predicated on the fact that more people access the internet via mobile devices than desktop. Google also introduced a test tool to give site owners an insight into the mobile performance of their sites. Optimizing your website for mobile devices involves using a responsive layout as well as other best practices including compressing images, avoiding intrusive ads and popups, avoiding flash, etc. You could also use the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) feature to make your site load faster for mobile users.
Safe Browsing: Google has, for a long time, worked with webmasters to “provide a safe and secure browsing experience for their users.” Security issues such as malware, harmful pages, malicious downloads, etc. affect user experience. Google requires sites to follow its security guidelines, as well as its Unwanted Software policy. Sites that violate these guidelines could be penalized and that would negatively and severely affect their rankings.
HTTPS: This is part of Google’s move to ensure the security of sites. Since 2018, Google Chrome has flagged non-HTTPS sites as not secure. Now, a vast majority of sites on the web have valid SSL certificates. Yet, Google recommends additional measures for such sites to ensure safe browsing connections.
Intrusive Interstitial Guidelines: mobile content must be easily accessible to site visitors, but a pop-up that takes up much space on the screen prevents this. Such pages have their rankings reduced. Instead, Google advocates strategic placement of pop-ups and ads to ensure that the main content remains visible.
Beyond the factors mentioned above, it is important that site owners continue to adopt practices that improve user experience. Apart from the SEO advantage, a user-optimized website makes it more likely for visitors to come back. Besides, Google plans to “incorporate more page experience signals on a yearly basis to both further align with evolving user expectations and increase the aspects of user experience that we can measure.”
Finally, while optimizing for page experience, do not ignore the most important factor, which is quality content. In Google’s own words, “great page experience doesn’t override having great page content.