Google recently announced that it’s holding off on launching its “Page Experience” algorithm update for just a little bit longer. Initially scheduled to take effect in May, the change is not expected to be seen until mid-to-late June.
If you haven’t been keeping up on the latest from the search giant, it’s important to understand how Google’s update could impact the searchability of the websites you manage. Though Google has said it’s update won’t cause drastic changes, in the hyper-competitive world of SEO, every optimization matters.
In this article I’ll cover the most important things to know about the impending update.
Before I get into the details, here’s what Google has to say:
“We’ll begin using page experience as part of our ranking systems beginning in mid-June 2021. However, page experience won’t play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August. You can think of it as if you’re adding a flavoring to a food you’re preparing. Rather than add the flavor all at once into the mix, we’ll be slowly adding it all over this time period.”
There Are Three Main “Vitals”
Most industry professionals are well aware of the impact that a user’s experience has on the ranking of a website. Sites that are clunky, take a long time to load, have a high bounce-rate, etc., tend to drop in the rankings as Google recognizes these sites as unfavorable for its users. The 2021 update lays out the three main “vitals” that will be evaluated by the new algorithm:
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
If the meaning of the term “contentful paint” escapes you, the good news is it’s much less complicated than it sounds. The LCP component measures the various performance aspects of your site, including how quickly the most important visual elements become visible for users after they click through to a page.
The goal, per Google’s recommendation, should be to strive for an LCP that is complete within the first 2.5 (approximately) seconds of when the page starts the loading process. Keep this in mind when adding imagery to your page. Though it’s always good to have robust visuals, it’s not worth it if the loading time is slowed significantly as a result.
2. First Input Delay (FID)
As important as a good visual component is to the quality of your website, functionality is still the top priority. First input delay, or FID, refers to the amount of time it takes before your website becomes functionally interactive. In other words, how long it takes before you can click, search, expand, etc., the various features of your page.
Whereas LCP recommendations allow for a full 2.5 seconds, Google has said that it FID should take no longer than 100 milliseconds. Yes, that’s fast. This article has some great tips for ramping up FID speed by making subtle, but meaningful, tweaks to increase responsiveness.
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
This one will hit home for those who have ever scrolled on a website, tried to click something, and ended up clicking an ad or something else unintended because the page moved at the last second. I think we can all agree that this is a frustrating experience, and Google is doing its part to penalize websites that still struggle with this issue.
Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS, refers to visual stability on a page. A page that has has “unstable” buttons will now rank lower thanks to Google’s update. Honestly, it’s about time.
The core vitals I laid out above are going to be the main page components evaluated by Google’s Page Experience algorithm update. But for pages that want to consistently outrank the competition, there are even more granular details to a web page that need to be taken into account.
Here’s a list of the “secondary” factors that will contribute to your page’s ranking once the Page Experience update is rolled out:
1. Mobile Usability
It’s no secret that mobile devices account for a huge percentage of web traffic worldwide. The latest data says that more than half of the total amount of web traffic happens via mobile phone alone. In order to achieve “good” status in the eyes of Google’s algorithm, a URL must not have any mobile usability errors. High standards to be sure, but necessary given the browsing trends of today.
2. HTTPS Considerations
Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) is the more secure version of HTTP, which is the typical protocol used to exchange data between a web browser and a site. To receive “good” page experience status, a site must be served over HTTPS. The good news is that most already are using this protocol.
3. Ad Experience
Advertising is simply a reality that just about all web users (excluding those who pay to have ads blocked) have to contend with. Navigating a few ads isn’t the end of the world (and sometimes it can lead you to your new favorite pair of shoes), but nobody likes dealing with overly-intrusive ads that disrupt your browsing experience.
Google’s Page Experience algorithm will cause sites to fall in the rankings if they use advertising practices that are distracting, disruptive, or simply not in line with what most would consider a good user experience. It’s important to note that if just one page on a website falls into the “bad ad experience” category, all other pages on the site are as well.
As web users, it seems that these updates will incentivize web developers and UX designers to create the best possible browsing experience.
Google’s algorithm will always be a fluid calculation. Marketers must keep up with the latest updates on a constant basis in order to stay competitive in one of the most competitive spaces out there. Those who are able to stay current will reap the benefits of a high Google ranking.
Prioritizing website optimizations will undoubtedly pay off for businesses which rely on SEO to drive traffic and sales. If your business needs assistance in improving your site’s searchability, get in touch today to work on a solution that fits your needs.