It’s only December, but it’s never too early to talk about a Google update, especially one that will be introducing actual visual indicators for search users during their browsing experience.
Google first announced updates to the way it measures user experience back in May this year and confirmed in November that it would start being rolled out in May 2021. Whilst it does already use metrics to gauge user experience (such as mobile-friendliness, page speed and safe browsing), the Page Experience Update will amalgamate all of these together plus introduce new signals, creating an overall new update that will impact where a website ranks.
Another algorithm? *sigh*
Yes, we often feel the same about Google, but this is actually not a bad thing. User experience has been so important this year with many people forced to shop online and use the internet in ways they never have before to avoid going out and potentially contracting COVID.
Browsing experience naturally plays a large part in how well someone can use a website, so it makes sense really for Google (and other search engines) to rank the websites highest that serve their users the best. Some would even say that it’s time Google caught up; some of the biggest websites out there are still quite tricky to use (I’m looking at you, Amazon, with your 5000 links on each page!)
Of course, other Google algorithms will also still be in play, this is just another joining the ranks alongside the current incumbents, including Penguin, Mobile Friendly and BERT.
What is ‘Page Experience’ when it’s at home?
The term ‘page experience’ doesn’t only mean ‘user friendliness’, it brings a range of metrics together to understand how a user perceives specific web pages. Most are already ranking factors.
These metrics will include, but are not limited to:
- Mobile friendliness
- HTTPS security
- Whether intrusive ads are present
- Page speed
- Compliance to safe browsing
Core Web Vitals
Google has collated and refined a number of metrics under the term ‘Core Web Vitals’; these include both current ranking factors and new elements. Core Web Vitals are designed to score different real world, user-centred aspects of each page on a website. These include loading time, stability and interactivity under 3 separate headings:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
- FID (First Input Delay)
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
If this sounds confusing, in layman’s terms:
- Loading performance of the largest element (LCP) – this measures how quickly a page loads the largest element on the page (usually an image or a text block).
Ideally, you want the LCP fully loaded within 2.5 seconds.
- Interactivity (FID) – this measures how long it takes for a page to be fully responsive upon loading. Unresponsive pages lead to frustration and can lead to a high exit rate.
Google recommends an FID of less than 100 milliseconds when the page loads.
- Visual Stability (CLS) – Does the text move when loading or does it all appear at once? Do links move and you can’t click them? As each page element loads, the content needs to stay in one place for optimum CLS.
Pages need to maintain a CLS of less than 0.1 to score highly with Google.
Visual Search Indicators
Once Google launches the Page Experience update, users will see visual indicators in the SERPs to show websites that are expected to give great user experiences, by combining all the factors above. We have seen this before when the Mobile Friendly and Page Speed updates came out, so if Google stick to form and test the update prior to May, it’s likely we’ll see this type of label again in the SERPs. As yet, Google have not shared any confirmed visuals as to how this could look.
Impact on Traffic
As with any visual indicator, having a label that says whether your website offers a good user experience or not is bound to have an impact on traffic, which in turn may have an impact on positions. As Google have not yet confirmed whether they are going to place a positive (GOOD user experience) or negative (POOR user experience) label in the SERPs, we can’t say for sure how this will pan out, but the key takeaways from this must be:
- To make sure your website meets all of the current algorithm criteria where possible (so is mobile friendly, has good loading speeds, does not have intrusive ads etc)
- To make sure that testing is done on the metrics that make up the Core Web Vitals – does the largest element load quickly, how long does it take for each page to be fully responsive and does the content remain static when loading?