Google announced on 5/28 plans to release a new ranking algorithm that will quantify a user’s perceived experience (UX) when determining rank for a particular page, or website. This update is not expected to go live until 2021, but it will mark the first time Google will officially take user, or ‘Page Experience’ into account as a ranking factor.
This announcement also comes just weeks after Google rolled out a new Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console (GSC), which includes a series of metrics considered vital for UX.
What is Google Page Experience?
According to Google, Page Experience is the combination of the signals derived from Core Web Vitals and their existing Search signals for page experience, including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines, to provide a holistic picture of page experience.
Although this is considered a new ranking factor, Page Experience is not a completely new concept. Individual ranking factors such as HTTPs, mobile-friendliness, and site speed have been individual rankings factors for many years, but are now finding their way into this new Page Experience update, likely combining to become a much more heavily weighted factor.
Why should we care?
Until now, there has been no direct connection between user experience and ranking. Good UX has always been believed to lead to better rankings, but Google has long denied UX as part of their algorithm. This confirmation will fundamentally shift the role of SEO within some organizations and increase the importance of SEO strategy as it relates to site UX.
Where to start?
Review Your Core Web Vitals Report
Factors such as mobile-friendliness, HTTPs, safe-browsing, and non-intrusive interstitials should all be standard practice by now, so the emphasis should really be on the new Core Web Vitals report and how well your site performs.
The first three vitals Google is tracking are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – measures how quickly a page’s main content loads (bulk of the text or images being served)
- First Input Delay (FID) – measures how quickly a page reacts when you first try to interact with it (try to click something)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measures how stable a page is, and how much visible stuff moves around.
This report can be found in Google Search Console by navigating to Core Web Vitals under Enhancements.
Once there, the report will display a chart for mobile and desktop to review your site performance.
Click to open the report for mobile or desktop, and you’ll see a list of problems found and sample URLs to review.
In addition to the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console, you can find Core Web Vitals information using the following tools:
- PageSpeed Insights: The new Core Web Vitals metrics will appear with the normal page speed insights and will include recommendations from Google on how to improve your scores.
- Lighthouse extension: Once installed in Chrome, you can click to ‘inspect’ a URL and click on the ‘audit’ tab to review the data.
- Chrome User Experience: This report provides real-world user experience metrics aggregated from Chrome users throughout the web.
- Web.dev Measure Tool: This tool will allow you to see Core Web Vital data for any URL you enter into it.
Pro Tip: Using these tools instead of Google Search Console will allow you to review competitor websites to see how your site stacks up to your competition.
Learn From Google
Google has created a number of ‘UX Playbooks’ to help site owners improve their user experience. These include a number of best practices you can implement across your site, and ultimately “create frictionless experiences across the funnel.”
Remember, most internet browsing occurs on smartphones, not desktop.
This truth is often overlooked since many of us who work on the internet do so on large monitors attached to desktop PCs, but the reality is that over 50 percent of all web traffic happens on smartphones. Google has been increasing the importance of mobile experience for years, which is why they have put such a large emphasis on mobile usability, site speed, security, and other factors that are more important for mobile users, in their algorithms. It’s also why Google has switched over 70 percent of indexed sites into their mobile-first index, and has plans to move all remaining sites over by the end of 2020.
How important will the page experience update be?
Like any big update that comes from Google, expect to see big shifts in rankings and volatility following this update. Well optimized sites often can weather these updates with little impact if they are already following recommended best practices, so don’t get too hung up on any specific factor. Per Google, “we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
If you’re already providing exceptional content and pages to your users, you’ve been optimizing for Google page experience already, but we still recommend taking a fresh look at your site through your customers’ eyes, and reviewing your Core Web Vitals.
Want to learn more? Google has also released a detailed developer guide on their page experience criteria for those so inclined.
Eight Oh Two Marketing is a boutique, search-marketing agency for enterprise. As the VP of Digital Strategy, Rob Langenback is a consummate professional and digital wizard. More than just a marketer, Rob is a teacher who likes to share the why as well as the how. Click here to learn more about Eight Oh Two, our methodology and our team.
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