Google is notorious for holding its cards close, particularly regarding its algorithm updates and changes. For SEO practitioners and website owners this can be frustrating. We try to read the signals, make assumptions and move forward in good conscience trying to be honest in our attempts to optimize websites. Even with the greatest of care a surprise sudden change can tank a websites’ traffic causing anguish for SEO practitioners and customers alike.
Well, when the announcement first came about Google’s Page Experience update we were happy to have pretty clear guidelines on what Google is expecting from us. At the same time were were concerned because, for many older and SAAS websites, the changes will not be easy – and in some cases completely out of the hands of the website owner (such as in the case of some SAAS websites).
For those who are in a position to upgrade their own websites this new update provides a unique opportunity for administrators to increase their ranking and organic search traffic. You just have to dig deep into the web signals that Google will use to determine page rankings.
Here’s a rundown of Google’s new update, what it means for your website, and how you can improve page experience.
What is Google’s Page Experience Update?
One thing to keep in mind is that this update differs from a core update, which Google just finished in June 2021. This update uses core web vitals, page experience signals, and other metrics to determine which websites provide the best user experience (UX).
While we know the five categories involved in the update, Google isn’t giving away all its secrets just yet about how much weight each one holds. Here’s what Google is going to be judging your website on:
1. Core Web Vitals:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
The LCP metric measures the time it takes for a web page to load or show its most significant image or text block. If a web page takes 10 seconds to load, most people are already hitting the back button and looking for a faster alternative after about three seconds.
Your LCP time should be 2.5 seconds or less. Anything higher than that needs improvement.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Have you ever clicked on a hyperlink that you didn’t mean to because the web page you were on unexpectedly changed or shifted its content?
That’s called Cumulative Layout Shift, and it’s one of the most annoying things to experience when surfing the web (especially on mobile devices). The visual instability caused by CLS reduces UX (user experience) drastically. A good CLS score to strive for is less than 0.1.
First Input Delay (FID)
This web vital measures the interactivity that a user experiences when they look at your website. Is your page fast and responsive? If not, it will affect your UX scoring.
Essentially, FID measures how users feel and their first impressions of the responsiveness and ease of interaction with your website. For instance, Google measures how long it takes from clicking a button until the new window loads. A good score for FID is 100 milliseconds or less.
Google is also looking at whether your website is secure. You will need to make the switch from HTTP to HTTPS if you haven’t already done so. HTTPS provides much higher security and encryption, so users can feel safe and secure when interacting with your page, especially if they have to input personal information.
The technology that secures your site should allow for safe, encrypted communication with an SSL certificate. If you don’t have one already, we can help you obtain an SSL certificate for your website.
In short, without the necessary “S” after the HTTP, you’re not going to rank very high with Google’s page experience update.
3. Mobile-Friendly Site
If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re also going to have a hard time ranking highly in Google. Does your website already have a “lite” version optimized for mobile users? It should! Pages that aren’t accommodating for mobile device users won’t have a good ranking with the update, either.
4. Safe Browsing
Safe browsing is another part of Google’s page experience update. If your website is full of malware, viruses, or other harmful computer programs, your site will get a low score and ranking (as it should). There shouldn’t be any deceptive/malicious content or dangerous downloads that could cause issues for users.
5. No Intrusive Interstitials (aka annoying pop-up ads)
What’s even worse than having a slow-loading web page with content or hyperlinks that jump around? The answer: Obnoxious pop-ups that require critical thinking skills to find the “X” button.
Well, Google seems to agree that intrusive interstitials are irritating. If you use a ton of pop-up ads, be prepared for a low ranking with Google’s new page experience update. On the other hand, if your page is easily accessible and has an intuitive layout with no annoying interstitials, you’re already on your way to better rankings.
How Can You Improve Page Experience?
As you can see, the criteria and web vitals that Google is using in the new page experience update can significantly impact your ranking. Remember how we said that the latest update presents a unique opportunity to increase your website’s ranking in the SERPs? While we may not know how much weight each metric holds, we know for sure that Google is using those five criteria as determining factors.
This means that you need to improve your website performance in those areas if you want to succeed and rank highly in the SERPs under this new update.
Here’s some information about how you can improve your website’s UX and page experience based on the five metrics that Google is now using for its ranking algorithm.
How to Improve Core Web Vitals
The solution to this problem is using tools to measure and report on LCP, CLS, and FID. In fact, most of the popular tools that Google offers for web developers now have the capabilities to measure and report on those critical metrics. A great place to start is Google’s own Page Speed Insights. It not only provides critical data on LCP, CLS and FID, it also gives you advice on how to improve each of these. Improvement usually requires some significant updates to your website code and content addition methodology but at least you have a roadmap.
Fix Poor Performance and Improve Loading Speed
A fast loading time stands out as a significant part of getting your website to rank high. For instance, did you know that if your website takes a measly three seconds to load instead of one, the chances of users closing it and bouncing to a different website increase by over 30%?
If Google determines that users who visit your website are bouncing quickly, your page will rank lower. Your bounce rate should be between 26% and 40%. Anything higher than that is less than optimal. A bounce is basically when someone clicks on your website in the search results, gets to the page, stays about 3 seconds (for whatever reason) and then closes the tab and looks for the next search result. This amplifies the importance of having pages rank for the right keywords so users will land on the exact information they are looking for.
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
If your website isn’t already mobile friendly, you’re behind the curve. How many times each day do you browse the web on your smartphone or tablet? Mobile users who have difficulty navigating a website are unlikely to return.
Already mentioned above, Google’s Page Speed Insights tool can help you see how mobile friendly your website is. All you do is type in your URL and receive a score, which helps you determine if you need improvement in this area.
There are some effective ways to optimize your website for mobile users (which comprise more than 60% of all web users, by the way). The website must be responsive and easy to navigate. Also, you should avoid hiding the search bar in a menu, which is a common mistake among website administrators. In fact, instead of a full menu, you can use a “lite” menu for ease of use. You should also avoid pop-ups at all costs.
Obtain an SSL certificate and Switch to HTTPS to Make Your Website Safe for Browsing
If you have ever visited a website and picked up a virus (spyware or malware), would you ever go back to it? Of course not. If there are security issues on your website, how can you fix this problem?
The first step is to check on Google Search Console to ensure that your site is safe and doesn’t have any security issues. We can help you with this, and we can also help you access the Google Transparency Report that explains how Google identifies unsafe websites and what criteria it uses.
Most website owners have already taken the step of adding an SSL certificate but if you haven’t then you are probably already several steps behind your competition in the rankings. When adding the certificate you must also ensure that you force any “http” requests to “https”, and make sure you are not serving “mixed” content (such as an image from an insecure location).
Avoid Intrusive Interstitials
A big red flag for users on any website is a ton of obnoxious pop-up ads. Intrusive or large ads detract from the user experience and increase your overall bounce rate. Instead, use subtle ads or even “pop-unders” that won’t contribute to an annoying or frustrating experience. Interstitial issues will lower your page experience score and ranking.
Acceptable interstitials that won’t negatively affect your ranking include age verification pop-ups, cookie notices, or any ad that only takes up a small amount of screen page space (e.g., a banner at the top or a pop-under).
People click on websites because they want a quick, easy, and convenient way to find information. If there are a million pop-up ads or giant advertisements to click out of, they’re not likely to return, and even worse, they won’t spend any money.
What Does Google’s Page Experience Update Mean for Your Website?
What does Google’s page experience update mean for your website? To be frank, it means that you need to make your website’s user experience much friendlier before your competition does. To ignore your web vital metrics means that you have a higher chance of getting bounced and ranking lower in the SERPs.
You need to have high-quality, relevant content optimized for ease of use. Also, you should never put hyperlinked items too close together, which can be very difficult to navigate on a small cell phone screen. Remember, anywhere from 50% to 60% of all web users are browsing on a mobile device and Google’s ratings are based first on mobile, not desktop performance.
Think about it: if your website and your competitors’ websites are essentially equal in terms of content, page experience becomes the factor that Google uses to decide which page ranks first. A higher ranking can mean the difference between getting the sale or losing it to a competitor.
For over 20 years we have been providing SEO services (search engine optimization) strategies and helping clients achieve higher results in the SERPs (search engine results pages). We’ve adapted, evolved, and ultimately grown through every single Google algorithm change, so we’re qualified and ready to help you capitalize on the new “Page Experience” update. Today is a great time to start!