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The Page Experience Update: New SEO Ranking Factors for 2021

BLOG POSTS Google Ranking Factors SEO
By Ryan Molloy
Mar 05, 2021

In their everlasting quest to provide users with the best results for search queries, Google recently announced that page experience metrics will soon be included in ranking algorithms.

Aptly referred to as the Google Page Experience Update, the revised algorithm will consider factors such as mobile-friendliness, web safety, and interstitials, in addition to a site’s overall UI/UX. Rolling out in early 2021, this is the first update to heavily focus on a user’s experience with each part of a web page.

Those websites that don’t prioritize creating a high-quality, engaging page experience for users will likely see a drop in their keyword rankings. However, site owners who focus their efforts on following proper user experiences best practices will be better situated to sail through the update without any negative impacts to their overall search visibility.

Google’s Updating Algorithm

While Google’s impending update might seem Earth-shattering, Google has a long and varied history of updating its algorithm. In 2018 alone, Google launched over 3,000 updates to how the browser produces search results. These types of updates range from large to small, and they usually include changes to indexation, data, search UI’s, webmaster tools, and ranking factors.

All of these updates play into the many algorithms that power every search. Google uses algorithms to help fulfill a specific function, grouped into one larger, core algorithm. Sound complex? We promise it’s not. Here is a breakdown of the different types of ranking factors used by Google:

  • Content: The most popular content algorithm is known as Panda, and it helps Google judge relevant content, penalizing and rewarding content based on specific parameters.
  • Backlinks: The Penguin update helps Google determine if a link is spammy and deserves to be factored in with the crawling and indexing process.
  • Organizing: All this information has to be stored somewhere, and there are specific algorithms to help with that.
  • User Experience: In addition to your great content, Google needs to see if your website brings valuable information to users. It does this by rating your website’s user experience (UX) and factoring it into the search engine organic results.

What is UX?

Simply put, user experience is the study of how users interact with your website. User experience targets potential users at all steps of their journey and helps you get into your customer’s mind before they come to your website, during their time on the site, and after they leave.

To many business owners, a good user experience equates to a pretty website. While it is always a good idea to have an aesthetically pleasing website, a few pretty graphics won’t cause your customers to convert.

Instead, your website’s interface needs to be optimized with the consumers in mind. Here are some user experience statistics that drive home the sheer importance of creating a good page experience:

When it comes to your website, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors offering products and services similar to yours. With this in mind, you can’t risk that your potential customer’s first impression of you is impacted by low-quality UX. Staying on top of user experience trends and best practices has always been important to earning new customers, but it will now be essential to showing up in search results.

What Is the Google 2021 Page Experience Update?

The thing about Google’s algorithm updates is that they don’t release all the information needed for webmasters to optimize their websites perfectly. Due to trade secrets and proprietary information, Google only releases minimal information about their upcoming algorithms. Then, it is up to every web developer and SEO expert to infer how to make optimizations to best match the new ranking factors.

It’s important to understand that if your website is not properly optimized for these algorithm changes, your rankings could drop significantly, thus losing visibility and potential customer conversions. Luckily, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you by outlining the key information you need to know to ensure your website provides the kind of page experience that will be most valued by Google.

What We Know So Far – New Core Web Vitals

In May, Google released a tool named Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics that measure a website’s speed/loading time, responsiveness and interactivity, and visual stability. These metrics will be the foundation of the 2021 algorithm update, as Google will use these three benchmarks, plus a new signal, to help site owners measure a website’s holistic user experience.

While we know that these new measures are subject to change and evolve over time, here’s the breakdown of the three basic metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
(measures site speed and loading time)

LCP reports the render time of the largest image or block of text visible within a web page’s viewport. Simply put, it relates the time it takes for your webpage to load the biggest piece of content on a page. An ideal LCP would be within 2.5 seconds of loading the page.

First Input Delay (FID)
(measures interactivity)

FID measures a consumer’s first impression of your website’s interactivity and responsiveness. It does so by monitoring how long it takes from when a user first interacts with a web page (i.e., clicking on a button) to how long it takes for the browser to respond to that action. Think of it as how long it takes for a user to press a button and for that information to appear. An ideal FID is under 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
(measures visual stability)

Have you ever been scrolling on a website and are just about to click on a button, when the layout moves and you are all of a sudden in a different portion of the page? That is a layout shift, and if your website has a lot of them, it can hamper your user experience.

Visual stability is exactly that—how stable the webpage is when it loads—and if the page stays steady throughout a consumer’s scroll. CLS measures how many times a user experiences unexpected layout shifts, with the ideal metric for this being less than 0.1.

As a best practice, to ensure that you are meeting the right target for each of these metrics, it is recommended you test and monitor about 75% of all pages on your website. It is important to understand that these Core Web Vital metrics are user-centered metrics that give real-world data to see and understand how users interact with your website.

What We Know So Far – Page Experience Signals

A better page experience leads to deeper engagement and allows consumers to get more done. There are already existing page experience metrics that Google uses to help webmasters monitor their performance, including:

  • Mobile Friendliness: Not all searches are created equal, meaning your website should perform on mobile phones at the same level it does on desktop. This new signal will factor more heavily into SEO.
  • Safe Browsing: This metric ensures the security and safety of your website, verifying there is not any harmful content on it.
  • HTTPS Security: Having an HTTPS tag on your website means it is safe and secure for users, and their information isn’t at risk of being stolen.
  • Intrusive Interstitial Guidelines: Many websites have a ton of intrusive pop-ups that get in the way of a user finding the information they need. Because of this, Google has created a set of guidelines on how to include pop-ups on a webpage without severely hampering the user’s experience as a whole.

When 2021 rolls around, Google will combine these existing page experience signals with the new and improved Core Web Vitals metrics to rank a website’s overall user experience.

How to Prepare for Google’s 2021 Page Experience Update

All this information on search engine functionality and algorithms may sound complicated, but don’t worry. There are many easy steps anyone can take to prepare their website for the newly important aspects of page experience. Here are a few of the steps you can take to maintain and improve your SEO.

Know the Tools Available to You

There are plenty of free tools available to you that will allow you to monitor these new ranking factors on your website. Using them to consistently monitor your own website will not only help your user experience metrics soar but bring more potential customers to convert. A few examples include:

Audit Your Site Across Devices

If you have both a smartphone and computer, then you likely know the way in which different devices load pages differently, both in terms of visuals and page speed. There are some tools that can help you audit your website without having to purchase a truckload of devices.

  • With Responsinator, you can test out how your website looks on a plethora of mobile devices, from phones to tablets. This is a great, free way to ensure that the actual rendering of your page is not lost in translation between different devices.
  • CrossBrowserTesting allows you to test out both the appearance and performance of your website on over 2,000 different browsers and devices. This is a great way to ensure that your site not only looks but also performs optimally across a range of formats.

Improving Your PSI Score

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool lets you know how well your website performs for both desktop and mobile browsers. It also provides detailed information that can be used to deliver a faster user experience. If you find that your PSI is scoring less than ideal (anywhere below a 90), then you’ll want to take some measures to boost your page speed. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Compress Your Images: Large image files are a significant contributor to longer load times. Luckily, there are many free tools available that can help you compress your files and diminish the time it takes to load them. If you host your page on WordPress, then Smush is a handy plugin to optimize and compress images, one you don’t need to be an SEO expert to understand.
  • Use a Browser Cache: Browser caching is another simple fix that significantly improves the speed of your page. Essentially, a browser cache allows a web browser to remember commonly occurring elements of your site, such as header and footer material. This way, users won’t have to reload this material every time they click on a new page on your site. For WordPress users, W3 Total Cache is a tool we’ve found useful.
  • Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Originally used for news sites, AMP pages are essentially stripped-down versions of existing pages that can load up more quickly on mobile devices. While not necessary for pages loading optimally, AMP can be a boon to pages that are currently lagging. It’s likely you’ve already encountered AMP on your phone, noted by the little, encircled lightning bolt in the page’s corner.

Have a Benchmark

It is of the utmost importance to understand where your website stands before you make changes. We all know that having the top spot in the search engine result pages is our top goal, but, if anything, the announcement of this new algorithm means that it is time to shift focus to include a user’s experience.

So you need to test, test, and test! Use the free tools above on each page of your site and move slowly. Take note of what is working and what isn’t in order to be best prepared. This way, whenever you make changes, you’ll be able to track your results easily and won’t be sidelined with the introduction of Google’s search algorithm next year.

Optimize Your Content

Your website is nothing if not a place for your potential customers to gain information, so be sure to optimize your content, one of the most important Google ranking factors. Our landing page optimizer is the best way to improve your on-page content (you can access it by setting up a free account). Using this tool, you can target up to five keywords and take immediate steps to give your content more topical-depth and authority.

But you can’t just put the content on your page without any organization, as this is where header tags come in. The proper use of headers such as the title tags and header tags will not only segment out your information into easily digestible chunks, it will also make it easier for Google to crawl and index. And don’t forget—these subheadings are a great way to optimize your target keywords, as the more prominent they are on your page and your URL, the more Google will believe the information you are creating is valuable content.

Don’t Forget Images

Yes, it is important to have original content on your website. However, it is much more important to diversify the types of content you use, as images are a significant Google ranking factor, in addition to how they engage the searcher. The easiest way to use images is to put them at the top of the page, grabbing the user’s attention as soon as they get on a specific landing page. Make sure to optimize these images by incorporating relevant keywords in the alt text, so in case of a problem with loading the page, users can see what the photos are meant to be used for.

Stay Informed

Google’s power is that we don’t always know what to expect when they roll out a new change. The websites at the top of a Google search can always change, so you need to stay informed to stay ahead of the game.

New information regularly comes out on how to optimize your website with multiple ranking factors in mind; it’s essential to closely monitor your website, keeping tabs on ranking changes. Especially since it can take weeks (and sometimes months) for Google to register changes to a page, you’ll want to check up on the SERPs post-update to see which types of UX features are boosting your rankings.

As you can see, there isn’t just one answer on how to get to the top of the Google search results. That is why Linkgraph.io is here to help you and your website stay on top of the trends, as and when they happen, and make sure that you understand what these shifts mean for you. So when it comes to the new Google 2021 Page Experience Update, we have one thing to say to Google: Bring it on.

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