In November 2020, Google announced an algorithm update for 2021. From mid-June 2021, Google will begin using page experience as part of their search engine ranking systems. This update includes the three Core Web Vitals metrics, as well as some additional changes you can explore on Google's developer guide pages. The primary purpose behind the update is to ensure sites that rank highly in searches are genuinely user-friendly – sites with poor user experienced will be down-ranked.
We will look at what Google is doing, why they are doing it, and how you can make the most of these changes.
What is the Google Page Experience Update?
Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing Search signals: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
This means that they are looking for how good the user experience is on your website based on the following criteria:
Avoiding intrusive interstitials
The Google Core Web Vitals (Largest Contentful Paint LCP, First Input Delay FID, Cumulative Layout Shift CLS).
This update is all about user-friendliness, usability, security, and, last but not least, performance.
Top tip: Fast pages that are easy to use - especially on mobile devices – will be ranked higher than those that are slow to load or not optimized for mobile devices.
Make sure your pages are ranked highly after the update
This update will have a significant impact on how web pages are ranked in Google. Websites that are already optimized will increase significantly in visibility and performance - so it's vital to act now.
Neil Patel, industry marketer and influencer, has put together a handy three-step plan to prepare for the Google Page Experience Update:
Optimise your speed and reduce 400 errors
Compare your experience to your competitors
Analyse your design
These are great starting points. Now let's take a closer look at the Page Experience ranking factors, so you can benefit from the upcoming update.
Core Web Vitals
The majority of changes being made by Google's Page Experience Update are the Core Web Vitals. Based on these measured values, Google determines precisely how the individual pages of a website or shop perform and evaluates them accordingly. Depending on the device type, pages can receive a search engine optimization (SEO) bonus for well-maintained SEO. They can also drop in the rankings if their SEO is sub-standard. Google wants to ensure that users are shown content quickly. They should not have to wait to interact with the page or jump around the display while the page is opening.
Top tip: Use the Google Core Web Vitals report to check the current status of your pages.
Mobile-friendliness has officially been a ranking factor since 2015 and is continually increasing in importance. Buttons that are too close together and navigation elements that are too small will have an even more negative impact on rankings following the update in June 2021. In March 2021, Google switched its index completely to mobile-first, meaning only page content that can be viewed on mobile devices will be considered.
Harmful content such as malware or fraudulent offers is recognized more precisely and lead to significant penalties. Reputable providers must ensure that Google does not falsely sanction them for misleading signals.
Pages that are not encrypted using SSL/TLS and are still transmitted via HTTP instead of the HTTPS protocol will be rated more critically than before by Google. The encrypted transmission must be enforced so that the Googlebot can no longer access content via an unsecured connection, although a valid SSL certificate is already available.
Avoiding intrusive interstitials
Google no longer wants to see disruptive interruptions (interstitials) in the user experience, such as advertising banners or newsletter registration forms placed above the content. Using these elements will mean rankings will suffer significantly after the Page Experience Update, so best to get them removed now.
Go the extra mile - accessibility and inclusion
Thankfully, inclusivity and accessibility are increasingly discussed as part of marketing and communication strategies. Although this isn't highlighted in reports on Google’s Page Experience Update, adopting inclusive practices for your content will boost your SEO ranking, and make for a better user experience. Google expects sites to conform to current accessibility best practices established under the WC3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (to be updated to 2.2 later in 2021).
"The primary purpose of ALT text is to describe images to visitors who are unable to see them. It’s important for screen reading software and those who prefer to block images on their browsers, but it also includes users who are sight-impaired or otherwise unable to visually identify an image. Including ALT text with your images ensures all users, regardless of visual ability, can access the content on your site."
Sue Brettel, digital entrepreneur, Page Experience, UX and Accessibility: Get Ready for Google’s 2021 Update, Medium.com.
It is more important than ever to make sure content is easily accessible to those wanting to access it, whether this means incorporating alt text for images, structuring content suitable for screen readers, or selecting colour combinations that make viewing more comfortable for those with a visual impairment.
For more information on this, you can read our blog post on Inclusion Strategy and access our Web Accessibility Checklist. As well as opening up your content to a broader audience, incorporating inclusion will improve your rankings - Google wants to see alt text for images and well-structured content with helpful subheadings. You can also check how accessible your current content is using the Wave Accessibility tool.
Google starts gradually rolling out the Page Experience Update in mid-June 2021. Explore the Google developer guide for more details on the Page Experience update.