Thursday 18th of June 2020
Google tends to be very vague, and brief about its updates (as demonstrated by the rather short and sweet Tweet below), therefore leaving everybody trying to figure out what has been affected and what action to take from there.
However, Google recently announced plans to roll out a page experience update “for a better web”. Nothing special so far... but the tech giant also released an explanatory article on its webmaster blog, giving more details about this particular update, which will only be effective in 2021.
Rest assured though, that if they are giving people both extra detail and advance notice, it is because they do expect it to impact the way they rank websites in the future, and want to give businesses and website owners chance to prepare.
At Finesse Digital, we were wondering what’s so special about this particular update that Google would take the time to explain it in detail? We decided to investigate and, for you, we’ve compiled a short summary of the forthcoming changes.
If having read the article, you want more information or to discuss what this update may specifically mean for your own website and business, we'll be available to talk.
In the meantime, read on...
Page experience and ranking signals
This first and main part of the update is an improvement to the way Google analyses user experience on web pages. To understand this, we need to define what the Core Web Vitals are. The latter represent the main set of metrics that are used by Google to assess user experience on the web, called the Web Vitals. These metrics provide guidance for website owners and website developers and aim at quantifying the different aspects of user experience.
A ranking signal, also known as ranking factor is a characteristic that helps search engines to rank websites. These signals help the search engine to show relevant results. There are multiple types of signals such as, content, links, and user experience, which is the one this update is focusing on. Nobody knows how many signals Google uses, and some argue that even the tech giant doesn’t know the exact number, but it claims that it is using over 200 search signals to rank websites.
To go back to the Core Web Vitals, Google states that “the current set for 2020 focuses on three aspects of the user experience - loading, interactivity, and visual stability”.
Put simply, the ranking signals from Core Web Vitals will be added to the existing ranking signals for page experience, which are mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines (as shown on the figure below). The idea is to give Google a better representation of what a good page experience looks like, inviting at the same time website owners to build better, user-friendly websites.
Let’s take a closer look at the Core Web Vitals. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), also called Loading, refers to the loading performance of the content, Google states that it should occur “within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading”. First Input Delay (FID), or Interactivity, represents the usability of the page, it measures the time it takes to the browser to respond to a user’s first interaction with the page (like clicking on a button). Google deems Interactivity as good when the FID is inferior to 100 milliseconds. Finally, Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures Visual Stability, it looks at how much and how far the content on page shifts in the viewport. The CLS needs to be under 0.1 (no dimension) to be considered as good.
Google provides various tools to help measure page performance such as Lighthouse and PageSpeed. The tech giant itself admits that it can be quite challenging to keep up with the large and ever-changing number of tools and metrics. However, there are ways to keep track of the various updates, you can for example follow Google Webmaster and Google SearchLiaison on Twitter, or keep an eye on Google’s official blog and Google Webmaster Central Blog. Staying informed becomes especially more important given that Google is planning to add more page experience signals to the existing set of ranking signals for user experience, so keep an eye out!
Page experience and search ranking
The second part of the update is just a follow up from the previous one. Page experience will become more important if you want to rank higher in the search results. We can’t know for sure to which degree this update will affect the rankings but we know for sure that it will significantly affect the rankings. The tech giant has even given a clear warning to those who don’t optimize user experience, “in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search”.
User experience and mobile Top Stories
This last part of the page experience update is maybe the most surprising. Until now, websites had to meet the required AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) criteria to be featured in the mobile Top Stories results. In short, AMP is an open-source HTML framework that provides a faster load time and that is built to provide a great user-experience on mobile.
After the update, this type of framework won’t be necessary anymore to feature in the mobile Top Stories. It sounds like the level of user experience required will suddenly drop, allowing any website to rank in the Top Stories. However, Google page experience will become a ranking factor in Top Stories on mobile and desktop, which means that websites will still have to provide a good page experience if they want to be featured.
Although Google states that there is no need to do anything right now, being proactive is the best way to keep on top of the search rankings. Google also announced in the same blog post that there will be more page experience updates to come. So, what does it mean for your website? Well, there is nothing to be worried about as long as you make sure that it is user-friendly and provides a great user experience.
If you would like to improve or assess your page experience, our team of SEO and web development experts is here to assist you. Let’s talk!