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Written by Finn Ruijter, 21 April 2021

Google Page Experience update: what can we expect?

Google is the most widely used search engine in the world. On desktop, some 89% of Internet users search with Google. On mobile, it is as high as 98%. If you have a website, then it stands to reason that you want to rank well in Google.

That ranking is a separate business: search engine optimization (SEO), or search engine optimization, is a serious profession and there are even entire agencies for it. Also at 2manydots, we have professionals dedicated almost entirely to SEO. One reason for this is the fact that Google is always adjusting its search algorithm.

Such a Google update always puts SEO professionals and website owners in an uproar. Suddenly old gimmicks no longer work. Even if you scored high rankings without tricks, that old way of doing things can suddenly be penalized. All in the name of a better search experience for Internet users.

What is Page Experience?

The latest Google update is not sowing panic just yet, but it brings plenty of work for Web builders and SEO specialists. This adjustment to the algorithm will be rolled out between June and August 2021 and focuses on the so-called page experience. That’s why we call this a Page Experience update.

Page Experience could be thought of as a score for the usability of Web pages. As a website owner, you don’t get to see that score, but you do know what factors Google looks at when evaluating it. What this update means for you and what action you should take, you can read in this blog post.

What does the Google Page Experience update entail?

With the Google Page Experience update, Google wants to give you, the user, the most positive experience possible. This update means that Google will now look at the user experience of a page. Pages with excellent user experience are in some cases given higher rankings or highlighted in search results. Currently, Google is testing different ways it alerts users to a pleasant user experience.

Note that in an article about the Google Page Experience update, we cannot escape technical terms. We do our best, as always, to keep the threshold as low as possible. If you have questions or need clarification, feel free to contact a web builder. (Coincidentally, we are one such party.)

What factors will Google look at?

To rank websites, Google uses hundreds of factors. Many of these are anyone’s guess, but we already knew that Google demands load speed, mobile-friendliness and installed SSL certificates, among other things. Also, at least some of the content had to be visible above the fold, and not hidden behind a pop-up, for example.

Joining them now are Core Web Vitals. And this collection of ranking factors together is what Google calls page experience signals. Specifically, the Page Experience update involves this series of “signals.

Core Web Vitals

The so-called Core Web Vitals are part of a larger set of Web Vitals. These are technical performances that affect the user experience. Core Web Vitals initially consists of three components:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): how long it takes to load the first truly useful content. Google gives a threshold of 2.5 seconds for this. Until that time period, your web page scores just fine. If it takes longer than 4 seconds, then you are in the danger zone.
  2. First Input Delay (FID): how long it takes the browser to respond to an action a visitor takes, such as clicking a link or button. Here you should aim for a response time of less than 100 ms. If the FID on a page is above 300 ms, Google will penalize it.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): shifts in the content on your page that make an action more difficult or can lead to an undesired result. In online magazines and newspapers, you often see that ads or sliders need to be loaded. As a result, the response button moves further and further down. For this, Google has values at up to 0.1 (good) and 0.25 (moderate). Exactly how Google makes these classification shifts measurable is a technical story.

Mobile-friendly

A Web page is mobile-friendly if the text is easy to read and links are not too close together. If you use WordPress, a responsive theme is a must: it adapts all elements on a page to the size of the screen.

Safe browsing

Google, of course, also looks at the security of a Web page. If malware is detected, there are misleading pages or automatic downloads, the page falls through. For an honest organization like yours, this ranking factor does not matter.

SSL certificate

It has been known for several years, and with this Page Experience update, Google is hammering it again: websites must be SSL certified. This allows pages to load over a secure HTTPS connection.

Pop-ups

Actually, Google is talking about an entire category here: that of interstitials. We don’t have a good word for this in Dutch, but it involves banners and pop-ups that sit between the Google listing (the search result) and the actual content. In other words, something that requires you to click away or forces you to scroll before you get to the information you are looking for.

This appears to be a problem especially on smartphones. A pop-up soon “takes hostage” the entire screen space, and ads for app downloads sometimes cover the content. Irritating to visitors, so as far as we’re concerned, fine with Google giving minus points for this.

What actions you can take

To improve the page experience on your website, you will first need to measure it. For that, you use Google Search Console. You probably configured those before. By clicking on “Site Vitality” or “Core Web Vitals” on the left side, you can see how your site is doing, for both mobile and desktop users.

You can see how many pages have a good score (highlighted in green) and in which areas pages need improvement (highlighted in orange). If there are items colored red, they deserve immediate attention.

To see what can be improved on a specific page, have that URL analyzed in Google PageSpeed Insights. It is wise to make improvements first of all for the mobile display. After all, those have the biggest impact on your visitors’ page experience. In doing so, prioritize pages where a lot of traffic is currently coming in; you check that in Google Analytics.

Call for technical assistance

These are mostly technical changes. For example, you can apply lazy loading, which means images don’t load until the user scrolls to them. You may also need to change things at the server level: enable caching or upgrade to a VPS.

Do you want to continue to be found as well as possible, but does that involve technical adjustments? Preferably leave those to the professionals so you can be sure it is done properly. The WordPress specialists at 2manydots can make lasting changes that will maintain or even improve your site’s Google rankings.

How important is the Google Page Experience update?

Google admits that its priority remains to provide the best information to its visitors. “A great user experience does not suddenly become more important than good information. But in cases where there are many pages with similar relevance, the page experience can be the deciding factor and provide a higher ranking.”

In conclusion, it is good to take a moment to pay attention to this. In any case, do the tests in the aforementioned tools so that you can get an idea of your user experience. Then you can decide if you want to take action.

Engage WordPress specialists

You can easily avoid many of the above if you know what you are doing. Of course, you can also outsource this to WordPress experts like those at 2manydots. Together, we keep uninvited guests out.