Google Page Experience Algorithm

18 Jan 2021

It feels like Google like to implement new algorithm changes at the drop of a hat.

Google’s new algorithm is coming soon, it was put back a little in 2020 due to the pandemic, but it will hit sometime in 2021. What does this actually mean? The new page experience algorithm is Google’s attempt to improve the overall user experience for everyone. The new algorithm is a big shift from keywords, content and ranking pages by their relevance, but taking the feel and appearance of the website into consideration.

All in all, it makes sense that this change is incoming. How many websites do you visit that look absolutely terrible but for some odd reason, rank above you or seem to do really well? Don’t get us wrong, content and technical SEO will still have a place, but the new algorithm will help marry up the content with design.

What Is It?

From the horse’s mouth:

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimising these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces and helps sites evolve towards mobile user expectations. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.” – Google Developers.

What Does It Mean?

Well, to put it simply, Google wants websites that have good user experience to be at the top of the searches. You’ll know some of the sites that fall foul of this in your industry, websites that for some crazy reason rank higher than you, but are just terrible to use. Well, Google wants to rectify this. They only want the best at the top, from a content point of view, and a usability standpoint. Take the below example, because of the horrible little pop-up the user accidentally submits their order; it’s not their fault; it is the websites fault. The way it has been built doesn’t take the user journey into the situation; it does as it’s told and pops the pop-up right in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now we know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t seem much, but it doesn’t really end there. Google will be taking your whole website into play when it ranks for user experience. How it works on mobile, tablets and different screen sizes – if a user hits your site on mobile are they getting a worse experience than on a desktop? These things all come into play when evaluating user experience.

Core Web Vitals

At Hush, we’ve been banging the drum on HTTPS, mobile-first and safe browsing for years. With the introduction of the page experience algorithm, Google will add to its “Core Web Vitals”. Things like loading, interactivity, visual stability will all directly affect the search signals for page experience.

Google is rolling out changes to Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights to help us all better understand elements that need work. Google Search Console also provides a dedicated report to help you understand opportunities for improvement.

Loading: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)

LCP might sound like Google has strung three random words together, but it is actually the score of how quickly the largest element on your page takes to load. This could be an image or a video. It really matters when loading your content that your website loads it quickly. Now you might think that your current website is super-fast as it loads everything every time without fail for you. However, it would help if you considered that your users might not have the internet speed you do or might be viewing your website via their mobile data. Google’s benchmark for a good LCP timer is under 2.5 seconds, and if your website loads large content slower than 4 seconds, you will definitely “need improvement” in this area.

Interactivity: FID (First Input Delay)

Another Google benchmark that you need to pay attention to. FID measures the delay when a user interacts with an element on your website and the browser responding to the action. Google want links to respond in an instant both as normal text links and on buttons. We’ve all been there, pressing buttons that don’t respond over and over again until something happens. Well, now Google wants to make sure that you’re taking it seriously and make sure your websites have a score on under 100ms (good). If you find yourself with a score above 300 ms is poor, so you’ll really need to work out some of the issues on FID as a matter of urgency.

Visual Stability: CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)

As mentioned above with the video example, Google now wants layouts of websites to aid users and their journey. Layout shifts can be detrimental to your site. Users can click things they didn’t mean to by accident, which isn’t actually their fault. Who wants to visit a website where you have to “jiggle” things around to do simple browsing and tasks? Google says that a CLS score of 0.1 is good, while anything about 0.25 is poor.

Pop-Ups

Something that a lot of us will agree on is intrusive pop-ups on websites. We’re not talking about the helpful ones with important company updates. We are talking about ones that pop-up all over the place with discount offers and advertisements. These pop-ups distract from the user experience, and as such, Google is clamping down on sites with more pop-ups than a dodgy e-Bay knock off.

Mobile Experience

Can you believe that it is nearly 6 years since Google started penalising websites for not optimising for mobile? Over the last 6 years, designers have scrambled to develop their websites mobile-first, prioritising smartphone and tablets. Google want users to have a good experience on whatever device they are browsing on.

HTTPS

Having a secure site in 2021 is not only important to you, but it is also essential to Google. Now it the time to make sure you have an SSL, especially if you buy online or fear the consequences.

When Will This Happen?

As with many Google updates, we don’t get a specific time and date when Google will roll this out. Due to the pandemic, things are taking a little longer, and while there isn’t a specific date, rankings will start to be effected in 2021.

How Big Is This Update?

Again, we don’t actually know. Google stated that as they are continuing to work and identifying measurements, they are looking to incorporate signals every year. Google has confirmed that quality content will always help websites rank highly. Take into the fact that the BERT update affected 1 in 10 searches; this new update could hit many more sites.

What You Can Do

The current guidance is to start working to improve your website now and not wait for things to all of a sudden drop off a cliff. You should keep in mind that while you are looking to improve your website for this update, you should always be looking at ways to improve your website for users regardless.

Optimise Page Speed

Hit up Google PageSpeed Insights to check out your current score for mobile and desktop. This will give you scores for FCP, LCP, FID, CLS and give you an overall score for your website.

If your website isn’t amazing there are a few things you can do to improve:

  1. Optimise your images – JPEG for photos and PNG for graphics
  2. Utilise content distribution networks to load elements of your website independently, reducing server lag
  3. Make sure you leverage your browser caching so data-heavy content loads quickly for returning visitors.
  4. Minify CSS, HTML and Javascript by optimising your code
  5. Enable compression to reduce the size of the above
  6. If you have access to your server, look to improve the server response time by reducing bottlenecks.

Responsive Design & Mobile Friendly

We’ve been banging the drum for responsive design and mobile-friendly responsive designs for years now, and you’ll find pretty much every modern Hush design to feature this functionality. You should make sure that:

  1. Your type is readable on mobile devices and desktops.
  2. Your images and videos are responsive.
  3. Your layout has all media queries added.
  4. You’ve added HTML document meta tags.

Utilise Clear Headings

Google has been using the heading tag system since forever and uses it to determine what content is headings from H1 to H6. H1 is the heading of your page and so on. These headings are critical as they not only tell users about the content on the page, but they also help the page from an SEO point of view. It would help if you worked through your pages to make sure they have a good heading system from H1 downwards.

Fix Dead Pages

The last thing you want is someone clicking an old link or finding your site via a search which leads to a dead page, i.e. a 404. Like you, Google doesn’t like these errors.

Search Console is great to find any dead pages you might have. You can then grab a list and fix the errors one at a time.

What Can Hush Do?

Basically, its depends how old your website is.

If your website is pretty new, slick and up-to-date, not much will need to be rectified. We can give it a quick audit and there might be some page loading and speed things to look at, but nothing major!

However, if your website is 3-5 years old, you’re likely to need some development work to get your website up to scratch as well as a front-end refresh.

If your website is older than 5 years, it would be a great time to look at a new one with a brand new design and more up to date Content Management System, as well as incorporating any new features and functionality you may require.

If you would like to talk to a team member about your site, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can talk through your options in detail, via Google Meet, to give you peace of mind that your site will meet the new algorithm’s needs with time to spare!

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