Google brings page experience to search
If you’ve been keeping abreast of updates in the SEO industry over the last few months, you’ll have seen Google’s announcement regarding an upcoming ranking signal change. This ranking signal change was centred around page experience.
According to Google, “The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page”.
The introduction of the page experience signal shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to marketers – Google have always been very open about their ambitions to build a better web, and user experience on sites is a huge part of that.
How is page experience measured?
Whilst there are a number of ways to measure user experience and engagement on a specific page, Google’s page experience signal measures pages against the following criteria:
- Core Web Vitals
- Mobile friendliness
- Safe browsing
- Security (HTTPS)
Before we go any further, let’s break each of those factors down.
Core web vitals
Google’s core web vitals were introduced in May 2020 and include three main factors that the search giants believe are conducive to a positive experience on the web. These are:
- Largest contentful paint – this measures the time it takes for the largest piece of text or imagery of a page to be visible. To be classed as ‘Good’, sites must deliver this content in 2.5 seconds or under. Anything more than 4 seconds, and they’ll be classed as ‘Poor’
- First input delay – this measures the time it takes for a browser to begin processing an interaction (e.g. a click or a tap) after a user initiates it. To be classed as ‘good’, sites must keep this under 100ms. Anything over 300ms is classed as ‘poor’
- Cumulative layout shift – this measures the amount that visible elements of a page shift around as it renders. To be classed as ‘good’, sites must achieve 0.1 or under. Scoring over 0.25 will mean your site is classed as ‘poor’.
These three metrics are all available in Pagespeed Insights, so you can see how your site measures up against them. Chris Johnson of defaced.dev has also developed a couple of handy tools to help measure this:
Core SERP Vitals – This is a chrome extension that gives you web vital scores for pages in search results
Layout shift generator – This allows you to input a URL of a webpage, and actually see the way that it moves around as it loads, as well as the CLS score
This element is self explanatory. It measures how mobile friendly your website is. To test this, you can use the mobile friendly test in Google Search Console.
This might seem like a slightly more ambiguous metric, but it essentially refers to ensuring that your site is not infected with malware or phishing content.
HTTPs has been used in ranking for a little while now, so we should all be familiar with it. User trust is extremely important across the web, so all sites should have an SSL certificate. This ensures that users can move through a site safely and securely. If your site is missing an SSL certificate, then it’s definitely time to invest in one.
No intrusive interstitials
Again, this one is self explanatory. Intrusive interstitials tend to be pop ups or banners that cover page content and impair user journeys/experience. A penalty for using intrusive interstitials on mobile devices was introduced by Google in 2017. As this is directly related to user experience, it’s no surprise that it has been included in the page experience ranking signal.
Having all of the above elements pulled together into one ranking signal is a huge step forward for user experience in search. How much of a weighting this will be given, though, is still up for debate.
Bringing page experience to search
The initial announcement for the page experience signal came in May 2020. In the following months, Google have reported a 70% uplift in the amount of users engaging with Lighthouse and Pagespeed Insights, as well as many site owners engaging more with the Core Web Vitals report available in Google Search Console.
This month, Google have announced further plans for the page experience ranking signal. In May 2021, 12 months after the original announcement, the signal will be rolled out. At the same time, Google will also be rolling out the change to the Mobile Top Stories feature in search – any non-AMP page that meets the Google News content policies will also be eligible to appear in top stories.
In addition to the ranking signal, Google will also roll out visual indicators that highlights pages in search results that have a great page experience.
How does this change affect site owners?
From an SEO perspective, the impact of this change is twofold:
- Pages that fail the page experience criteria may experience a dip in organic search visibility
- Pages that fail the page experience criteria will be marked as such in search results, which could impact click through rate
The above two factors could both harm organic traffic in isolation. But together they could cause a large impact depending on the weighting of this signal in Google’s algorithms.
What you can do to prepare for the page experience signal roll out
As of November, site owners have 6 months to bring their sites up to speed in terms of the factors contained within the page experience signal. Here are our tips:
- Measure your site against the core web vitals, and task your development team with fixing any errors
- Make sure that your site has an SSL, and that it is set up correctly
- Test your site with the mobile friendliness tool and task your development team with fixing any errors on mobile devices
- Review the security measures on your site to protect against malware and hacking
- Analyse all of the interstitials that you use on your site (if applicable) – are they present on mobile devices? Do they obstruct content on the page? Can users access the information that they need to without dismissing the interstitial?
Whenever Google makes a big change to search (such as the mobile first index), they always ensure to give people a large amount of notice. The fact that we’re being given 6 months notice with regard to the roll out date suggests that this will be one of those big changes. Protect your organic performance by using the next 6 months to bring your site in line.