Does your homepage load in 2.5 seconds or less?
If it doesn’t, your website might have been affected by the google algorithm update this summer.
Google’s “Core Web Vitals” and “Page Experience” updates are all about user experience.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Understanding the New Google Algorithm Update
Google updates its algorithm frequently. For perspective, think of the algorithm like any phone app you use frequently. Most apps require updates almost monthly. But, most of the time, a user can’t tell the difference between the app interface before or after the update because they’re usually designed to fix small bugs or make minor changes that improve the app’s performance.
Google also updates its algorithm often with the subtly of a routine app update. But, occasionally, Google will make an update that changes its core functioning.
Thinking of the app analogy, although most app updates go noticed. Sometimes there are big ones that you’ll get an email or read a headline about. These types of updates significantly change the user experience and functioning of the app.
Likewise, Google’s “core algorithm” updates can be thought of in the same way. These updates change the way Google’s algorithm ranks in a way that will be significant enough for users to notice. These usually come with a public statement or warning from Google.
This summer, Google publically acknowledged the “Core Web Vitals” and “Page Experience” updates. This update changed Google’s core algorithm and will be one of the biggest SEO trends of 2021. It presented new ranking signals that focus on user experience.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Google’s “Core Web Vitals” update presented three new metrics that measure and rank websites. These additions to the Google algorithm focus on user experience.
Think of “Core Web Vitals” like a category of search signals Google’s algorithm uses to comprehend user experience. Within this new category, there are three new core search signals. These three signals include:
- Loading, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- Interactivity, First Input Delay (FID)
- Visual Stability, Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
LCP, FID, and CLS are focused on measuring user experience. They look for measurables like loading time, interactivity, and visual stability. So, the faster, more responsive, and intuitively designed a website is, the higher its Core Web Vitals score will be.
To break it down a bit, LCP evaluates how a user perceives page loading time. Specifically, it calculates the amount of time it takes for the largest piece of visual content to fully load on the page.
Next, the FID signal measures page responsiveness. So, the amount of time it takes from when you click something for a web page to take you to that information. The longer it takes for a user to navigate a website, the lower the FID score.
Last, the CLS measures visual page stability. Websites that shift when they’re not supposed to or don’t shift seamlessly when a user commands it will have a lower CLS score.
What Is Page Experience
Core Web Vitals are a packaged ranking metric under the Page Experience umbrella. The Core Web Vitals update focused on the Core Web Vitals mentioned above. The Page Experience Update focused on additional metrics that work alongside Core Web Vital metrics to affect Page Experience. There are four key metrics affected by the Page Experience update.
- Non-intrusive pop-ups
- Google safe browsing
Google prioritizes mobile-friendliness when it ranks a website. If you want more organic traffic, start by checking how to make a mobile-friendly website. The Page Experience update expanded the impact of mobile-friendliness in rankings.
Using HTTPS has been a small ranking signal since 2014. The Page Experience update emphasized the need for secure communication between browsers and servers. This means that the data that’s being exchanged is encrypted, which helps protect against cyber attacks.
In another effort to serve safe websites to users, Google favors websites that have certified their website’s identity to browsers, specifically to Chrome. This security certificate is called HTTPS. When a website is not secure, a warning is displayed in the browser’s URL box that tells the user the website is “Not Secure or Dangerous.”
Intrusive interstitials, a.k.a. pop-ups, have been negatively affecting page rank since 2017. But, the Page Experience update further defined what makes a pop-up acceptable versus unacceptable.
Google launched safe browsing in 2007. In June 2021, Safe Browsing affected Page Experience with websites with malware or malicious scripting and phishing threats/vulnerabilities for users to be targeted by bad actors. But, as of August 2021, Safe Browsing is no longer a page experience ranking signal.
How Does Page Experience Impact SEO
Core Web Vitals are important not only because they’re likely to be a light ranking factor but because they provide a hard measurement scale for user experience. Additionally, when you improve your site’s usability, typically, KPIs like bounce and conversion rates improve.
Improving your page speed also affects search engine results pages (SEPRs). So, ultimately giving your Core Web Vitals will have a holistic effect on your site’s rank.
It’s worth mentioning that a quality content strategy shouldn’t be abandoned for the sake of improving your Core Web Vitals score. These new measurements are intended to further enhance website quality alongside other ranking factors like mobile friendliness and content.
Google has some interesting statistics about how page experience and conversion rates are directly related. For example, their research says that pages that load in 2.4 seconds have an average 1.9% conversion rate. But, web pages that take 4 seconds to load have a conversion rate of 1% or less.
According to Google, page load times also have a “severe effect” on bounce rates. For example, bounce rates increase by 32% between pages that take 3 seconds to load versus 1 second. For pages that take 6 seconds to load, bounce rates increase 106% compared to pages that take 1 second to load.
Another compelling statistic from Google is the correlation between first contentful paint and revenue. Google’s research indicates that websites with fast rendering times for mobile users generate 75% more revenue than websites with average speed. Then, websites with fast rendering times for desktop users generate 212% more revenue than websites with average speed.
Analyzing Page Experience Reports
Some many tools and resources can be used to track page experience metrics. Most page experience metrics can be accessed from the Google Search Console. Tracking metrics in the Page Experience report haven’t changed.
But, there’s a new reporting tool for the new Core Web Vitals metrics. Core Web Vitals reports are straightforward and easy to understand. They also create a clear system for you to measure the success (or failure) of website updates.
Core Web Vitals Reports
So, how can you get your Core Web Vitals scores? There are many tools and services out there that can track these metrics for you. But, these metrics can also be tracked in the Google Search Console.
Specifically, you can use the Core Web Vitals and Page Experience reports or Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. You can also use Google Lighthouse to troubleshoot Core Web Vitals troubleshoot fixes.
Here are the scores your website needs to pass a Core Web Vitals test:
- Largest Contentful Paint must be under 2.5 seconds
- First Input Delay must be under 100 milliseconds
- Cumulative Layout Shift must be under 0.1
With metrics that are in the “green,” all you need to do is make monitoring this metric part of your reporting process. But, action will need to be taken on websites scoring in the “orange” or “red” category.
So, locate the problem areas in the metrics that are scoring poorly; simply open your report and identify the URLs that need to be fixed. In the Core Web Vitals report, URLs are labeled as “poor,” “needs improvement,” and “good.”
From there, fixes should be pretty straightforward. For example, if a URL has a “poor” Largest Contentful Paint score. Excessively large photos, animations, or long videos could be to blame.
After changes have been made, you can “validate these fixes” in the report. Doing this initiates a 28-day “monitoring session” that will tell you if the changes you made “passed” or “failed.” So, if the changes you made didn’t get to the root problems you’re having, you can attempt another change 28 days later.
Page Experience Reports
A Core Web Vitals report is a piece of the Page Experience report. Once you’ve completed a Core Web Vitals Report, you’ll want to analyze mobile-friendliness, HTTPS security, and if your site contains any intrusive interstitials.
You can check to see if your website is mobile-friendly with this simple mobile website test. Checking the security of a webpage is easy too. Simply open a page in Chrome, and look at the security status symbol to the left of the web address.
A lock symbol means your site is secure. An exclamation point in an empty circle means that the information on your website is not secure. A white exclamation point in a red triangle means your website is not secure and is potentially dangerous.
Deciding if a pop-up is intrusive is pretty straightforward. Does it affect how accessible your website is to a user? If you need further clarification, Google defines “bad” pop-ups as:
- Covering the primary content instantly after the user enters a webpage from the search results or trying to view content.
- A pop-up that a user must click on and close before being able to access website content
- Above-the-fold pop-ups (like standalone) that are on top of original content.
How To Improve Page Experience
So how can you improve? Recall the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when you’re strategizing how to improve your page experience. Below are some core philosophies to prioritize when trying to improve a website’s page experience.
Prioritize Fast and Responsive Pages
If your website has pages that take more than 1 or 2 seconds to load, you don’t need a report to tell you that you need to improve page speed. You should prioritize fixing this first because website problems like these affect website revenue in addition to SEO.
Create Visual Stability
Visual stability refers to the responsiveness of your website. The easier and more seamless a user can click through your website, the better your visual stability. Ask yourself if your website is functional and easy to understand.
Consider Visitor Experience
How easy is it for a visitor to find the information they’re visiting your website to find? Use this perspective to guide you in assessing how good or poor your visitor experience is. Pop-ups, autoplay videos, and music are some of the annoying website addons that will decrease your visitor experience.
If you try to access your website from a smartphone, what does it look like? Is the content readable and scrollable? Tools like Google’s Micro-Moments can help.
You Still Need High-Quality Content
Sometimes when we focus on one area of improvement, we can forget about the others. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice the quality of your website’s content for the sake of trying to improve Page Experience. If you feel like you’re in a position where you have to choose, you’re likely not solving your problem in the most effective way.
If original photos, videos, and photos are slowing your site down, you don’t necessarily have to delete them. You can replace them with more condensed versions and place them more strategically on your website. There are many new content trends for 2021 that can help you brainstorm how to organize your website.
Ranking Factors Aren’t Like They Used to Be
It can be difficult for some people to comprehend just how quickly Google’s algorithm evolves. “Optimizing” a website used to be something any semi-intelligent person could figure out. But, search engine ranking has become increasingly technical and complex.
Trying to digest this Google algorithm update may feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone. Comprehending and taking action to improve search engine performance requires a specialist. If you need help improving your website’s ranking, let’s chat!