In November 2020, Google announced its latest update to the ranking systems we all use daily. Google’s Page Experience Update rolled out in August 2021 in full effect and introduced a couple of new signals for the search engine to interpret. Every time new algorithm updates roll out, site owners and SEO specialists dread having to reinvent their strategies.
Well, the anticipated (or dreaded) page experience update has come and gone. Did it do wonders for your traffic and SEO, or have your worst nightmares become real? Or, perhaps you are just hearing about the big update now while reading this post? As the dust has settled, we’re going to do a deep dive into this critical update since you can benefit significantly by paying attention to it.
Find out all you need to know about the Google Page Experience Update and how to optimize your website for the latest changes to ensure your SEO value remains strong.
User experience has indirectly affected page rank for some time. However, with this update, Google started using a new page experience signal as a direct ranking factor. The Page Experience Update introduced page experience score – a measure of how optimal your users’ browsing experience is.
It’s not an unheard-of change. In 2014, Google made it abundantly clear that user experience matters by emphasizing the importance of mobile usability and the HTTPS protocol.
This time around, they simply combined all the relevant user experience metrics into a single page experience score. To earn a “good” page experience score, you now need to stay on top of the following signals:
According to Google, the goal of the page experience update is to improve the overall web-browsing experience, both on mobile and desktop. With user experience as a direct ranking factor, pages that are more user-friendly and straightforward will be pushed higher on Google’s search engine results page (SERP).
To understand how this new set of signals will impact search ranking, let’s turn our heads straight to the source. According to Google: “Page experience is a set of Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value, both on mobile and desktop devices.”
Here’s an overview of what these signals mean and how they can affect your website.
Core Web Vitals are performance metrics designed to measure how user-friendly a page is. They’re already a metric that many SEO experts get behind, so keeping track of Core Web Vitals is probably already on your to-do list. It’s just that you’ll have to pay even more attention to this signal now because, according to Google, core web vitals are more than just tie-breakers.
On top of that, there should be no mobile usability issues of any kind. After all, the Page Experience Update was initially aimed at mobile specifically, even though Google is now rolling out the desktop version of the page experience update. So, a seamless mobile experience is a must. Poor user experiences surely won’t give you a rankings boost, especially after this update.
This metric is used for checking your page for malware and other malicious or deceptive content. Essentially, this metric measures whether your page is safe for the user and whether visiting your website might put their personal information at risk.
Since security and privacy are the pillars of page experience, solving all safety issues is paramount to getting a good score. It goes without saying that you must have an HTTPS protocol if you don’t already. This is another measure of how safe a page is for the user by ensuring a secure HTTPS connection.
As for the ads, due to the Page Experience Update, Google now looks at how websites are displaying interstitials. Intrusive interstitials that cover some of the web page’s content and reduce content accessibility are now bound to harm your page experience score.
Though these are the only user experience signals in power right now, Google has stated that it plans to update these elements annually. The goal is to expand the aspects of page experience that affect ranking and account for the ever-changing user expectations. So, we’ll make sure to keep an eye on any new annunciations and updates.
Google’s Page Experience Update is now fully rolled out to desktop search results, as well. Google’s page experience update for desktop search includes many of the same ranking factors as the update that launched for the mobile search algorithm last year, except for the mobile-friendliness requirement, obviously.
Based on the experiences with the rollout of page experience as a ranking factor for mobile SERPs, there is no reason to be too concerned about the rollout for desktop. The page experience and Core Web Vitals is a soft ranking factor that can result in a ranking boost, provided other factors, especially content relevance, remain unchanged.
If your website fails to meet any of the criteria we listed above, you will simply not benefit from the page experience ranking boost on desktop.
Since Google first introduced AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages, it’s caused nothing but trouble for Google and site owners alike. Website owners who wanted to make it onto the Top Stories carousel or Google News had to sign up for the AMP format. There was no getting around it — you had to use Google’s technology if you wanted to succeed. For Google, it meant antitrust scrutiny as AMP was more than unfair and allowed Google to wedge itself between the user and the websites they were visiting.
That said, it should come as no surprise that Google decided to get rid of AMP with the latest Page Experience Update. Thus, AMP is no longer a requirement for websites that want to make it to the Top Stories carousel or for content to appear on Google News. To top it all off, Google is also removing the AMP badge icon from search results.
Top Stories and Google News are now a more even playing field with the removal of AMP. Speed and load time are still the dominant factors here. However — the faster your website loads, the higher the likelihood of ranking better. Not only that, but Core Web Vitals and the overall page experience score won’t factor into the Top Stories requirements.
You can still use the AMP framework if you rely on it for delivering fast-loading pages. However, you don’t have to anymore, which is a significant step up from how it was. It’s never been the only way to get fast loading speed; only now you have a choice in how you want to do it and still make it onto the Top Stories.
You probably deduced some potential pain points you have to solve to get on Google’s good side with the Page Experience Update now all rolled out. It’s not surprising if you feel like there’s nothing to worry about, especially if you’ve paid attention to user experience in the past. In that case, you might spend your time getting rid of AMP and replacing it with an even more efficient means of deploying fast-loading pages.
For those who’ve paid no heed to UX and let disrupting interstitials run rampant, it’s high time for some changes. Better late than never, right? Here’s how to best optimize your website for the latest Page Experience Update:
In Google’s own words, you need to make sure that you’re not using interstitials in a way that makes content less accessible and makes for a bad user experience. If you have large banner ads blocking important content on your website, your page experience score will suffer.
Optimizing interstitials so that they don’t interrupt the normal flow of the page by blocking off pieces of content is the first step to a good score. Accessibility is yet another pillar of page experience, so you don’t want to have ads ruining that.
Make sure your pages don’t contain pop-ups or other advertisements that obscure content on the page or make reading or navigating difficult for the user. The exceptions are login pages or legally required interstitials, such as an age-verification pop-up, as they will not count against your site.
However, don’t just fix the desktop version without heading over to mobile or vice versa. Your website will be far better off if all of your content is clearly visible on both desktop and mobile versions.
Some of the tools you might already be using, such as the Google Search Console, now have a Core Web Vitals report alongside all the other features. If you don’t do so already, it’s high time you started keeping track of the Core Web Vitals. Google Core Web Vitals are kind of the backbone of the Page Experience update. If you can master them, you will have the edge over your competition in the digital landscape.
Generally, the solution to any poor Core Web Vital scores should be optimization. Wondering how your site stacks up? You can use the experience report to determine which pages are underperforming and then use a tool such as PageSpeed Insights to get to the bottom of the issue and improve your site score.
Improving Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) signals ensures you keep up with the changes.
Besides making sure that the ads are displaying properly and not obscuring any content on mobile, you also have to check the page’s load speed and the layout of the page.
The mobile version of a website should check all the boxes as a desktop one should — it needs to be fast, accessible, and offer a seamless experience that both desktop and mobile users are after. If you’re using a WordPress template, make sure you’re getting one that’s optimized for mobile.
You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to determine whether your website is responsive and adjust it to meet user expectations on mobile.
Check if your site’s connection is secure. Secure your website with HTTPS and audit your website for security flaws. Google doesn’t want to suggest websites that are unsafe in any way. An SSL certificate (the “s” in your https://) is now essential to rank on Google.
Implement secure payment gateways, fix broken pages, and ensure that your website loads fast enough. It also plays a role in keeping your users safe. Improving a website’s page speed score will also positively affect Core Web Vitals as they share the same goal of optimizing user experience.
You can find your page experience score in the Google Search Console. That should be your primary source of information for everything page experience-related. You can use it to determine which pages need to be further optimized to satisfy Google’s page experience criteria and boost your ranking.
Google’s updates to the ranking systems often wreak havoc on unsuspecting websites and cause spikes in websites’ rankings. According to Google, that shouldn’t be the case this time around for several reasons.
First off, the Page Experience Update didn’t “hit the shelves” all at once. The gradual rollout process stretching from mid-June to the end of August of 2021 should’ve been enough time for site owners and SEO teams to adjust to the new reality and prepare for the upcoming changes. In most cases, gradually rolling out updates mitigates spikes that often follow changes to the ranking systems.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Google doesn’t consider the Page Experience Update a major one. They refer to the page experience score as a lightweight ranking signal or a tiebreaker. In other words, if there are two websites of similar quality, then the page experience score might give a bump in rankings to the site that offers a better page experience.
It’s important to note that page experience isn’t everything. While page experience is important, Google still seeks to rank pages with the best information. The Page Experience Update didn’t skyrocket underperforming websites or break sites that were already doing well. Having a good page experience score from now on might just give you the edge you need to overtake similarly ranking competitors. Having high-quality and relevant content is still imperative.
You could argue that Google often downplays the effect their updates have on search engine rankings. In this case, they might just be right. Since the Page Experience Update’s core tenets align with good and well-established Search Engine Optimization practices, it shouldn’t have been a significant issue for the SEO-minded. SEO best practices still do the trick.
The 2021 Google Page Experience Update has highlighted the need to focus on your users more than ever. After all, it’s a user’s world. The key to improving your Google ranking, ultimately, continues to be creating high-quality content and optimizing your pages to provide a good user experience.
Keeping your loading times low and accessibility high is only the first step to getting a good page experience score. Protecting your users’ privacy and guaranteeing a seamless browsing experience is now more important than ever.
Many ranking factors are still a mystery, and we’re used to Google being secretive about its updates. However, the Page Experience ranking signals are different in that Google is entirely transparent and open about these ranking factors and even provides valuable tips for improving scores, respectively.
Follow our insider tips and keep improving your Page Experience signals to provide a seamless digital experience for users, and put your absolute best effort to leverage Google’s latest update and win the top spot in the search results!
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