Since Google launched the first search algorithm in 1998 in an effort to bring order to the internet, the company has been on an endless quest to define what the internet should look like and how it should operate. As webmasters adapt to each update that the search giant puts forth, the journey to the top of coveted searches becomes more and more complicated. There are a few basic principles, however, that can help cut through the clutter surrounding the latest update: Google Page Experience is the perfect example of where your time should be spent when optimizing your search presence.
Google Page Experience 1.0: The First Standards
As you know, Google began addressing the basic concept of a page experience several years ago. They came up with a core set of credentials that a website should adhere to in order to provide the best possible outcome for what the page does for a person using it.
These initial credentials centered around safety and accessibility. The internet had become rife with horrible pop-ups, malicious and misleading links, and unreadable mobile experiences in an increasingly mobile web. These issues were addressed directly with the core credentials.
- Mobile Friendliness
- Perhaps the most important update seeing with much of the world browsing everything on their phone. This incentivized web designers to make certain that no matter what size screen a user may be on, the content on the screen was readable and attractive.
- HTTPS Security
- Gone are the days of insecure websites. The little screen lock you see in the corner of a certified site is now more prominent when visiting sites that do not use the HTTPS protocol. Nowadays, Google straight up warns you that the site you are visiting could be dangerous and urges you to ‘go back to safety’.
- Safe Browsing
- Google wanted to go on the offensive against sites that employ malicious code and social engineering techniques to trick less savvy web visitors into giving away information or otherwise compromising the security of their browsing experience.
- Intrusive Interstitials
- My personal favorite as I loathe popups with a mighty fury. Google set out to discourage the use of intrusive popups once and for all. Unfortunately, I still feel that they permeate sites that I would otherwise enjoy. Ironically, Google ads that cover content on sites employing their ad display network are some of the biggest culprits that get in the way of my experience. But generally speaking, the attention has shifted away from such irritations.
- Page Speed
- Page speed and load times were the beginning of what would become the latest update. Google began to rank based on overall page speed and site speed some years ago and it took on larger prominence in their search algorithm.
Divin into the latest (upcoming in 2021) update, the concept of ‘speed’ seems to take on a more nuanced meaning. The result is the creation of some new metrics that Google will use in conjunction with the above credentials to encourage an overall improvement of page experience.
Google Page Experience 2.0 – No More Waiting
At it’s most basic, page experience refers specifically to the experience that a user has while they are on your website. The metrics that affect their experience range across several fronts:
- Load times for elements on a page and the overall load time of the page itself
- Interactive elements and how they respond to user input
- How the page ‘feels’ when moving or scrolling
Google’s decision to base at least part of it’s ranking structure on speed encouraged web designers and developers to get creative with how their page loads, the size of images and files, and the elegance of the code behind it all.
Metric 1: Largest Contentful Paint
As part of the latest update to page speed ranking, Google has added a metric they call Largest
Contentful Paint (LCP). LCP specifically refers to the load time of the largest content area within the viewport. This differs from the overall page speed as the rest of the page may not be immediately visible in the viewport. (i.e. a user scrolls down to the bottom of a page). The most obvious example of an LCP would be the large ‘hero’ images you will often see on landing pages or the carousel slider hero images on a home page like this.
Metric 2: First Input Display
The next metric that digs into the speed aspect of a webpage and affects the overall experience has to do with all of the interactive elements on a page. They call it the First Input Display (FID) Buttons, sliders, and anything that the user can actually manipulate are now being tracked for responsiveness. In other words, if I click something, how long does it take to react? If it feels like a light switch, then it’s perfect. If however, it’s more akin to the experience of opening a sliding glass door, then it needs to be able to respond faster.
Metric 3: Cumulative Layout Shift
The final metric in the new update is called the Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). CLS is actually a pretty easy one to grasp. It refers to the sense of motion when a user scrolls through the page layout.
You have probably noticed that on some websites when you scroll down, certain elements move around. This can feel like a serious head jerk when implemented poorly. The whiplash effect you receive from a site like this is downright nauseating to some. Unfortunately, too many web developers don’t take this into consideration and it can dramatically affect the experience a user has on a page. Well, with Google’s new update, developers are now incentivized to care about the ‘motion’ of their website.
How Do I Measure the Page Experience of My Website?
Fortunately, Google has gone above and beyond with this update in terms of transparency. There are many tools to measure page speed and they have been around for a while. Additionally, Google has helped to develop new resources to assist you in checking your site against these new recommendations.
Check out the Chrome User Experience Report. In it, you will find access to how to measure some of these new metrics. If you haven’t set up search console with your website yet, make sure you do that. It provides invaluable information about how people find you on the internet. Additionally, Google Search Console now provides a Core Web Vitals Report that helps you measure your site against these new guidelines.
For those of you who want constant access to some of this information and use the Chrome browser, there is a free plugin to check out the details of these metrics as your browser the internet. It’s called the Web Vitals.
As you can see, Google is committed to helping you create the best page experience that you can for your users. Too often their algorithm updates are obtuse and discovered retroactively leaving webmasters to scramble as they desperately try to get their sites up to speed. With this update, though, Google has given an advanced warning and fairly straightforward documentation to accompany an array of tools that help make it possible.
How Important Are these New Guidelines for Search Engine Ranking?
The honest answer is that no one is quite certain which of these metrics matter most and what weight Google will place on any one of them. If past anecdotal evidence is any guide, however, the concept of Page Experience will most likely grow over time.
The hard truth is still the same. Frequent, high-quality content that users are actually searching for will always be the most important factor in where a website ranks for any given term.
There is no getting around the fact that if a site has the fastest load time, is optimized for all screen sizes, avoids irritating popups, and scrolls smoothly, it will be dead on arrival if it is stuffed with lousy content that doesn’t answer anybody’s burning questions about any topic.
Content is the engine of any website. A beautiful car with snappy controls, leather interior, power seats, windows, and shiny rims, doesn’t go anywhere without an engine. Always keep that in mind as you create your landing pages, auxiliary pages, and blog post content. The web is about answers. Make sure that you are providing the best ones that you can.
With that said, page experience is obviously important to retaining users and getting visitors back to your website. To keep with the car metaphor, you can put a Ferrari engine under the hood of a 1970’s Volkswagon ‘Thing” (see picture, yes this was actually a car) and odds are nobody’s gonna wanna drive it.
It’s About Being a Good Host to Your Guests
In the end, this whole update is about showing your users that you care about them. Showing them that you want them to come back to your site time and time again and each time they do you want them to feel good about it. By understanding that people are inherently less patient today then they were when the internet began all those decades ago, you want to show the world wide web that your site is the fastest, smoothest, sexiest site in its niche with top-notch content, snappy visuals, clean transitions, and intuitive menus.
These are all elements that every webmaster should have been striving for since the beginning. The upcoming 2021 update from Google doesn’t change any of that, it simply codifies it. As always, I say take a long hard look at what your site is providing for the people that visit it. Imagine what they experience when they are on every page. The moment you see something that feels off, laggy, or unnecessarily cumbersome, find a way to resolve it or remove it altogether. Do your part to make your little piece of the internet awesome, and the ranking will follow.