On May 28th, Google announced a major addition to its search engine’s ranking algorithm: The Page Experience Update.
It’s stated to roll out in 2021—and it’s expected to bring plenty of organic search opportunities to the table. If your strategy is grounded in SEO, and if you’re dependent on Google-derived traffic like most, news of big-time changes are probably big-time considerations.
Fortunately, this upcoming year’s newest search-related innovations can be boiled down into layperson’s terms. They’re certainly tech-enhanced with today’s latest, greatest approaches to UX layouts, but they’re also grounded in Google’s Top Stories feature—which most of us are well-accustomed to.
A Time of Traffic Redirection
Google rarely gives us details on its future algorithm updates before they roll out, but this year’s digital marketing struggles have changed its regular considerations. This is to help branded website owners adjust their experiences accordingly, protecting their traffic counts before any platform changes can impact them.
Fortunately, Google’s algorithm changes aren’t too surprising—as they appear to pursue the same goal as always: Understand and rank websites for their quality, accessibility, and usability. In Google’s own explanation, supported by a number of industry research and internal study results, the update will focus on the third factor—usability—the most.
Specifically, its algorithm shift will measure the way website users perceive their quality of interaction across different platforms—identifying any ‘friction points’ which might slow down their journey in general. Most likely, this is due to the current traffic redirection issues a lot of branded websites currently face—as this year’s digital content consumption, for most of us, has redirected our online browsing habits entirely.
The User-Friendly Update
In the past, websites with the best backlinks, the best page code, and the best e-commerce purchase pathways thrived. In 2021, however, these qualities might take a backseat to the user’s experience, alone. This is because Google has become incredibly good at identifying user experiences without relying on typical metrics.
Specifically, it’s shifting gears into a page-by-page usability analysis approach—as opposed to a comprehensive website approach. This doesn’t mean that your branded website shouldn’t have a solid user experience all around, though. It simply means that it should be capably broken down into its functional parts, examined by each, and still manage to rank well for usability.
A great way to get up to speed with Google’s latest requirements is to check out its article release covering its algorithm changes, mentioned above. But it’s also worthwhile to check out Chrome’s Core Web Vitals announcement, which better describes the picture Google intends to frame.
Google’s Top Stories
As part of Google’s update, it’ll derive user experience quality metrics from Top Stories more than ever before. This makes sense, of course, as Top Stories is already a Google feature inherently grounded in website quality snapshots, digestible content, and ease of accessibility.
Google’s newest approach takes a closer look at how accessible Top Stories is itself, however. It’ll assure that each Top Stories result delivers webpage experiences which not only answer a user’s questions quickly—but which do so in an enjoyable way. It’ll also refine the Top Stories feature for mobile—further removing the Stories AMP requirement for eligibility.
More on Core Web Vitals
As for Chrome’s Core Web Vitals mentioned above, it’s important to note that Google, indeed, is placing a lot of weight on it. Its ‘page experience signal’ measures the way users not only engage a webpage but how they perceive their experience of it. The Core Web Vitals metrics are user-centered, and they’re primarily real-world tools utilized for quantifying the core aspects of the user experience.
By and large, the Core Web Vitals metrics are those which gauge load times, content stability, and interactivity like never before. A great example of a quality metric better analyzed is the way different UX elements load upon a page: If you’ve ever accidentally tapped a mobile site button you didn’t mean to, as the page unexpectedly shifted, you know what we’re talking about.
The Sum of Its Parts: Safe Browsing as a Whole
While Google’s newest implementations for website analysis are user-experience-based, they’re also incredibly centric to the ideals of safe browsing.
By combining other elements of the algorithmic update with Core Web Vitals metrics, Google can better identify webpage signals for HTTPS-security, safe browsing, and intrusive advertisements. Its goal, here, is to create a holistic snapshot of webpage experiences, so as to better introduce search engine users to results which not only meet their expectations—but which assure they’ll be reliable, stable, and safe.
This is very much where the page-to-page quality assessments come into play. If a few of your website’s pages introduce poor experiences, but if its others are solid, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities when it comes to ranking well on Google. This is because Google will place more weight on site-wide user safety and accessibility as a whole, even though it’s taking a more page-by-page lean-to analysis, in general.
This is a sum-of-its-parts case, wherein it may not always be clear how to spruce up your website for better visibility. It’s one thing to focus on individual webpage experiences, but it’s another thing entirely to weigh web site-wide elements to emphasize a branded experience, overall.
But, don’t worry: There are a few ways you can achieve both—so as to come out ahead when Google’s Page Experience Update rolls out.
Improve Mobile Friendliness
The first thing you should do is make sure your website is effective across all devices: Laptop, tablet, desktop, and smartphone experiences should offer the same level of functionality while utilizing layouts optimized for their respective platforms.
Regardless of the device, your UX design should be flawless. Emphasize your brand’s intent, feature a clear-cut information architecture, and reduce any UI awkwardness stemming from wayward page loads and window popups. A good place to start, here, is to consider LCP—or Largest Contentful Paint.
This is, basically, the render time of your website’s biggest image, or largest image block, on each webpage. Remember, though, that render time and load time aren’t the same thing. Render time measures how long it takes to both process and present page elements—not how quickly they’re initially loaded in.
Understandably, render times can be tough to optimize when screens get small. This is why a mobile-first approach to website refinement is so important because LCP is directly responsible for Google’s quality metric scores as it is. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool here to get a quick snapshot of your website’s viability in the upcoming months.
Reduce Load Times
Secondly, you can focus on reducing load times in general. Consumers have a ton of websites to choose from, and each has its own streamlined approach to interaction. Load times are one of, if not the most, impactful metrics determining a website’s quality. In fact, even a one-second load time delay can result in a seven-percent loss in conversions—and as much as an 11-percent loss in overall page views.
UX redesign is naturally a good way to cut down on loading times, but so is content realignment. If your webpages host more than a few snippets of multimedia, text-based content pieces, and product descriptions, now might be a good time to divvy out each section across more UI sections. By balancing each, you’ll reduce the strain on individual webpages—also streamlining the user’s engagement experience as a whole.
Eliminate 400 Errors
Broken pages occur more often than one might expect, but they’re surprisingly difficult to identify. To get an accurate snapshot of your website’s potential 400 errors, as well as unoptimized SEO usage, try using a webpage health utility.
These utilities measure the core aspects of your site’s user experience, specifically when it comes to broken page loads and sluggish load times in general. It’s important to not only optimize your website for high-speed desktop user experiences, but also for mobile-based experiences. If you can find a place within the on-second accessibility range, you’re headed in the right direction.
Aligning with the Algorithm in 2021
We have a lot to consider in terms of website layout, but Google has given us plenty of notice to streamline our websites for usability ahead of time. Make the most out of your current design’s best features, and try to eliminate any usability issues it currently introduces. In time, you’ll find that your website’s Google ranking will surpass all measurements of viability—even climbing the search results ladder at unprecedented speeds.