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Page Experience Becomes a Ranking Factor on Google

Google generally stays tight-lipped about ranking factors. And until recently, Google hasn’t even announced algorithm updates, much less the factors that make up the algorithm and determine page ranking in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). But on May 28th of this year, Google announced an algorithm update set for 2021 geared at evaluating web pages for the experience they create for users. 

Good UX and effective SEO do go hand in hand, but before this update, user experience issues only affected sites indirectly by decreasing time on page, pages per session, and ultimately traffic and click through rate (CTR). With the update, though, Google is placing explicit importance on how pages treat users who visit them, and whether or not a page is worth sending users to at all. 

We know you understand the correlation between SERP visibility, website traffic, and conversions, and we know you see the importance in adapting your website to meet Google’s quality criteria before it could hurt you in the SERPs. The great news is that Google has equipped all of us with the tools we’ll need in preparation for the algorithm to hit in 2021. We’ve laid out all the important information right here:

What Is Page Experience?

According to Google, page experience is “a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.” It’s comprised of a range of factors, and each feeds into and compounds on the others to influence Google’s interpretation of page experience as a whole. Here are the four main categories taken into consideration and examples of the questions they’re looking to answer:

Mobile experience

  • Does the page load quickly?
  • Is the text too small to read?
  • Are the buttons too small for a finger to tap on?
  • Does the text or any of the page elements overlap in a way that prevents users from interacting with the page as intended?

Safe browsing

  • Does the page include malicious content or malware?
  • Does the page include social engineering or phishing content that tricks users into doing something dangerous?

HTTPS

  • Is the page served securely over HTTPS (over HTTP)?

Easily accessible

  • Is the content easy to read? Or
  • Does the page show frequent pop-ups, shift the page while you’re reading, or otherwise make it difficult to consume what’s on the page?

Google has published a more comprehensive resource on their page experience ranking factor on their developer blog. We’ve given you the basics here, but we encourage you to check out the blog to learn more about each one of these page experience categories and how your site may or may not meet Google’s standards. And if you’d like to talk to us about your site and how it shapes up, we’d love to open a conversation.

What Tools Are Available?

We mentioned that Google isn’t rolling the update until sometime in 2021, which gives everyone plenty of time to evaluate their site and adjust accordingly before it drops. And it would be a grave disservice to your business not to take advantage of this intel in a timely manner. So what resources do we have to evaluate our sites quickly and comprehensively?

Google has already rolled out Core Web Vitals data, which is available through Google Search Console. It’s real-world, user-centered data that provides scores on all the aspects of page experience detailed above, including metrics on page load time, interactivity, and stability of content as it loads. More specifically, you’ll find data on:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which measures page loading performance
  • First Input Delay (FID), which measures interactivity
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures visual stability

These factors, combined with mobile friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, and accessibility considerations, all come together to influence Google’s understanding of page experience. Each element carries its own weight in Google’s page experience ranking factor, which is one of a plethora of other factors that power the algorithm as a whole.

Why You Should Care

While Google has already announced that it’s coming, they promised to give six months notice before it actually goes live AND have supplied us with the tools we need in the meantime. We can’t stress enough what an opportunity this is to get ahead, especially when your competitors may not be paying attention to this kind of stuff. Use the diagnostic tools in Google Search Console and get with your SEOs and developers now to start addressing any issues. 

Another huge reason you should care about using this update to get ahead in the SERPs, outside of technical health considerations, is that Google has indicated that none of these technical factors will outweigh great content:

“While all of the components of page experience are important, we will rank pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search,” Google wrote.

So while you have the time, move even beyond Core Web Vitals and ensure that your content is high caliber. Content remains king.

Where to Go From Here

We’re incredibly encouraged by the direction that Google’s moving in. With their E-A-T initiative and with this page experience ranking factor, they’re prioritizing legitimate sites with sound information that create positive experiences for users. By incorporating these signals into Search, Google is helping create a better web for everyone. 

Feeling overwhelmed about all there is to do to optimize your site? Drop us a line. We’d love to help you lay out a strategy and carry it out so your site comes out ahead in the end. 

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