The 2021 Google page experience update: what you need to know

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    Melissa Tredinnick

    Melissa Tredinnick UKBF Regular Free Member

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    Next year, big changes are in store for anyone running a website, as Google plans to make page experience a factor in its ranking algorithm. 

    The page experience update, which was announced at the end of May in Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, will see seven main factors taken into account by the search engine to determine whether users will have a positive or negative experience on a web page.

    These include metrics like the time it takes for a page to load, how interactive it is, and whether elements of the page shift around as it’s loading, along with factors like mobile friendliness, safety and security, and intrusive ads.

    For anyone who’s experienced a website with poor user experience, it’s easy to understand why Google might want to focus on those factors. 

    When you press a button and get no response, or when an image suddenly materialises over the content you were trying to interact with, it’s not just frustrating. It’s also a barrier between you and the information you’re trying to get from the website.

    To make sure its users find what they’re looking for when they use its search engine, Google will include page experience in its ranking algorithm from 2021.

    What do you need to do?

    While there’s still plenty of time before the update takes effect – and Google has promised a six-month warning for website owners before it rolls out – it’s a good idea to start looking at the factors that impact your page experience.

    Three of the signals that will be included in the update are known as ‘core web vitals’. These are metrics for assessing a user’s experience of a website, and each one can be checked using Google Search Console, or with one or more of Google’s developer tools.

    The core web vitals are:

    • Largest contentful paint: how quickly do pages on your website load?
    • First input delay: how interactive and responsive is your website?
    • Cumulative layout shift: how much do elements of your website move around as it loads?

    The other factors that will be included in the algorithm include:

    • Mobile friendliness: does your website perform as well on mobile as it does on desktop?
    • Safe browsing: is your website free of any malware or links to deceptive pages?
    • HTTPS: to protect users’ data, have you migrated your website from HTTP to HTTPS?
    • No intrusive interstitials: is your website free of ads or pop-ups that make it less accessible?

    Your first steps to preparing for the update may simply be a case of going through each of these lists, and identifying any potential problems.

    Changes to top stories

    Alongside the ranking update, Google says it will change the eligibility criteria for its ‘top stories’ feature on mobile.

    This is the section that displays relevant news articles at the top of the search results page. It offers greater visibility than that offered by standard search results, including a feature image and the publisher’s logo.

    At the moment, this feature promotes accelerated mobile pages (AMP), an open-source HTML framework that was originally created by Google, and is designed to make pages load quickly on mobile devices.

    From 2021, AMP will no longer be a requirement for a page to reach the top stories section, so any page that meets the Google News content policies could be featured. 

    What does this mean for your website’s content?

    Although page experience is going to become more important, it’s still just one of hundreds of ranking factors used by the search engine. 

    A great user experience alone will not be enough to get you to the top of the search results – content remains the most important factor. 

    If your website is competing with another page that contains similar content, page experience might be the deciding factor that places one higher than the other.

    But if your website is lacking in relevant content, improving its page experience is unlikely to place it higher in the rankings than a website with lots of useful information.

    As Google puts it:

    “While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritise 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.”

    So, if you do nothing else to boost your website’s SEO this year, focusing on your content is a good place to start.