Understanding Google’s New Page Experience Metrics and its impact on your website
Google Page Experience, Core Web Vitals and the Google Algorithmic Page Experience Update are SEO Hot Potatoes at the moment, with many website owners, managers and Agencies devoting a lot of time, thought and resources to it. In this Guide to the Google Page Experience/Core Web Vitals Update, we attempt to talk you through what it is, the background to it, why it is important, what to do about it, the likely impact it will have on your website and our thoughts on the matter.
Following Google’s announcement in November 2020, that its new Core Web Vitals metrics would become ranking signals in May 2021, Google, perhaps a little sheepishly, admitted in April that it was now postponing this update to commence from mid-June. This was then followed up by a new set of ‘Page Experience’ indicators, a new Page Experience report in Google Search Console, and the announcement that the ‘Page Experience Update‘ would be rolling out over the summer, to be completed by the end of August.
So, what is going on, what does it all mean, and how will it affect your site? Here, we try to give you the low down on what’s going on, why, what you should do, and what you should expect.
Why is Google Introducing the Page Experience Update?
Google’s mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Fundamental to this, is to give people a great experience of their search engine, so that they keep coming back to it to access the information they need and take them to the most relevant, safe, and trustworthy pages. In the early stages of the company’s development, Google wrote their “Ten Things” philosophy, outlining the values it holds true about its business, which, it says, it still follows. These values are: –
1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
3. Fast is better than slow.
4. Democracy on the web works.
5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6. You can make money without doing evil.
7. There’s always more information out there.
8. The need for information crosses all borders.
9. You can be serious without a suit.
10. Great just isn’t good enough.
Google Ten Things
Essentially, much of what Google does every day and in every major algorithm update relates to these values, i.e., put the user first; make sure users can get access to information fast; value democracy; understand users need information wherever they are, and strive to get better, even when you’re already very good.
Speed has always been important to Google and, in 2018, it confirmed that page speed was a ranking factor in Google Search, in an effort to make sure the pages it sent its users to were fast, whilst also encouraging sites to get faster.
The security of its users was also a priority for Google and, in 2014, it announced that secure pages (HTTPS) were a ranking factor.
The increasing use of mobile, made Google first highlight mobile-friendly results in its SERPs and then, in 2017, announced it was moving to a mobile-first index, meaning that the page that a website served to a mobile user would be the page Google indexed and ranked accordingly, so if:- “it’s your intention that the mobile page should have less content than the desktop page, you can expect some traffic loss when your site is enabled mobile-first indexing, since Google can’t get as much information from your page as before…”. This became the default for all websites in 2019.
Google also confirmed in 2016 its stance on pop-ups and intrusive interstitials and stated that pages using these, might not rank as highly.
The page experience update is rolling all of these factors plus Core Web Vitals into “Search Signals for Page Experience”, whilst also featuring a change that allows non-AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) “to become eligible to appear in the mobile Top Stories feature in Search”.
So, What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals essentially monitors three aspects of mobile user experience: – loading, interactivity and visual stability which it believes are fundamental for good user experience. These are: –
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the perceived load speed of a page, marking the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content appears to have loaded on a screen. A fast LCP reassures the user that the page is useful and stops that “OMG is this site ever going to load? Can’t be bothered with this, I’m off…” feeling we’ve all experienced at some point. Google suggest that to: –provide a good user experience, strive to have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load
The elements considered for the LSP relate to the images, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and video on the page, so this is really important for many sites.
First Input Delay (FID) – First Input Delay (FID) measures the load responsiveness and interactivity of a page quantifying the experience a user feels when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. A low FID helps to ensure that a page is properly usable.
FID measures the time it takes for a browser to respond to a site visitor’s first interaction with the site whilst the page is loading and is sometimes called Input Latency. Google suggests that to provide a good user experience you should “strive to have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.”
Interactions can be the tapping of a button, link or a keypress, and the response that the page gives. Dropdowns, text input areas and checkboxes are other types of interaction points that FID measures, however Scrolling or Zooming are not included as interactions as no response is expected from the site.
First Input Delay is most often caused by images and scripts that download in a non-orderly manner. This disordered coding often causes the page download to excessively pause, then start and then pause, etc., causing unresponsive behaviour for page viewers. Think of it like a traffic jam caused by a free-for-all when there are no traffic signals. Fixing this brings order to the traffic and makes the page pleasingly responsive to the user.
In the guide, Google describes the cause of FID/Input Latency as follows: –
“In general, input delay (a.k.a. input latency) happens because the browser’s main thread is busy doing something else, so it can’t (yet) respond to the user.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures visual stability and quantifies how often users experience unexpected layout shifts. A low CLS is a sign that the page is stable and pleasing to view. Google reckons that to achieve a good user experience you should “strive to have a CLS score of less than 0.1“.
You know the feeling, you’re reading an article on your phone and suddenly everything moves, you’ve lost your place and you’ve got to try to find where you were, whilst often seeing even more movements. I see it, almost every day, as I endeavour to read about Leeds United on the Yorkshire Evening Post on my phone. You’ve probably also seen it when you’re about to tap on a link or a button but as soon as your finger lands on the screen, everything moves and you’re either taken to a site which is totally inappropriate or you’ve bought a car that you didn’t want.
Unexpected movement of page content usually happens because resources are loaded asynchronously (not at the same time) or elements are dynamically added to the page above existing content. The culprits are likely to be an image or video with unknown dimensions, a font that renders larger or smaller than its fallback (contingency font size), or a third-party advertisement or widget that dynamically resizes itself (which is why many news sites or sites that rely on advertising are most likely to suffer from CLS issues).
CLS is a measure of the largest burst of layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of a page as you may see in this video.
What to do to improve your Page Experience Metrics
Every website is different and there’s no one thing that you can do to improve all of your Page Experience scores nor any single fix to address each specific issue, it is more of a case of a lot of little fixes and improvements that you can make, which will improve your performance and your scores. Google provides monitoring, measurement, and validation tools in Search Console; analysis, suggestions, and recommendations via Google Lighthouse/PageSpeed Insights and a helpful Audit tool at web.dev/measure , all of which can help you and/or your developers to identify, specify, fix, test and validate changes.
1. Optimise your Images
2. Speed up your server to get that loading time down
3. Stabilize loading by specifying room for images and the like
4. Look into critical CSS to load above the fold content quicker
5. Improve loading of third-party scripts
Rachel Costello on Search Engine Journal gives a handy 7 Tips to Improve Your Core Web Vitals Scores & Page Experience Signals to which she adds to the above list: –
6. Make Sure Key Page Templates Are Mobile-Friendly
7. Audit Your Site for Security Issues
8. Make Sure Forms and Embedded Resources Are Served Over HTTPS
Rachel Costello/Search Engine Journal
Essentially, following the Page Experience guidelines involves lots of small improvements, changes, and fixes, some of which you can do, some of which your SEO Agency may be best to do, and some which it may be best to trust to your web developer, but, at the end of the day, all small improvements count.
What will the Impact of the Page Experience Update be on your website?
There are mixed messages regarding the impact of the Page Experience Update coming out of both Google and the SEO community. Google’s John Mueller believes its impact will be felt by some sites more than others but has written: –
“It is a ranking factor, and it’s more than a tie-breaker, but it also doesn’t replace relevance.
Depending on the sites you work on, you might notice it more, or you might notice it less.
As an SEO, a part of your role is to take all of the possible optimizations and figure out which ones are worth spending time on.
Any SEO tool will spit out 10s or 100s of “recommendations”, most of those are going to be irrelevant to your site’s visibility in search.
Finding the items that make sense to work on takes experience.”
John Mueller – Google
“I don’t know who needs to hear this but putting work in core web vitals doesn’t mean that the site can’t lose rankings over time.
I also washed my car hundreds of times and it still left me standing on the highway.”
Gary Illyes – Google
I don’t know who needs to hear this but putting work in core web vitals doesn’t mean that the site can’t lose rankings over time.
I also washed my car hundreds of times and it still left me standing on the highway. pic.twitter.com/7FceKqLDSz
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) July 24, 2021
I also heard Page Experience/Core Web Vitals summed up in one talk I listened to at BrightonSEO as“the icing on the cake….. but you need to have to have the cake first” – That “cake” being relevance, crawlability, indexability, authority, trust and all those core values that underpin any SEO.
Latest Update:- HTTPS no longer a Ranking Factor
Interestingly, on August 4th Google clarified that Safe Browsing was no longer used as a ranking signal. That said, Safe browsing/HTTPS is so important a factor for most users and web browsers, that any site choosing to ignore this would probably lose more than a marginal ranking signal. But it does make you wonder why Google made a point of mentioning this?
Essentially, you could have great Page Experience/Core Web Vitals scores but if your content is poor quality or not relevant it is not going to rank nor should you really want or expect it to. A page with no content can be really fast, secure, and stable but has no value so why would people want to see it?
We believe that Page Experience should be viewed for what it is, a way to make your website better, faster, safer and easier to connect with your audience. At the end of the day, that should help your site to perform better, irrespective of whether that was part of the algorithm, and if you get a ranking bonus as a result, it’s a win-win.
The key to SEO success is relevance, quality of content, others valuing your content, ease of access and indexability, user experience, speed, and security – basically, we go back to those core values: – put the user first; make sure users can get access to information fast; value democracy; understand users need information wherever they are and strive to get better, even when you’re already very good.