Need to Know: Optimize for Google’s Page Experience Update & Core Web Vitals
A big change came to Google in 2021, with additional updates on the way – specifically, the search engine’s growing emphasis on user experience. In May 2020, Google announced Page Experience, an update to search rankings that considers a number of signals related to user experience. Page Experience officially rolled out on mobile in September 2021, so it’s time to make sure your website is optimized accordingly.
The next Page Experience update will begin rolling out on desktop in February 2022, and will likely finish rolling out by the end of March 2022.
Don’t panic. This update sounds big, but if you’ve been working to reduce page load times, make your website mobile-friendly, and optimize for user experience, you’re already on the right track. Let’s take a look at what we know about Page Experience and one of its main components, Core Web Vitals.
What Is the Page Experience Update?
We know that Google takes user experience seriously, as evidenced by their recent updates related to mobile-friendliness, mobile loading times, and intrusive pop-ups. User experience takes into account all the factors that influence how a user feels about their interaction with your website. While a bad page experience can act as a roadblock to making a booking, a good page experience helps users engage with the content on your site and, ideally, become a customer.
The new Page Experience ranking signal looks at seven user experience factors to determine is a page offers a positive user experience.
Four of these ranking signals are already established, and all marketers should know them well.
- Mobile Friendly: This signal rewards pages that deliver a positive experience on mobile. Read more about this in our guide to a mobile-friendly website.
- Safe Browsing: This signal rewards websites free from security issues, malware, deceptive pages, harmful downloads, and other safety issues. Read more in our guide to a secure website.
- HTTPS: This signal rewards websites that have a secure HTTPS encryption. Read more in our SSL guide.
- No Intrusive Interstitials: This signal penalizes websites that use intrusive interstitials and pop-ups.
If you’ve been reading Compass guides on websites and SEO, you’re probably already familiar with these topics and have optimized your website. See? Page Experience is not as stressful as you might have thought!
The other three factors are part of the new Core Web Vitals measurements, which we’ll dive into next.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are part of an initiative by Google to offer guidance on quality signals that directly impact user experience on your website. This set of signals measures the quality of on-page user experience on several levels.
- Loading: This simply refers to loading times, although Google is changing the way it measures this with a new standard called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). This measures how long it takes for the largest object on the page (such as a hero image or large block of text) to load, which should ideally be under 2.5 seconds.
- Interactivity: This signal measures the responsiveness of interactive elements on your page (links, buttons, etc.) after users click on them, using a new standard called First Input Delay (FID).
- Visual Stability: This signal detects the movement of elements after they’ve loaded on the page and any instability this movement causes, measured using a new standard called Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
In a recent Google Search Central SEO office hours event hosted by Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, he noted that websites may need to meet Google’s benchmarks for all three Core Web Vitals to receive any ranking benefit from the Page Experience signal — so it’s important to have a strategy in place for each of these signals. Which leads us to…
What Do I Need to Do?
The first step is to find out where you currently stand in terms of the Core Web Vitals and the rest of the Page Experience signals. You can use the Core Web Vitals report on Google Search Console to see how your website performs in loading times (LCP), interactivity (FID), and stability (CLS) in comparison to Google’s benchmarks.
If you find that your loading times are too high, there a few ways to fix this, such as:
- Upgrading your website hosting service
- Compressing media files
Interactivity is highly dependent on the efficiency of your website’s code, and visual stability can often be compromised by a poor coding structure or techniques such as lazy loading, so it will be necessary to take a close look at your website’s code (or ask you web developer to do so) to resolve any issues causing a poor Core Web Vitals score.
Google Search Console also has a new Page Experience report that allows you to see how you’re performing on all the relevant signals and identify which pages need updating or troubleshooting. Note that this report is limited to mobile URLs (remember that mobile friendliness is one of the signals, and Google has shifted to mobile-first indexing).
How Important Is the Page Experience Update?
There’s been a lot of talk about Page Experience and Core Web Vitals on SEO and marketing publications. But it’s important to remember that it is one of many ranking signals. As Mueller said, “Relevance is still, by far, much more important.” When Google’s experts tell us something, we listen. Relevant, quality content continues to reign supreme.
We expect that Page Experience will be a less heavily weighted ranking factor and won’t have a huge impact on most websites. That said, you should always aim to make your website more user friendly, not only to please the algorithm but more importantly to give your users a positive experience.
These are the main things you need to know about the update:
- You may need to pass all three of the Core Web Vitals benchmarks to get any ranking boost from the Page Experience signal. Google has incorporated Core Web Vitals into Lighthouse, Search Console, a new Chrome plugin, and several other tools to help you measure and optimize for them. Make good use of these tools!
- Content is still the number one priority. However, good page experience can be a deciding factor in giving you a leg up above competitors with content just as good as yours.
- Google will be testing visual indicators in the SERP, such as a page experience badge, to help users choose pages that perform well for Page Experience. Improving your performance in these signals now could help you take advantage of these visual indicators in the future.
- Google has made it clear that more Page Experience and Core Web Vital metrics are coming, and the existing ones could evolve over time too. We’ll keep you up-to-date on future signals and how to optimize for them.
Get Ready: Page Experience Update is Coming to Desktop in 2022
While the Page Experience update was rolled out on mobile between June and September 2021, Google will use the same Page Experience update as part of its desktop ranking systems starting in February 2022, with the rollout likely finishing by the end of March. This update will focus on the same page experience signals that were rolled out for mobile, so if you’ve been following the above tips for your site’s mobile version, you can do the same on desktop and be successful.
For now, you can perform a Lighthouse audit, make sure your website is secure and mobile friendly, and ensure you’re producing quality content optimized for search intent to give your website the best possible chance of ranking well.