Here’s how Google’s new algorithm changes can affect your page rankings, as well as the practical steps you can take to stay on top.
We’re sure you’ve heard about Google’s announcement this summer. Yes, they’ve made another one. In brief, they said that they’re going to update their algorithm in 2021 to include a factor called Page Experience. This is going to be an important element that has an impact on rankings.
As part of this initiative, they’ve launched Web Vitals – a series of benchmarks essential to measuring and enhancing the user experience on the web.
Hold on. What is Page Experience, anyway? And do you really need to add to your overflowing to-do list? Let’s take a closer look.
The page experience in a nutshell
Page experience includes all aspects of how users interact with a web page and how good or painful it is for them. (In your case, we hope it isn’t the latter!)
This includes existing Google Search signals: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
It also includes metrics in Google’s Web Vitals. Currently, the focus is on three facets: loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
- Loading, in this context, measures perceived load speed. That’s the point in the page load timeline when the main content is likely to have loaded.
- Interactivity is the time from when a user first interacts with a page – a click or a tap, for example — to the time when the browser begins processing that interaction.
- Visual stability has to do with preventing annoying and unexpected movement of page content.
You may already have optimized for some of these factors. According to Google’s own earlier research, as page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases by 123%. Ouch!
Similarly, as the number of elements on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops by as much as 95%.
Now, Google is bringing these and other aspects together under one umbrella that is going to have even more of an impact on organic search results.
Visual indicators of page experience
Google has also stated that by next year, they will introduce a visual indicator to designate those search results that meet all of their page experience specifications.
They’ve done something like this in the past, too. You must have observed, for example, AMP icons as well as slow and mobile-friendly labels.
If this indicator is displayed prominently in search results, there are good chances that users will prefer these sites over others.
While Google is yet to announce the shape, size, and position of such indicators, it’s a mark of how seriously they’re taking their forthcoming page experience guidelines.
This means that all of us should start planning from now itself.
Hold on. Page experience isn’t everything.
Now, you may have read this far and decided that the most important thing is to fix all of the above parameters. And you’ll see your traffic zoom.
That won’t necessarily be the case. (Although we hope it is!) You see, content is still king. Everything starts with that.
As Google themselves point out in their blog,
“Great page experience doesn’t override having great page content.”
However, you can rest assured that when there are many pages that are similar in relevance, your improved page experience will make all the difference in search results.
Why you should pay attention to this algorithm update
The fact remains that the new page experience metrics should be taken seriously by developers and all those involved in optimization strategies to improve search rankings.
To begin with, if your user experience is seen as being in the top bracket, visual cues will guide consumers and browsers to your page over the others.
Google itself is pretty clear about the increased weightage they’re going to give to page experience. After all, a terrific page experience lets people get more done and increases engagement.
It seems evident that those pages which fall below the new benchmarks are going to be left behind in the rankings. This means a significant drop in traffic.
Google already considers hundreds of aspects to determine rankings. The inclusion of page experience lets them guide people, so they can access information more easily and enjoyably.
For site owners and others, understanding these signals and making the necessary changes should be a priority.
Otherwise, you run the risk of your page being ignored. You wouldn’t want that now, would you?
Let’s start with a bad page experience
Before we get down to understanding how to improve page experience, let’s understand what a bad page experience is.
- Slow page speeds: You know how frustrating it can be to click on a search result and then wait for a page to load. It may be a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity. Chances are, your consumers feel the same way and are put off.
- Bad structure and design: Even if the page loads quickly, there are times when it can be confusing to navigate. This could be because the design is cliched or just puzzling. There could be too many pop-ups. There could be no proper content structure. Looking for information here could be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
- Lack of engagement. Unfortunately, too many websites simply assume that their only purpose is to sell. But today’s consumer wants to be engaged with, wants to be entertained, and wants to be understood. That’s why empathy and likeability are important factors.
The steps you can take
There are more than six months to go before these changes take effect. As a webmaster, you have more than enough time to prepare. And there are no excuses for not being ready.
As a site owner or stakeholder, you can take the advice of Aja Frost, head of content SEO at HubSpot. This is what he says: “I think this gives you good ammunition to go to your web team or your performance team and say, ‘Hey, you know, Google…[is] going to release this in six months, and so we need to focus on it.’”
Here are some things to consider.
- You can start by gaining an understanding of the metrics that Google is going to use. For now, these are LCP (Largest Contentful Paint), CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift), and FID (First Input Delay). Google itself provides explanations and standards of measurement, which are useful in gaining mastery of them.
- Based on this, you can then conduct a site audit. Optimize for these new ranking signals, especially factors such as page load speeds, responsiveness, UX, mobile usability, and security. There are a variety of tools that you can use for this. For example, Google’s online mobile-friendly test, as well as Page Speed Insights, which play the role of performance checkers across all devices.
- As you know, it takes several individuals working together to create a high-quality website. It’s time to bring these stakeholders together and discuss how this algorithm update is going to be handled. The SEO, UX design, and IT teams should be in perfect alignment when it comes to future goals and actions. You could start by asking them if they’d prefer coffee or tea, and then get the meeting started.
Expert tips to boost page experience
Until now, you’ve received a broad overview of Google’s announcement, what it means for developers and other stakeholders, and some initial steps you can take to prepare.
This is all very informative, but is there anything you can do right away? Yes, there is.
Here are some granular details as to how you can enhance page experience like a boss.
1. Optimise for mobile search
In Q3 2020, mobile devices generated 50.81% of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50% mark since the beginning of 2017.
Clearly, these numbers can’t be ignored. Google’s algorithms, too, primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.
If you haven’t already, you should get your page mobile-ready by reducing code, leveraging browser caching, and reducing redirects.
The webpage design should be simple and responsive so as to appear attractive on smaller screens. Site structure, too, should be optimized for mobile.
2. Improve page speeds
According to recent research that confirms Google’s findings, a delay of one full second in loading can decrease conversion rates by 70%. Just one second — shorter than the time it’s taken to read this sentence.
There are several ways to not lose out because of frustrating delays. As per Google, the best practice is just three seconds.
One way to do this is to minimize HTTP requests. That’s because the components on the page, the longer it takes for it to render. You can combine files to overcome this.
Further, asynchronous loading files can speed up pages. When a browser loads a page, it moves from top to bottom, and you can use this to your advantage.
3. Separate CTAs
Optimizing for mobile and improving page speeds are the first steps to take, as they have a huge impact on user experience. However, there are other factors that can further improve interaction, not to mention the conversion rate.
One of these is the Call to Action or CTA. Virtually every site has these in some form or another. Consumers are requested to take specific actions, from subscribing to updates, signing up, asking for an appointment, and, of course, making purchases. (Let’s not forget that.)
The trick is to realize that consumers have different frames of mind at different points so as to be able to customize your CTAs, accordingly.
They should be short, specific, and clear about the action needed. Ideally, they should include a benefit. Think of what the consumer will get out of the interaction. Is it to be enlightened, to succeed, or to solve a problem?
The design of CTA buttons is important, too. Naturally, they should be bright, correctly-shaped, and properly positioned.
Think of that as your own call to action.
4. Use Alt Text for images
We’ve already touched upon image compression as a way of providing an optimal loading experience. But there’s another factor involved when it comes to experience as well as page ranking.
This is called an alt text. It’s used in an HTML code, and it describes the appearance and function of an image on a page.
Such alt tags will be displayed in case the image file isn’t loaded so that users understand the context. Such descriptions are also used by search engine crawlers for indexing, and this helps in rankings.
These alt text descriptions should be short, specific, and ideally with a keyword. This will go a long way in helping your site’s organic search results.
Finally, this can’t be repeated enough: Focus on the content
This is something we’ve touched upon earlier, but it’s so important that we want to remind you once again.
It sometimes happens that people get so caught up in the metrics and technical issues of SEO that the most important element gets pushed to second place.
Quite simply, good content will always play a critical role in determining page rankings. It should be simple, it should answer a need, and it should be unique.
It’s when you have such content, and then optimize it for Google’s algorithm updates, that you’re going to see your ranking zoom to the top.
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