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Over the years, Google has been changing and refining its algorithm in an effort to continue to providing users with the best possible web pages for their searches. Google has made thousands of changes to their algorithm, some small, some large. In May 2020, Google announced another update is going live some time in May 2021. We, and other SEO experts, are expecting this year's user experience update to change the way that search works forever.
User Experience, at the end of the day, is how easily the user can interact with the page and is a crucial element to any website. It is the amalgamation of different signals that measure the user’s experience of interacting with a web page. Unlike so many other ranking factors, these signals aren't so much about the content that is on the page. So how does Google effectively judge the page experience?
Currently, page experience is judged on a combination of a few existing ranking factors, such as whether the page loads quickly, if it’s mobile-friendly, if your site is deemed secure (runs on HTTPS) and the presence of intrusive adverts.
In 2021, Google aims to add more factors to how they judge a web page’s user experience, but for now, let’s look into the existing factors:
Website load speed essentially refers to the length of time it takes for a web page to fully appear on the device you are using. Page load time is the duration between clicking on a link and the web page displaying all content.
The average user is very impatient, so optimising your website's load speed is crucial, now more than ever. Providing information to meet your user’s needs in the least amount of time possible is paramount. There are many website loading speed tools out there, but you can check your website load speed using Google’s free loading speed tool here.
In August 2014, Google announced they were going to give secure websites a ranking boost. They did this by looking at sites that are running on HTTPS. A website running on HTTPS means that the site has what's called an SSL certificate and is therefore deemed secure. An SSL certificate is a type of digital certificate that provides the user with a level of confidence that the site is secure.
What is an intrusive advert? An intrusive advert is an unwelcome advert, popping up on the web page you're on. They are often completely irrelevant. They can pop up over to the top of the content you are looking at, open in a new page/window or play as audio or a video. If you’ve come across these before, you’ll know that they can only be described as annoying for the user, resulting in a poor user experience.
So that's the existing user experience factors explained, but what’s new?. On top of all the factors we have just been through, Google is also introducing new ways of analysing user experience. They are calling these new signals ‘Core Web Vitals’. Core Web Vitals are split into 3 different elements. They can be broken down into the pages loading speed, the interactivity and the visual stability. Let’s look into these in detail...
Largest Contentful Paint refers to the web pages largest piece of content. Where in the past it’s been thought that Google assesses loading speed on First Meaningful Paint (first block of content), it’s thought that they are changing their approach on this. Google will now look at the time it takes for your web page to fully render the largest piece of content on the page. To provide a good user experience, it is recommended that the time for the largest piece of content to fully load should be no more than 2.5 seconds.
First Input Delay is a user-centric metric measuring load responsiveness. When entering a website, it’s imperative that your initial impression is a good one. It can be the difference between you interacting with the site, making the enquiry/purchasing the product or simply leaving the site within the first few seconds. First Input Delay measures the time from when a user firsts interacts with the page. This could be the user clicking on a link, button or scrolling through the page. Once the user starts to interact with the web page, it's a fair assumption that they are interested in the content.
The final piece to Google’s Core Web Vitals is the stability of the page’s layout, Cumulative Layout Shift. It measures how often users experience a shift in the layout of a page, often unexpectedly. Having content jump around the page is frustrating to the user, there’s no doubt about it. Cumulative Layout Shift records the amount of times an individual element shifts on the page unexpectedly during the lifespan of the page. To provide your users with the best possible experience on your web page, you should be aiming for a Cumulative Layout Shift score of less than 0.1.
Google has provided webmasters with a once in a lifetime opportunity - time to prepare. It’s not often that Google lets users know of a scheduled major update to their algorithm. They have some great free-to-use tools too, so you can analyse your website's current user experience performance. By taking advantage of the time we have before the update takes effect to analyse your website, you can be ready for the update and potentially get ahead of your competition. When the update comes, wouldn’t it be great to sit back and relax, knowing you’re already prepared?
Major Google algorithm updates can often upset the apple cart. You’ve put your efforts into optimising for their rules only to find the goalposts have moved. We realise it can be frustrating when changes like this happen and PS are here to help. If you need any assistance with optimising your website, whether it’s in preparation for the update or not, check out our Search Engine Optimisation page.