Due to the global pandemic of coronavirus, Google decided to give us a heads up on their future algorithm update called Page Experience. This update will roll out sometime in 2021 and, unlike many other sudden updates that lacked information, this one was announced well in advance. Here is what Google stated about the update and what it brings to users:
The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.
In other words, this means that user-friendly websites will rank higher than those that are not user-friendly.
Why is this important? For starters, we all know that brand queries impact rankings on Google’s SERP. As your brand grows and gains in popularity, you will start seeing more SEO traffic towards your website. However, Google is aware that most websites don’t have large brands. This is why they are adapting their algorithms to match the user experience and rank websites that people love the most. This may bring huge changes in SEO. Possibly even more so down the line, as we can expect many updates that focus on user experience.
Table of content
The main factors of the update
The Page Experience algorithm includes several signals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – This represents the time in which the page’s largest content element loads. Yp\our goal should be to have an LCP of under 2.5 seconds.
- First Input Delay (FID) – This metric shows the delay between the moment someone clicks on the link to your web page and the moment when the page responds. For a good user experience, you should aim for an FID of less than 100 milliseconds
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – This metric tracks the visual stability of the content on your page. Website layout that shifts unexpectedly is considered to be a bad user experience. This is why you need to make sure that your CLS score is less than 0.1.
- Mobile-friendliness – Mobile search is constantly on the rise and it accounts for more than 51% of overall internet traffic. This is why it is Google’s highest priority to give mobile searchers the best user experience possible.
- Safe browsing – This signal makes sure that your website contains no malware or deceptive content.
- HTTPS – This determines whether your website’s connection is secure via HTTPS or the non-secure HTTP.
- Intrusive interstitials – An interstitial is an ad that appears when a page is downloading. Your main content needs to be easily accessible to the user with no interstitials.
How to optimize your user experience
As you can see from the sole name of the update, as well as from the article that Google posted, their focus is going to be on a page-level basis rather than a website as a whole. Here is the logic to that. Many websites have a few pages that have a poor user experience, but the rest pages are good, maybe even better than those of your competitors. This is why it makes no sense for Google to lower the rankings of your entire website, but rather only for those less user-friendly pages.
Now that we have talked about the Page Experience and its core components, let’s see how we can optimize your website and prepare it for the upcoming update.
Make your website mobile-friendly
You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to check if your site is responsive as well as look for possible page loading issues. All you need to do is click on view details beside page loading issues and fix them as suggested by the tool.
In case your website is running on an outdated theme or is created with a builder that is not optimized for mobile, you should consider migrating to a mobile-friendly website builder. For example, WordPress is an excellent choice for informative websites like blogs. It offers responsive design and a ton of plugins to choose from to improve user experience. You can use plugins like WPtouchPro to make your site mobile-friendly, or WebP Converter for Media to convert all the images on your website to WebP.
Shopify or BigCommerce are popular mobile-friendly solutions for an eCommerce store that offer support for WebP format to upload images, which makes for faster loading times.
However, a good user experience includes much more than simply making your site responsive. To improve the page experience, you can follow Google’s tips on what makes a good mobile site page. Here is what to focus on:
- Keep menus short and organized. It is a good idea to merge similar fields into one to reduce the number of links in the menu bar.
- Make sure that your logo on your mobile website takes users to your home page.
- Don’t hide your search box in the menu bar. Your mobile visitors should access it with ease.
- Your text and images need to be responsive, which means they must be readable on devices of all sizes.
- Avoid CTA buttons that open new windows.
- Place CTA buttons above the fold and in the center. Avoid weak CTA’s such as learn more.
Improve your website speed
Your website loading time can make or break the user experience. People’s impatience grows the longer they wait for your website to load. According to Google, the probability of the user bouncing increases by 32% as the load time of your website goes from 1 to 3 seconds. Furthermore, if it increases to 6 seconds, the probability of bouncing increases by 106%.
To check how long your website takes to load, enter your domain URL in Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This tool gives your site a score ranging from 0 to 100. A score between 0 and 49 is considered to be poor, from 50 to 89 improvement, and from 90 to 100 is considered a good score. PageSpeed Insights also displays a set of suggestions on how to improve your loading speed as well as estimated savings in seconds for each suggestion.
After you have completed all the tasks suggested by PageSpeed Insights, there are a few more steps you can take to further improve your loading times;
- Compress all the images on your website using the WebP format to employ both lossy and lossless compression:
- Lossy WebP compression uses predictive coding to encode an image. This is the process of using values in neighboring blocks of pixels to predict the values in the block and coding the difference.
- Lossless WebP compression uses existing image fragments or a local palette to reconstruct new pixels.
- Use a content distribution network (CDN). This enables various copies of your website to be saved in multiple locations across the world so the nearest version would be delivered to the user. This can immensely decrease loading time.
- Create accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) of your website. Accelerated mobile pages are a lightweight version of your website that takes less time to load on mobile devices.
- Increase the load time for returning visitors by enabling browser caching.
Improve your website security
It is critical to protect the online information of your visitors if you want to provide them with the best user experience. The poor website security can only do harm to your SEO rankings. Go to Security and Manual Actions on the left-side navigation of your Google Search Console. Once you fix all the problems, click on Request Review to inform Google that your website security has improved.
You can also use Google Transparency Report to better understand how Google identifies unsafe sites. You should also implement an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate on your website. This will provide authentication of an encrypted connection for your website making it HTTPS.
You should choose the type of SSL certificate based on the type of customer data you collect. If your website collects only the names and email addresses of visitors, the Let’s Encrypt certificate is suitable. If you accept online payments, it is a good idea to choose a premium certificate like Comodo.
Focus on content
No matter how good of a page experience your website provides, your content is still the main thing that brings rankings. More than 74% of advertisers use content marketing to promote their business, and if you want to stand out and enhance the quality of your posts, here are a few tips to follow:
- Audience – Make sure you write for your customers, not the search engine. Your content needs to stress the reasons visitors come to your website. You should also create content for each stage of the sales funnel so you would attract and nurture the right customers.
- Examples – Using examples to clarify points will help your visitors better understand the content, especially if the topic is hard and complicated to visualize.
- Skyscraper technique – This technique contains writing the improved versions of your competitors’ best-performing content.
- Headline – Your headline is the first thing your visitors notice. They will make a split-second decision on whether to skip or continue reading based on whether or not they find the headline appealing. Using subheadings will help them scan and better understand your article. If your text contains many headers, it is a good idea to place a clickable table of contents at the top of the page.
- Avoid grammatical and spelling errors – Hire an editor to proofread your article or use tools like Grammarly.
- Images – Include relevant images and video so your readers understand your article better. They also break up long blocks of text and create a better user experience.
- Data – Make sure to conduct thorough research on the topic to provide a data-driven article. This way you will let Google know that you are an expert in your field and a definition of E.A.T. content creator:
- Expertise – Your content is of high quality, created by a writer with experience, knowledge, and qualifications.
- Authority – Your website has major authority on the subject at hand.
- Trustworthiness – Links from trusted websites in your industry point to your website.
Find usability issues with heatmaps
Heatmaps are a great way to improve your web design and enhance the overall user experience. They help you better understand the sections of your website that your users usually navigate to and where they are getting stuck. We have found tools like Crazy Egg and Hotjar extremely helpful to see what users are experiencing when engaging with our website.
Heatmaps highlight the areas of your website that users click the most. This way you can make sure that those places take users to a relevant resource.
The scroll heatmaps show how deep users scroll your page. Using the data you get, you can ensure that the visitors are reading the info you want them to read.
When it comes to forms on your website, you can see how much time it takes for your visitors to fill them out, as well as where most of them are dropping off.
Reduce bounce rates
The bounce rate is not listed as a core component of the Page Experience update. However, a high bounce rate indicates to Google that either your page has little value in the context of a searcher’s query, or it provides a bad user experience. Either way, Google will eventually lower your rankings for those search queries.
Google considers a bounce rate to be good if it ranges between 26% and 40%. If your site has a bounce rate over 40%, here is how you can make your visitors linger more:
- Limit the numbers of CTAs so you would avoid the which one should I click effect.
- Use videos to engage your audience.
- Include pop-ups with targeted messages to users that are about to leave your website.
- Improve your website navigation to make it easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for.
- Appropriately format your content and make sure that it is easy to scan and understand.
- Include internal links or use plugins to add relevant or related content at the end of each page.
Remove intrusive interstitials
Oh, man! Is there anything more frustrating than having to deal with intrusive pop-ups that cover the entire screen? Your users visit your website to solve the problem that they have or see what you have to offer. Therefore, it is critical to provide them with easily accessible content. Visually obscuring it with interstitials leads to a bad user experience and increases your chance of being negatively impacted by the Page Experience update. The same also goes for ads that appear before the main content fully loads.
Nobody likes intrusiveness. For visitors, it creates a feeling of their personal space being violated. You can’t expect a person to sign up or download something before they have even got the chance to read your article.
However, there are pop-ups that won’t hurt your rankings even after the update. These are pop-ups that are required by law, such as age verification, and discreet pop-ups that don’t hide your primary content, such as small banners at the top of your page.
With this new update, Google is telling advertisers and SEO experts that user experience will play a major role in the rankings on SERP. This is a timely step in the right direction, and our guess is that the role of user experience will only increase over time as we see multiple revisions to the upcoming algorithm update. And rightfully so. Websites that everybody finds helpful and user-friendly at the same should be awarded high rankings.
What is unique about this update is that we have advanced notice. It will launch sometime in 2021, which gives you plenty of time to prepare. Simply follow all the best practices that we have presented in this article, so once the Page Experience update rolls out you are ready to go.