With the upcoming Google ranking signal update, online business operators are on their toes yet again. And this time, Google plans to focus on encouraging optimal page experience through optimised core web vitals. Upon roll-out, you can expect a tighter connection between your site’s UX design and search ranking fate. If you are hearing about this update for the first time, read further to discover how it can benefit your business goals.
What is Page Experience?
We all know that Google decides which sites get the top position on the SERPs. But how does it do that? Well, Google uses a list of search ranking factors, which is much like a competition’s criteria for judging. For this search engine giant, however, the assessment process involves about 200 factors! And while they’re a lot and growing, these factors are mainly centred on Google’s favourite attribute: user experience (UX).
Page experience is a crucial Google ranking signal related to overall UX. Currently, it has four significant user experience metrics, including:
- mobile-friendliness, which focuses on how pages provide a positive experience to mobile users
- safe browsing, which refers to the absence of malware, harmful downloads or safety issues on pages
- HTTPS, which recognises the effort of website owners to establish secure encryption, and
- intrusive interstitials, which rewards websites following the interstitial guidelines.
How Will the Google Ranking Signal Update Affect You?
This 2021, Google plans to update page experience signals, with core web vitals joining the ranks. The Google team believes adding these metrics can give them a more holistic picture of a user’s page experience. Their research findings on page load speeds and user attention may have a lot to do with this conclusion. So, how does this affect you and your search traffic?
- Page experience score accounts for a large percentage of Google’s overall ranking evaluation. Meaning, there is a high chance for your traffic and ranking positions to go down if you don’t optimise your page experience factors.
- Poor user experience encourages visitors to leave your website and visit another instead. It is also likely for them not to come back to your site and tell others to do the same.
- You can improve your search visibility and sales performance if you choose to prepare for the page experience update.
- With an optimised page experience, you have a new trump card to upstage competitors offering similar, high-quality content. The effect won’t happen overnight, of course. But, with this update, you have better chances of winning the SERP race.
What are Google Core Web Vitals?
Aside from being the focus of technical SEO experts this year, Google core web vitals are also among the expected SEO trends for 2021. But what are they exactly? These refer to three essential metrics that evaluate users’ experience when visiting your webpage. In a way, they can tell you whether a visitor will enjoy browsing your site or not, and these include the following.
Largest contentful paint (LCP)
LCP refers to your page’s loading speed or the time spent when a user clicks on a link and see the majority of its content. According to user experience standards, your LCP is excellent if 75% of your page content can load within 2.5 seconds.
- LCP assessment. Go to your Google Search Console, then check its core web vitals From here, you will see how page URLs are performing and which ones have issues. Select one URL that you want to improve and check it through Google PageSpeed Insights. It will then give you its LCP score plus the elements affecting it. The good thing about this page speed test is that the results depend on Chrome browser data (also called field data) or your pages’ performance in real-time.
First input delay (FID)
FID refers to your page’s responsiveness or the time spent for the browser to respond to user input or action. For example, how long does it take for your site to react when a user presses the Click Here button? According to Google standards, it should take 100 milliseconds or less.
FID may not be as essential to your blog posts, news articles or similar content-centric pages. However, for pages where you need to choose among menu options, navigate site links, enter personal information or open accordion text, FID is crucial. Log in, sign up, enquiry or checkout pages are specific examples where you want your site to be extra responsive.
- FID assessment. It’s a bit tricky to measure FID as you need a user to interact with your page and make the first input. However, you can use the lab metric total blocking time (TBT) for assessment. TBT refers to the time when long tasks block the main thread, which, in effect, indicates how usable or unresponsive a page is. Chrome DevTools, Lighthouse and WebPageTest are some lab tools you can use for this.
Cumulative layout shift (CLS)
CLS refers to how stable your page is as it loads, also called visual stability. Google is not a fan of moving elements or content in pages while they load up. So, you need to keep your CLS score at 0.1 or less. But why is page stability important?
Well, imagine you’ve clicked on the checkout page but still contemplating whether to buy the item or not. The last thing you want is to accidentally click on Confirm when you want to Cancel the purchase just because of sudden shifts. It can be frustrating for users to relocate page buttons or wait for the page to load completely to avoid clicking anything by mistake.
- CLS assessment. You can assess CLS the same way you measure LCP. Start with checking your site through the core web vitals section of the Google Search Console. Next, plug the page URL to Google PageSpeed Insights to review your CLS status.
How Can You Improve Your Google Core Web Vitals?
Now that you know more about core web vitals, the importance of optimising in time for the Google ranking signal update roll-out becomes clearer. It is undoubtedly in line with Google’s ultimate objective of meeting user expectations.
Optimising Google core web vitals for the page experience algorithm update, on the other hand, gives you a user-friendly site, higher traffic and better rankings. It is a win-win situation! The question now is how. Here are some tweaks you can do to underperforming pages after assessing them.
How to optimise LCP
- Remove or optimise your large-size content elements. Use PageSpeed Insights to help you identify them. In most cases, the results include hero images or web page banners. These can affect your loading performance, so compress image sizes and convert them into more efficient formats.
- Address delays due to CSS. You can work on this by minifying your CSS file size, deferring your non-critical CSS and inlining your critical CSS within the HTML file.
- Consider lazy loading. This way, page elements load up as users scroll down your page, speeding up your LCP in the process.
- Practice the minimalist approach. Make it a rule to use fewer codes, images and plugins when optimising your page loading speed.
How to optimise FID
- Remove non-essential third-party scripts. Examples of which are heatmaps and Google Analytics. Removing these third-party scripts can make your page more responsive.
- Minify and compress CSS files. You can remove unused CSS code as well to reduce its impact on your FID.
How to optimise CLS
- Always indicate the size dimensions of your media elements. Specify width and height attributes to reserve space for loading content and prevent unexpected layout shifts. These include your images, videos, GIFs, infographics and ads. Make sure to apply this tip when using embeds as well.
- Address font loading issues. Fonts come in various types and sizes, which can cause unexpected content shifts throughout the page. You can preload the fonts, so they become a priority during page rendering. Other solutions include locally hosting the fonts or using aggressive caching.
- Position your dynamic content strategically. Most websites have dynamic content on their pages. It can be a newsletter sign-up form, sticky bars with notification, related content, product suggestions and more. To use this without affecting your CLS score, reserve a space for it or insert it below your existing content.
- Give priority to your above-the-fold content. This strategy relies on the fact that users’ attention will go to the first content that they see. So, use this behaviour to your advantage.
- Continue concentrating on content relevance. Page experience is essential, but, as they say, content is still king. Give sufficient time to upgrade the technical stuff, but never disregard your content strategy.
- Keep your site mobile-friendly. This factor is on Google’s high priority list. Make sure to regularly monitor your website for this, or check it through a mobile-friendly test.
- Get to know Google’s variety of tools for optimisation. More importantly, study how they can help you improve your website and search rankings. This tip will also come in handy for tackling future Google ranking updates.
I know what you’re thinking. Optimising your website to meet Google standards entails a lot of hard work and technical know-how. Yes, it does. So, it is best to start your upgrading efforts the soonest you can.
It may be an arduous process, but on a positive note, it also motivates business owners like you to make users’ experience a priority. Your site visitors are your reason for putting up and continuously improving your website, after all. And giving them the best is your key to success!
If you feel your website is slow and you are having trouble with your core web vitals, feel free to book your discovery session below.