Google’s algorithms don’t come out of thin air.
They’re all designed to improve the searching and browsing experience. As Director of Digital Strategy at Ignite Visibility, it’s up to people like me to respond to every Google SEO update and help clients surpass the status quo. So when it comes to the Google page experience update rolling out in May 2021, I’m ready.
What We’ll Cover:
Google’s Page Speed History
With the latest Google SEO update in mind, the history of Google page speed doesn’t go too far back in time.
Despite that, there have been more than a handful of critical updates, all of which have set the bar even higher for page speed. Google has continued to invest time and resources in page speed improvements over time.
On April 9, 2010, Google started using page speed as a factor in desktop rankings.
The next big change didn’t come until eight years later. On July 9, 2018, Google rolled out a page speed update for mobile rankings. At this point, mobile browsing had long since been a factor, and page speed was beginning to catch up.
On February 25, 2019, the Google Test My Site tool was updated.
Two changes happened in November 2019. First, on November 4, Google Search Console rolled out the speed report. Then, on November 12, PageSpeed Insights incorporated CrUX data from the Chrome User Experience Report.
By May 5, 2020, Google launched Core Web Vitals. A few weeks later on May 28, they announced the page experience update. That’s precisely what we’re delving into today.
Another update is projected in May 2021, one year after the first page experience update.
What is the Update On Google Page Experience?
Page experience is made up of a set of signals. These signals measure the way users perceive their interactive experience with any given web page. It goes beyond the pure value of the information on the page.
For the upcoming update, Google is combining the signals they rolled out in their Core Web Vitals update with existing page experience signals. Some of these signals include:
- HTTPS security
- Safe browsing
- & more
Rollout Timeline of Google Page Experience Updates
There has been a lot of buzz about the Google Page Experience Updates, leaving many marketers to wonder when these changes will happen.
Google has released the latest timeline for these updates, announcing that the rollout won’t start until Mid-June 2021, and will be complete by the end of August 2021. Google’s reasoning for this was to help you continue to make changes to your website to provide the best page experience possible.
- The ranking change
- AMP Badge will go away & will no longer be required for Google News
- Top Stories carousel feature on Google Search will begin to include all news content that meets both the Google News content policies and guidelines.
End of August Updates:
- Core Web Vital Metrics: LCP, FID, and CLS
- Mobile Friendliness, Safe Browsing, HTTPS, and No Intrusive Interstitials
Opportunities for Site Performance within the Latest Google Update
There are three key opportunities for improved site performance within the update. Since Core Web Vitals measures UX in a quantifiable way, these opportunities make sense.
- Loading: Users should be able to experience quick load times. Slow-loading or never-ending pages are no fun for the user, and Google knows this. In fact, Google says that bounce rates increase by 106% if a page load time increases from 1–6 seconds. The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric addresses this. Ideally, you want your load time under 2.5 seconds per page.
- Interactivity: Any delay on a user’s first input (like a click) is no good. The First Input Delay (FID) metric addresses this. Ideally, you want your interactivity metric under 100 ms.
- Visual Stability: Consider your own experience of a screen shifting right as you go to click something, and you end up clicking on the wrong button. The Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) metric addresses this. Good visual stability should receive a score of less than 0.1.
By streamlining your page loads and solidifying your pages’ interactivity and visual stability, you’re setting your site up for SEO success.
Tools to Evaluate Your Page Experience
There are numerous tools across the web to help you evaluate your readiness for the Google page experience update. I’ll cover five of my favorites for you to get started.
- Google Search Console Core Web Vitals Report: This report shows URL performance. It groups performance by status, metric type, and groups of similar web pages.
- PageSpeed Insights: The tried-and-true PageSpeed Insights performs a full rundown of your page’s content. It delivers suggestions on how to improve your page speed.
- Lighthouse: This member of the Chrome DevTools family helps to improve web page quality. Audits tackle performance, accessibility (an important issue), SEO and more.
- Chrome DevTools: Overall, the Chrome DevTools suite is an ideal solution for developers and strategists like myself.
- Webpagetest.org: This site keeps things simple or spices them up with advanced testing (like video capture, content blocking and more).
- ScreamingFrog: By connecting a PageSpeed Insights API with the Screaming Frog spider, you can create a very powerful tool to quickly measure CWVs for your entire website.
Core Web Vitals: Lab Data vs. Field Data
You get field data and lab data, and the two results may not always be in sync. What does that mean, and which one should you listen to?
Here’s what Google has to say about lab vs. field data:
“The field data is a historical report about how a particular URL has performed and represents anonymized performance data from users in the real-world on a variety of devices and network conditions. The lab data is based on a simulated load of a page on a single device and fixed set of network conditions. As a result, the values may differ.”
Basically, field data is the collection of data from that URL, but it’s based on real experiences. Meanwhile, lab data is a simulation. It’s important, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. Your simulation could go great, but if actual users are having a hard time with any of the page experience factors, the simulation doesn’t mean much.
Google employees themselves have said that field data is more relevant than lab data. So if they contradict each other, you should refer to the field data.
Our Approach to Being Update Ready
There are a lot of ways you can optimize your Google page experience. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry—I’ve got you covered with Ignite Visibility’s very own approach.
Understand the Performance Data That Google Provides
Don’t just skim over Google’s performance input. Really read it and take it in. Then, make the requested changes, because actions speak much louder than intent.
Compare Your Page Experience Data To Competitors
Run tests on your competitors’ web pages. See where their page speed stands. Sometimes, you might have to contextualize this, but that’s okay. It’s important to get a feel for the competitive landscape.
Identify Your Users’ Top Pain Points
You can’t make the right changes if you don’t know what’s failing to work in the first place. Run tests, surveys, and campaigns that help you identify (and understand) these pain points.
Prioritize the Top Pain Points
Users might report a variety of pain points, but you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by it all. Consolidate the results and prioritize the ones that affect users the most.
Work with Developers to Determine Feasibility
How feasible is it to make the changes that address these user pain points? You might be surprised, so check with a professional.
Work with Devs to Determine Realistic Timelines
It’s easy enough for company leaders to set short timelines if they’re not the ones making the changes. Listen to your devs on this one.
Build Business Cases
Find out if and why you need to improve your page speed. Build a case (or cases) to support this.
Work Across All Teams
Teamwork is best in this case, and I’ll tell you why. You want to ensure everyone understands what’s changing and why it’s important.
An Analysis of Google Page Experience In Action
All of these update-readiness tips and tricks have proven themselves in our clientele. We ran a test on one website to take their page speed from 2.4 seconds to 2.0 seconds. In our testing, this small change led to a potential annual revenue increase of over half a million dollars.
This same website wasn’t utilizing Google Search Console (GSC) data. By installing GSC, it allowed them (and us) to see Core Web Vitals, mobile friendliness, and page speed improvement recommendations. Based on the ideal benchmarks from page speed insights, we were able to identify that the LCP and CLS metrics needed improvement across each of their page templates. Plus, we discovered that the image-heavy pages were slowing things down considerably.
Needless to say, our team was on the ball in making these shifts.
Optimization Techniques for Google Page Experience Update Metrics
Here are some optimization techniques for the different factors you need to keep in mind as you tackle your page experience:
Optimizing for LCP
If you want to render your main content quicker:
- Improve server response times and reduce TTFB.
- Utilize CDNs, link rel=“preconnect” and caching static resources.
- Reduce the file size of resources like images.
- Implement compression, caching and CDNs.
- Prioritize the loading of critical resources by using link rel=“preload”.
- Minimize client-side rendering by using server-side rendering or pre-rendering where possible.
Optimizing for FID
If you want your site to respond to user interactions quicker:
- Analyze third-party scripts in terms of main thread usage and defer loading of non-critical ones like tracking tags below-the-fold.
- Test interactivity of server-side rendered content as pixels can be painted before re-hydration on the client side occurs and interaction is possible.
- Minimize main thread work. Use code splitting to serve code in smaller chunks and use web workers to deliver code off the main thread.
Optimizing for CLS
If you want to avoid sudden and unexpected shifts in layout:
- Specify image and embed dimensions with the “width” and “height” attributes, or use a CSS aspect ratio box to block out the required space.
- Assign static space to ad spaces, push non-sticky ads below the viewport and add placeholders to reserved spaces rather than collapsing empty ones.
- Avoid inserting new dynamic content above existing content unless this is in response to user interaction (think pop-ups and interstitials).
- Reduce layout shifts caused by FOUT/FOIT by using font-display and the Font Loading API.
Optimizing for Mobile Friendliness
If you want to make your web page more mobile-friendly:
- Use Mobile-friendly Test and Mobile Usability report in GSC to see how well-adapted pages are to mobile.
- Avoid issues like incompatible plugins, viewport not set, and text too small to read.
- Use URL Profiler to query the Mobile-friendly Test API at scale. If Google’s tools return no results, run a few hundred pages to verify.
Optimizing for Safe Browsing
If you want to remove malicious or deceptive content:
- Check the Security Issues Report in GSC to see whether your site has any hacked content, malware, unwanted software or social engineering content that tricks visitors into revealing confidential information or downloading software.
- Use URL Profiler to query the Google Safe Browsing API to test the safety of a broader subset of your pages beyond what is reported on in GSC.
Optimizing for HTTPS:
If you want to solidify secure connections:
- Spot check connection security in a browser such as Chrome to check if individual URLs have connections that aren’t secure.
- Run a full website crawl of your site’s URLs and resources to identify pages, forms, images and scripts that are being served over HTTP to be migrated.
- Look out for expired certificates, TLS versions, HTTPS being blocked by robots.txt and content embeds when auditing HTTPS issues.
Optimizing for Interstitials
If you want to keep your main content from being obstructed:
- Review cookie banners and pop-up designs to make sure they don’t take up too much of the screen.
- Use your browser or “screenshots” in Chrome DevTools to do manual analysis.
Bottom Line: The Google Page Experience Update Is An Opportunity for Digital Streamlining
As a Director of Digital Strategy, I’m always conjuring up ways on how to help clients achieve their goals. But when it comes to the Google page speed update, much of the best practices are already set in stone. It’s just a matter of following the path, for the sake of your users.