A keyboard with a Google key.

Page Experience – Google’s New Core Update, Is Your Website Ready?

  • A major update to the Google search algorithm is underway, completion due by the end of August 2021.
  • The update focuses on measuring speed and usability as ranking factors in addition to content quality.
  • Once completed, some websites may experience a drop in search rankings.

Google is making changes right now that may affect your website’s rankings in the search pages. For a while now, they have been working on Web Vitals, a set of metrics to help websites optimize for performance and user experience. Three of these metrics, the “Core Web Vitals”, are becoming a part of the core algorithm’s “Page Experience” ranking signals by the end of the summer.

Here is Google’s own definition on the Page Experience ranking signals:

Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing Search signals: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

This graphic explains the 5 key ranking factors for Page Experience: Core Web Vitals, Mobile Friendly, Safe Browsing, HTTPS, and No Intrusive Interstitials.
Core Web Vitals is the new addition (highlighted) to existing signals for the overall metrics of page experience.

How does Page Experience affect your site?

If your website has performance and/or usability issues, your website’s position in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) may begin to fall.

However, Google has stated that they will still want to rank websites favorably with the best information and content overall. Content is always king. 

Keep in mind, the page experience signals will be a deciding factor. If a competitor has similar relevance, but a much better page experience, Google will rank them higher. It is vital to make sure your website is snappy, safe, and mobile friendly.

Let’s explore the five page experience signals that Google uses to rank your site in order to better understand these metrics.

The Page Experience Signals

1. Your Website’s Core Web Vitals

A graphic displaying the the 3 Core Web Vitals for Page Experience: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

It goes without saying that a slow site leads to a bad experience.

How many times have you stared at blank page waiting to load and think the site was broken? Not only the speed of the page loading, but also how fast the page reacts when you click a button or if the layout shifts unexpectedly.

Core Web Vitals takes these issues and puts them into three key metrics to gauge the overall user experience of your website:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long does it take until the largest piece of content is visible on the site?
  • First Input Delay (FID): How long does it take for the website to react to an input, such as clicking a button?
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Does the website shift around while loading the page?

Some of the basic steps you can take is reduce your image sizes and remove or delay extraneous scripts. However, it may be more technical in nature and we recommend hiring a SEO expert such as the ones here at Canyon Creative.

2. Your Website Must Be Mobile Friendly

A graphic of person holding a mobile phone. Mobile usability is an important factor in Page Experience.

In July 2019, Google announced they would begin ranking websites based on the quality of the mobile version of their site and it went into effect March 2021.

In 2020, mobile browsing in the United States accounted for 61% of all traffic, vs 35% for desktop.

If your website is not mobile friendly in 2021, you are behind the times and losing traffic.

Mobile internet traffic overtook desktop traffic years ago and it is now to the point where web designers are moving towards “mobile first” design. This is the process where you start designing your site from a mobile viewport (viewing area) first, then expand as the viewport gets larger. Even if you have a mobile version of your website, you might be unaware of issues that affect the mobile usability.

For example, you may have poorly sized and spaced elements such as social media icons where it is difficult to click with your finger. Clickable elements are recommended to have a target area no smaller than 48×48 pixels and be at least 16 pixels apart.

Having a mobile friendly website is crucial. Especially, as it is now a primary ranking factor. Depending on the design of your website, you may have to consider creating an entirely different experience for mobile versus desktop in order to optimize for these metrics.

3. Your Website Must Be Secure Using HTTPS.

A graphic showing a website address in a browser showing the https:// for a secure website.
HTTPS adds the (S) to the old http:// address to signify the data between you and the server is encrypted and secure.

Since 2014, Google has ranked websites slightly higher that use a secure connection with HTTPS. 

Today, the top web browsers are making it quite clear when you come to a site that is not secure with its ‘Not Secure” warning near the address bar.  

In some cases, huge warnings will splash across the page if someone incorrectly links to your site using https://yoursite.com instead of http://yoursite.com. Chrome will give a large warning across the screen that a site is unsafe. 

A webpage that displays that the connection is not private due to the website not being served in HTTPS.
With Chrome, if you attempt to go to a secure site that is not secure, even if it was a typing error, this warning will occur across the page.

This warning is not a very good experience and users will think your website is down. It is also worth noting that this can happen when your SSL certificate expires, so make sure to keep your billing information up to date with your issuer.

Eventually, the internet as a whole is going to move to an all HTTPS world and it will surely become the norm with your hosting service.

If your website is not secure in 2021, it should be. Contact your hosting company and they can help you install a SSL certificate. With some plans, it comes with the hosting as a bonus.

4. Your Website’s Use of Intrusive Interstitial Ads, aka Popups

A graphic displaying the progress of a typical interstitial ad. A user click on a site, an interstitial ad is displayed, the user clicks it out, then the page resumes loading.

Since the early days of the web, we have experienced popup ads. While popup blockers have reduced this old medium of advertising, a newer form has taken its place.

Today, “Interstitial” ads have largely replaced popups. These ads appear on the same window in between pages or actions at natural transition points, usually covering the entire page. These are most prevalent on mobile sites and apps. You may have seen these ads when you click a button or navigate to another page, to then have an ad appear disrupting your progress.

With the rise of these ads, Google began to take action. In late 2015, they began to remove any page from their search results that had an interstitial ad after clicking on the result. Then in 2017, Google started to penalize sites in the algorithm where the content is not easily accessible due to these ads.

Despite these actions from Google, interstitial ads do have their place. They have a high impression rate and can lead to more conversions. If you are using these ads, you must make them a part of the overall flow of the site and not be an intrusion.

Here is a quick guide on some of the incorrect and correct placements of interstitial ads:

Where NOT to put your interstitial ads:

  • An ad appears when a user enters or leaves a website or app.
  • An ad appears after every user action (clicks, swipes, etc).
  • Multiple ads appear in a row.
  • An ad unexpectedly appears without action.

Where you CAN put your interstitial ads:

  • Page to page interstitials ads on pages not indexed by Google.
  • Cookie notifications are exempt.
  • Age verifications are exempt.

5. Safe Browsing of Your Website

A person holding a smartphone that displays 'malware!' across the screen.

The last signal, “Safe Browsing” is part of Google’s security service that seeks to identify unsafe websites and warns users of potential harm.

Since 2007, Google has been maintaining a blacklist of unsafe sites. For the most part, this pertains to malicious phishing websites. However, this can apply to legitimate websites that contain malware. Google flags these sites and will become not visible in search results. It is imperative to make sure your website is safe.

How do I know if my website is ok?

The easiest thing you can do is check your website via Google’s Safe Browsing site status tool here.

It is also important to stay proactive by hooking your website into the Google Search Console. Besides being a great SEO tool, it notifies when a site is blacklisted. Even going as far as providing steps to rectify the issues, presenting examples of specific code injections present in the site. These notifications are important to act on immediately. Google measures the time it takes for the website to be cleaned after notifying the webmaster. All factors under page experience.

Final Words on Page Experience

When it is all said and done, ultimately, how will Page Experience and the update affect your website?

The truth is, we won’t see the impact until after it has completed its roll out. With past Google updates, some sites rankings were affected, some were not. However, this is one of the few instances Google has been very forthcoming about this major update. Even prolonging it due to COVID-19 in order to give administrators more time to prepare.

This tells us that Google knows these changes will cause ripple effects in organic search.

Even without this update, these are practices you should be following. In 2021 and beyond, a successful SEO strategy is driven not just by the keywords in your content, but rather if your content is served up in a positive and safe user experience.

Google only wants to deliver the most beneficial results at the top with the highest authority for its users. Your website needs to be a resource to answer what people are searching for while making the user experience a breeze. That is the most important of all.

As a recap, these are the 5 main page experience signals moving forward, (of course subject to change):

  1. Core Web Vitals – How fast does it load, how fast does it react and much does the webpage jump on load.
  2. Mobile First Priority – Your site must look and work well on a mobile device.
  3. HTTPS – Your site must be encrypted with its communication protocol.
  4. Interstitial (Popup) Ads – Use them sparingly and only in the appropriate ways
  5. Safe Web Browsing – Make sure your site is not hacked or compromised.

If you need expert advice about your website, a website refresh or even a whole new website, contact Canyon Creative. We can help you navigate upcoming Google updates, and make sure your website is running safely and efficiently.