Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be unrolling yet another update to its search engine algorithm at some point in 2021.
(Quick Note: Google has announced that they will delay the rollout due to the coronavirus pandemic and will also provide six months’ notice to the public beforehand.)
Dubbed Google Page Experience, the update focuses on promoting web pages that optimize for factors that “make the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces.”
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at just what they mean by this, and what it means for your team moving forward.
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What is the Google Page Experience Update?
According to Google, the Page Experience update revolves around the idea that 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”.
Okay, that sounds like a lot – but don’t panic.
And don’t let all the talk around the latest trends in marketing – from artificial intelligence and machine learning to immersive experiences – make the term “Google Page Experience” any more intimidating than it needs to be.
In truth, the Google Page Experience update is all about ensuring your site visitors can do exactly what they came to do once they land on a page within your site.
It’s not about developing some never-before-seen, state-of-the-art experience for your online audience.
(Although, if you can make it happen, you absolutely should!)
Rather, the Google Page Experience (GPE) algorithm will simply aim to promote websites that meet specific standards in terms of usability.
On that note, Google has explicitly stated that valuable content still takes precedence over usability:
“In cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
That said, adhering to GPE’s standards can allow your website to stand out from your competitors’, given that your content is of relatively equal quality.
(To be clear, adhering to GPE standards alone won’t be enough to hit the top of Google’s search results. But not adhering to them will definitely impact your content’s visibility.)
And, of course, improving your GPE score will inherently lead to a better on-site experience for your customers. More than simply looking good “on paper”, the changes you make will actually serve to improve your acquisition, engagement, and retention efforts over time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Google Page Experience means for your SEO and page design efforts moving forward.
Core Web Vitals and Interstitials: Optimizing Usability and Digestibility
Great content presented poorly just isn’t effective – there’s no denying that.
Which is why Google’s Page Experience update aims to promote web pages that deliver content and information quickly, efficiently, and in a user-friendly manner.
The algorithm does this by assessing web pages based on three pieces of data.
First, it looks at the page’s Largest Contentful Paint. According to Google, this metric “reports the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport”. The quicker this asset loads, the sooner the visitor can actually begin engaging with your web page.
Google then assesses the page’s First Input Delay, which measures the length of time it takes for a web page to respond after a given user input. Needless to say, quicker is better, here; a slow-to-load site will almost always lead to a poor experience for your customers.
Finally, Cumulative Layout Shift measures the visual stability of a web page as it loads and as the user interacts with it.
Now, in most cases, making improvements in these areas will require you to tap into your IT team’s talents.
In other cases, though, your marketing and design teams can lend a hand in improving these metrics.
For example, becoming ultra-selective about your use of images and other multimedia files will ensure you’re not unnecessarily adding to your LCP time. Similarly, you may need to come up with more efficient ways of delivering information if your current methods cause too much layout shift.
Or you may need to decide whether or not the content or info being presented is worth including at all. If the ensuing layout shift is too disruptive – and doesn’t offer much value – it may be worth scrapping it altogether.
In addition to these Core Web Vitals, the GPE update also assesses a page’s use of interstitials – that is, popups, overlays, and the like.
As Google explains, examples of proper use of interstitials include:
- Overlays to deliver vital information (such as GDPR info)
- Overlays to receive vital information (such as the user’s date of birth)
- Slide-ins (that don’t cover the screen) delivering quick-hitting, “nice-to-know” info (e.g., coupon codes)
Conversely, interstitials that are more intrusive than they are valuable will detract from the page’s usability score – and will negatively affect its search engine ranking.
The takeaway here is to continue becoming more deliberate and economical with the content you present on your website. Quality continues to trump quantity and adding content for the sake of doing so can actually cause your search engine rankings to plummet.
Keep your online experience tight and focused, and your audience will always be able to get what they came for.
Mobile-Friendliness Becomes Non-Negotiable
If it’s not already clear that mobile-friendliness is essential for your website, the GPE update aims to make it official.
Google’s algorithm assesses the page’s usability and digestibility as displayed on mobile devices. Basically, it takes everything we discussed in the previous section and applies it to the page’s mobile experience.
Now, generally speaking, much of your site probably already is mobile-friendly. By today’s standards, responsiveness is a key requirement of any site-building tool worth its salt.
Still, if you have any doubts, you’ll want to head over to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test for clarification.
Not only will you get a clear “Yes” or “No” answer to your mobile-friendly query, but you’ll also be given a more in-depth report on specific page elements that may be causing issues in this regard.
Again, this isn’t anything new; mobile-friendliness has been a key search engine ranking factor for years.
But, coupled with the above Core Web Vitals, we get a clear reminder of what being “mobile-first” really means.
Remember how we discussed being more frugal with your use of content? It’s even more important on mobile, where you have less physical space and technological capacity to work with.
Rather than paring away at your already-made desktop content, it’s more efficient to start with your mobile design and build out. That way, you’ll adhere to the “minimum necessary” rule as a matter of course – and will continue making only meaningful additions to your pages as time goes on.
Page Security Comes Front and Center
Google’s Page Experience update is also doubling down on the importance of digital security – both for your company and for your customers.
For starters, GPE looks to ensure your site has an SSL certificate, allowing for encryption of private data. Problems in this area – or lack of SSL certificate altogether – can damage not only your search engine rankings, but also your sales and overall brand reputation.
Similarly, GPE also analyzes pages for malware and other hacked files or content – and will include this data in its overall page experience assessment.
Again, all this is more for your IT staff to worry about, but it’s still something your marketing team should be aware of. A lapse in technical security, unfortunately, can render your content and web design efforts moot.
That said, GPE’s page security assessment does involve your creative teams, too. If your content is deemed to be dishonest, subversive, or deceptive in any way, your page experience score will suffer.
(Unfortunately, this goes for any third-party content [e.g., ads] that appear on your site, too.)
While Google Search Console’s Security Issues Reports can help you identify where certain issues may lie (and how to fix them), the ideal scenario is not having to deal with them in the first place.
This brings us back to erring on the side of caution when publishing content and information: The more intentional you are as you build out your site, the easier it will be to adhere to security protocol across the board.
Google Page Experience: Bringing Marketing and IT Together
As we discussed last year during PostFunnel’s Summit 2019, marketing and IT teams don’t always work all that well together.
Sometimes, they don’t even work together at all.
While search engine optimization still slants heavily toward the marketing side of things, your marketing team can’t be fully empowered without backup from your IT staff.
And, your IT team needs to be kept apprised of your marketing team’s creative vision for your website, as well. That way, your creative teams know what’s possible in terms of creating and delivering valuable, user-friendly experiences to your online audience.
So, in spite of the fact that your marketing and IT teams don’t typically work together, the GPE update should be a wake-up call that it needs to start happening sooner than later.
More than just helping your site meet Google’s new standards, desiloing your marketing and IT teams can lead your company to push both creative and technical limits as you further develop your website.
In thinking outside the box while operating within your current capacity, you’ll be able to maximize your creative potential – while always looking for the next innovative way to wow your audience.
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