As a business owner, you should be consistently maintaining your website and implementing an SEO strategy that attracts qualified visitors based on their search terms. But what happens if qualified visitors are clicking on your website and never convert or quickly return to the search result page? (Learn more about Bounce Rate) This is often indicative of a user experience issue. 

Google Page Experience 

Thanks to the Google “Page Experience” update released in June of 2021, website owners are now or should be taking care to ensure their page experience is optimized. The Page Experience update emphasizes four key areas that impact the user experience. The four categories are:

  1. Core Web Vitals
  2. Mobile-Friendliness
  3. Pop-ups/Spam
  4. HTTPS Protocol

What are “Core Web Vitals” and how do I improve my PageSpeed Insights score?

Google Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals is probably the most interesting part of the Page Experience update. Core Web Vitals are page experience signals that Google uses to create an overall score based on a website page’s performance. The three metrics in no particular order of importance are:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
  • First Input Delay (FID)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP refers to the largest visible element as the page loads for your visitors. If your website has a background video in the hero set to autoplay or some other javascript element as the first thing a visitor sees, that is likely going to be the LCP for that page. Reducing the size of these elements can improve LCP and thus your overall score. For a deeper dive into LCP, follow the Simple Guide to Improving Largest Contentful Paint.

First Input Delay (FID)

FID can be one of the more difficult Page Experience signals to understand. FID is the time delay, in milliseconds, between when a user clicks on the link to the page and when the page is ready to respond to user actions like opening a hamburger menu or clicking on a button. The most common cause of a poor FID score is render-blocking resources like external CSS libraries or fonts. For a more in-depth technical overview of FID, check out this simple guide to improving First Input Delay.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Cumulative Layout Shift can be quite annoying for a user. CLS is an unexpected shift in the page layout after it has already loaded. If you’ve ever been browsing a page and all of a sudden the content you were reading gets pushed down, that is an example of CLS. A common cause of CLS is high-resolution images that do not have a defined width and height. While the server is waiting to download and present the image, it does not know how much space to save on the page for that image. So, once the image is ready, the entire page adjusts to fit the image. By setting exact dimensions for your images, you can greatly reduce the layout shift. For more tips on CLS, head over to the simple guide to improving Cumulative Layout Shift.

Core Web Vitals Summary

If you are interested in finding out how your website scores on the three Core Web Vitals, head over to the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool, powered by Lighthouse, and plug in your website’s URL. Once the tool has analyzed your website and given a score from 0-100, it will also list several suggestions on what you can do to improve your score. It is atypical of Google to give us such valuable SEO information in a tool like this, so it is important that website owners take advantage of it. While LCP, FID, and CLS are the new additions to Google’s ranking algorithm, the PageSpeed Insights tool also offers data related to Total Blocking Time (TBT), First Contentful Paint (FCP), and Speed Index. Follow the respective links for more information.

SEO and CRO Collide with Page Speed Metrics

While page speed has always been a factor in converting website traffic into leads/customers (Learn more about page speed and conversion rate), it is relatively new as a verified ranking factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm. While search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization are two powerful tools for growing your business, they are completely different, and sometimes contradictory. It is up to your digital marketing specialist to A/B test different strategies to figure out what works best for your business. 

Mobile-Friendliness as a Page Experience Metric

Mobile Friendliness

It should not be shocking to hear that more and more people are turning to their mobile devices for surfing the internet. In fact, mobile devices account for over 61% of website visits. While the actual number may vary by industry, the importance of a mobile website has never been higher. Optimizing your website for mobile devices isn’t necessarily a new concern. Back in 2016 Google started rolling out Mobile-First Indexing for search engine ranking. All too often, web designers would create a beautifully designed website with lots of columns and elements that simply don’t fit on a screen that is only 450 pixels wide. The common solution was to hide or remove some of the content in order to have a functioning mobile website. Google decided that websites should not be ranking for content that doesn’t exist for its growing mobile audience. 

As the number of mobile users grows, so too is the number of tools that make responsive web design easy. There are countless themes and page builders available that require little development experience to implement a mobile-friendly website. Some of the most common problems that make your website “unfriendly” to mobile devices are content overflow (content that gets pushed off-screen), clickable elements that are too close together, and text that is too small to read. To see if your website is considered mobile-friendly, try out the Mobile-Friendly Test tool by Google. While this will give you a starting point, the best method is to view your website on a mobile device to experience it as a visitor would and make improvements.

Intrusive Interstitials – Content Blocking in the Page Experience Update

Interstitial Popups

Intrusive Interstitials are exactly as they sound, intrusive. Think of every time you’ve had a hard time accessing the internet article you would like to read because of a pesky entry popup or paywall. It’s nice to know Google is penalizing the websites that employ such tactics. According to Google, an intrusive interstitial is “Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.” Although it is interesting that the popular Google-owned Youtube employs exactly that with ads before the video. Since many top-performing and 1st page ranked websites still employ these annoying techniques, it is reasonable to assume that interstitials don’t hold quite the importance that Google’s Page Experience guidelines make it out to be. Still, we could see that change in the future, and many small businesses cannot afford to miss out on whatever value this signal provides to the ranking algorithm. To avoid being penalized, ensure that any popups on your website are held to a timer or are triggered by a user’s action after they have had the opportunity to access the main content.

HTTPS Protocol

HTTPS Protocol

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS, is an extension of the classic HTTP. HTTP is the protocol that allows the web browser to receive data from the server. HTTPS is the newer and more secure way to send and receive that same data. Many browsers have made it easy to identify websites using the safer data transfer protocol with the padlock icon or a warning page before you can access a website. Many registrars and hosting service providers will give you a free SSL certificate which makes HTTPS possible. If your website is currently displaying a security warning because it is not using HTTPS, fix it immediately. There are plenty of people trying to steal your customer’s data, especially if your website processes payment information. Not only will these warnings deter potential customers from your website, an unsecured website can also open the door to heaps of trouble and frustration in the event of a data breach. Most importantly, using the older HTTP protocol is now a ranking signal for Google’s search algorithm. 

Page Experience Update Summary

If you’ve made it this far, my hope is that you now have a better understanding of what is included in the Page Experience update and how it applies to your website. Along with this update, there are rumors of Google implementing a new badge on the search engine results page to signal to users whether a page is considered to have a good page experience. 

While websites can and do still rank on the first page of Google without following these guidelines, as Google continues to improve the algorithm that may not always be the case. 2 weeks ago the SEO community was in quite the buzz over what we can only assume was an undisclosed major update to the algorithm that absolutely tanked the keyword rankings, at least temporarily, for many websites. By analyzing the similarities between our client’s websites that were affected, we came to the reasonable assumption that it had something to do with page speed. 

It is estimated that Google makes at least one algorithm update every single day. Don’t suffer unnecessarily from these updates by ensuring your website follows all of Google’s best practices and guidelines. If you, like most business owners, don’t have the time to study the in and outs of search algorithms, consider hiring a professional search engine consultant.