Google’s web page experience algorithm update explained
Google’s Web Page Experience algorithm update will be rolled out in May 2021. This means that it’s crucial to focus on improving your sites mobile-friendliness, core web vital scoring, security and loading speed ahead of the update.
In this post, we’re taking a closer look at Google’s web page experience algorithm update and what this means for your business going forward.
What is web page experience?
Web page experience is not concerned with the informational content on a page. Instead, it compiles a set of signals that measure how users interact with a page. Google has introduced Core Web Vitals to attempt to quantify this. This covers the metrics used to measure user experience (UX) for page loading, interactivity and the visual stability of a page.
How is page experience measured?
There are 5 main variables that Google uses to measure page experience. This includes:
- Core Web Vitals (we’ll discuss this later)
- Safe browsing
- No Intrusive Interstitials
Of course, it’s almost impossible to generalise a website’s user experience, as different people interact with web pages in different ways. However, the factors above help Google to separate the good from the bad when it comes to page experience.
If you’re new to the world of page experience, not to worry. We’ll go over all of these variables in detail.
Mobile-friendliness refers to how user-friendly your mobile site is. This is especially important as Google has rolled out mobile-first indexing. This means that the mobile version of your site is what Google uses for ranking and indexing.
This was introduced as a direct response to the growth of the use of the internet on mobiles. According to Smart Insights, over 50% of the world’s searches are carried out on mobile devices, whereas 46% are carried out on desktop.
Best practises for mobile-friendly websites
Making your website more mobile-friendly encompasses many different tasks, including:
- Making sure mobile content is accessible and renderable by Google
- Making sure your website is responsive, this includes:
- Checking functionality on mobile
- Ensuring images are the right size
- Ensuring text is the right size
- Making sure CTA buttons, menus, forms and interactive elements are in the right place
- Assessing mobile site speed
- Making sure images are of high quality
- Making sure the content is the right size
- Ensuring the same alt-text is used on both sites
- Avoiding the use of lazy loading (this can hinder Google’s rendering process)
- Making sure the content fits all mobile screen sizes
- Ensuring the content is the same on desktop and mobile
You can also use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to see how easy your site is to use on a mobile device, and this will also provide you with areas for improvement.
Website loading speed is an incredibly important factor when it comes to UX. Typically, users will wait for a maximum of 3 seconds before clicking off a site. Not only will a slow impact your page experience value, but it can also:
- Harm UX and conversion rate
- Result in a high bounce rate
- Result in lower website engagement
You can also use Google PageSpeed Insights to find out how fast or slow your website is. You’ll also need to make sure your website is as fast as possible on mobile devices as well as a desktop device, due to mobile-first indexing.
There could be many different causes for a slow site, and this includes everything from large, un-optimised images to slow servers. If you don’t have the technical skills, you may need to enlist the help of a web developer to fix your site, without causing further issues.
Some of the most common causes of slow website loading speeds include:
- Third-party scripts, such as apps and plugins
- Browser caching not being employed
- Coding language
- Too many HTTP requests
You’ll need to make sure you test individual pages rather than just the homepage to find the root of your page speed problems. Once you’ve found out the root cause, there are several ways you could fix a slow website. This includes:
- Cleaning up website code
- Removing unused apps and plugins
- Compressing large images
HTTPS refers to the secure SSL certificate that protects your website users’ privacy and improves security. This also prevents intruders from passively listening to communications. Websites without an SSL certificate are seen as insecure and this could harm your page experience.
HTTPS vs HTTP/2
HTTPS makes sure that data is encrypted, whereas, HTTP/2 allows you to request multiple files at the same time. This can help to improve site performance and server efficiency.
If your website uses HTTPS protocol, there’s no need to panic or make any drastic changes ahead of the update. Google’s Search Trends Analyst, John Mueller, suggests going for HTTP/2 if you have a choice. Whilst HTTP/2 is not a ranking signal (yet), HTTP/2 optimises site performance which can have an indirect impact on your SEO.
Intrusive Interstitials Penalty
Google has stated that it will penalise sites with intrusive interstitials ads, such as pop-ups and notifications. Similarly to the mobile-friendly algorithm update, the intrusive interstitial penalty aims to improve UX, whilst giving website owners the chance to make the necessary changes to avoid losing rankings.
Safe browsing is all about making sure your website provides enough protection for your users. Some common security issues that could impact your page experience includes:
- The presence of malware
- The presence of harmful downloads
- Deceptive pages i.e. pages that trick users into downloading harmful files or revealing personal information
How to optimise page experience
May isn’t that far away, so you’ll need to make sure you’re providing the best possible page experience before the algorithm rolls out in a few months.
We’ve broken this process down via the individual page experience signals so all bases are covered.
How to make a website mobile-friendly
Many different components go into improving your website’s mobile-friendliness. We’ve discussed some of the main ones below.
1. Responsive web design
Google directly recommends making your website responsive. This can help with SEO, and it’s a great way of making your website mobile-friendly without limiting or changing the information in any way.
2. Making information easy to find
This could be through the use of FAQs, search bars or making your contact information easily accessible. This can all help to improve your mobile user experience, CRO and SEO.
3. Get rid of pop-ups
Pop-ups can be seen as an annoyance, especially when considering mobile UX design. Therefore, it’s best to avoid these to improve your page experience.
4. Boost mobile page speed
As Google uses your mobile site for indexing, it must run as fast as possible. This will help to improve your UX and SEO at the same time.
5. Simplistic web design
Whilst you may want to cram as much information as possible onto your page, this won’t look great on mobile. Make sure to keep your web design and content simple to provide the best possible customer experience.
6. Increase button sizes
It’s far easier to click the wrong button or menu on a smartphone, due to the smaller screen size. Therefore, to improve the mobile UX, you should make sure that buttons are large, clear and spaced well apart/
7. Use larger fonts
Reading tiny writing on a small screen is no fun, and it will also make your website less accessible. Increasing your font size is an easy way to ensure all users are being catered for, whilst improving your overall page experience.
8. Ditch flash
Android and iOS devices don’t support Flash, so this will cause problems for a large proportion of users if you still use it on your site. This is only likely to be a problem if you have an older site, as Adobe has now discontinued the product.
9. Add the Viewport meta tag
You can use this tag to indicate exactly how you want your website to look on mobile. It will tell browsers to automatically resize the page to fit the width of the device screen that the visitor is viewing it from.
To do this, you’ll need to paste this code into the HTML for each page:
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1″>
10. Turn off auto correct
Autocorrect can have a negative impact on your mobile UX, however, there’s an easy fix. Simply include autocorrect=off in the HTML of the input field and this will solve the problem.
11. Give users the option to switch to Desktop view
Some users may prefer the desktop view, so it’s always good to provide this option.
12. Carry out regular mobile-friendly tests
To keep on top of your sites mobile-friendliness, it’s good practice to run regular tests to make sure everything is working correctly.
Simply use your phone to check your website every so often so you can spot any glaring errors.
How to increase page speed
Boosting your page speed can help you to improve your UX, CRO and SEO all at the same time. There are several key ways to do this, and we’ve listed the main methods below.
1. Compress & optimise images
Large, un-optimised images can slow your site right down. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure they’re as small as possible, and the right file type to avoid causing any page speed issues.
You can use an app to compress images automatically, or you can opt for file types such as WebP, JPEG XR and JPEG 2000 to avoid slowing down your site. This is because these file types provide further compression compared to PNGs and JPEGs.
2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDNs work by using a network of different servers to deliver content and resources to users. This reduces the amount of ‘pressure’ on your individual server and, in turn, helps to improve site performance and page speed.
In most cases they’re used for delivering cached content, however, they can also improve the delivery of uncachable resources.
CDNs such as Cloudflare or the WordPress plugin Smush (Pro) serve images in WebP. This can help to keep your website running quickly.
3. Reduce the number of redirects
Redirects can slow down your page speed because the users will have to wait for the HTTP request for each URL to complete. Therefore, the more redirects, the slower your page can get.
You can optimise your code by removing unnecessary characters and this can help to speed up your website pages. It’s also a good idea to remove any unused code and formatting. There are many plugins available for this, so you don’t necessarily have to do this manually.
5. Get rid of render-blocking resources
Use Google’s guide for eliminating render-blocking resources.
6. Improve serve response time
Your server response time is affected by several different factors. This includes:
- The resources your website pages use
- The software your server uses
- The amount of traffic your website receives
- Your website hosting solution
You’ll need to do some digging to uncover any potential bottlenecks that could be increasing your server response time. However, this can help to improve your page speed significantly when your fixes are implemented.
How to avoid Google’s Intrusive Interstitials Penalty
Google penalises sites with intrusive interstitials. Intrusive interstitials include anything that blocks the user from seeing the content on a page. This includes elements such as pop-up ads, forms and offers.
If the pop-up only takes up a reasonable amount of space on mobile, you won’t be penalised, so you don’t necessarily need to scrap them completely. However, if Google deems the pop-up to be too big or obstructing, your website won’t rank as well.
How to make sure your website is safe
It’s likely that the safe browsing element won’t affect you if you’re not engaging in any illegal or deceptive online activity. However, you’ll need to make sure that your site is free from any malware to keep yourself and your users safe.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are a new signal that Google uses to assess page experience. Core Web Vitals are concerned with three key areas: loading, interactivity and visual stability. We’ll discuss these in more detail below.
Loading (Large Contentful Paint/LCP)
Large Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the loading performance of a website. 2.5 seconds or less is the benchmark for when LCP should load for a good user experience.
Some of the types of elements that class as LCP includes:
- Images (and images inside <svg> elements)
- Elements with background images
- Block-level elements with text nodes
Interactivity (First Input Delay/FID)
FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with a web page, to the time when browsers can start processing event handlers in response to the interaction.
Users can become frustrated when they click something and nothing happens. This aims to keep website-owners on the ball when it comes to page loading, and ultimately, provide a more positive user experience.
Google recommends an FID of 100 milliseconds or less for a ‘good’ page experience score.
Visual Stability (Cumulative Layout Shift/CLS)
Have you ever visited a web page and the text moves, or something suddenly changes on the site? Not only is this annoying for the user, but it can also cause problems with your website.
Cumulative Layout Shift quantifies how often users experience unusual or unexpected layout shifts. Therefore, you should aim for this value to be as low as possible for the best possible page experience. Google suggests aiming for a CLS of 0.1 or less.
How to optimise Core Web Vitals
The page experience algorithm update will include Core Web Vitals, so it’s important to make sure your website is adequately prepared for the change.
Large Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is affected by four key factors. This includes:
- Slow server response times
- Resource load times
- Client-side rendering
If you don’t have any web development experience, it’s likely that you won’t be able to take on all of these tasks yourself. However, you could enlist the help of an SEO agency to make sure your LCP fully optimised.
First Input Delay (FID)
- Using web workers
- Breaking up long tasks
- Optimising your page for interaction readiness
- Reducing or eliminating the risk of users clicking interactive elements while the browser is rendering the page
- Reducing the overall delay if users click interactive elements while the browser is busy
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
The most common causes of poor CLS include:
- Ads, iframes and embeds without dimensions
- Images without dimensions
- Dynamically injected content
- Fonts causing FOUT/FOIT
- Actions waiting for a network response before updating DOM
Fixing the above can be tricky without expert help, however, the results can help you to improve your page experience massively.
To optimise CLS, you could try any of the following tasks:
- Always including size attributes on your video and picture elements
- Avoid inserting content above existing content
- Avoid using too many animations on your web pages
How to prepare for the page experience algorithm update
It’s important to keep running website tests to assess how well your website performs with regards to web page experience. This will help you to avoid any serious ranking drops when the new algorithm rolls out.
Opening a dialogue with your SEO agency and developers will help to ensure you’re providing the best possible page experience for your users. Carry out tests, do some digging and ask questions to find out if your website is ready for the change.
How can CandidSky help?
We’re the SEO experts, therefore, we can help to make your site run as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Get in touch today to see how we can help you to improve your page experience!