Design & UX | Miscellaneous

The 2021 Google Page Experience Update: How to Optimize Your Site’s Core Web Vitals

Wendy Carré
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February 16, 2021
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Read Time: 7min

For several years, our team has been sharing best practices and predictions on how to prep your site’s UX not only for today but also for tomorrow. We aren’t exaggerating when we say that 2021 will be a turning point for user experience.
Especially considering that the most popular search engine in the world will be switching up its search algorithm in May 2021. The name of this update? The Google Page Experience.

In this guide, we offer concrete solutions to help you prepare your site for the arrival of this new update.

But first, let's take a look at how the famous search engine works and what update will change.

 

A Brief History of Web Research

The goal of a search engine is to provide a user the most relevant answer(s) to their query.

It does this by crawling millions of web pages every day with "crawlers" or "spiders", copying and storing the information collected in a database which then allows these pages to be displayed by the engine.

However, search engines must also order these results so that the most relevant pages are the most accessible to Internet users. Brands typically compete to land in the top 3 search results, or in position 0, to capture the most views and traffic from searchers. 

In order to determine a site’s ranking ability, a search engine takes into account a number of "criteria'' that are as varied as they are numerous. Google currently uses more than a hundred different criteria to determine where a site will land on a search results page. 

A few examples of Google’s ranking criteria include:

  • Content relevance,
  • Keywords used,
  • The freshness of information,
  • And the quality of links and domains that point to a page or a domain

But, just when you think you’ve mastered Google’s algorithm, they go and change it. Google is constantly evolving and updating its algorithm to bring its users the best possible experience and connect them even faster to the content they need.

While most of these updates are minor, some have a visible impact and have left a lasting mark on a website’s SEO and ability to appear in searches.

This was the case in the 2019 Google panda update which targeted low-quality content, the penguin update in 2012 which attacked bogus inbound links, or more recently the Rankbrain algorithm used to better understand the search intent of a user. The latter also marked an important turning point in Google search history, since it (finally) put the Internet user officially at the heart of search engine improvement.

infographie présentant des mises à jour majeures de l’algorithme de google

Some examples of major Google algorithm updates -  Source: Das Writing Services

Since then, interest in consumer needs and user experience has grown steadily. And the numbers don't lie. According to Contentsquare research, one in two visitors leave a site after only viewing one page! We even found that for every 100 milliseconds a page takes to load, conversion rate drops by 7%.

Search engines can no longer ignore these figures. That’s why they’re slowly but surely moving us from the era of SEO to that of SXO.

 

SXO: What is It?

SXO (Search eXperience Optimization) is the combination of SEO and UX, or user experience.

SXO aims to improve a site’s visibility on search engine results pages by optimizing the on-page experience for users. For acquisition experts, this means looking past traffic performance to now consider conversion data, as well. 

After all, being the first search result won’t do you much good if your bounce rate is high.

Search eXperience Optimization is a concrete response to various Google updates in recent years:

  • The emergence of universal search in 2007 and the diversification of the content offered on search engine result pages (SERPs), including  images, videos, the knowledge graph, and Google News
  • The arrival of structured data or rich snippets allowing the display of enriched results for content such as cooking recipes, events, training courses, reviews, FAQs, etc.
  • The implementation of featured snippets offering a direct answer to a user's question at the top of the SERP

Serp Google en 2020

With the Google Page Experience (GPE) update, user experience takes on a whole new dimension as it now becomes a positioning criterion in its own right.

Just like how Panda helped produce better web content and Penguin created healthier linking strategies, we can bet that GPE will popularize UX more widely.

 

FAQ: The Google Page Experience Update

What is the Google Page Experience Update?

The Google Page Experience update factors in the perceived quality of a web page's user experience to determine its ranking in search engine results.

While this update places a heavier level of importance on specific UX signals, Google has been using UX signals to assess the quality of the UX of a page or site for some time. This includes:

  • The mobile-friendliness of the page,
  • Secure browsing (malicious or deceptive content on the page),
  • The implementation of HTTPS,
  • And, the presence of interstitials (anything that interrupts a browsing session like pop-ups and advertisements).

The most notable addition to this new update is the integration of Essential Web Signals (or Core Web Vitals) with these pre-existing signals.

Another key update is that now content that is not formatted according to AMP standards can integrate with Google Top Stories, if it meets Google News content requirements.

top stories de google

Top Stories de Google

Lastly, the update aims to reward outstanding UX pages with a visual distinction in the SERPs in the future.

While Google still prioritizes content over user experience, this could change in the future. Now, when evaluating similar content, UX will make all the difference.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals or Essential Web Signals are tools for measuring the usability of a web page.

They take into account the page load performance (Largest Contentful Paint, or LCP), interactivity (First Input Delay, or FID), and visual stability (Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS).

core web vitals par google

How the Core Web Vitals complement other UX signals - Source: Google

Let's take a closer look at what Essential Web Signals are:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the perceived performance of a web page. It tracks the time it takes for the largest visible element on the page (textual or visual) to appear, which usually confirms for a user whether or not the page has what they’re looking for. A good LCP should be less than 2.5 seconds. If a page takes too long to load or prioritizes loading content not relevant to a user’s journey, odds are users will become frustrated and bounce from a page. 
  2. First Input Delay (FID) measures the responsiveness of a page and how long it takes for a user to be able to interact with it. It measures the duration of time between a visitor’s first click on an element of the page (link, button, media, etc.) and the moment when the web browser is able to provide a response to this interaction. A good FID must not exceed 100 milliseconds.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures the visual stability of a page. Have you ever been reading an article when the text moves down the page for no apparent reason? Asynchronous page loading or third-party widgets can often cause these annoying on-page behaviors. The CLS is the sum of all unanticipated changes on a page and brands should aim for a CLS score below 0.1.

échelle d’évaluation des Signaux Web Essentiels

The Core Web Vitals Rating Scale - Source: Google 

 

When is Google Page Experience Expected to Roll Out?

The Google Page Experience update is scheduled to launch in May 2021. If test results are conclusive, Google will also roll out non-AMP content and include a visual boost for pages with superior UX if the test results are conclusive. In order to maintain your site’s search results rankings, you need to offer an experience that meets or exceeds GPE's requirements.

How Can You Measure The Quality of Your User Experience?

There are many free and paid tools to assess the quality of the UX of a site or web page.

Here are a few ways you can get started evaluating your UX:

  • Identify any pages on your site that need improvement using Google Search Console’s Core Web Vitals report. The report is based on the Chrome UX Report (or CrUX) which is based on real-world usage data.
  • Use PageSpeed ​​Insights to analyze the content of a web page URL and identify opportunities to increase page speed.
  • Finally, measure Core Web Vitals using Lighthouse and Chrome DevTools.

rapport Core Web Vitals de la Search Console

Google Search Console's Core Web Vitals Report

How to Prepare Your Site for The Page Experience Update?

Before you jump headfirst into optimizing your site, take the time to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes first.

Is it easy to navigate your site? Is it clear how to checkout on your site? Don’t hesitate to ask people outside of your team to get their feedback and learn how to improve your site experience.

This feedback combined with data on your site’s Core Web Vitals performance should give you some initial leads. But, let's go further.

 

Page Load Times

As mentioned earlier, page load times are crucial for both user experience and conversion rates.

To identify ways to optimize your site’s load times, you can turn to tools like Google’s PageSpeed ​​Insights or Contentsquare’s Dareboost.

 

utilisation de Dareboost

Example of results from Dareboost's page performance tool

To boost the performance of your site, you can also:

  • Opt for superior quality hosting, or even opt for a content delivery network (CDN),
  • Activate lazy loading and image compression and use formats like WepB or JPEG 2000 when possible,
  • Minify and compress HTML and CSS,
  • Enable browser caching,
  • Defer loading of non-essential resources.

 

Ergonomics and Mobile Compatibility

How can you talk about UX without touching on mobile compatibility? Mobile compatibility is even more prevalent since the web-wide deployment of mobile-first indexing. Plus, with over 4.28 billion mobile users worldwide, mobile has to be a top priority for brands.

Luckily, Google's Mobile-Friendly Test can be your best ally!

Google's Mobile Friendly Test

Google's Mobile-Friendly Test

To go even further, here are our best practices for upgrading your mobile experience:

  • Delete carousels,
  • Reduce menu size,
  • Create clear CTAs positioned above the page fold,
  • Improve search bar accessibility,
  • Make it easier to edit and delete items from a user’s cart.

 

Security

If you haven't already, get an SSL certificate as soon as possible to switch your site to HTTPS.

Google's web security symbols

Google's web security symbols - Source: Google

Then, check the integrity of your site using the security and manual actions section of Google Search Console. This section will tell you if your site has been hacked or contains any malware.

Google's list of security issues

Examples of security problems in Google Search Consoler - Source: Google

 

Interstitials

Google's hatred of interstitials and other unsolicited pop-ups is nothing new.

As early as 2016, the search engine clearly defined what it meant by unwanted interstitials...

Source: Google

Google even dislikes pop-ups with a legitimate purpose, like verifying a visitor’s age or asking visitors for permission to use cookies.

Source : Google

But getting rid of interstitials can help improve your user experience. After all, it helps “de-clutter” your site and lighten the amount of content you need to load. 

Beyond making overall site navigation easier, brands should keep advertising to a minimum and remove unnecessary images or videos to keep a user focused on page content.

To pinpoint any disruptive elements that could be holding your UX back, analyze your site’s zoning using heatmaps, for example, and perform A/B tests to make data-driven decisions on what positively impacts your user experience.

 

Key Takeaways 

How do I optimize my site for the Google Page Experience update?

  1. Explore your site through your visitors’ eyes and familiarize yourself with the Core Web Vitals,
  2. Improve your website loading times (hosting, resource compression, caching, etc.),
  3. Implement responsive design and improve mobile compatibility,
  4. Deploy HTTPS and prioritize security,
  5. Limit interstitials and de-clutter your site.

Happy optimizing! 🙂

Author

Wendy Carré

Wendy is passionate about creating content and all things marketing. She is a Content Marketing Manager working in Contentsquare’s Paris office.