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Decoding the 2021 Google Page Experience Update

by Thomas Bacon
3 min read

Google organic search is one of the most important tools for any website, and it can feel daunting to understand how to optimize your site for search performance, especially since Google updates their ranking algorithm very frequently.

This summer, the Google team announced that they were planning to update the algorithm in 2021 to include what they’re calling Page Experience. More specifically, this update will incorporate a new set of metrics, Core Web Vitals, alongside Google’s existing signals for page experience, with the goal being to provide a “holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on a web page.” 

What does this mean for you? 

For nearly all websites, it’s likely time to do some website optimization, focusing specifically on Google’s new metrics. If your site isn’t scoring well enough on the Core Web Vitals, this likely will have an impact on organic keyword rankings. There’s a couple different metrics to pay attention to, which we’ll lay out below. 

First of all, what is “page experience”?

Essentially, page experience is what it sounds like: how users experience a web page, beyond just the content on the site. For example, a site might have a quick loading time, but does it feel that way to the user? 

There are a variety of metrics that Google uses to measure page experience, including mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, accessibility, and whether or not the page is served over HTTPS. With the introduction of Core Web Vitals, there are three new additional metrics: loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability.

So, what is this “Core Web Vitals” thing?

Core Web Vitals are metrics that Google recommends focusing on the most from their larger list of Web Vitals. Unfortunately, these metrics are in flux, but Google will be updating the public at a regular cadence. The current set includes loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability — these are the ones being included in the upcoming page experience updates. 

We recommend taking a few minutes to read through each of these metrics to get a better understanding of the changes you’ll need to make. Here’s more specific information about these metrics, in plain terms:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance by reporting the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity by capturing the amount of time from when a user first interacts with a page to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing the response to that interaction.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability through how frequently an unexpected layout shift occurs. A layout shift is any time a visible element changes its position on a page, causing usability issues after a visitor has already started to interact with content.

How much will page experience impact rankings?

Google hasn’t released information on how much weight each factor has on rankings, but they’ve made it clear that content is still king. Great content will still be the most significant factor in ranking performance, with page experience being a deciding factor only when many pages are similar in relevance and content quality. Thus, optimizing your pages for the new page experience metrics is an important step to reinforcing positive organic search rankings, especially for very competitive keywords. 

So, how do I prepare?

In the past, Google has been accused of not giving site owners, SEO specialists, and developers enough time (or any warning at all) before major algorithm updates. It seems like they’re trying to rectify this by giving plenty of warning and have informed the public to expect a notification six months before these changes go live. 

We recommend getting a head start on optimizations. The Google Page Experience update could have dramatic effects for organic search rankings, so it’s important to be prepared for when the updates go live. The Workhorse Marketing development team is ready to help you with the transition. Get in touch with our team today to get a free review and consultation. 

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