May 2020 was a pretty busy month for the big G….and the world in general.
 
We had the ‘Force Update’, more formally (and more boringly) known as the May 2020 Core Update. Released right in the middle of a pandemic lockdown and very tense economic situation.
 
We’ve also had changes made to Search Console, with the introduction of Core Web Vitals.
 
On the 28th May, Google announced an upcoming change to their ranking factors. They will include ‘page experience’ as a ranking factor but that this will not be until 2021. Perhaps this was in acknowledgment to the backlash concerning the timing of the Core Update on the 4th May. That’s conjecture though. Google stated that they understood that webmasters had other priorities during Covid-19. Furthermore, that they would provide at least six months notice before the update is rolled out.

What makes up Page Experience?

Some of these factors already exist. Google already include ranking factors such as HTTPS, Page Speed and whether a website is mobile-friendly.
 
The new update will incorporate what Google is defining as ‘Core Web Vitals’. These are based on user-centric metrics, i.e how a user experiences a page in the real world. Here’s a graphic representation from Google on the new factors:
Google page experience diagram
The new Core Web Vitals will include the following factors. They’ve given them less technical labels which should help webmasters in understanding what they are trying to achieve. i.e Loading, Interactivity and Visual Stability.
 

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

 
We like how open Google are being with this one. In essence they are saying that previous metrics such as a simple load, First Contentful Paint (FCP) or First Meaningful Paint (FMP) could be better. They are useful, but don’t provide an accurate picture of what the user experiences on a screen.
 
They’ve provided more information here. LCP will report the ‘render time of the largest content element visible within the viewport’. In non-techy words, it is how long it takes for the largest file (usually image or video) to show on your screen.
 
They’re advising on keeping the LCP below 2.5 seconds or being in the top 25% of page load speeds.

First Input Delay (FID)

As the label suggests, this is all about interactivity. Again, it is there to more accurately represent the user experience on a website. It is quantified by the amount of time it takes for a browser to respond to the user’s first interaction on the webpage. That first interaction can come in the form of clicking or tapping on the webpage, for example, on a button.
 
Google’s guidelines are that a webpage should have an Fid of less than 100 milliseconds or again, to be in the top 25% of page load speed.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

 

This one is our favourite. Whilst the other two are steps forward in measuring a real user’s experience, this one seems to be the best in terms of real world application.
 
When you load a page, stuff can move around as different elements load. Sometimes it’s predictable, other times it is not. This can lead to the user thinking the page is loaded, clicking/tapping on an element, only for it to jump around. This might then mean that the user has clicked on the wrong element.
 
Google are measuring this as a fraction of unexpected layout shifts in comparison to total layout shifts. More on how they do this here.
 
To be optimal, you want to have a CLS score of 0.1 or lower. No surprises here, top 25% is another benchmark.

It’s often easy to forget the complexities that Google are trying translate into algorithms that spit our search results. User experience for us is different to UX (or Page Experience) for search engines.

Unsurprisingly, robots don’t feel things in the same way that we do. They need to  have clear data sets based on pre-determined factors. That’s what Google is doing here. They’re looking for key indicators of a positive user experience. It’s not perfect and far away from how humans experience webpages, but it’s better than nothing.

How important is Page Experience?

This isn’t the first instance of Google taking into account the user’s experience on a webpage. In fact, you could argue that everything Google does relates back to the user’s experience. They’re always asking the same question and looking to improve the answer:
 
How does Google facilitate the easiest route from searching to achieving what they are searching for?
 
They’ve also released aforementioned updates that are specific to the user’s experience. These previous updates, alongside this announcement clearly displays how important experience is.

It doesn't supersede other major factors

That’s clear to anyone who has read the literature. Unfortunately, there are some in the industry who tend to jump on new updates. The important point is that great page experience will not make up for mediocre content. In does however work the other way around. Great content with mediocre page experience will outrank mediocre content with great page experience.

Should I change my SEO strategy?

“A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content”.
 
That’s direct from the big G.
 
Should you ignore this advice and the upcoming update? If your content sucks, then yes, fix that strategy and execution first. Only once you have that foundation should you devote resources to fixing page experience issues. Hopefully you could do both in tandem.
 
If you already have great fundamentals (technical, content, backlinks) then no. The searcher’s experience is obviously a key factor for Google, it is also a key factor for your own onsite conversions.
 
As with everything, prioritisation is very important. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often adapted to various practices, and it’s a great way to visualise prioritisation. You start at the bottom and only progress to points higher up the pyramid once each level has been completed or satisfied. Life is often more fluid than that, but you get the point.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
 
As SEOs we should be prioritising the actions that have the largest impact, either for our own company or for our clients. As we move higher up the pyramid, there is a certain amount of diminishing returns. However, in competitive markets, the devil is often in the detail.
 
So in answer to if you should change strategy? Do not change the fundamentals. Should you incorporate page experience factors? If you have the resources, yes. If you don’t have bigger fish to fry, put it on the back burner (it’s over six months away), but don’t forget about it.

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