The Google Page Experience Algorithm is updating now! Learn about Google Core Web Vitals, how these changes might impact you, how to identify issues, and how to improve site speed.
What is the Google Page Experience?
The Google Page Experience is a complex algorithm that Google uses to rank websites in organic search. The goal of the Google Page Experience is to reward sites that do a better job providing “great page experiences.”
The Google Page Experience is new in the Google updates for 2021. It goes by many different names, including “Google Core Web Vitals” and “Cumulative Layout Shift,” but these are actually just components of the entire Google Page Experience.
Updates aren’t unusual for the Google Page Experience algorithm (in fact, this update follows Google’s Broad Core Algorithm update). Still, this particular update has received a lot of visibility and awareness from stakeholders, increasing the urgency to fix site issues before the competition does.
What is the Google Page Experience Update?
Seven combined signals go into the Google Page Experience Update algorithm. The ones you’ll hear the most about are Core Web Vitals. Detailed below, these have to do with loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
The other ones are fairly self-explanatory and were more minor parts of the algorithm before being rolled up into this broader measure of Page Experience. These include the degree to which a site is mobile-friendly, whether the site has safe browsing (will it transmit a virus or unrequested downloads), whether it is secure (HTTPS), and the degree to which it has no intrusive interstitials.
When is this happening?
The Google Page Experience update is here!
In May of 2020, Google announced that in 2021 they’d begin incorporating “Page Experience” into their algorithm. The changes started to roll out on June 15, 2021, and will continue to roll out gradually. Full incorporation of the algorithm will happen in August 2021 and will initially focus on Mobile index results. However, it will eventually impact Desktop index results. So if you’re working on any fixes, work on Mobile first!
Google plans to test a visual indicator (a flag), highlighting pages in search results with great page experiences (similar to what they do with accelerated mobile pages). Whether this feature will stick around or not is up in the air.
Why is this important?
Google’s Page Experience update aims to reward sites that are providing “great page experiences.” Improving your Core Web Vitals won’t just increase your organic ranking and give you a “Good Page Experience” flag from Google. Instead, scoring and improving Core Web Vitals will enhance your site’s performance and your clients’ page experiences, which can have meaningful business impact.
Two out of the three Core Web Vitals are related to speed, which was introduced eleven years ago for desktop and three years ago for mobile searches as a minor part of the algorithm but is now leveling up in the broader page experience.
Most sites aren’t doing that well at speed and have lots of opportunities to improve. Further, because of the high visibility of this update, competition to fix speed issues has revved up. Your company has a lot to gain by fixing Core Web Vital issues and a lot to lose if you don’t make changes.
Is responsiveness to this update more important than content quality, being good at technical, and having inbound visibility and brand awareness? No. But now is the time to identify your problems and fix them.
How will you be impacted?
There are several ways in which the Page Experience update may impact your site. Your site will likely pass the non-Core Web Vitals with no problem (Security, HTTPS, and Mobile Usability), but it’s the Core Web Vitals that brands should pay attention to. If you’re not in line with where you need to be or if your competitors suddenly improve, the following could happen:
- Loss or decline of organic rankings
- Loss of organic awareness, traffic, conversions, etc.
- Won’t be flagged as providing “Good Page Experience”
- Symptoms of poor page experience may be impacting several channels, that is, you might need to improve your experience in various ways.
What are the
Google Core Web Vitals?
The Core Web Vitals have three components: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FIP), and Cumulative Layout Shifts (CLS). Don’t be alarmed by these technical names! We’ll explain.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) has to do with speed. So if you have an issue with LCP, you’ll probably also have an issue with your site’s speed. Studies demonstrate that fast sites lead to higher conversions and interactivity levels, whereas slow sites have lower conversions and higher bounce rates.
Largest Contentful Paint measures the time a website takes to show the user the largest content on the viewport. This metric considers only the content above the page’s fold, meaning everything that appears without scrolling. It can be related to images, videos, CSS backgrounds, blocks of texts, third-party resources, etc.
Google has determined that if your site renders the largest element above the fold in under 2.5 seconds, then your LCP is “good.” So that’s the goal.
The timing for this should be as minimal as possible. Under 100 ms is considered “good.”
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures every unexpected layout shift that occurs during a pages’ entire lifespan. So when a visible element unexpectedly changes its position from one rendered frame to the next—like when an accidental tap on a mobile site launches an unwanted ad—the site’s Cumulative Layout Shift score increases.
The higher your score, the more shifts you have. The goal would be for your score to be zero, which means that your webpage is visually stable, not shifting around at all, and not displaying any unexpected things to users when they’re trying to interact with the page.
What are the common causes of Core Web Vitals issues?
Common causes of high LCP:
- Slow server-response times
- Slow resource load times (e.g., images, videos, larger blocks of text, etc.)
- Client-side rendering
Common causes of high FID:
- 3rd-party scripts
- High JS execution time
- High main thread work
- High number of request counts and transfers from server to browser
Common causes of high CLS:
- No defined sizing for key assets
- Bad content inserts
- Animations that trigger layout changes
Step-by-step checklist to prepare for the update
- Check how you’re doing (We’ve got this pretty well covered below)
- Prioritize issues (Based on your highest value pages + severity of issues)
- Work with your IT Team/Developers to diagnose your specific fixes, and implement them
- Monitor for improvements in results and measure changes in total number of reported issues
*Search Discovery can help with all of these stages, but we’re most valuable in stages 2-3 where we help you prioritize and advise on how to get the issues fixed.
How to check your Core Web Vitals
1. Use Google Search Console: This is free. All it requires is that you verify your website in Google Search Console.
When you’re in Google Search Console, down the left-hand navigation rail, identify Page Experience. This will tell you the percentage of “good” URLs. The goal would be to get this to 100%.
Under that, there’s a separate section for Core Web Vitals that will tell you how you’re doing both on mobile and desktop. The source for this is Google Chrome Experience Report data.
Since Google will be monitoring mobile sites first, you should prioritize the mobile version of this report. If you have a responsive site, a change to your site should impact both mobile and desktop reports.
2. Use technical SEO tools: Most technical SEO tools have integrated the updates into their system, and they’ll help you scan your site and tell you where you have issues. These include Screaming Frog, Site Bulb, Deep Crawl, WebPageTest.org, etc.)
This example shows how Screaming Frog pulls in a couple of Core Web Vital metrics to detail which pages have the worst issues. This tool is a great way to diagnose problems down to the page level.
Note, most sites use templates, and any one template might impact hundreds or thousands of pages. This isn’t to say that individual pages that use the same template won’t have performance variations, but we work with clients to identify and make fixes at the template level to trickle down to all pages.
We’ve recently worked with a client to fix their poor results, and we cut their poor results by 90% because one template affected many pages. So when you look at these reports, prioritize fixing severity plus templates.
3. Use Google PageSpeed Insights (GPSI): These will give you some pretty detailed findings. You’ll be able to diagnose where you have issues and get concrete advice related to increasing your speed. This data comes from field data (a daily measure of actual user experiences over the last 28 days based on the CrUx report) and lab data (which could change every time you run the report because it’s simulated based on your specific connection).
The value of these two different measures is that you can see the data over time, and you can also see a change’s impact right away (and the field data will eventually catch up as users experience the value of those changes).
4. Use Google Chrome Lighthouse Reports: In your browser, go to developer tools and select Lighthouse Reports. These will give you reports right inside your browser. This is similar to the lab data pulled from PageSpeed Insights, but within Lighthouse, you’ll get a few additional metrics.
5. Use Google Chrome User Experience Reports (CrUX): These are a compilation of all of Google’s user data related to 4 or 5 million sites. This is designed out of the box to measure Core Web Vitals, and Google provides a pre-built CrUx dashboard to report these (via BigQuery). This is based on real user data from users who’ve opted in (same source as GPSI Field Data).
You can build your own version of this report (for you or your competitors). It takes two minutes to do, and you can populate and get a directional idea of how any website is doing (as long as the website is in Google’s data source). This report is very high level, but it’s a good measure because this data source will tell you how your site is performing over much longer timeframes (beyond the three-month limit in Google Search Console).
6. Use Advanced CLS debugging tools to fix your issues. Here are a few tools we recommend.
Google’s Page Experience Algorithm is just one update in a series of updates, but it’s fairly high profile. To stay competitive, identify your site’s problem areas, prioritizing mobile, and make changes to deliver great user experiences on your site, especially as they relate to speed.
The best strategy, however, is to make sure your site is immune to algorithm updates. We help clients do this. Fill out the form below to learn more, or get a free audit to see how you’re impacted by these changes. Here are three steps you can take today:
- Make sure your site is technically sound (i.e., easy to crawl, easy for Google to understand, and sending the right signals in that way).
- Make sure you have well-optimized content, and look for opportunities to answer queries with your content (i.e., always be doing keyword research, and try to understand what people are searching for— both for today and for the near future).
- And then, when people get to your site, make sure you’re giving them a good user experience: Your site needs to be fast and user-friendly.