Entrepreneurs

Council Post: Key Things To Know About Google’s 2021 Page Experience Update

By Baruch Labunski, CEO of Rank Secure, an SEO company.

When Google announces changes in the way the search engine displays and sorts results, it’s a seismic event. Why? It’s pretty simple. According to Statista, in January 2021, Google was used for 91.83% of searches in Canada. We pay attention to Google because we have to if we want people to be able to find our businesses online. The upcoming rollout of Google’s plan to include page experience among the factors it uses to rank sites is slated to occur in mid-June 2021. Everyone with a website needs to understand what changes have rolled out and how we can ensure our sites continue to rank appropriately now and in the future.  

What exactly is changing with this update? 

Google already uses some aspects of user experience to assist in ranking websites, namely mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS security and intrusive interstitial guidelines. With the June 2021 update, Google is introducing three new metrics by which the page experience for websites will be assessed. These metrics, called core web vitals, are based on data aggregated by the Chrome User Experience Report, which means that real user experiences govern these metrics. All the new metrics can be found on a core web vitals report for your website.

What are these new metrics and what do they mean for the way you manage your website?

First, there’s loading experience, measured by largest contentful paint (LCP). LCP measures the time it takes for the most important and relevant content on a web page to load. LCP is measured in seconds, and a load time of 2.5 seconds or less is considered optimal. 

What can cause your website to have an LCP that’s longer than optimal? A number of factors, such as lots of large images, too many third-party scripts, insufficient web hosting services and the way in which your pages load. What can you do to improve your LCP rating?

The first and simplest strategy is to remove unnecessary elements. Too many ads or images can extend the time for meaningful content to load, so removing or compressing these elements can improve your LCP. Finding web hosting with an optimally responsive server will also improve your LCP. Another key step (and not necessarily a DIY job) is minifying or compressing JavaScript, cascading style sheets (CSS) and HTML. Minifying and compressing these elements make them run more efficiently, leading to shorter LCPs.

The next new aspect of page experience that will be folded into Google’s page ranking algorithm is interactivity, the measure by first input delay (FID). FID measures the length of time it takes your page to respond to a user’s input. In other words, how long after a user clicks on an element of your landing page does that page actually respond?

FID is measured in milliseconds, and the ideal delay time is 100 milliseconds or less. FID is more important for some pages than others. Pages that are primarily read-only content may not even have an FID score. But for pages in which you’re collecting information via signups or requiring users to log in, FID matters. A lot.

What causes FID scores that are too high?

The chief culprit causing high FID is usually heavy JavaScript. How do you remedy an unacceptable FID? Reduce your web page’s reliance on JavaScript when it makes sense. Break long JS tasks into smaller ones, and make sure your use of JS is as quick and efficient as possible. Again, these fixes aren’t necessarily ones the average business owner can tackle solo. You may need to enlist the help of a pro to make sure your FID comes in under 100 milliseconds.

The third new factor considered in the June 2021 page experience update is visual stability, measured with cumulative layout shift (CLS). CLS measures how stable your website is as each page loads. Do images and elements shift around a lot as the page loads? That means you have high CLS, and that’s a bad thing. Google considers a CLS score below .1 to be acceptable.

What causes high CLS?

That’s not the easiest question to answer, because the answer can depend on individual users, rather than solely on a web page and its design. On the user end, a slower internet connection or a slow computer can increase CLS, and that’s entirely out of the scope of control for the designers of websites. But there are factors that designers can control, of course. If images, ads and embedded elements on a page don’t have specified dimensions, you can end up with high CLS. Problems with rendering web fonts can also contribute to CLS problems.

Solutions for improving CLS include reserving enough space for ads and images, making sure web fonts render properly and ensuring that dynamically injected content loads below existing content so it doesn’t disrupt your users’ experiences.

Obviously, lots of little details combine to create your website’s user experience. These details do matter, but it can also be helpful to zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture when you’re evaluating the effect any new Google update will have on traffic to your site.

It doesn’t do you any good to panic. 

Yes, Google is changing the rules of the game a bit. But what has always mattered most to Google is still at the core of its algorithm. Authentic, relevant and updated content that’s served up in a way that meets users’ needs should be the foundation of any website. Effective SEO still matters. A solid web hosting service matters. Not cluttering your website with unnecessary images, widgets and plugins will result in better user experiences, and it’s this user-focused approach that Google seeks to highlight.

In effect, you’ll be rewarded for building a great website. Sure, Google updates will always matter, but we can look at the update as an incentive to improve user experiences, an endeavor that will ultimately improve our businesses. The high Google ranking is just a wonderful bonus.

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