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Website UX Becomes Google SEO Ranking Factor

Google Introducing New "Page Experience" Algorithm Ranking in 2021 

User experience (UX) has been a major tenant of web design for aeons. However, following Google's latest announcement, UX will now also directly begin impacting search engine rankings as of 2021.

Google's latest UX search ranking update is known as Page Experience.

Sowmya Subramanian‎, Director of Engineering for Google Search Ecosystem

"The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.

Optimising for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.

We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction."

Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.

It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience related to UX signals. Such as whether the page loads quickly, is it mobile-friendly, are their annoying or intrusive ads and more.

Google Page Experience & Other Website Ranking Factors

Once live, page experience will join the hundreds of signals that Google considers when generating Search results.

While page experience is important, Google still seeks to rank pages with the best information overall, even if the page experience is subpar.

Great page experience doesn't override having great page content. However, in cases where there are many pages that may be similar in relevance, page experience can be much more important for visibility in Search.

Although the search algorithm update is pencilled in for 2021, Google has yet to pinpoint an exact timeframe, due to COVID-19.

Sowmya Subramanian‎, Director of Engineering for Google Search Ecosystem

"We recognise many site owners are rightfully placing their focus on responding to the effects of COVID-19. The ranking changes described in this post will not happen before next year, and we will provide at least six months notice before they're rolled out.

We're providing the tools now to get you started (and because site owners have consistently requested to know about ranking changes as early as possible), but there is no immediate need to take action."

In the meantime, there is plenty which can be done to stay ahead of the curve, if you are game.

Practical Implications From New Page Experience Update

The Page Experience algorithm change builds on other recent Google updates, most notably Google's new Web Vitals program, launched via Google Chrome in May.

Core Web Vitals include real-world, user-centred metrics, that give scores on aspects of your web pages, currently falling under three categories to being with:

  • Largest Contentful Paint
    • Measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page's main content has likely loaded
    • To provide a good UX, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay
    • Measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page
    • To provide a good UX, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift
    • Measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content – i.e. does the web page jump around as it loads
    • To provide a good UX, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

To help get a better handle on Core Web Vitals, Google has updated popular tools such as Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights to surface Core Web Vitals information and recommendations.

Alongside this, Google Search Console provides a dedicated report to help site owners quickly identify opportunities for improvement.

As marketing budgets get squeezed in 2020, due to COVID-19, organic marketing activity will reign supreme. Therefore, for organisations hoping to redevelop their SEO game in 2020 and beyond, it would be wise to begin incorporating some of these upcoming changes and KPIs into your thinking.

Google's search algorithms factor in a myriad of signals, so to what degree this change will influence rankings is uncertain. For example, Google's BERT update, which launched in 2019, impacted 10% of all searches.

However, working to improve site UX, responsiveness and site-speed will work wonders for boosting conversions if nothing else. Therefore, for proactive organistaions, starting to work on improving page experience ahead of time is a win / win.

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