Guest blog – The new Google Page Experience metric is coming. Is your website ready?
For professional services, whether legal, accounting, financial, or other, it’s a competitive market and if you’re not ahead of the digital experience you’ll find your business being directed elsewhere.
In 2020, Google announced a new ranking factor to be rolled out in early 2021 called “Page Experience”. Essentially it will measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a specific web page. The purpose of this update is to ensure that Google will rank websites that its users really love at the top of their search results. In essence, user-friendly websites will rank higher than sites that are not user-friendly once this update is rolled out.
This is great news for users because it means websites will be forced to provide a solid user experience (UX) for visitors rather than flooding a site full of dark patterns and frustrating navigational nuances. What does this mean for professional services firms, whether you’re B2B or B2C? It means showing Google that you are looking after your customers, clients, and website users in a way that offers them the absolute best in website user experience.
This new ranking factor signals the beginning of a shift in the world of SEO. It also means that many professional services firms, no matter their size or turnover, may now find themselves in the position of needing to update their website, and will need to take action with their current website UX.
I’ve broken down the impact that this new algorithm will have on your website’s ranking and how you can prepare for its arrival.
What is UX and how does it tie in with SEO and website marketing?
Firstly, UX stands for User Experience and SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is a multifaceted digital marketing specialism that entails website optimisation which includes ensuring the UX of a website adheres to Google (and of course the other search engines) guidelines and follows best practice. Ultimately, a website is not just a 2D business card, in a world of digitalisation, savvy consumers and behaviour psychology, professional service practices are beyond a shadow of a doubt, businesses through and through where your website needs to show its audience and Google that it cares about its audience.
Indirectly as it may be, UX has been a staple of page rankings for a while. Poor UX leads to visitors leaking from your site, increasing bounce rates, and ultimately harming your domain. However, the new Google page experience algorithm puts the UX of a website as a direct factor in terms of ranking higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
It’s rare Google provides the public with news of any upcoming updates so when they do it’s important to capitalise, so here’s what you need to know. What do I mean by this? I mean don’t wait until your competitors have jumped on it, act now! SEO takes a while to kick in, it’s not a quick fix or quick win, it is work in progress and the sooner you begin this process the sooner your website will shine and generate the leads it deserves.
Google’s Page Experience Algorithm Requirements
User-friendly browsing is front and centre
The main aim of the new algorithm Google is to improve the UX across all devices, so desktop, mobile, and tablet.
Google has been pushing towards this for a while, by developing several factors to measure experience, such as whether a site has an SSL certificate or how mobile-friendly it is. Core Web Vitals is another company created by Google which helps businesses determine their website speed and functionality, another key component of the UX.
Whilst all these factors have been indirectly playing a part with website rankings, they will now directly impact SERPs. Google will now combine the Core Web Vitals and UX factors to determine a combined page experience score, with low scoring sites slumping down the SERPs.
Who is your professional advice for? Who do you want to come to your site? How are you going to make it effectively simple for them to browse? The elderly with Private Client will need a different UX than say a young couple requiring Conveyancing help. A start-up tech firm will want a different UX for their Corporate needs than a charity needs Litigation advice. It’s about tailoring your UX to your audience by understanding where they search for you and how they absorb information.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Currently, there are three Core Web Vitals which Google will be updating progressively:
The Core Web Vitals report shows how your pages perform based on real-world usage data (sometimes called field data). You can read more about this initiative on the Google Webmaster blog.
Why page performance matters.
Longer page load times have a severe effect on bounce rates. For example:
– If page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, the bounce rate increases 32%
– If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, the bounce rate increases by 106%
Source: Google’s Search Console
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): LCP tracks the time it takes to load up any given page on a website. Ideally, Google suggests this should be 2.5 seconds or less to range in the ‘good’ boundary. Professional services firms can be great with words, but not great with relaying the advice and information in a way on their website that is strategic.
- First Input Delay (FID): FID measures the time it takes from interacting with your site to the site registering the action and responding to it. Think of it like ringing someone’s doorbell and the time it takes for the door to open. Websites need to have an FID of 100milliseconds or less. This is seriously important for conversions, let alone ranking. It’s a little like a colleague taking a call and passing on a message, and the time it takes to return the call to the prospective client. We want answers NOW, we are all an impatient lot!
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS looks at the stability of a site and whether the layout will begin to shift depending on an action any given user takes on your site such as clicking a button. Pages should try to maintain a score of 0.1 or less to be user friendly. If this is blowing your mind and you’re switching off – take a quick look at this short article with visuals to give you examples.
What other factors make up the Page Experience ranking?
There are currently four further factors that affect page rankings, which Google has stated it will assess and expand accordingly. They are:
- Mobile-friendliness: How well the website performs across mobile devices. Most website builders (Squarespace and Wix) have inbuilt coding, but having a developer or SEO marketer to look at your site to ensure it’s spot on, will only help your overall ranking and website clicks.
- Safe-browsing: Determines whether your page is safe for the user to browse by detecting malware or any other viruses that could put the user at risk. Law firms are one of the main sources of cybercrime, especially property and client funds filled with huge pots of money. Browsing an unsafe site can damage your audience’s own search as a knock-on, so as a compliant legal firm, this, and a secure SSL Certificate (see below) is vital for your website.
- HTTPS: Linked in part to the above, Google prefers sites that have an SSL certificate (locked under safe and key!) as websites with no secure HTTPS connection will suffer. Don’t be fooled by thinking your main URL is going to protect your whole site; you must delve deeper than that. Where are your images from? Are your internal links secure? Have you checked for spammy backlinks damaging your site? These are all part and parcel of an SEO’s job to keep a monthly website health check.
- Intrusiveness: Dark patterns have been quite prominent in the UX of websites for a while. Google will now investigate whether a site has any dark pattern hallmarks such as an intrusive web design, pop-ups that cover parts of a page, or adverts that need dismissing before entering a site. We’ve all been there, reading an article or attempting to click on a CTA when a huge ad pops up or an ugly old newsletter subscription drops in front of your view. Yes, these are lead magnets, and yes, they are still a particularly useful data gathering tool for email marketing, BUT it’s HOW they integrate into your site. Are they annoying to the user or are they offering the user a great experience?
How to get ready for the update
With Google giving users prior notice, businesses have enough time to implement some necessary steps before the update drops sometime in 2021.
Use the tools available
The most logical place to start is by using Google’s Developer Tools to assess Core Web Vitals and the four further factors that make up the page experience ranking. At present there are six tools:
There are also a further two tools that can measure page experience outside of the Core Vitals:
- Mobile-Friendly Test
- Security Issues report (within Search Console)
Utilising all these tools in conjunction with one another will allow businesses to gauge an idea of their page experience score.
Create a report
Your website probably had Google Analytics? This is where you track your website traffic. But does your website have Google Search Console integrated as well? For a quick reminder, please read this article explaining the difference between GA and GCS for your info.
For more information on how you’re performing against the Core Vitals, located within the Google Search Console is the Core Web Vitals report. Utilising the Search Console will have benefits for tracking and analysing what’s going on with your website in real-time – highlighting issues that need fixing.
Another report that should be used alongside the Core Web Vitals report is the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). The CrUX also uses real-time data and measures Core Vitals; however, the added benefit of the CrUX report is that it allows businesses to measure data from the previous month, so they can measure improvements over time. What I’m saying here is the quicker you have these tools integrated into your website the easier it will be for you or your marketing department or outsourced agency to help you and your website stay in line with Google’s algorithm.
The report also allows users to drill down into the results further by segmenting by a number of factors such as browsing device or geographical location, allowing users to see what external factors could be affecting the results.
In Conclusion – How to take action from the results
Once you have all the data from the tools mentioned above, you can build a clear picture of what needs to be done to improve your Page Experience and ultimately your SERP ranking. The information offered by Google is quite unusual because it doesn’t usually give us such obvious insight. The team and I at Pickled Ginger Marketing, are always researching, learning, and keeping up with our own CPD when it comes to Google updates and so when there are algorithm changes, we monitor website movements, differences, and have to play ratios via UX, onsite technicalities and off-page link building. Google has made it easy for all businesses to determine what needs doing by offering recommendations on many of its tools. For example, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test provides a list of errors and reasons why your website may be performing poorly on mobile.
Whilst it’s important your Page Experience score is high by meeting the recommended LCP, FID, and CLS scores, we mustn’t lose sight that Google still states it will prioritise sites that offer the most value through useful content.
None of us should ever underestimate the power of content (text, video, podcast) for a Google search or voice search through Alexa or Siri (as an example). Did you know that Google wants you, as a business, to follow its EAT Guidelines when updating content through blogs, etc? If you’re not sure what EAT means, here’s a short article to explain in more depth. Once you know, it’s easier to write your news, blog, or article on your website and more likely to get qualified clicks to your website also.
The team at Consortium, and my team here at Pickled Ginger Marketing do understand with the day-to-day running of your legal or professional services firm, dedicating time to keeping up-to-date with the latest digital hacks, analysing your site whilst also pushing out regular content isn’t always feasible. So, if you want to ensure that you’re providing your clients with value whilst dominating in a competitive market, it’s good to know that we can support you with a number of proven strategies.
|Elaine Pasini is the founder of Pickled Ginger Marketing, a creative and data-driven digital marketing agency for businesses who want to be seen.|
If you need help to bring your website in line with the upcoming changes or you would like to know more about your Core Web Vitals, contact us or fill in the form below: