UX to Become Google Ranking Factor in 2021: The Google Page Experience Ranking Update

Google has, for a while now, been taking into account user-perceived performance metrics for determining SERP rankings, such as page load speed and mobile-friendliness. Now, Google has announced a broad search algorithm update revolving around measuring a user’s experience on a page, called the Google Page Experience Ranking Update, releasing as early as 2021.

As a digital marketing agency, we’ve always taken good user experience into account when it comes to determining a website’s success on the SERPs, but it’s always been considered an indirect search engine ranking factor. While it’s certainly uncharacteristic of Google to announce such a huge update well in advance (Google also promises to provide 6 months notice before it’s rolled out), it goes to show how much of a shift the world has made considering recent events, and highlights the unwavering impact of the digital landscape in consumer behaviour.

So what is page experience, and what metrics do we need to look out for?

What is Page Experience?

The page experience signal will measure how a user perceives their experience when interacting with a web page based on a number of metrics (further discussed below). Essentially, optimising a website according to these metrics will provide a more delightful and straightforward user experience, particularly on mobile devices, and contribute to increased engagement and smoother conversions.

Imagine doing a Google search, clicking on a result, and feeling that you’re able to browse that page with ease. You find the information you need quickly and almost instinctively. More often than not, this feeling of ease and lack of friction in our browsing experience gives us a generally good impression of the brand we’re interacting with and makes us more likely to convert where applicable. On the flip side, if a webpage is slow, confusing, and annoying to interact with, we’re likely to press the back button and take our business elsewhere.

It’s no surprise that UX is officially becoming a search engine ranking factor considering its impact on user engagement metrics. Google does reassure us, however, that good page experience isn’t more important than great, relevant content. Additionally, in cases where several pages contain similar content, Search visibility will be largely determined by page experience.

Measuring Page Experience: The Core Web Vitals

There are three metrics that will factor into measuring page experience, falling under the name Core Web Vitals: Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift. These real-world, quantifiable metrics are related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability.

Core Vital Metrics. Respective values are measured as Good, Needs Improvement, or Poor.

Largest Contentful Paint. (Loading) Measures the time from when the page starts loading to when the largest text block or image is fully rendered on the screen.

First Input Delay. (Interactivity) Measures the time from when a user first interacts with your site to the time when the browser is able to respond to that interaction, e.g. clicks, button taps, or custom JavaScript-powered controls.

Cumulative Layout Shift. (Visual Stability) Measures the cumulative score of all unexpected layout shifts that occur between when the page starts loading and when its lifecycle state changes to hidden (i.e. when it is not visible but not frozen).

More info on user-centric performance metrics here.

These new Core Web Vitals metrics will be combined with existing Search signals for page experience (i.e. mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines) under the overarching Page Experience ranking factor, illustrated below.

Google also adds that it will continue to add more signals on a yearly basis as user expectations evolve and more UX aspects become measurable.

Tools to Measure Page Experience Metrics

To help web developers understand how their site is currently standing against these metrics and how they can best address any issues, Google updated their most popular tools, listed below:

In their announcement, the internet giant reassures us that there’s no need to make huge website changes now. Rather, this gives us ample time to prepare and start thinking about future plans. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Looking for more online marketing advice? Speak to the experts at Pure SEO today about how we can help your website improve on the SERPs!

Rachel Matela

Rachel is a Filipino Kiwi with a passion for the arts. Having graduated with an Arts Degree in English from UoA, she found writing work at PureSEO as a Junior Copywriter and quickly moved on to the role of Editor. In her spare time, she reads Austen and teaches dance classes in the weekend.

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