Experience What Now?
Page Speed Experience Signal
Google announced a new specific ranking signal (which doesn’t happen too often)! Starting in May 2021, Google will start using a new ranking signal called Page Experience.
Page Experience is going to be a combination of already existing ranking signals and a couple of new-ish speed-related metrics, now referred to as Core Web Vitals. Let’s break down the left side of this chart.
The 4 existing signals (in the grey boxes above) have been around for a few years now and are all leveraged individually. There is speculation out there that this list could grow over time. The current signals are defined below:
- Mobile-Friendly – The page passes Google’s Mobile-Friendly test
- Safe Browsing – The page doesn’t contain malicious (for example, malware) or deceptive (for example, social engineering) content
- HTTPS – The page is served over HTTPS
- No Intrusive Interstitials – The content on the page is easily accessible to the user
“New” Core Web Vitals
Unlike the metrics above, these are tightly related to site speed and user experience. According to Google, Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads. They are defined below:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – measures loading performance
- First Input Delay (FID) – measures interactivity
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measures visual stability
What Could Change
Site Rankings Change
There seems to be some debate about how powerful this new combined signal will be. Glenn Gabe (who had the chance to roundtable with the relevant parties) has shared on the SEMRush blog that, for an ideal update, great content will still win. Yet, for people to take the desired action of making their websites more user-friendly, the new signal MUST HAVE TEETH.
Now If you’re not ranking for key search terms, people aren’t coming to your site. And it seems that not putting resources into fully optimizing for this new signal would be a huge mistake. But the good folks at Screaming Frog performed a test (with a relatively small sample set) and found that across 20,000 URLs, only 12% of mobile and 13% of desktop results passed Core Web Vitals tests. It’s hard to think that the remaining 88% of sites that didn’t pass the test and don’t have killer content will be zapped into oblivion next March.
All things in moderation, right?
Visual indicators in SERPs
After reviewing the Google Announcement, Barry Schwartz reported that Google will also be testing “visual indicators,” like labels, in the search results, to communicate to searchers which results have a good page experience. Google is planning to test these over time before a full roll-out in March, but imagine something like a “good experience” or “loads slowly” tag appended to your SERP listing (personally hoping for the former).
In our experience, adding new layouts to anything in the SERPs can drastically affect traffic (anyone else remember those favicons?).
Top Stories SERP Feature
In the same article, Barry also noted that AMP won’t be required for being in the top stories carousel. As long as you score well on-page experience, your site can show in the top stories carousel. But if you do have AMP, Google will use the AMP page for scoring your page experience metrics. This gives publishers (or even some of our heavier blogging clients) more options when it comes to increasing visibility in a key SERP feature.
So… Now What
If Voltage has built, currently hosts, and are engaged in SEO for your website, you have little to worry about. We’re already optimizing the individual ranking signals that are running now and have been focusing on maximizing similar site speed measurements since about Q2 2019. Our overarching SEO strategy has always been to make indexing and understanding of page content as easy as possible for both users and bots and feel this update plays to our strengths as an agency.
Speed Optimization Is Now Page Experience Optimization
Our original methodology of pushing Google Lighthouse reported speed factors to be as optimized as possible (there were always exceptions) is going to be tweaked. We’ll update our focus from the 5 former actionable Lighthouse measurements down to the 3 Core Web Vitals and optimize depending on perceived benefits for individual clients.
Reporting and monitoring will get easier with more tools as well. Google Search Console in particular has become a great source for monitoring Core Web Vitals over time, while Google Search Console and Screaming Frog are perfectly capable of assisting analysis and optimization prioritization.
What About AMP?
This will most likely require testing on an individual client basis. If the Core Web Vitals of a publisher are poor, and there is nothing they can do about it, hooking them up with the AMP WordPress plugin seems like a good play. Even so, there are downsides like separate or muddled reporting, adding and maintaining an extra plugin, and limited on-page experience to consider when adding the plugin. We’ll set a strategy with each client and make the best data-based decisions we can!