March 15, 2021 | Theresa Happe

Are You Prepared for Google’s Page Experience Update?

It has been a rough year for many businesses without worrying about another Google update.  Most businesses have faced some type of disruption to their routines, and some are still working to overcome difficulties.

Originally scheduled for release in the fall of 2020, Google postponed the page experience update due to the pandemic.  But don’t mistake the delay for mercy; traditionally, the internet ogre unleashes its most damaging updates over the holidays.

That said, you can come out ahead and, quite possibly, improve your website traffic with a few fixes, especially if your competitors aren’t keen enough to stay on top of the changes.  If you are not website savvy, don’t despair. Being aware you have issues to rectify empowers you to reach out to your developer for assistance.

The first step is finding out if your website is impacted by any of the issues categorized as page experience issues. According to Google, “… page experience is a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability, to help site owners measure user experience on the web.”

These metrics include page load time, security, interstitials (pop-ups) and ease of navigation. Since users tend to back click from websites with poor page experiences, you’ll see this user behavior expressed as bounce rate in your Google Analytics account. A poor score can have a negative impact on your website.

The average small business owner has no idea where to start or what this means, so let’s break it down:

page experience update

First, let’s look at your website’s speed.

If you have a Google Analytics account, you will find a tab called “Page Timings” listed under “Behavior” in the left-hand navigation pane. Select it to display a list of your website pages adjacent to two additional columns. In the second column, choose “Avg. Page Load Time” from the drop-down menu. Any page that takes longer than 2 seconds to load should be reviewed.  

page speed
page load timing

Now, go to https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ and enter the URL of any slow loading page for more details. You will see a mobile speed score expressed as a number out of 100. On the top left of your screen, you can click to review the desktop score.

Core Web Vitals

Below the score, you will see individual page experience factors listed showing how that page performs.

First Contentful Paint: The time it takes for the content at the top of the page to load.  Your goal is to keep this time under 2.5 seconds. Often, large hero images are to blame. Changing the file type or reducing its size can help, but you will need to make changes and then rerun the test to see the results.

Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s main content to load. Here, again, less than 2.5 seconds is ideal.

First Input Delay: The time it takes for a page to become interactive. An ideal measurement is less than 100 ms.

Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1.

Below the core web vitals scores, you’ll see “opportunities.” Click on any of these items for more details about issues impacting that page. Some of the most common causes of low scores are excessive scripts, large file sizes, slow server speed, etc. If your website is on a shared server, moving it to a dedicated hosting service will improve page speed across the website. But many of these slowpokes stem from the website theme or third-party tracking, i.e., Facebook pixels, Google Analytics tags, etc. The key is to identify those you can afford to remove, consolidate scripts that can be grouped into a single file, and test to see how much the speed improves as you go.

Other Page Experience Factors

While security, interstitials and responsiveness are not diagnosed with the above issues, these are problems you can detect by viewing your website’s behavior on different devices.

Security

The security of the page often refers to http protocol. Sometimes when the SSL certificate is added and the URLs are redirected to https, there will be some URLs that appear insecure in the Chrome browser. One such example is an image being pulled from another website. Uploading that image to the website and updating the link on the page will resolve the problem.

Interstitials

Have you ever visited a website and experienced an annoying pop-up right away? That’s a poor user experience and what is regarded as interstitials. Intrusive pop-ups are a bigger concern on mobile than on desktop and should not appear until the user has scrolled further down the page. Pop-ups have been impacting rankings for quite some time and are now just being categorized with other page experience factors.

Responsiveness/Visual Stability

All the elements of your website shift around from one device to another to fit different screen sizes. How quickly they do so and how user-friendly the page is on mobile are the main considerations. If text is too close together on mobile, then the user is likely to click on elements by mistake. There should be enough space between design elements for the user to navigate the page with ease.

Ultimately, page experience is just one of hundreds of ranking factors and, as daunting as a “big” update sounds, Google releases hundreds of algorithms updates each year. Often, updates roll out over a few days or weeks, with corrections to follow.

Any time a new update comes out, wait a few weeks for the adjustments to be released before determining there has been a negative impact on your website. If low quality sites are coming out on top of search results, an algorithmic correction may still be underway.

If you treat your website like you would a brick-and-mortar business, build quality content, and strive to improve user experience, you will fortify your website against the impact of future updates and build momentum for a stronger internet presence.

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