Google’s Page Experience For Desktop Goes Live in Feb 2022. Is it Time to Panic?

Drawing of a person sitting at a desk with 3 screens with each showing black windows and lines of code. At the top of the image there is a title that reads "Get to Work" with the G using Google colors

Want to start the New Year off right? Use these last few weeks of 2021 to prepare for Google’s Page Experience update for desktop.

Like most Google updates, this is not time to panic. But it is time to talk to your local SEO consultant about how to prepare for it. Or, if you’re managing your own site, it’s time to roll up your sleeves.

In early November, Google officially confirmed the timeline for Page Experience for desktop, saying, “We’ll begin using page experience as part of our desktop ranking systems beginning in February 2022. The rollout will be complete by the end of March 2022.”

This is certainly not a wait-until-the-night-before-to-do-your-homework situation. You probably won’t even know exactly how much work you have to do until you start running some tests.

But not to worry. Google has been incredibly specific about what they’re looking for. Today we will walk you through exactly what to do for the page experience update and how to ensure a bad user experience isn’t hurting your rankings, your traffic, or your leads.

What is in the Page Experience Update?

The good news is that preparing for this update can only help your website. Beyond SEO rankings, this update forces us all to take a close look at our sites’ user experience so we can fix any lingering issues that we may not have even known about.

There are basically 4 areas we need to focus on:

  1. Site speed: Hit the thresholds for the Core Web Vitals test
  2. HTTPS Security: Be a safe place for visitors
  3. Intrusive Interstitials
  4. Mobile-friendliness

This blog will focus on the first 3, because the 4th isn’t a concern for the desktop update. H’oh boy is it a concern if you have a bad mobile experience. But that’s a blog for another day.

Core Web Vitals speed test results which show a Largest Contentful Paint of 1.33 seconds, First Input Delay of 5.56ms and Cumulative Layout Shift of 0.055. Below is a line chart that has the page performance over time for the largest contentful paint.

Part 1: The Core Web Vitals: Time to Lose Some Wait

As complex as user/page experience is, it often really just comes down to one thing: Users hate waiting. As our devices keep getting faster, the average user’s expectation of speed has never been higher. This is why speed optimization has become arguably the most important on page optimization SEO tactic for 2022 and beyond.

According to Google, the probability of a bounce increases 32% when a page’s load time goes from 1 second to 3 seconds. It’s also worth noting that this stat was published back in 2017, which is approximately 45 years ago in web marketing years. It’s safe to say that a 3-second wait will get you far more bounces in 2022 and beyond.

For years, when it came to Google page load speed updates, we were typically told that faster is always better. However, the specifics were nebulous. How fast do we have to be? As fast as possible. Or at least faster than The Other Guys.

However, that has changed and Google has given us 3 new metrics to measure speed (The Core Web Vitals), and very clear threshold expectations.

The Core Web Vitals test is now a must for anyone that owns a website and your success is now measured by:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP):

When is your page done loading completely? This basically comes down to when your largest asset is done loading. If your page is being held back by a bulky bit of coding or non-compressed image, your LCP is going to suffer.

What do you need to shoot for?

  • A time of 2.5 seconds is Good
  • A time between 2.5 and 4 seconds Needs Improvement
  • Anything over 4 is Poor

Google has provided this reference page to help you optimize your LCP score.

First Input Delay (FID)

Does this sound familiar? You visit a site, and it seems to freeze up when you try to click on something? Users hate that and Google knows it. This is why we now have FID, a means of measuring how quickly your page can respond to a user’s action.

FID is the amount of time from a user’s first click/ tap to the time when the browser can process event handlers and respond.

What do you need to shoot for?

  • A time of 100 milliseconds is Good
  • A time between 100 and 300 milliseconds Needs Improvement
  • Anything over 300 milliseconds is Poor

As you can see, the difference between a pass and a fail is measured in fractions of a second. Google has provided these tips to help you trim your FID.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

There is nothing more annoying than clicking on the wrong link or button because the webpage shifted unexpectedly at the last second while loading. CLS measures when the page stops shifting unexpectedly (from the user’s perspective) during the loading process.

This one is not quite as straightforward as the previous two metrics. It’s measured in a fairly complex CLS score, instead of a linear time.

What do you need to shoot for?

  • A score of 0.1 is Good
  • A score between 0.1 and 2.5 Needs Improvement
  • Anything over 2.5 is Poor

If you want to learn more about CLS and how to optimize for it, Google has provided this page.

Monitor showing 3 icons; first icon shows loading with LCP under it that reads "< 2.5 sec", second icon is a yellow circle with a mouse hovering above and 3 lines to illustrate a click with text under reading "FID" and "< 100 ms" under that, lastly there is a monitor with text under that reads "CLS" and more text under that which reads "< 0.1".

How Do I Run a Core Web Vitals Test?

The simple answer is to get your SEO company to run the test for you. However, if you want to DIY, there are a number of tools that can help you check site speed across all of your web properties.

This includes:

  • Pagespeed Insights
  • Search Console
  • The Web Vitals Chrome extension
  • Chrome UX Report API

As you can imagine, the page experience update has site owners and webmasters scrambling to get their hands on the above tools. In fact, in November 2020, Google announced a median 70% increase in the number of users engaging with Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights.

One of these tools is not necessarily better than the others. But if you want to start a debate (Ok, fight) among hard-core SEO nerds, ask them which tool works best. The important thing is that you test your speeds and react accordingly.

What Do I Do if I Fail the Core Web Vitals Test?

If your site fails the test, count yourself among the majority. Most sites fail their first attempt because they have never had to look at site speed with this level of granularity before.

How bad has it been? That depends on whom you ask:

  • In August of 2020, Screaming Frog reported that only about 13% of all tested desktop sites (and 12% of mobile) passed, or got a Good in all 3 categories.
  • In late June of 2021, Searchmetrics tested 2 million of Google’s top ranked pages and found that fewer than 3% of those pages passed.

Also in June of 2021, it was reported that even YouTube failed the Core Web vitals test. Of course, we should never compare ourselves to YouTube. It remains one of the most visited, and most linked-to, sites in the charted universe. Failing the core web vitals isn’t exactly going to knock them off the ladder and make Vimeo a household name. BUT. It’s good to know that even the biggest names on the web are also struggling a bit.

The bottom line is that most people are struggling to hit the new metrics. They’re doing everything from purging all unneeded SEO plugins in the back-end of WordPress, to upgrading their hosting company.

Part 2: HTTPS Security: Be a Safe Place for Visitors

If you still don’t have an HTTPS website, you are probably really struggling with SEO. That said, if you are still on an unsecure website, you had probably not given much thought to SEO over the years.

Simply put, Google first announced HTTPS as a ranking signal back in 2014. If you haven’t updated your site, the odds are good that you are long overdue for a website audit and you are almost certainly not getting the traffic, SEO rankings, or leads that you could be.

In a lot of cases, a small business may still be on an unsecured HTTP site if they operate in a smallish geographic area without a lot of competition. That’s all well and good until someone new comes in, takes SEO seriously, and proceeds to drink your milkshake.

If you want to learn more about how to switch your site over, read this post from Google to get yourself up-to-date.

Part 3: Intrusive Interstitials

As the name would indicate, the page experience is all about the user’s experience. And so, Google is seeking to reward the sites that provide a frictionless experience, while not rewarding the ones who still struggle with the user annoyances that drive us all nuts.

What drives users particularly nuts? Large, obstinate, and intrusive interstitial ads. I know I hate them!

Woman sitting at a desktop with an empty notebook, on the desk is a keyboard and a monitor that shows a big red popup which reads "Subscribe now" to illustrate interstitial ads/popups which aren't good for web vitals.

Do you need to stop using interstitial ads to promote your deals and build your mailing list? Absolutely not. But do you need to be mindful of how you use them? Definitely.

Google has helpfully laid out exactly what you need to do, on both mobile and desktop sites. However, the basic points are:

  • Don’t create an interstitial ad that will take up too much of the screen. Less is more
  • Give your visitor an easy out. Don’t hide your X or Close buttons in tiny fonts

Don’t ruin your first impression by alienating users with an intrusive ad before they have even read your content.

Why Page Experience Matters

Page experience has quickly become one of the most important parts of SEO. How important? It’s hard to say exactly how much weight Google is giving page experience compared to other ranking factors like your external links and your optimized content. Google keeps the exact mix of their secret sauce a tightly guarded secret.

However, it is safe to say that a slow website or a big ass interstitial ad can instantly ruin the world’s best keyword planning and optimization. All of your hard work is thrown out the window before the user even clicks on anything.

A good page experience isn’t just going to help your rankings. It’s also going to help your traffic and your conversions. As a matter of fact, Google has said sites that already meet the thresholds for the new metrics are 24% less likely to see users abandon page loads.

Here are just a few other user experience stats to consider:

  • 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience
  • 67% of users say that a poor website experience negatively affects their opinion of that brand
  • 57% of shoppers will abandon their shopping cart if they have to wait three seconds for a page to load, and…
  • 80% of them will never be back

We often say that a bad user experience is basically daring your visitors to go to your competitor’s page. Because, once you have let them down, take a wild guess as to where their next stop will be.

A good user experience is a competitive advantage! You always want to be faster and more frictionless than The Other Guys.

Parting Thoughts

Is failing the Core Web Vitals an SEO death sentence? Absolutely not. As we said earlier, something like 90% of all desktop sites are currently failing the test. Some of them are the most visited sites in the world, and many of them will continue to rank after February. So don’t beat yourself up.

However, page experience is a big deal and something you need to take seriously. It is also something you have direct control over. You can make the decision to offer a better experience right now.

Today, you can literally:

  • Run a core web vitals test
  • Remove/fix all your interstitial ads
  • Make sure your site is secure

Or, you can outsource all of this work to a hardworking SEO firm that obsesses over these things every single day. You can start right now by clicking the Connect With Paul button at the top of the page, or by calling 647-448-4449.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.