The Google Page Experience Update: Good UX + Good Content = Good Rankings

a desktop computer with google search opened

Whenever Google announces a big update, SEOs and site owners scramble to identify a “secret sauce” that will help them maintain or regain rankings. The thing is, every time Google has an update, they remind us that the best way to respond is to continue creating quality content. 

The concept that Google rewards pages with good content and seamless user experience isn’t new — but now Google is making it official. Just after rolling out its polarizing May 2020 Core Algorithm Update, the search giant has announced that in 2021 they will be rolling out what they call “The Google Page Experience Update. In other words, the update that will prioritize page experience as a predominant ranking factor.

Google has always suggested that sites that run well would get rewarded in the SERPs, but this update makes it official. This update marks the introduction of new experience-based metrics that Google will use to assess pages and determine which to rank. 

Instead of being an update that is just going to hit specific niches, this update will encourage all SEO experts and site owners to make sites that users genuinely like visiting. Google keeps trying to find new ways to assess the value of a website, and these experience-based metrics are their first step (or one of their first steps) to identifying the right pages to serve searchers.

The Google Page Experience Update Timeline

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2021 Roll Out Date:

In part due to COVID-19, Google won’t be releasing this update until 2021. The search giant knows that businesses and site owners are responding to pressing needs and changes due to the implications of COVID-19, and how it’s changed things for many industries and users.
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6 Months Heads Up:

Google didn’t want to spring this on us, especially while there are other matters that need attending. Instead, it’s giving us a heads up. In addition to their general announcement to expect this update in the next year or so, the company has also pledged to give us all a friendly 6-month warning before the official roll-out day. Google, you’re the real M.V.P

Experience-Based Factors (A.K.A. Core Web Vitals)

Google’s announcement of its impending page experience update comes after it announced its Core Web Vitals, the metrics that it will use to evaluate the user experience of a page.

Google describes Core Web Vitals as “the subset of Web Vitals that apply to all web pages, [that] should be measured by all site owners, and will be surfaced across all Google tools.”

In other words, Core Web Vitals are the metrics that will make this update possible; it is what Google will use to decide if your page is rank-worthy or not.

The Main Metrics

Core Web Vitals acts as the umbrella category for the three main metrics Google will use to measure page experience. These main metrics are:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

 LCP is used to measure page speed (i.e. how fast your page loads). This metric will signify to Google exactly how long it takes for the largest element of your site to load. This may be a hero image, button, video, etc. Google suggests that LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of a page loading.

First Input Delay (FID)

First Input Delay (FID)

FID measures the interactivity of your site — specifically, how your site interacts and reacts to users. If your website is not reactive to users (i.e. clicking, scrolling, etc.), this indicates a poor FID.

According to Google, your pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds (i.e. should respond to user interaction within this time) to ensure positive user experience.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

CLS is used to measure how stable your website’s visuals are. Sometimes visual elements of a site can load improperly or shift while a user is on a page, and CLS measures this to ensure that a site’s visuals are stagnant and stable. Google suggests that pages should maintain a CLS of under 0.1 to ensure good user experience. 

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And Back to You John Mueller

When Google officially announced Core Web Vitals as an upcoming ranking factor, Google’s John Mueller did us a solid by walking us through the different components and the role they will play as independent ranking factors.

On May 28th, Mueller decided to drop some knowledge to give context to Google’s announcement of Core Web Vitals.

LCP & page speed

The quirks of FID

Optimizing for CLS

Where to expect these metrics to show up to monitor and assess your pages

That’s all folks

The Experience Factors

Google’s Core Web Vitals

While Google’s Core Web Vitals address three prominent page experience metrics, there are other page-level experience-based factors that Google will consider when assessing a page’s user experience.

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HTTPS & Safe Browsing:

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is at the beginning of a trusted page’s URL. This protocol helps protect the integrity and confidentiality of data shared between a user and a page. This protection comes in the form of encryption, data integrity, and authentication. Users seek security when browsing online, especially when sharing private or sensitive information like credit cards to make a purchase. That said, regardless of the content on a site, Google is suggesting that HTTPs be adapted to protect users and their user experience.

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Ads & Intrusive Elements:

Intrusive elements like ads, chats, or popup banners can deter users and negatively impact their experience on a given page. Google will be taking these intrusive elements into account when assessing your page for user experience.

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Page Speed:

To be fair, Google has been hinting at the prevalence of page speed for some time now, especially as it rewards sites for keeping users on a given page. When pages load slowly, user experience is hindered, and users are more likely to click off. This contributes to a high bounce back rate, which signals to Google that your page is not user friendly.

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Have you ever tried your site on mobile? The reality is that, more than ever before, more people are searching on their phones instead of their desktop. In fact, according to Statista, mobile accounts for 52% of global internet traffic. Responsiveness plays an essential role in web development and on-page optimization, as it is important for pages to be mobile-friendly and responsive to various devices. It’s not good enough for your website to display well on a laptop anymore. It needs to display well everywhere for enhanced user experience, especially if more people are experiencing your site on alternative devices.

How Google is Weighting These Ranking Factors

Google will use various metrics and factors to determine a page’s user experience, but not every metric or element will have the same impact on rankings. Google has shared that every metric will be weighed differently as a ranking factor — and no, they will not be disclosing this weight. 

We can guess that this is because although some experience elements may weigh as more of a ranking factor, all factors matter in the grand scheme of things to create and maintain an all-around good page. 

What Will the Google Page Experience Update Change For SEO?

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Top Stories & AMP:

A.M.P. pages have dominated Google’s top stories feature but, when this update rolls out in 2021, Google will remove A.M.P. pages as an eligibility factor. This means that non-AMP pages will have a fighting chance to be eligible for top stories based on their page experience.

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Search Console:

Google has updated Search Console and other developer tools like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse to reflect Core Web Vitals’ metrics and data so that site owners can easily identify their room for improvement.

Wait — But Is Content Still King?

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Even with the introduction of prominent page experience metrics as a ranking factor, Google still maintains that content remains king.

The search giant is suggesting that great SEO optimized content can still rank with poor user experience and that experience-based elements will likely become more of a tie-breaker of sorts and give your page a competitive edge. SEOs and site owners will probably need to achieve a balance between both to find success in the SERPs.

A page with poor content and good user experience, or good content and poor page experience, will be a lot less competitive when stacked up against a page with good user experience and good content. At the end of the day, the content will still be king, but the general quality of a page, both on-page and off, is going to be queen.

TL;DR: We’ve Been on the Right Track All Along

If you’ve been listening to Google and working with them (instead of against them through black hat SEO), you’ve been preparing for this update all along. 

Google has been telling us to have faith in quality, well-researched content since what feels like the dawn of time, and has suggested countless times how the user experience of a page could impact rankings.

This update is working to solidify what we already knew to be true; that quality reigns for Google. Trying to find loopholes or game the system never works when, update after update, new metrics are being used to identify the quality of a page accurately.

This time around, the update is working to help ensure quality pages rank, and the team at Paul Teitelman Consulting has been preparing this for a while. We’ve always preached refreshing pages with updated, informative, and engaging content, and encouraged our clients to maintain SEO-friendly websites that are easy to navigate.

If like us, you’ve been listening to Google this whole time, this update should be more rewarding than damaging. After all, Google is giving us the time to assess the quality of our page’s technical and content elements before it all rolls out. It’s essential to use this time to take a step back and access the state of our websites. 

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.