By now, you’ve likely heard about Google’s 2021 algorithm update. As with every announced change to ranking factors, this highly anticipated update has caused a flurry of questions and consternation as everyone tries to prepare their sites for a seismic shift that could send aftershocks through their search rankings.
Relax. Everything’s going to be okay. If you need more reassurance before diving into the details of these latest updates read, How To Stop Dreading And Start Loving Google Algorithm Updates.
The single most important thing to remember is that Google doesn’t make these updates for the simple pleasure of upsetting your apple cart. Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” These ranking factor changes are in keeping with that mission, extending the concept of accessibility and utility with an emphasis on user experience.
How is Google Changing Its Ranking Factors?
The algorithm update will incorporate page experience as a ranking signal by measuring Core Web Vitals and giving preference to pages that Google determines to contain useful, relevant, and easily accessible content in response to a given search query. The reason Google announced these changes so far in advance of rolling them out is that they want all site owners to embrace a better user experience and do everything they can to make their sites more enjoyable for everyone.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are metrics that answer questions such as:
- How fast does a page load?
- How quickly does the page become stable?
- How responsive are interactive elements on the page?
Google will join the Core Web Vitals metrics to a group of metrics it’s already measuring, called Page Experience signals, which measure things like mobile-friendliness, security, and if there are intrusive interstitials, like pop-ups, that block important content. All of these elements together will determine how a page ranks for user experience.
These signals are less about what’s on the page — the traditional ranking signals we’ve grown accustomed to — and more about the technical barriers that might prevent the user from enjoying what’s on the page.
How Will These Changes Affect Rankings?
That’s the million-dollar question! Even though these new ranking factors consider mobile-friendliness, they will affect search rankings similarly for mobile and desktop users. The most obvious impact will be on Google’s top stories, which had previously required AMP (accelerated mobile pages) to appear in that prime spot on mobile devices. When these changes roll-out, Google will toss out AMP, and pages will need to meet a minimum threshold of Core Web Vitals to appear in top stories.
How Will My Rankings Change?
Another good question! The answer to this one is a little more complicated. In short, it depends. If we step back and look at the big picture, we know that Google has hundreds of ranking signals, so it’s not likely that one change will significantly impact your rankings.
Unless you’re operating in a highly competitive space, and other businesses are ready to swoop in and take advantage of any slippage in your rankings — potentially making it difficult to regain your position. Or if your site performs so poorly in user experience that negates signals you’re already ranking for.
Bear in mind that Google’s ranking signals can have an outsized impact beyond the actual metrics themselves. For example, the page speed signal has a small overall effect on your rankings. But, it can significantly impact visitor behavior (like spiking your bounce rate), which would eventually affect your search position.
On the flip side, there can be a positive amplification of these changes on your overall traffic and conversion rates. Google analyzed millions of page impressions and found that users are 24% less likely to abandon a site when it meets Core Web Vitals thresholds. That means you’re going to hang on to more of your hard-earned traffic by merely making your site a more pleasant place to spend time. If page experience improvements keep more users on your site, your bounce rates will decrease, which creates a virtuous cycle of improved search rankings.
Three Signals for Core Web Vitals
It’s important to understand these metrics, but it’s equally important not to get too bogged down on the technical aspect of each. Let’s look at what each metric measures, how to identify potential problems on your pages, and what you can do to fix them.
1 – Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP measures how long it takes for the largest asset on the page, whether it’s a video, image, or text, to render in the viewport. The viewport is the term used to describe a user’s visible area of a web page, whether they’re using a desktop or a phone. How long does it take for that one big thing to render fully? That’s the Largest Contentful Paint.
2 – Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures how long it takes for the page to become stable. Have you ever tried to click a button on a page, only to have an asset above it load, pushing the button down the page, so you end up clicking on something else entirely? Pretty frustrating, right? That’s why Cumulative Layout Shift factors into page experience signals.
3 – First input delay (FID)
FID measures any delay between a user taking action on the page and seeing the results of that action. For example, after you click a button, how long until you see the expected result? First input delay is about any lag time between an action and a reaction on the page.
How to Measure Your Core Web Vitals
Let’s get down to business and talk about how to measure your Core Web Vitals so you can fix any issues you find. Thankfully, Google makes it simple to measure your site’s metrics in these areas with a new report on the Search Console called “Core Web Vitals.” This report will assign every Google-indexed URL on your site with a performance label of “poor,” “needs improvement,” or “good.”This is an incredibly helpful report because it so clearly prioritizes what you need to fix. If you have URLs that are poor or need improvement, dig in to find out why they’re falling short and what you can do to improve the user experience on those pages. Every report in the Search Console links to a report in Page Speed Insights, which is probably the best tool to diagnose specific issues with your Core Web Vitals.
When to Seek Expert Help
We’re not writing an exhaustive blog post about how to fix issues with each of the Core Web Vitals because, unless you’re an experienced developer, you’ll probably need to work with someone who is. Rather than trying to open up the hood on your site and fix things you’re not familiar with, use Google Search Console to get a feel for the scope of changes you need and then find a reliable partner to do the work.
In a Nutshell
Not only will enhancing page experience future-proof your website’s performance by putting it in the best possible position to capitalize on the upcoming algorithm update, but it will also improve the experience for users on your website right now.
Remember, page experience optimization isn’t about meeting specific search engine criteria. It’s about providing the best possible experiences for real users.
Google says it best:
“A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”
Yes, you should focus on improving your Core Web Vitals, but those fixes don’t preclude creating useful content that connects searchers with the answers they seek.
5 Key Takeaways
- Core Web Vitals Measure User Experience
An emphasis on improving user experience makes the internet a better place for everyone and puts you on track to delight your customers.
- Know Where You Stand
Google makes it easy to measure your page experience metrics.
- Prioritize Your Updates
Focus first on the metrics where your site performs most poorly.
- Seek Expert Help
Technical fixes require technical know-how. Find a specialist to help you out.
- Keep Creating Content
No amount of page optimization is going to make up for lackluster content.
How Victorious is Helping Our Clients
Our holistic approach doesn’t stop at making sure that pages load fast or are quick to interact. Through competitive research and keyword strategies that match our clients’ business goals, the Victorious team helps our clients deliver killer content that ranks for their targeted customers.
Victorious’ rigorous technical audit leaves no stone unturned in seeking out potential page experience issues. After identifying areas for improvement, we work with our clients’ developers or provide development support with our in-house team to address issues and improve Core Web Vitals.
Curious to learn more about algorithm updates? Check out How To Stop Dreading And Start Loving Google Algorithm Updates for a fresh perspective on embracing change.
When’s the best time to get ready for Google’s 2021 algorithm update? If you haven’t started already, there’s no better time than the present. Get your free SEO consultation today.