UX with a big role in Google ranking
Site loading speed and link building remain substantial factors for getting ahead in Google search results, but from next year, a new agent enters the field of interest – User Experience.
There are many indicators Google uses to define the value of your site’s content and whether it is worth being touched by the eyes of the judgmental beholder – the customer. Fast content display and high domain authority are a just few of the essential components in page ranking. They use quantitative data to determine the value of the website for their potential visitors. UX defines the qualitative aspect of site relevancy by combining a specific set of closely interdependent measurements. Some of them—like the ones just mentioned—are well-recognized items coming from Google’s Page Speed Insights; others come as new additions to support the up-and-coming content-related factor that is constantly growing in importance — user experience.
The projected release date for this algorithm change is scheduled to launch somewhere around 2021. However, getting ready for it on time means committing to action right now. Two reasons for this relative urgency come to mind. First, all the necessary changes needed to adapt to the new update conditions will take some time to produce the desired effect. Second, when the algorithm changes finally take power, your competitors will be ready for it, the question is: will you?
What is Page Experience, according to Google?
Page Experience has quickly become part of the ‘Understanding the basics’ manual by Google’s search engine. It consists of a bundle of variables focused on either the presence or absence of certain factors. For example, as a competitive online seller, your website must be mobile-friendly, operate under high-security protocols, and promote safe browsing. However, your site must not host misleading information, have intrusive pup-ups or obnoxious login dialogs. Page experience is about both the inclusion of specific, measurable signals, as well as the exclusion of certain others.
Page experience includes various SEO metrics, including the UX-relevant set of factors, dubbed by Google as the Core Web Vitals (CWV). This bundle currently consists of three main items, but future algorithm improvements might add more to it, or possibly modify it too. The CWV group focuses on loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability.
Before getting down to the willy-nilly of the trio bundle, it is important to note something else. While the three factors we are about to explain—along with the Page Experience they define—do not directly carry any ranking scores themselves, they do, however, have a specific ranking weight. This statement roughly means that although the core web vitals cannot always be converted into easy to read numbers aimed to measure the success of SEO, their influence will undoubtedly have an impact on your site performance in Google.
What are the Core Web Vitals?
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – This is not merely a new name for loading speed. LCP capitalizes on the historical challenge for developers to understand exactly how content is displayed and perceived by the users in the small period between a mouse click meant to open a new web page, and the time any meaningful visuals enter the perception of the observer. The visual part alone is defined as a standalone performance metric component called First Meaningful Paint (FMP). Its creators are aware that FMP makes sense when examined as a part of a very complicated process that is hard to explain to vendors and, consequently, hard to put into good use by everyone who needs it.
Here’s why LCP can help break this technical barrier and bring essential issues on focus: what developers intend to put on display is not always what the user gets to see via the browser they use. Metrics like DOMContentLoader are not very reliable in showing how exactly a web page unfolds its content, because of the noticeable difference between what the documentation claims happen on display and what exactly is seen by the end-user.
In a nutshell, LCP is what measures if your website takes longer than a few seconds to render the main page content. It does a bit more than that, and its influence is better understood when juxtaposed with the other Core Vitals items.
First Input Delay (FID) – A user-centric metric that is concerned with the first impression users gets when loading a page for the first time. On the web, and especially in a competitive environment like eCommerce, making an excellent first impression can be the difference between success and failure. Many psychological studies confirm the brain takes milliseconds to conclude, and it decides before you even know it! Your audience can process information fast. The best way to get them interested in your content is to open with a strong and stable visual presentation.
If the stories about the first impression being the right impression are true, FID is possibly the best tool that measures this qualitative condition. The so-called first paint indicates how fast and smooth design elements and content are brought up to the screen. It also relies on how seamless all processes behind the curtain are, like network requests and the distribution of CSS and HTML on page load.
FID also marks another minuscule—but critical—point in the customers’ journey: the time frame between the First Content Paint (FCP) and the moment the user can interact in any way. This metric is very valuable, especially when running competitive mobile applications or online shops. Imagine an interface that allows interaction, while compelling content still loads in the background; both processes unfolding while remaining undisturbed and uninterrupted. Reducing delays due to temporary network malfunctions or a faulty page thread design is a big hiccup in SEO and can further be solved by smart solutions like PWA.
While some users purposely won’t directly interact with the freshly loaded page, most will. Therefore, the smooth delivery of immediately interactable content is what matters, and FID is the factor meant to reflect and improve on that notion.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Visual stability sounds a bit perplexing as a concept since we usually perceive web content as solid web objects, each with its designated screen corner, where they tend to stick regardless of interaction intensity. However, exciting things happen when an interactive process creates disturbances in the layout and consequently jeopardizes the smooth journey the customer might have had before that moment. Here’s an example: what if you are just about to complete a web form, by choosing between “Yes” and “No” buttons, which are arranged one above the other. Now, just as you are about to click “No,” a secondary menu has finally loaded up and pushes every element below it an inch below. You just hit “Yes,” and it wasn’t even your fault.
CLS measures the unexpected movement of site elements and how their motion may undermine the user experience. And ‘undermine’ can be an understatement for the actual damage such an erratic layout element movement can cause. Take the “Yes/No” example from above: the sudden design element twitch made the user choose the complete opposite of what they intended!
Core Web Vitals are rolling out in 2021
While there’s still approximately one year until these changes are going full force, farseeing marketers know SEO-related preparations take time and already gear up for counteraction. Practice shows that search engine algorithm changes require attention as early as possible. To prepare for the new SEO reality, trusty tools like Page Speed Insights or Google Search Console remain most relevant. The Console already has a dedicated section for the Core Web Vitals. Feel free to start familiarizing yourself with it, and start plotting for the appropriate action.
Of course, essential knowledge and valuable practice when it comes to content optimization are best left in the hands of veteran SEO experts. Your content might not carry the capacity to place your brand in search results effectively. When such doubts begin to cross the mind, it is time to reach out to the pros and get a solution suited to tackle specific business demands.