Google is notorious for rolling out major algorithm updates.
Updates that have a massive impact on the SEO landscape with little or no warning.
To many digital marketers, it’s the equivalent of waking up to see your entire home has been moved while you were fast asleep.
So, when Google proactively announces a major update prior to rollout, SEO marketers pay attention. Such is the case with Google’s page experience update that is set to roll out in May.
Google has been speaking about this update since mid-2020. One of the other times that Google was this proactive on alerting SEO marketers about an upcoming update was Mobilegeddon in 2015. As was the case then, Google’s page experience update is focused on end-user experience. At this point, marketers should have two immediate questions:
1) What is Google’s page experience and
2) How do I prepare for it?
What Is Google’s Page Experience?
Page experience is another ranking benchmark that Google is adding to their overall ranking algorithm. It seems to be built upon the metric Core Web Vitals that the Google Chrome team rolled out last year. The overall focus is to ensure that end-users have a fast, mobile-friendly, and straight-forward browsing experience.
There are five elements to this:
1) Core Web Vitals
This was created as a direct result of the desire for end-users to have a fast browsing experience. As part of this, Google looks at three key signals as it relates to the perceived speed of your website:
a) Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This looks at how long the largest piece of content takes to load. It should be under 2.5 seconds.
b) First Input Delay (FID): This looks at how responsive your site is to end-user’s attempts to scroll and click throughout the page. It should be below 100ms.
c) Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This metric measures the visual stability of the page. It should score less than 0.1.
2) Mobile Friendliness of your Website
As we discussed earlier, mobile friendliness has been a major part of Google’s algorithm since 2015. As users continue to shift toward browsing primarily on their mobile devices, mobile friendliness will continue to be an incredibly important aspect of web design.
3) Safe Browsing
Over the past couple of years, the end-user’s security has been a major concern for Google. In a nutshell, if Google directs its users to websites that harm them it will greatly hurt Google’s reputation. The upcoming update will determine if websites are perceived to have any malicious or deceptive content.
This has been around for a few years, but it is nonnegotiable that websites secure sites with an SSL certificate. Google has already been identifying sites that do not have an SSL by labeling them as “not secure” for all end-users to see.
5) Intrusive Interstitials
This probably demonstrates Google’s commitment to end-user experience more than the others. These are elements that block the content that end-users are looking for when they visit a site. The most common example is a full-page pop-up that appears when a user lands on their desired page. Google will punish marketers who are using these tactics.
How Do I Prepare for It?
It is important to note that Google page experience does not replace any of the other key elements within their ranking algorithm, it simply adds to it. Here are six steps that international SEO marketers can follow to prepare for this update:
1) Have a third party conduct a thorough site audit.
The best place to start with any of this is to have an independent audit conducted on your site. The mentality of “not being able to see the trees through the forest” is true as it relates to digital marketing. An independent audit is a great way to identify potential issues with your website that may have been overlooked. An audit should take a thorough look at the technical elements of your site and the health of your website’s content, as well as many off-page elements that are critical to your SEO health.
2) Improve your page load speed.
3) Analyze your bounce rate.
A high bounce rate is not solely due to a poor page load speed. At its core, bounce rates show that users are not finding what they want when they get to a website. Take the opportunity to analyze your site’s navigation, layout, use of images and infographics, number of external links used versus internal links, overuse of CTAs, and overall user experience.
4) Ensure your website’s security.
Though it may go without saying, it’s critical to not use any malicious scripts or misleading content on your site. You can protect your site from malware attacks by installing a firewall as well as an SSL.
5) Either stop using large pop-ups or drastically limit them.
Think of how your website visitors feel when they have found something intriguing enough to come to your site, only to be hit by an over-the-top salesperson in the form of a pop-up when they arrive. Likely, their initial opinion of your site will be very low. If they stay, it is probable that your credibility has already been negatively affected.
6) Develop and execute a content plan that focuses on high-quality content.
Throughout the years and many updates, Google continues to reward websites that have high-quality content. This cannot be overstated: executing a content plan that focuses on what your end-user is interested in and regularly provides new information is a critical portion of any international SEO strategy. This is one way to help your site become algorithm-update proof.
Even though Google is set to roll out this update in May, there is still plenty of time to prepare. It is important for marketers to look at this more as a way to operate moving forward rather than a one-time fix. This update follows in a long line of Google's major updates in that it puts the onus on marketers to provide great user experience. It is a reminder to marketers to stop worrying about what Google wants and start worrying about what their end-users want—and in the end Google will reward you.
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UPDATE: Gradual rollout of the update will now take place from mid-June 2021, in line with recent announcement from Google.