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Is your site ready for the May 2021 Google update?

After a Covid-related delay, we now know that in May 2021 and as part of the page experience update, Google will add Core Web Vitals into its algorithm as a ranking factor. In simple terms, this means your site’s speed and page loading time will directly impact on your Google ranking. 

What is the page experience update?

Google takes user experience seriously. We know this from previous updates which demonstrate a clear focus on promoting mobile-friendliness, quicker loading times, preventing obtrusive pop ups, and more. The page experience update, as shown below, is important for lots of reasons, not least because it will combine the following seven factors into a single ranking signal:

 

Some background…

Page experience at the moment covers four established ranking signals: 

  • Mobile-friendliness: Rewarding sites which offer a positive user experience on mobile devices.
  • Safe browsing: Promoting websites which are free from security issues, malware, deceptive pages, harmful downloads and / or other general safety issues.
  • HTTPS: Recognising websites which have HTTPS secure encryption.
  • Intrusive interstitials: Penalising websites which use intrusive interstitials and pop ups.

Optimisation of the four key signals should already feature in your SEO strategy and to date, there has been no suggestion that any of the existing four will carry more weight in Google’s algorithm once the page experience signal rolls out. However you do need to take into account the three newer signals which are scheduled for rollout in May and which Google have termed Core Web Vitals.

What are the Core Web Vitals?

The Core Web Vitals and its three signals relate directly to on-page user experience:

  • Loading: This refers simply to loading times although Google is changing the way it measures this with a new standard called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).

 

What’s that? LCP looks at the time taken for the largest page element to load, which is likely to match the lag the end user experiences at the front end.

 

  • Interactivity: Measures the responsiveness of the interactive elements on your page (links, buttons, etc.) after users click on them. Again, using a new standard ‘First Input Delay’ (FID).  

 

What’s that? The second Core Web Vital is a measure of users’ first impressions. It works out the timing of the user’s initial interaction onsite (i.e. the first item they click) and how long the site takes to process and respond to the initial action. 

 

  • Visual Stability: Detects the movement of elements after they’ve loaded on the page and any instability they may cause. And yep, benchmarked against another new standard called Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).  

 

What’s that? Cumulative layout shift measures the visual stability of your website and how often users are exposed to unexpected layout changes.

 

Optimising for page speed should already be high priority when it comes to management of your website but Core Web Vitals changes the way Google measures loading times – and this may well mean you need to rethink the way you optimise for it.

How important is this update?

We won’t truly understand the importance of this update until it’s fully rolled out and we have had time to assess the impact on web pages across the board.

If you look back to Google’s mobile-friendly update in 2015, it was dubbed “mobilegeddon” by the online community  prior to rollout and widely expected to be one of the biggest disruptions to the SERPs we’d ever seen.However, upon rollout, the initial impact was minor and only gradually increased over time, as mobile-friendliness became an increasingly important signal and people began to adapt accordingly.

What do I need to do?

The first thing you can do is to work out where you stand right now. Google has created a Core Web Vitals report which allows you to view your website’s performance on loading times (LCP), interactivity (FID) and stability (CLS) – and even better, you can compare your results against Google’s benchmarks. To be aware that the report will open up in Google webmaster and you will just need to select your property on the top left hand side to see it.

Whilst there are several steps you can take to improve loading times, such as upgrading your hosting service or optimising your media files for web, one thing you must have on your to-do list is to check your pages are mobile friendly. Make sure you also review any pop ups on your website.

Resources which will help prepare you for the page experience update:

Final thoughts…

The new ranking update may sound more than a little techie and complex but the main takeaway is this: it’s coming and the primary objective is to promote outstanding onsite experience for end users. If you need any help in understanding the ramifications of the update, what you can be doing to prepare, where your site might stand currently (including analysis of your Google Core Web Vitals report) or just simply assistance more broadly on improving your site as it stands, The Digital Studios can offer support on this – and more.

 

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