• LinkedIn

The Truth About Page Experience in 2021

New changes are coming out of Google in upcoming Core Web Vitals updates. Do you need to be concerned?

In 2018 on the heels of Google’s “Speed Update” we wrote a blog detailing what this means for you and your SEO. Three years later Google is back with their Page Experience Signals. Is there something new to focus on? Or is it the same idea with a shiny new name?

Our stance remains consistent … page speed is a means to an end. Don’t forget about the larger aim — improving user experience (UX). Consider potential trade-offs between page speed performance and features benefiting your users. Always look at your website holistically and make intentional, informed decisions.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Google’s Core Web Vitals aren’t new. We’ve paid attention to and have had access to these metrics for quite some time. Google has decided to simply package them together and give them a title. Core Web Vitals consists of three metrics:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This metric reports the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport, relative to when the page first started loading.
  2. First Input Delay (FID): FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS is a measure of the largest burst of layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of a page. A layout shift occurs any time a visible element changes its position from one rendered frame to the next.

How does Google’s Core Web Vitals impact my rankings?

When looking at Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics it can seem overwhelming, especially when tools out there indicate that you’re struggling in one, or all of these areas. However, as usual, things are a bit more nuanced than simple metrics. Consider this guidance directly from Google:

“The page experience update introduces a new signal that our search algorithms will use alongside hundreds of other signals to determine the best content to show in response to a query. Our systems will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.

This is similar to changes we’ve had in the past, such as our mobile-friendly update or our speed update. As with those signals, page experience will be more important in “tie-breaker” types of situations. If there are multiple pages of similar quality and content, those with better page experience might perform better than those without.”

Does Site Speed Matter, Then?

So, site speed is still not as significant a factor in rankings as many digital marketers anticipated. Google is continuing to emphasize quality content over everything and has directly stated that these signals are more of a “tie-breaker” than an outright deciding factor when it comes to your ranking on their results pages.

The driving force behind Google’s focus on page speed? Promoting and improving UX on its platform. Tying page speed to your SEO is a way for Google to get you to care about this too. Faster page load times is just one tactic Google has prioritized — and it’s the one getting the most attention.

This isn’t to say we should ignore page speed or other core web vital metrics. If your page is unbearably slow to load or has content shifting all over the page, Google may demote your site in search engine rankings. But, if you have a generally well-performing site today, improving your page speed isn’t likely to boost your rankings. What helps your rankings and what hurts your rankings aren’t always the same things, and both are still largely driven by who is providing the best information to users for a given query.

How do Core Web Vitals impact user experience?

Though it’s likely these metrics aren’t impacting your rankings, they may affect your UX and other measures of success. If a page takes more than a few seconds to load, or if content is moving around the screen while the user tries to engage with the page, users may get frustrated and leave your site. If you see lower conversion rates, lower engagement rates, or exceptional bounce rates, Core Web Vitals are a solid place to look for some insight. Remember that even Google recommends that you think about how your users experience your site, instead of simply how the page performs.

Page speed is a measurement of how fast your page content loads — so users can see and interact with your content. Page speed can be affected by many things, from the user’s browser to server configuration and front-end script management. Page load times can vary dramatically from user to user.

Still have questions?

The truth about Google’s Core Web Vitals and their impact on your site’s performance is complex. If you’re interested in looking into your site’s UX, page load speeds, or other metrics, know that Geonetric can help. From identifying the pages you should focus on to meaningfully measuring their performance, Geonetric is able to help develop strategies and tactics to enhance your site.

Joe Dreshar

Digital Marketing Strategist

The Truth About Page Experience in 2021