Google is known for its mysterious hints about what we should be doing to achieve its approval. Sure enough, there are pages and pages to help us do the right thing. But they are often difficult to interpret, leaving site owners and SEOs alike scratching their heads.
“Listen closely, because your website will be tested later”
Just occasionally, Google tells us precisely what to pay attention to. Such as in 2015, with its Mobile update — you may remember it was rather apocalyptically known as Mobilegeddon. I’m waiting to see what the SEO world dubs this one.
For 2021, they’re doing it again with the Google Page Experience update. And there are at least two reasons why you should take it seriously:
- Google is giving us months of warning — when the time comes, having given us that warning, I’d bet they’ll be happy taking a swipe at sites that have ignored that warning
- The Google Page Experience update is a development of many things Google has been telling us about web pages. And the way they see people consuming content. It’s is a logical step forward for the online world.
Getting your site ready for the Google Page Experience update
OK. So I’ve convinced you something important is afoot.
The question now is what steps you need to take to ensure your website is in tip tip condition in the few months that remain in 2020.
Google is stressing some familiar things and three new ones (see below for those):
- HTTPS — I know I have one website that I haven’t yet set up for what Google sees as security, using a valid security certificate. If you’re dragging your heels, too, you need to have a word with your developer
- Mobile-friendly — you’ve had five years to tackle this one, and it isn’t going to go away. More and more internet traffic is mobile. Get on to your developers now!
- Page speed — Google is advising your page loads in less than 2.5 seconds. That’ll keep you away from Google problems, but from a user experience point of view, I’d try my very best to reduce that further. You don’t want visitors bouncing away after all your efforts getting them there
- Safe browsing — Google doesn’t like it if your site is hosting malware; if your site has been hacked and something nasty is awaiting your site visitors.
There are three new page experience signals to measure; Google is calling these Core Web Vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) — this is where a page’s primary content has loaded. Google’s idea is that this is a measure of how we perceive load speed
- First Input Delay (FID) — this is a measure of how the user experiences the responsiveness of a page. Is anything happening here?
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) — a measure of visual stability. The idea is to minimise unexpected layout shifts. Think about if text, images or videos are positioned correctly when they first appear or if they move while the page is loading.
It’s here that you’ll need to focus.
I hope that you or your website team have already been looking closely at factors that will ensure your pages are delivered fast. But now there are these new page experience metrics to consider, too.
How do you check Core Web Vitals?
The simplest way is to look in Google Search Console. If you don’t have it installed on your website, you should do this right away — as you should now have a menu item for Core Web Vitals, on the left-hand side, under Enhancements.
To be honest, I’m not an enormous fan of GSC because it has a nasty habit of throwing up inaccurate data and can be inconsistent from week to week.
However, Google calls the shots so we must take seriously any problems that show up there.
I’ve also looked at a number of sites where GSC is reporting there isn’t enough data and refers to PageSpeed Insights.
I’m sure most of the major SEO tool companies are working on their own to measure Core Web Vitals metrics, but I haven’t seen one yet (please let me know if you know otherwise). In the meantime, my own stopgap solution is to use ScreamingFrog SEO Spider to harvest PageSpeed Insight data and extract the relevant information using a spreadsheet.
An essential part of a bigger picture
One last thing. As much as we must not ignore the Google Page Experience Update, and you’ll be hearing a lot about how important it is for your positions in the search results over the coming months from the SEO industry, it’s only one set of factors within your website. Only part of your SEO; another factor Google has added to the challenge of running a site.
If you haven’t had yours audited recently, you should take this opportunity to get it set up the way it should be, across the board. There are plenty of ways technical SEO problems can harm your online marketing, so make sure you have everything covered off — you can talk to me about your website at a time that suits you. No obligation, of course.
You have until May 2021 to get your site sorted. It’s not so far away, so start planning now. Before Christmas and the New Year grab your attention.
Keep up to date by reading David Rosam’s Email Thing
This post is adapted from a David Rosam’s Email Thing issue from August of this year. Sign up here to keep up to date with digital marketing.