The Google Page Experience Update Explained: How to Rank in 2021

Earlier this year (May 28th) Google announced that they’ll be rolling out a major addition to their search algorithm ranking signals.

The update, known as the ‘page experience update’ will come into effect for Google in 2021 – and it could will have a big impact on the search results of all websites.

If your strategy is built around SEO, you’re heavily dependent on search traffic or you’re aiming to up your organic traffic in the coming years – stick around, this article will explain everything about this Google update in layman’s terms.

Leave your long word expectations at the door, this post is NOT just for the technical savvy – it’s for every website owner who wants more search traffic.

An Unusual Warning

I very rarely write about Google updates – this is because they actually update their algorithm 10’s if not 100’s of time every single year.

They almost always do this – like 99.99999% of the time – without warning.

These updates are tiny, subtle improvements to their algorithm – that all have the same aim – to improve their user’s experience.

Sometimes they inform website owners after the update (via the Google Developers blog), but in most cases, they say nothing.

So, why have they informed us about a change that will take place in 2021, in May of 2020?

My best guess – this is a very important update that could majorly shake things up (especially for those who are not prepared). 

My second-best guess – Google are trying to be nicer to the websites who provide them with content.

Google Page Experience Update

google page experience update

We’ll shortly look at what this page experience update is all about in more detail, but before that, let’s look at the update in Google’s own words:

‘Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing Search signals: mobile friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.’ 

Google haven’t just informed us that there’ll be an update, they’ve painted a very clear picture of each element in this 2021 Google change.

Let’s look at each in detail, starting with a new 3 word term that they’re placing the most emphasis on…

Core Web Vitals

google core web vitals

In terms of page experience, Core Web Vitals represent a set of three metrics that Google will use to measure user experience in terms of loading, interactivity and visual stability.

In other words, Core Web Vitals is a name Google have put on 3 things that are going to be MORE important to their search algorithm.

These 3 things are:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP is basically a technical term for the render time of the largest text or image block on a webpage.

*Very important* Render time and load time are NOT the same thing.

Load time is how long it takes an image, text or page element to download.

Render time measures how long it takes to process these page elements and show them to visitors – i.e. how long it takes a visitor to actually see stuff on your page.

lcp google page experience update

How To Optimise LCP

If LCP refers to the largest element on a page, the easiest way to reduce this time is to remove or reduce the size of your largest page elements.

This means deleting things like large images, carousels, videos etc.

However, if your pages need these elements, you can minify and compress them to reduce their weight using free online image compression tools like tinypng.com (my personal favourite).

You can discover whether your pages need to be optimised for LCP by using Google’s very own PageSpeed Insights tool. LCP will be shown right at the top of these results.

lcp google pagespeed insights

BTW: PageSpeed Insights is a vital tool that you must use to understand how Google reads your website! Open it in a new tab in your browser.

Google rate LCP with three scores:

  • Good: 2.5 seconds and under
  • Needs Improvement: 2.5-4 seconds
  • Poor: 4 seconds and over

lcp core web vitals time

After this there are a few *yawn* technical things you can do, like:

  • Optimising server response times: e.g. Cache page assets or use a CDN (try WordPress Caching plugins and a free CDN like Cloudflare -which is actually simpler than it sounds)
  • Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS

First Input Delay (FID)

Whilst seeing page elements render is very important, being able to interact with them is another altogether.

The First Input Delay (FID) is a Google metric for measuring how fast a user’s interactions are processed.

For example, if you click a link on this page, the FID is the length of time it takes our website to register that interaction (aka the click) and begin processing the request.

first input delay google page experience update

We’re talking about tiny split-seconds here – but these make a big impact on a user’s page experience.

Imagine clicking on a link and it taking 1 second for the website to even realise you’ve done it. It would be as irritating as watching a badly dubbed movie.

How To Optimise FID

The good news is that a long First Input Delay is quite rare, but if you have added lots of JavaScript to your web pages, it could be a problem.

Unfortunately, there are no direct measurements of FID using online tools and that’s because it requires a real user to interact with your page, however, there are some other measurements found in PageSpeed Insights that allow us to measure FID.

Start by comparing the difference in time between the ‘First Contentful Paint’ and the ‘Time to Interactive’ – if there is little to no difference, it’s a very good sign.

first input delay measurement

The other thing to check is your ‘Total Blocking Time’ as this highlights how long users are being delayed by excessive page elements.

Google rate FID in three brackets:

  • Good: 100 ms and under
  • Needs Improvement: 100 – 300 ms
  • Poor: 300 ms and over

fid core web vitals

Optimising your FID is a lot more technical than our LCP (above), even for those with some technical know-how.

I won’t pretend to be an expert in the First Input Delay field, however, I can pass on some Google advice and suggest that you follow any or all suggestions made that relate to JavaScript in your PageSpeed Insights Score – as this should improve your websites interactivity speed.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Have you ever landed on a website, seen a link that you’d like to click, and just as you’re about to press that button, the page moves up (or down) and you end up clicking on another link?

^^This happens to me far more often than I’d like, particularly on mobile^^

The culprits of this irritating experience are slow-loading page elements, particularly images, videos and text boxes.

The total movement of all webpage elements (as they load) is known as the Cumulative Layout Shift, and it has a big impact on the page experience of a website visitor.

cumulative layout shift google page experience update

 

How to Optimise CLS

Your website should load (and render) page layout as quickly as possible to avoid moving elements ruining a visitor’s experience.

Again, this is another metric that can be measured in Google’s PageSpeed Insights (Google are really trying to help webmasters optimise for their search algorithm update in 2021).

The CLS score is measured in three categories:

  • Good: 0.1 seconds and under
  • Needs Improvement: 0.1 – 0.25 seconds
  • Poor: 0.25 seconds and over

cls core web vitals time

Whilst measuring your CLS is pretty straight-forward, it’s not quite as easy to alter your score.

However, by using a solid and trustworthy website ‘Theme’ you can make a big difference to your page layout load time.

cumulative layout shift page experience update measurement

If your CLS time is slow and you don’t want to alter the design/theme of your website, AND you don’t have any technical skills (there’s no shame in it) there are a couple of things you can get help with:

  • Always including size attributes on your images and video elements, or always using CSS aspect ratio boxes
  • Never inserting content above existing content 

Other Elements of The Google Page Experience Update

Although the increase in importance of these Core Web Vitals is the suggested focus of this Google page experience update, there are a few other things to take into account.

In Google’s own words:

It also includes existing Search signals: mobile friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.’

This means that those websites who have put-off optimising their site for these existing ranking factors will be punished further when the changes come into play.

Mobile Friendliness

google mobile friendly test

It’s been known for a number of years now that Google take mobile friendliness very seriously.

They backed this claim up by releasing a tool known as the ‘Mobile Friendly Test’ – this reveals a website’s readiness for mobile as a score, as well as providing webmasters with a detailed explanation of how they can improve their website.

Check your website’s mobile friendliness with the Mobile Friendly Test.

Safe-Browsing and HTTPS

As you’d expect from a search engine, their priority is to protect their users from malicious websites.

This means punishing websites that include malware or deceptive content – it goes without saying that you shouldn’t have any of this on your site.

It also means ranking sites that are seen as ‘safe’ higher than those that aren’t.

google chrome website security

You should ensure your website is running on HTTPS.

This is easily achieved with a SSL certificate – which is included by many servers as standard.

You can check if your site has one by visiting any page on your website and checking the browser for a closed or open padlock in the URL bar.

A closed padlock reveals that your website is secure, an open one shows that it isn’t.

website security padlock google ranking

No Intrusive Interstitials

Our final Google page experience update factor is intrusive interstitials – especially on mobile.

Whilst this might sound like a technical term, an interstitial is actually just an advert that can potentially harm a visitors experience on your website – e.g. full-screen pop-ups that open immediately as a page loads.

If you are running pop-ups, try to make sure they don’t immediately load when a new visitor lands on the page (Cookie and GDPR pop-ups are excluded from this btw).

I’d recommend exit pop-ups, and a long delay time on mobile pop-ups (if you have to use them).

Google Update Conclusion

Google updates their search algorithm all the time – but this particular update feels like a big one.

The main focus is a page visitor’s experience – it’s your job to look after your visitors as best you can when they land on your website.

That means making sure everything loads quickly, is interactive and sticks to the Core Web Vital metrics that Google are placing more emphasis on.

Think about your user’s page experience and remember that Google’s AI is always growing in intelligence!

Want more content and SEO marketing advice? Check out one of our most popular ever articles:

Director of Content at Einstein Marketer
Josh is an award winning content marketer and the Director of Content at Einstein Marketer, previously working as a content manager, freelance copywriter and marketer. He writes, edits, proofs and strategises content for Einstein Marketer's agency and their clients, sharing the most successful tactics and strategies with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links (above) so he can get back to writing as himself.

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