In late May 2020, Google announced that it would be introducing a new ranking signal as early as 2021 that would combine new and existing page experience metrics to create a “holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on the page.” (Google Webmaster Central Blog)
In short, this new organic ranking factor will measure overall page experience based on a variety of UX metrics. Google’s goal is to encourage websites to optimize for user experience in order to make the web a more usable, useful place and help users “grow more engaged and transact with less friction.”
What Is Page Experience?
According to Google’s Developer Documentation, page experience is “set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.”
Page experience can encompass (but isn’t limited to) all of the following factors and metrics:
- HTTPS security
- Mobile usability
- Page load time
- Interstitial guidelines
In addition to these signals, Google also plans to continue incorporating more page experience metrics on a yearly basis to keep its algorithms evolving alongside user expectations.
How Is This Different Than Previous UX Ranking Signals?
High-quality user experience has long been considered a ranking factor, whether directly or indirectly. In addition to rolling out specific algorithm updates that promote the importance of usability factors like page speed and mobile-friendliness, Google has consistently reiterated the need for content that is high quality and trustworthy to users – signals that ultimately hinge on a site or page’s user experience.
This update will build on those expectations to create one overarching “page experience” signal. While many of the underling concepts are not new, this update will group both new and known UX signals all under the newly named “page experience” umbrella.
What Are the Core Web Vitals?
The most notable change that this update brings is the introduction of the term Core Web Vitals, a group of UX metrics that make up a large part of the so-called “page experience.”
These metrics include:
- Visual Stability
These metrics all relate to page speed, which has been a ranking consideration and SEO focus since at least 2018.
The first two metrics, loading and interactivity, were previously a part of the speed reports within Search Console and ensure that users can quickly access web content. Here is a more detailed breakdown of what all three metrics mean for webmasters:
- “Loading” refers specifically to a site’s Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). LCP measures the point at which a page’s main content has been loaded. Google recommends an LCP under 2.5 seconds.
- “Interactivity” refers to a site’s First Input Delay (FID). FID measures “the time from when a user first interacts with a page to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that information” – otherwise known as when a page can respond and become interactive for the user. Google recommends that pages have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a new measure of page experience referring to how stable a page is as it loads based on how many unexpected layout shifts occur. Google recommends achieving a CLS “score” of less than 0.1, which is calculated based on a page’s “viewport size and the movement of unstable elements in the viewport between two rendered frames.”
To summarize these metrics, webmasters can ask themselves:
- How quickly does my page load?
- How quickly can users actually use my page?
- Are elements on my page moving around in an unexpected way?
Google provides specific details on how to answer these questions, but it’s important to remember that the update is centered around ensuring a positive user experience; these metrics should all simply be ways of measuring how optimal the experience is.
How to Optimize for This Update
Google has stressed that no immediate action is needed to get websites ready for the Page Experience Update; this update is not rolling out until at least 2021, and Google has assured webmasters that they will have at least 6 months’ notice prior to launch.
That said, with the announcement of this upcoming change, Google has also released a new Core Web Vitals module within Search Console to help webmasters prepare over time.
This feature is listed among other “enhancements” in Search Console such as the Mobile Usability feature, another module that can be used to improve site experience. The Core Web Vitals report lists page-specific optimization opportunities based on the factors listed above.
In addition, Google also recommends using the Chrome User Experience Report and PageSpeed Insights to identify and solve issues that may affect a site’s user experience and may ultimately impact ranking potential once the Page Experience update is fully rolled out next year.