Google’s New Ranking Factor: Page Experience
Google’s next big algorithm change for Page Experience is planned for launch next year. It will measure user enjoyment of web pages using both old and new specific ranking factors, grouped into a page experience score. Google explains it:
The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.
So what are these page experience factors?
I’ve broken them down into nine discrete thing that a small business owner needs to address on your website. Let’s hit them one at a time.
Your site needs to be responsive and mobile friendly
A responsive site is one that adapts to the device it’s showing up on. If you open up your site in a browser and change the width of the browser window, the display of the website should respond to that. If you make the browser window narrower, you shouldn’t see it cut off the right edge of paragraphs.
This is it really obvious on a phone. Your website should look different on a phone than it does on a desktop computer. But you don’t want to have a separate mobile-only websites like some people did in the early days of the smart phone. You want the same information available on a phone that’s available on a computer, since Google is using a mobile-first index.
If your mobile site is abbreviated and has less content in an effort to more easily fit on a phone, that’s the version of your site Google will index and rank. You want one website that can display differently on a computer and a phone. That way the same information is available regardless of how a customer is looking at it.
Also in terms of being mobile-friendly, it’s important that tap targets, links, buttons and so forth, are large enough and far enough apart to make it easy to tap them. If they’re too close together, your fingers are likely to hit two at once and that provides a poor user experience. The size of your text also may need to be different on a phone so that it’s easy to read.
Page speed refers to how many seconds it takes for a page on your website to download into a user’s browser or phone. Google likes to see a web page that displays on your phone or in your computer within 2½ seconds. Fully displaying in 4 seconds is considered adequate, but any longer than that and Google considers it to offer a poor experience.
From a practical matter, we live in an age of impatience. If someone clicks on your listing in search results and drums their fingers while they’re waiting for to load, they may give up before it finishes loading and go back to the Google search results. They are there likely to click on another listing and that “bounce” tells Google that they didn’t like what they found on your site. Not only did you lose a potential customer, but it’s likely to hurt your rankings in the future.
All across the web they are calling this “cumulative layout shift” or CLS. Let your web designer worry about those terms, but don’t let this jargon intimidate you. What this refers to is things jumping around on your screen as a page loads. It can be very annoying, as you can see on the website Media Bias Fact Check. Google considers this a poor page experience and if it’s happening on your website, your rankings will suffer for it.
[Update March 2021] I’m sure it’s not because of us, but Media Bias Fact Check has corrected their visual stability issue so it’s no longer a good example.
Avoid 404 errors
When a user tries to go to a page that isn’t where they think it is, they get a 404 Page Not Found error. If there are links on your site that point incorrectly to content on you’re website, your shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a poor user experience if you send your users to pages that aren’t there. It’s important to scan your website and make sure you clear up any of those.
Beyond that, though, there may be malformed links on other websites or links on those sites that point to pages you have since eliminated or moved. Those 404 errors are pretty much unavoidable. But you can improve the user experience of them with a custom 404 page. Unlike the default 404 error your browser provides, if you have a custom 404 page it’s formatted just like your website so users know that they haven’t been completely lost. Many websites treat this with a little bit of humor and offer to help the misled user to find what they’re looking for via a search option or a link to your site map.
Security is important
Is your website secure? Google is on a mission to improve security across the web, and as a result it tends to give a ranking advantage to secure websites. If your website URL starts with HTTP:// then it’s not secure. Secure websites start with HTTPS:// and insecure websites are flagged when they show up in Chrome. Many people will see the “Not secure” indicator in the address bar of their browser and mistake it to mean that the site is dangerous. You certainly don’t want that for your own website.
If your website is insecure, our blog post from a couple of years ago may help. It’s entitled Make Your Small Business Website Secure with HTTPS.
Avoid intrusive interstitials
Boy, that’s a mouthful. Intrusive interstitials refers to those annoying pop-ups that block most or all of the page content when you arrive on the page. You may have run into them when loading certain websites with an ad blocking plug-in in your browser. Very often they pop up to ask you to subscribe to a newsletter, and so forth. They provide an annoying user interface, and Google doesn’t like them for that very reason.
Not all pop-ups are bad; just those that are intrusive, blocking too much content.
The Internet expression TL:DR has become popular lately. It means “Too Long: Didn’t Read”. If your web page is too long or too dense and intimidating, people may leave before they digest what you’re trying to say. That doesn’t mean you need to have short pages with little content on them. On the contrary. But you can reduce the density of the page with effective implementation of images and white space.
You also want to avoid sounding pedantic because it takes too much effort on the part of your reader. The Yoast SEO plug-in for WordPress has a very valuable feature in that it will assess the readability of your content and offer suggestions to make it more approachable.
Employ clear headings and subheadings
Clear headings and subheadings can go a long way toward making your material less intimidating. Users can scan the page to find the precise portion of the page they are most interested in. Odds are you scanned this page’s headings before deciding to read it. And by employing proper heading tags in the code of your page, you help Google more easily understand your page, and that can only help in your rankings.
Don’t forget CTAs
A CTA is a Call to Action and is critical in getting your users to take the action you want them to. If you’ve ever ordered a burger at a fast food joint, the cashier almost certainly asked you “do you want fries with that?” They sell a hell of a lot more fries because they ask.
So if you want someone to call you or to sign up for your newsletter, or to buy something, you need to ask them to do just that. The easiest CTAs to see are buttons, but you can also employ text-only calls to action if that fits your purposes better.
Page experience is important in so many ways
A good page experience will entice more people to read what you have to say, will keep them engaged and on your page longer, That will reduce your bounce rate and increase your time-on-page, and thus will increase conversions as more people click on your calls to action. Here’s some helpful information about optimizing your conversions rate.
Not only that, but Google will like your page better and rank it higher.
Get ready for Google’s upcoming Page Experience algorithm update by improving the user experience across your website now.