Breaking down Google’s User Experience Ranking Factor

Google recently announced an update to its algorithm that factors how users experience a web page. The new signal, which combines metrics from Core Web Vitals, looks at page speed, responsiveness and visual stability. The announcement further underscores Google’s ongoing efforts and emphasis to improve the mobile browsing environment. It’s scheduled to take effect in 2021.

Thanks to Javier García

Page speed is a premium SEO signal

The signal ranking will affect the SEO of websites struggling to match the expectations of mobile users, which have outpaced desktop. The slow, sluggish and responsive websites of old will be penalized, while the modern approaches utilizing caching, APIs and pre-fetching will be rewarded.

Because the new experience signal relies on metrics from Core Web Vitals, it’s clear that page-load speed remains an important signal. Core Web Vitals examines the following metrics:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures loading performance and how quickly pages are displayed
  • First Input Delay (FID) measures interactivity and how fast websites respond to user actions
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) tracks visual stability as your content is presented to the user

Together these metrics measure the quality of the user experience on any given page. However, this is not Google’s first algorithm update to hone in on experience. Google also factors mobile-friendlinesssafe-browsingHTTPS-security, and reducing intrusive interstitial guidelines, which together provides a renewed and holistic  picture of a user’s experience.

The focus on experience furthers Google’s goal to serve users with the best content for their query, and they’re committed to supporting site owners as they continue to optimize for UX. Google Search Console now offers a Core Web Vitals report. You can also get an idea for your scores by running a PageSpeed Insights report.

While online tools provide a snapshot, they don’t tell the full story.

It’s important to note the difference between field data and lab-test data. When available, Google will show real-world data, aggregated via new cross-browser APIs. If your results are lackluster, the effects of a poor user experience can be seen directly in the form of less traffic, lower engagement and fewer conversions. When a user isn’t frustrated by their experience, they spend more time reading and are more likely to engage.

What does Google’s Page Experience Update Mean for AMP?

 The AMP framework will continue to serve as a clear pathway to meet Google’s new ranking signal. Why? Because AMP has a validator to guarantee sub-second page loads, and only AMP pages are pre-fetched in Google SERP results.

Since its launch, AMP has continued to evolve – providing a mature framework to build for the web at large. Even the name for the project has changed from Accelerated Mobile Pages to simply AMP, a representation of how the framework has moved from being a SEO play to a best-in-class approach to building a website from the ground up.

As a framework – similar to Angular, Vue or React – AMP provides a foundation to build always-fast, engaging web experiences.

If you’re a publisher or manage an e-commerce storefront– and already have AMP – consider extending AMP to your primary website. The same AMP pages used to optimize search results can be extended and reused in a flexible PWA — a pattern known as PWAMP. This approach eliminates the need to maintain two mobile versions of your website (i.e. an AMP version for search, and a non-AMP version for your primary site) as AMP is served everywhere — from acquisition channels to your  website.

The algorithm update clearly says that Google Search will continue to direct users to AMP-enabled landing pages. This action maintains the  hallmarks of the AMP experience, which is pre-rending and pre-fetching pages and serving content to users directly from the cache. This also means that the page experience signal will measure the always-fast performance of AMP.

Let’s be clear, nothing loads faster than pre-fetched, cached content. All the optimizations in the world – albeit valuable and worthwhile – won’t match the speed of AMP.

Google’s announcement provides a 6-month window to improve performance, and we can help guide the way. At WompMobile, we’ve been at the forefront of mobile optimization for a decade. Managing over 70-million AMP pages, we’re a well suited to partner to improve the user experience on your website by delivering guaranteed speed.

If you’re looking to prepare and improve page experience, let’s talk.