Get Ready for the May 2021 Google Update

Next month, you might start to notice some changes in page rankings. This is because Google are rolling out their latest update, adding page experience to their ranking algorithm. This means that from May 2021, user experience will have more influence on your ranking than ever before.

Evolving the web

The idea behind this new update is to improve the overall quality of websites, making sure that high-ranking websites are also delivering great experiences that users love.

“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.” — Google

So in a nutshell, page experience is all about how enjoyable your website is to use, smoothing out any points of friction. Where two websites both offer engaging and relevant content, it’s the one that’s fast, responsive and stable that’s going to rank higher.

Key signals for page experience

The signals used to measure page experience will focus on Core Web Vitals. These deliver real-world metrics that can measure the user experience, looking at loading, interactivity, and visual stability.

These core vitals will then be combined with Google’s existing Search signals for page experience, including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS security and intrusive interstitial guidelines. Looking at all these key signals together, Google will be able to get an overall picture of your website’s user-friendliness.

Preparing for the update

When it comes to page experience, it’s all about viewing things from the user’s perspective and delivering a great first impression. Make sure your website is fully responsive across all devices and keep your security measures up to date. Then focus on your Core Web Vitals, which will help you create the ultimate user experience and get your website ranking.

1. Loading

aka Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Ideal score: 2.5 seconds

This focuses on loading time, specifically how quickly users are able to see the majority of your content.

How can you improve your loading score?

Hosting

Better hosting means better load times. Move your website to a super-fast hosting provider, and this should improve general loading times across your website, including your LCP score.

Lazy load

If your website is image-heavy, then lazy loading will significantly reduce loading times. This sets your website up so that anything below the fold only starts loading as the user scrolls. However, make sure that images above the fold are excluded. Otherwise, it will take even longer for them to load.

Compress images

Large images take an age to load, but luckily there are a few ways around this. You can use image compression plugins or compress the images before you upload them. There’s also Google’s WebP image format, which gives you smaller, high-quality images for fast loading.

Cut the bulk

Google PageSpeed Insights will help you identify any areas that are slowing down your page’s loading times. You can then use these insights to remove or modify those bulky elements and streamline your page for faster loading.

2. Interactivity

aka First Input Delay (FID)

Ideal score: 100 milliseconds

This measures the time it takes for a website to respond when a user tries to interact with your content, such as clicking a link. This will be especially important for any pages that need users to take action, like contact forms and login pages.

How can you improve your interactivity score?

Break up long tasks

JavaScript acts as a blocker, stopping your page from responding to any interactions while loading. By breaking up longer tasks into several smaller ones, your website can respond to user interactions in-between each task.

Third-party scripts

While some analytical tools need to be loaded straight away in order to collect accurate data, these can have a negative effect on your FID score. Prioritise fast response times by removing the least important tools or using on-demand loading.

Minify

Minification is where you compress your website’s code by removing all the unnecessary characters. This includes spaces, line breaks and tabs. Although these don’t affect the visual aspect of your website, they still take up space and can slow down your website.

Web workers

Using a web worker lets you run JavaScript on a background thread. By separating these tasks from your main thread, this avoids creating any blocks and prevents JavaScript from interrupting your user’s experience.

3. Visual stability

aka Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Ideal score: 0.1

This is how stable your page is while loading and how much your content moves about. If your content does unexpectedly move, then users will need to find it again once the page has finished loading and could even click the wrong link by accident.

How can you improve your visual stability?

  • Ad placement

Ads are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to layout shifts. Reserving the largest possible space can prevent them from jumping around, while positioning ads in the middle of the page reduces the amount of content below that could be shifted.

  • Media dimensions

Set the width and height of any media, such as images and videos. This lets the browser work out exactly how much space to reserve for your media elements. For a responsive design, use aspect ratio and give your images either height or width, not both.

  • Fonts

Since custom fonts are all different sizes, these can naturally cause shifts. By preloading your fonts, you put them higher on the priority list and give your letters the spacing they need.

  • Dynamic content

When initiated by a customer interaction, your dynamic content needs to go above your existing content. However, all other UI elements should go below the fold to avoid pushing content down when the user least expects it.

It’s not all about page experience

While the overall page experience will have a big impact on future rankings, Google have confirmed that quality content is still king.

“A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.” — Google

Try not to get caught up in the metrics and the technical side of things. Good content should always be the main focus, and it’s the combination of a user-friendly website with helpful, relevant content that’s going to raise your rank.

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