Google’s been telling us for a while that they’re looking at the user experience as an ever-increasing metric for search ranking and it’s looking like this is the year that they’re going to make that happen.
Last year Google announced that a user’s experience on your website will be included in their ranking algorithm signals. In other words, how well your website’s pages rank in Google’s search engine will depend, in part, on the user experience (UX) on your site.
At first, this may seem like a very subjective metric. How in the world can Google measure a visitor’s experience, you may ask yourself. As with everything on the web, there are indeed metrics that can be used to identify UX.
As with everything Google, it’s a little complicated, so bear with me while I try to unwrap this package.
Google’s algorithm evaluates a variety of criteria on website pages to determine where a page should rank to be the most relevant for a search phrase that a user types into their search engine.
These criteria are called signals.
The user experience signal for your website’s pages initially started with the following metrics:
- Mobile Friendliness
- Safe Browsing
- No Intrusive Interstitials
Now, there are now three new elements added to the UX signals for SEO ranking and these new elements are called the Core Web Vitals:
- Visual Stability
Let’s take a look at each of these UX signals and review what they mean so that you will have some idea how to make sure that your website has the best possible chance at ranking high, to give your company better visibility.
According to Statcounter, internet use by device shows mobile usage at 55.73%, desktop at 41.46% and tablet at 2.81%. It is now obviously clear that you have to be serious about your website being mobile-friendly.
If the user percentages aren’t enough to get you to take mobile-friendliness seriously, consider Google’s commitment to mobile with their mobile-first indexing.
Through Google’s mobile-first indexing, it is their goal to index your website based on your website’s mobile version as opposed to their old method of indexing your desktop website version.
This mobile-first index has been “in-process” for a while now. What Google has been doing is looking for a mobile version of your site to scan. If they couldn’t find a mobile version, they would simply index the pages on your website’s desktop version.
That’s going to change. Google has now let everyone know that as of March of 2021 they are planning on switching over to a complete mobile-first index. What they find on your mobile version is what they are going to use to rank your site.
There’s a lot more to cover about mobile-friendliness that we have room for in this article. Just know that if your site does not render properly on a mobile device, their bots will not be able to index your website pages. If Google’s bots can’t index your website’s pages you will not show up in any search results.
Online security should be at the front-and-center of everyone’s website maintenance planning. It is a critical component of your customer’s experience with your brand and will impact their loyalty to you.
Google’s safe browsing signal focuses on safety issues such as malware, deceptive pages, and harmful downloads.
- Malware: It’s not uncommon for hackers to gain access to a website and install malicious code into that website. That malicious code can do a lot of different things. It could record the keystrokes of visitors to a website, giving the hacker a user’s username and password. And most of the time the website owner that originally was hacked doesn’t even know that it’s happening.
- Deceptive Sites: More recognized as social engineering. This type of security issue attempts to trick website visitors into doing something that will ultimately harm them or your company. Actions such as revealing confidential information or possibly even downloading an application.
- Harmful Downloads: Google has introduced guidelines that you can use for your website that will help you to not run afoul of Google’s policies. Basically, what Google is saying about this is that you shouldn’t misrepresent yourself and don’t allow for files downloaded from your site to be contaminated. You can read more about harmful downloads here.
HTTPS represents a secure protocol for a website as opposed to the standard HTTP protocol. As a quick overview, HTTPS allows a website owner the ability to encrypt data that is transmitted from the website visitor to the website.
At one time the common thought was that the only type of sites that needed this HTTPS encryption were commerce sites. However, in today’s environment of sensitivity to personal information, HTTPS should be the protocol for every website on the Internet.
With Google’s focus on security, it only makes sense that they would include HTTPS encryption as an SEO ranking signal. Yes, they are essentially forcing websites to adopt the encryption protocol, however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Increasing the security, again, will increase the trust that your customers have in your brand and therefore will increase their loyalty to you.
The common term for an interstitial is a pop-up and Google hates them. More often than not, companies use interstitials on their websites to present ads to their website visitors. Sometimes they will use them to promote a new product, an upcoming webinar, or some other form of promotion.
With Google’s intense desire to improve the user’s experience on websites, it’s understandable why they hate these so much. Though convenient for the website owner, interstadials can be very disruptive to the user’s experience. They cover the content that the visitor came to see, they force users to have to find a way to make them go away, and often times they are written so poorly by programmers that they literally slow a website’s load time down to a crawl causing users to abandon the website altogether.
Core Web Vitals
Core web vitals are a new set of metrics that Google is using as ranking signals and they are designed to measure how your website users experience the speed of your site, the responsiveness of your site, and the stability of your website pages.
There are three components to the core web vitals:
Loading – Largest Contentful Paint
When we’re talking about user experience it all comes down to speed. Generally speaking, it’s been difficult to put a metric on the user’s experience and when they become frustrated waiting for a website’s page to download.
In the past, people tried to use a metric called First Meaningful Paint, but this was an extremely complex metric and had some inconsistencies, so Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) has been developed as the metric of choice for page speed from a UX perspective.
LCP is a metric that measures the amount of time it takes for a website to render the largest image of a block of text on a website page.
The ideal metric for LCP is to have the largest content paint occurs within the first 2.5 seconds of the page load beginning.
Interactivity – First Input Delay
The first input delay (FID) measures the amount of time it takes for your website to respond to an action. As an example, the amount of time that takes place from when a visitor on your site, clicks the button and when their browser actually begins processing that click event.
A website that provides a good user experience should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift
The cumulative layout shift is an important metric for user experience because it identifies if the content on a webpage moves and if it does how often it moves.
Have you ever been on a website and went to click on a button, or if you’re on a mobile site, go to tap a button only to have something happen on the site and the place where the button was is no longer where the button is?
When this happens you end up clicking on a different link, taking you somewhere you never intended to go. Obviously, this creates a poor user experience and now it’s possible to measure if and how often this occurs.
Websites that are plagued by this will ultimately pay a price in poor search rankings.
Why This Is Important
For far too long the user experience has not gotten the attention that it deserves. Partially because for too long UX was a little bit like voodoo magic. Nobody could prove its value or its worthlessness. UX also lacked attention because, unfortunately, in marketing (especially digital marketing) there is far too much to do and way too many moving parts for UX to rise to the surface.
Now with Google and other industry leaders pushing the subject and with search engine rankings being the penalties, I suspect that UX is going to start getting a lot more attention in the very near future.
Why should you start putting effort into your user’s experience on your website? There are a lot of reasons, but here are a couple that we feel are really important.
- Improved Search Rankings: Get better rankings, get higher visibility for your brand. And, yes, SEO is still an important component of your marketing strategy.
- Competitive Advantage: If your competition does nothing with the UX on their site, and you do optimize your website for UX. Whose website (service) do you think your customers will prefer?
- Improved Conversions: People who enjoy their experience on a website engage deeper with that website. People who engage with a website are more likely to purchase from that company. Makes perfect sense, really!
This is not your Dad’s SEO. Long gone are the days that you had to just pump enough key-phrases onto your website page to get it to rank. Today’s SEO is a conglomerate of moving parts and pieces that can keep any marketer scrambling just to keep up.
We try to highlight the moving parts that we feel will have a large enough impact on your effort that they are worth you looking into. We feel that the new Core Web Vitals are one of those moving parts.
If you’d like more information on Core Web Vitals, or anything relating to digital marketing, please feel free to contact us.