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2021 Google Algorithm Update

The New Google Algorithm Update has everything to do with page speed. Watch this video to learn what’s changing and find your solution.

The 2021 Google Algorithm Page Experience Update

(Last updated: March 2, 2021)

Page speed has long been a Google ranking factor. But in 2021, Google will be doubling down with the introduction of Core Web Vitals (CWVs) in this upcoming Core Algorithm Update. The new Core Web Vitals are a list of technical SEO metrics created to help business owners, marketers, and developers improve user page experience. Among this list, are three new ways to think about and measure page speed. 

In this article you’ll learn: 

  • What page speed looks like as a ranking factor in 2020
  • How the page speed ranking factor will change in 2021
  • What are the 2021 Core Web Vitals
  • How to measure Core Web Vitals & page speed
  • Largest contentful paint (LCP)
  • First input delay (FID)
  • Cumulative layout shift
  • What the algorithm update means for SEO
  • What the update means for conversions and revenue
  • Solutions: How to improve Core Web Vitals scores

The page speed ranking factor in 2020

“We’re obsessed with speed
– Google

Google has a history of algorithm updates focused on improving the page loading experience for users. Operation “speed up the internet” has been underway since 2010 when Google first announced site speed would be a new ranking factor in search results. In 2018 they doubled-down, announcing their ranking algorithm would weigh mobile page speed as a factor.

Since these announcements, page, and site speed has only become more important. Users increasingly expect faster pages and the internet continues to expand and become more complex.

In 2020, page speed is directly related to both how your website ranks in Google and how well your website converts visitors into customers. If you’re not ranking right now or your website has a low conversion rate, you should check your page speed score.

How the page speed ranking factor will change in 2021

In May 2020, Google announced the new algorithm update that will be focused on measuring how users experience the performance of web pages, and that it is set to deploy in 2021.

Google explained that they wanted to give webmasters plenty of time to update their websites before it would be made an official new ranking factor, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

On Nov 10, 2020, Google announced the new update will deploy in May 2021, nearly a full year after their original announcement.
If you haven’t thought about what these new CWVs will mean for your business, consider this your official call-to-action.
Take action on the page experience + site speed of your website.
Do it today.

What Are the Google Core Web Vitals

core web vitals metrics

As mentioned, Google plans to deploy the new Page Experience Update May of 2021.
The new Core Web Vitals, and a list of other factors, will be included in Google’s ranking algorithm. These new factors are called “page experience metrics.”

Here are all the Page Experience metrics:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • Https (security)
  • No intrusive interstitials (pop-ups)
  • LCP (less than or equal to 2.5 for 75% of page loads)
  • FID (less than or equal to 100 milliseconds for 75% of page loads)
  • CLS ( less than or equal to 0.1 for 75% of page loads)

The new page experience metrics are called Core Web Vitals (largest contentful paintfirst input delaycumulative layout shift).
CWVs measure different aspects of real-world user experience that go into determining your overall page performance and speed score (along with other metrics).
Google’s existing user experience metrics (mobile-friendlinesssafe-browsingHTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines) will still be applicable ranking factors.

How to Measure Core Web Vitals & Page Speed

The CWVs can be measured using the Google Search Console page experience report and Google Lighthouse.

Here’s How It Works:

Field Data:

The Search Console page experience report shows how your pages are performing based on field data from the CrUX report. This report is best used for understanding how your site performs for real-world users and identifying user bottle-necks.

  • This is the information you get from looking at real-world user experiences.
  • It answers the question: How is this page loading for real people, on different computers, that are trying to load and interact with a webpage?

Lab Data:

Google Lighthouse shows web performance data based on what is called “lab data.” This is best for fixing bugs on your site, since the report works in a controlled environment.

  • This is the information you get from testing in a controlled environment and looking at the results.
  • This method is beneficial for identifying and fixing bugs.

Keep in mind that Lighthouse and Search Console could show different results for your Core Web Vitals and overall page experience scoring because the reports use different data.

largest contentful paint

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

As opposed to FCP, the LCP metric measures how quickly the main element above the fold is ready for the user. More technically, LCP measures the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport. Google recommends sites aim to keep LCP under 2.5 seconds for 75% of their page loads.
High LCP (over 4.0 sec) = Bad
Low LCP (under or equal to 2.5) = Good

first input delay

First Input Delay (FID)

FID measures the reaction time of a page to the first user input (whether they click, tap, or press any keys).
In other words, if it appears that a webpage is done loading, but nothing is responsive when you click on it, it means that the page has a high FID time.
You want to keep FID under 100 milliseconds for 75% of pages.
High FID (over 300ms) = Bad
Low FID (under or equal to 100 ms) = Good

cumulative layout shift

Cumulative Layout Shift

The best way to understand the CLS is to think of it as the metric that measures visual stability.
Aim for a score of less than 0.1 for 75% of page loads.
High CLS (over 0.25) = Bad
Low FID (under or equal to 0.1) = Good

How CLS works

CLS is a little harder to understand right off the bat. When a webpage is loading, sometimes it will appear that the page is finished loading to a user, but when the user goes to click a button — or some other content on the page — the page shifts and the button moves due to an error in the loading process (slow CLS)

This can be a pretty significant problem for users. For example, if are trying to cancel out of a purchase, and right above “Cancel Purchase” there’s another button that says “Buy Now.” Image going to click “Cancel Purchase” and the page suddenly shifts and you end up clicking “Buy Now.” At the very least it’s annoying and in the worst-case scenario, you’ve just made a non-refundable purchase.

What the page experience update means for SEO 

We know that CWVs are used to measure a good user experience and that CWV scores will influence rankings, at least to some extent.
YES, CWVs WILL influence rankings.
They WILL be an SEO ranking factor.
But according to Martin Splitt, from Google, that doesn’t mean you want to simply abandon your content creation efforts.
Here’s how he put it in a LinkedIn comment when he was asked if we should be religiously following CWVs:

“Is it ‘the’ ranking factor (whatever that’s supposed to mean)? No. A fast website with terrible content is likely not what searchers seek… But if you have two good pieces of content and one is going to be frustratingly slow, we might wanna give the faster one a better position, no?”
– Martin Splitt

Simply put, you still need to provide valuable content to your users that answer their questions, and you still need to consider the other ranking factors. However, if you aren’t thinking about user experience in terms of page performance then you simply are not providing the highest value to your audience, and your Google Search rankings will reflect that.

The Page Experience Badge in Search Results

More recently, evidence has surfaced that Google prepares a “good page experience” report in Google Search Console that supposedly shows a list of pages that score well on the page experience metrics.

Google also plans to show a badge in Search Results for sites with good page experience as part of the page experience update. Google is taking user page experience very seriously.

“We believe that providing information about the quality of a web page’s experience can be helpful to users in choosing the search result that they want to visit. On results, the snippet or image preview helps provide topical context for users to know what information a page can provide. Visual indicators on the results are another way to do the same, and we are working on one that identifies pages that have met all of the page experience criteria. We plan to test this soon and if the testing is successful, it will launch in May 2021 and we’ll share more details on the progress of this in the coming months.”

Google Search Central

What the Google Page Experience Update Means for Conversions and Revenue

If you’re not currently meeting the previously mentioned criteria for a good page experience, then it’s already hurting your website conversions and your revenue. There are lots of studies on this from Google and industry research from elsewhere that indicate the correlation between positive user experience and conversions.

  • Pages that loaded in 2.4 seconds had a 1.9% conversion rate
  • At 3.3 seconds, conversion rate was 1.5%
  • At 4.2 seconds, conversion rate was less than 1%
  • At 5.7+ seconds, conversion rate was 0.6%
  • Longer page load times have a severe effect on bounce rates. For example:
  • If page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases 32%
  • If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, bounce rate increases by 106%
  • For the relationship between first contentful paint and revenue: 
  • On mobile, per session, users who experienced fast rendering times bring 75% more revenue than average and 327% more revenue than slow.
  • On desktop, per session, users who experienced fast rendering times bring 212% more revenue than average and 572% more revenue than slow (ALDO Case Study).

Again, this is already hurting your business.
Here’s a comment from Google on the reason for the page experience update:

“Providing a smooth journey for users is one of the most effective ways to grow online traffic and web-based businesses. We hope the Web Vitals metrics and thresholds will provide publishers, developers and business owners with clear and actionable ways to make their sites part of fast, interruption-free journeys for more users.”

Google

What’s about to change with this new page experience update, is that if you don’t meet the minimum criteria for these new page experience metrics, you’re going to have an even tougher time ranking your website and getting traffic (thus, getting conversions will become even more difficult).

Solutions: How to Improve Core Web Vitals Scores

Here’s the thing, these new page experience metrics are technical, and even for those familiar with this territory, they are rather complicated.
So what do you do about it?
The first thing you need to do is understand the problem specific to your website.
If you don’t know what’s wrong with your website, you can’t fix anything.
Google’s tools for webmasters now support the measurement of CWVs.

Try this:

  • Use Search Console‘s new CWVs report to identify groups of pages that require your attention (based on the field data).
  • Once you’ve identified pages that need work, use PageSpeed Insights to diagnose lab and field issues on a page. You can find PageSpeed Insights (PSI) via this link or through Search Console.

If your CWVs scores are in the green, you should be good to go.
If not, you need to address the problem.
This can be done in 1 of 2 ways:

1.) Use Huckabuy PageSpeed software to technically optimize different aspects of your site automatically.

The more efficient way to start seeing an increase in page performance, and to see results fast, is to simply install a PageSpeed software solution. This is a great option because it eliminates much of the work for site owners and development teams and they won’t need to revisit the issue after solving it — the automated software solution will take care of it.

2.) Allocate Dev. resources to fix the issues one by one.

Allocate development resources on this issue to fix the problems one by one. The Google web developers’ tools provide guidance on how to approach finding a solution.

MORE RESOURCES

Want specific information on how to improve the individual CWV metrics? We put together in-depth articles that explain what to do for each metric:

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is the latest Google algorithm update?

The next major core Google algorithm update will be in May 2021, and will target key performance metrics called the Core Web Vitals. These metrics measure what Google refers to as “page experience” which is how a user experiences page speed and page load time.

Was there a Google algorithm update?

In 2020 Google launched a few broad core algorithm updates and several smaller updates. The largest updates of 2020 include the January 2020 core update ( January 13, 2020), May 2020 Core Update (May 4, 2020), December 2020 Core Update (December 3, 2020).

Has Google changed 2020?

Google had a few broad core algorithm updates in 2020, and many more small updates. In 2021, Google will release another core algorithm update called the Page Experience Update.

What is the latest update in SEO?

In May 2021, Google will update its algorithm to include the new Core Web Vitals as SEO ranking signals. This means that if both you and another website provide quality content to users, your competitor could outrank you if they provide a faster website —specifically if they score higher on their Core Web Vitals.