The 2021 Google Algorithm Page Experience Update
(Last updated: Jan 13, 2021)
Page speed is nothing new and 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 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 considered 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 Core Web Vitals
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:
- No intrusive interstitials
- LCP (under 2.5 for 75% of page loads)
- FID (under 100 milliseconds for 75% of page loads)
- CLS ( less than 0.1 for 75% of page loads)
CWVs measure different aspects of real-world user experience that go into determining your overall page performance and speed score (along with other metrics).
How to Measure Core Web Vitals & Page Speed
The CWVs can be measured using Google Lighthouse or PageSpeed Insights.
Here’s How It Works:
PageSpeed Insights is a Google tool that helps you gain an understanding of how your web page is performing using both lab data and field data and is powered by Google Lighthouse and Chrome UX Report.
- 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?
- 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.
The field and lab data that is gathered and then reported back to you via Page Speed Insights is measuring four metrics.
1.) First Contentful Paint (FCP)
2.) First Input Delay (FID)
3.) Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
4.) Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
FCP simply measures when the browser renders the first bit of content, providing the first feedback to the user that tells them the page is actually loading. This is what the average user likely associates with the beginning of the page loading process. This metric can be meaningful to user experience because a user is able to see that the page is loading, and so they know something is happening — but if you’re waiting for a page to load, that’s still a bad user experience.
Does FCP still matter? Yes. You want this number to be as low as possible. But for the best user experience, you don’t want a user to be consciously waiting for a page to load at all. That’s why FCP is not included in the new CWVs.
The new Core Web Vitals include the last three metrics on the above list: FID, LCP, and CLS.
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 2.5) = Good
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 100 ms) = Good
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 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 algorithm update means for SEO
We know that CWVs are used to measure a good user experience and that CWV scores will influence rankings. BUT we still don’t exactly know how much this is going to influence rankings.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.