Why Google’s Latest Update Supposedly Keeps Users Happy & Rankings High

Why Google’s Latest Update Supposedly Keeps Users Happy & Rankings High
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Google’s latest algorithm change which focuses on page experience should be a wake up call to marketers wanting to maintain their website rankings, writes Alex Whalley, SEO Director at digital marketing agency, Tug….
How a consumer experiences a brand or business website is more important than ever. According to smallbizgenius, 53% of visitors to a mobile website will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load, while 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience.

The number of users turned off by bad user experience and slow loading pages also adds up to significant amounts of lost sales and leads. Research has shown that better user experience (UX) can increase a website’s conversion rate by 200%, and better UX design can yield conversion rates of up to 400%. These numbers should be a wake up call for marketers and those responsible for website design.

Google’s roll out in March of the desktop version of its page experience update – an algorithm change that puts more focus on how an end user experiences a website – has made this even more critical.

While the mobile version of this update was rolled out in May last year, this latest version for desktop simply underlines the importance of ensuring a website is optimised for the end user, across all devices.

Then and Now

Page experience was previously based on four signals which told Google how good the user experience on a website was. They were:

Mobile-friendliness – how easy a website is to view on a phone or other mobile device.

HTTPS – how secure a website is for users.

Intrusive interstitials – avoiding excessive overlays and dialogs which obstruct users from seeing a website.

The new page experience update for desktop adds three more signals, or as Google calls them – Core Web Vitals – to this list.

While Google has always looked at metrics such as how long a web page takes to load, the new Core Web Vitals are an attempt to bring factors that impact user experience into the equation, so they can reward sites that are pleasurable to use. They are:

Loading – This refers to how fast a site loads. If it takes too long, that’s a sign of poor user experience and is likely to frustrate a visitor. This is a common issue with the websites we see. Poor design and lack of file compression are often the culprits.

Interactivity – This measures how responsive interactive site elements like buttons or links are. It looks at how long it takes before a site visitor can start to interact with those buttons or links and use the site as it was intended.

Visual stability – If you’ve ever had a button shift under your pointer after the page had loaded, you’ve experienced a visual stability issue and, for obvious reasons, chasing a moving button around a page is usually not the ideal page experience.

The ranking impact

What Google says and what we have seen over the last six months, working with clients across a range of industries, is conflicting. Google tells us the impact on rank is not that significant, but we believe the impact is actually greater than they are implying – especially when you consider the intrinsic link between ‘page experience’ and ‘user engagement’.

We took the mobile page experience update seriously and started analysing core metrics relating to page load and site speed and provided initial core web vitals recommendations to clients within the first few weeks of the mobile page experience update being rolled out. Those that implemented these recommendations quickly saw a boost in their rankings and overall user engagement stats, whilst those who were unable to implement them in a timely manner saw organic visibility decline compared to competitors that were optimising.

So whilst Google say the new page experience updates will not have too great an impact on ranking (because of the other signals that exist) we have seen first-hand how failing to optimise a site for the core metrics relating to ‘page experience’ can result in a loss in visibility.

It is fair to say that user engagement is the new SEO. One only needs to look at how Google has changed the search landscape over the years to provide a more enriching user experience (think Featured Snippets, local pack results, and knowledge boxes) and as such, optimising a site and content for the end user should always be the priority. After all, Google isn’t the one who’s going to buy your products.

The message to all those in charge of website design and functionality is clear. It’s now more important than ever to take a serious look at Google’s changes to ensure users are kept happy and rankings remain high.

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Alex Whalley Tug

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