UPDATE: In a change to the timeline laid out below, Google announced on April 19th that this update will start rolling from mid-June 2021 and is unlikely to be completely rolled out before the end of August 2021.
Google is currently putting together the final changes for a search algorithm update that they’ve announced will land in May 2021.
The update is being called the Page Experience update because of its focus on usability rather than things like keywords or search relevance. Google has already provided some information on the update, which aims to measure and potentially rank the experience that a user encounters when visiting a page.
The fact that Google have given so much warning about the update says all you need to know about how seriously to take it. We know it’ll impact organic search results but as of yet, there’s no word on whether there will be any specific impact on Google My Business rankings.
Although this update is due to hit the algorithm in May, there’s no reason not to get ahead of it now and ask yourself, “what will the Page Experience update mean for my local SEO efforts?”
Here we’ll look at how the update will work and provide some clear and actionable steps to help you optimize your local business website for it.
What is the Page Experience update?
At the very highest level, the update will for the first time implement the Core Web Vitals that Google defined in 2020 into the search algorithm. The aim of those metrics is that users should have a web experience that is straightforward, reliable, safe, and works great on any device.
The Page Experience update is ultimately the leveling up of those metrics from a ‘request’ to a ‘demand’, in that, theoretically at least, your local business site will perform worse in search if a comparable competitor is performing better in Core Web Vitals.
That said, the Page Experience update isn’t just about the new Core Web Vitals. It includes a bunch of usability factors that are already important in search, but that may become more important with the release of this update.
Let’s take a look at the key elements of the Page Experience update:
Core Web Vitals
Moving further than simple page loading speed, Google’s Core Web Vitals are a relatively new way of measuring sites’ performance across the web. In recent times the average user expects seamless, fast browsing experiences, particularly on mobile devices.
What are the Core Web Vitals metrics?
- Largest Contentful Paint: how quickly the largest piece of content loads
- First Input Delay: how quickly the page responds to the first user input
- Cumulative Layout Shift: how stable the visual elements of the page are
To support the release of Core Web Vitals, Google has released or updated a whole suite of tools to help webmasters keep on top of their site’s performance.
For local businesses, significant CWV gains above and beyond your competitors can place you as the leader in your area, shooting you up the search rankings for local search terms.
Intrusiveness of site design
We’ve all experienced an overload of intrusive widgets and pop-ups while browsing the web. In fact, it seems that these are getting more and more prevalent in recent years.
With cookie acceptance, newsletter opt-ins, basket reminders, and reminders that you are about to leave, it’s no wonder that Google has decided to do something about these negative experiences.
It’s not just about malevolent bad experiences. Your local content marketing efforts could be providing a negative experience without you realizing it. Elements could load differently on other devices, with different screen ratios, for example.
Mobile friendly has now become mobile-first. With so much of the web being accessed via mobile devices, it’s imperative for Google that sites provide experiences that work just as well in the palm of your hand as they would on a desktop or laptop.
With over 3.5 billion smartphone users out there, it’s not surprising that Google is placing more emphasis on this metric than ever before. Google has indicated that the Page Experience update will take particular consideration of how your site appears on mobile.
For local SEOs, this is even more important. Local searches are performed predominantly on mobile (60%), making it a fundamental part of any local SEO to optimize for mobile.
Privacy and safe browsing
Spammy and malicious websites have long been in the crosshairs for Google. Naturally, it doesn’t want users to land on a harmful website from its search results, harming the search experience. Expect this to be one of the most dangerous things you could do as a local business owner.
But beyond malicious activity, page experience means that Google will prefer secure sites (HTTPS). SSL certification will no longer be optional if you want your SEO efforts to bear fruit in 2021.
How to stay on top of the Page Experience update
So how do you get ahead of this update and ensure that these changes don’t hamper your local SEO efforts?
As with anything Google, they will be looking at the page level. Sure, your site’s overall ranking can be important, but remember, Google ranks pages, and I’d be surprised if this metric is applied differently.
Take a look at your pages and use this to form an action plan. Take your blog posts and product/services pages and apply these tips to each to get an idea of where you need to improve.
Increase speed and reduce errors
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a store owner creating product pages or someone into B2B content marketing and blogging, one of the most powerful things you can do to get your site looking good in the eyes of Google is to speed it up. It’s no coincidence that Google has released a whole range of tools to help you do just this.
Combine metrics such as page speed with the Chrome User Experience report to get on top of how your site performs for users.
You can use Google’s page speed toolkit to get ahead of these vitals for your business’ website. Simply head to this link, and Google will give you a detailed breakdown of how your property is performing.
Alongside this, make sure you are running regular local search audits on your site. These will help you to discover pages that aren’t running as fast and need your focus.
If speed is an area where you can focus on positive signals, make sure you also don’t ignore the negative ones. These aforementioned audit tools will also help you to identify errors. ‘400 errors’ will need to be snuffed out, for example.
There’s a whole range of related errors that we think will be included in the update. Luckily these are all common technical SEO errors that most tools can check for and help you solve. There’s never been a better time to tackle the technical SEO of your site and, while you’re at it, make your site look great in the eyes of Google.
Compare page experience with main competitor websites
So you might think browsing your local business website is a great experience, and you might have taken a look at your Page Experience metrics and decided they look pretty good, but what about your competitors? What are they doing that is working better than you, and how can you use this to benefit once the update is rolled out? Time to perform a competitive audit.
Check the local search terms that you want to rank for and see who is ranking well for these terms. Take their websites and plug them into the page experience tools linked to above. Are they doing better than you, meaning you need to up your game?
While you’re auditing, don’t just focus on the new metrics. Take some time to look at the other ways in which their page experience might be better than yours. Identify common themes amongst your competitors. Do they have a lot of positive reviews? Do they have a chat feature? Do they have structured content that is helping them appear in local searches?
Sometimes looking at your competitors is the best and most humbling way to help you decide which changes you need to make on your website. I like to do this at least once a year and ensure that my site hasn’t slipped behind the best page experience in the field.
And remember, don’t just try to match these sites. Try to beat them. Aim for an even better experience than they are offering, and Google will reward you in the long term.
Take the time to analyze your site layout and design
After looking externally, it’s time to look at yourself. We’ve discussed what a bad experience looks like. It’s time to make sure that you aren’t making the same mistakes.
It can be tempting to try to capture customers with as many methods as possible. But these multiply quickly, and the negative effect it has on-page experience compounds. I see many small businesses making these content mistakes.
You must optimize your pages for Google My Business. If your page layout or design doesn’t work with this goal, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage from a local SEO perspective.
Depending on what type of local SEO business you are, you might be hampering the chance of someone jumping on the phone or stopping by your physical location by trying to ask site visitors to sign up for a newsletter or get in touch via a form on your site.
You’ll need to identify these obstacles preventing your users from attaining an optimal experience on your site. The best way to do this is via a heatmap tool like Hotjar.
Once you obtain explicit consent from a user, the tool can track where the users click and provide detailed session logs or video to see where your users are experiencing blockers or bad UI.
Take the insights from this and try and understand how people are using your site. Are they looking for a local phone number that is hidden from view? Are they looking for a price list or a menu that you don’t have on your site?
Google is getting better and better at understanding the value that users get from visiting sites. While the Page Experience update will likely have less of an effect on your site rank than off-page SEO, it can make all the difference when vying for the top organic search terms.
This difference can be worth huge amounts for your business. It’s not just the financial benefits that you should be thinking of. It’s generally good practice to think about how your competitors are structuring their sites.
Set regular intervals to perform the steps in this article, and you’ll be on your way to page experience success!