What Google’s page experience update means for your brand

We’ve covered the demise of cookies but what about Google’s upcoming ‘page experience’ update? Kieran Reed explains exactly what this change is and how it will impact marketers and brands.

Despite garnering fewer column inches than the crumbling ‘cookiepocolypse‘, when Google’s page experience update kicks in fully at the end of winter, it will potentially have quite an immediate impact for brands. For some, it requires a whole rethink on the back end of their website and potentially starting over, because this update will impact how Google ranks your pages. The shift in traffic could be small, but even a shift of one percent could mean a significant volume of lost revenue for some.

If the length of the delay is anything to go by, it’s going to be fairly substantial. In November, Google recorded a 70 percent increase in people running Google Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights when May’s initial roll-out date was first announced. These provide brand managers an analysis on how Google reads the content on your pages. It’s not that we haven’t had the time to prepare, it’s just that this update for some clients, particularly those with large ecommerce sites, is considerably harder to manage due to the way some sites were initially designed. It may be easier for some to completely overhaul their entire site.

Let me explain why.

What’s it all about?

The page experience update will happen in two main parts. The first is the introduction of core web vitals, which will now form part of Google’s algorithm ranking. Core web vitals are a set of real-world, user-centred metrics that quantify aspects of the user experience. They have been designed so that Google can better prioritise websites that people enjoy using.

Secondly, the use of ‘Field Data’ will be given primacy over ‘Lab Data’. It will be a more accurate representation of someone’s experience, pulling field data from Chrome and Android users, and represents a departure from Google collecting this data themselves using Googlebot.

Additionally, Google’s AMP framework will be deprecated. The framework allowed developers to make a second version of their website page, meeting specific guidelines, so that Google could store a version of a website for fast loading. You may have experienced a publisher’s news story topping your search results, and that content was able to be shared. Now Google is replacing AMP and offering fast content delivery through signed exchanges – agreements with Google that let the platform store a copy of your page, to non-AMP pages. More reading for non-developers on the opportunities here.

Great, what does that all mean?

Google is shifting the goalposts on how it reads and makes judgements on how a user experiences your content.

Specifically, it will measure three key metrics:

  • First Input Delay (FID) – how long it takes the website’s server to respond to the browser’s request to load.

  • Largest Content Paint (LCP) – the largest piece of content and how long that takes to load on a user’s screen.

  • Cumulative layout shift (CLS) – how much your page jumps around as different elements load in.

Research suggests that the most impacted will be ecommerce sites because many are built on platforms like Squarespace, Wix and Shopify, which results in them being more susceptible to ‘code bloat’ (the loading of unnecessary scripts on every page). These contain areas that we as marketers, not developers, can’t influence without significant development. Typically they feature more complicated content which is interactive and attractive for the user, yet often unoptimised, so increase load time and drain your browser’s resources as well as Google’s. Preference in Google’s rankings will now be for more optimised dynamic content.

How do I fix it today?

As a marketer, we can identify problems but sometimes we can be zoomed in when it comes to finding solutions. For me, the best thing to look at will be your page experience reports and identify weaknesses. Then raise your problems to the dev team and work on solutions together. Cumulative layout shift is a very technical topic for example, which many marketers may struggle to engage with, so speak to developers if you don’t know how to fix it.

It may be the case that it’s easier to change the whole website. A marketing solution or ‘fix’ might not be the best long-term solution and this could be a good prompt to transition your website from old to new technology.

Reasons to be cheerful

Google is now grouping things together in a new report which can empower you with the information to solve your optimisation issues. There are four additional elements to core web vitals that will be consolidated into the new page experience report, some of which are thought to have impacted search rankings for a while:

  • Mobile friendliness – this isn’t new, so hopefully your team will have considered this.

  • Safe Browsing – again it’s known to have been a priority for Google for a while.

  • HTTPS security – shouldn’t come as a surprise.

  • Ad experience on your site – there are in-depth guidelines, but you should be able to see the background of the site, when any interstitials pop up. This isn’t new, but it’s the first time they’re being grouped together.

There is a fair bit of work to be done for some sites, but the hard introduction of May has softened to a roll-out starting in June, running through until August. So while it has started, it’s still not too late to prepare before it fully rolls out.

 

Kieran Reed is a senior digital experience account manager at Alpha Digital.

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash.

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