Google Algorithm Update: Page Experience

April 9, 2021

We all know that the teams at Google are always updating its algorithm, sometimes up to 9 times per day (as recorded in 2018)! The changes are often minimal and don’t have any impact on your search rankings, but sometimes they launch big alterations that will affect your SEO journey, and that may mean you need to reconsider your plan. Mobilegeddon in 2015 is a prime example of this, where websites that weren’t mobile friendly began to be penalised and bumped down the search rankings.

With the impact that a major algorithm change can have in mind, Google have announced that they are rolling out an improved algorithm (expected June 2021) based on Page Experience. The unusual part of this is that they have given everyone a bit of notice this time due to the impact that COVID-19 has had on businesses all over the globe.

What is the new google update?

Through Google’s research (1) (2) into how we as people browse the internet, they have come to the conclusion that Page Experience is the hidden in plain sight element that website owners should be putting at the forefront of their minds.

In recent years, the teams at Google have been implementing rules for a multitude of criteria that all focus on how a user experiences your website. These include page speed (how quick a page loads), whether the pages are mobile friendly and ensuring that the general appearance and functionality of the website is stable.

In a nutshell, users prefer websites with a great page experience – and Google loves to make sure that they are making their users happy!

‘Page Experience’ explained

Long story short, they are analysing how usable your website is, which in turn gives the end user a positive experience. Here’s how Google describes it:

Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.

So they are using user-centred metrics that analyse how users interact with a page to determine if it’s good or bad. Here’s an example of what they are trying to get their users to stay away from:

The video shows a user accidentally tapping an “Order Now” button because of a pop-up when what they actually wanted to do was go back.

The reason that Google are addressing this is to make sure that websites that are ranking at the top aren’t making the end-users’ browsing experience annoying and hateful. Because Google lives to please their end user.

What happened to backlinks?

Backlinks were once a strong Google ranking factor. They still can be in some situations, but not in the same way as before. Google realised that people were using shady and manipulative tactics to build tons of links to increase their rankings. Links as a pure “ranking factor” have lost a lot of credibility and do not work in the same way they once did. Today, what’s more important than backlinks is the contextual and natural relevance of a link, brand mentions online, reputation and reviews.

In addition to this, the rise of influencer marketing and online advertising has diminished the effectiveness of manual white-hat outreach. This is due to increased requests for a monetary exchange for a backlink. Not only is this against Google’s guidelines, but it will also be a very costly and unsustainable strategy.

Furthermore, even if a paid-for backlink is relevant, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) CAP code rules state that there must be a disclosure that the link is paid for and that there is an affiliation or advert. This disclosure is something that search engines and users could recognise, which further decreases any value of that paid for link.

Google also states that if a link is paid, it must be qualified as a sponsored link in the link attribute code. Failure to do this could result in algorithmic or manual penalties.

SEO is always changing and evolving. Search engines are continuing to move towards focusing on user experience signals, alongside understanding the relationship between entities (snippets of information) online to determine the authority and quality of a website. This does not require consistent backlink building, but instead an overall great website, quality content, and consistent marketing of a business.

Why should I care about the update?

For years, it is thought that the websites with the highest quality backlinks or neatest on-page code are the winners of SEO bingo. But in reality, Google wants to put sites at the top of the rankings that users love to use the most!

This means that when you are running SEO campaigns or working with an SEO specialist, your priorities are likely going to change. It’s all about building a credible & trustworthy brand and conveying that on your website. As well as this, Google are not going to stop there. It’s likely that we will see many algorithm updates that are focused on user experience, so it makes sense to optimize now to save the stress later.

How can I optimise for this update?

There are some things that you can start to think about to plan for the algorithm update:

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Optimise speed

It’s key to make sure that your website speed is in good shape. A load time of 3 seconds for both desktop and mobile will be suitable, but ideally aiming for the 1-second range is the sweet spot.

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Stalk your competitors

Look up your competitors’ websites and visit each page. Think about the experience you get on their site and compare to yours. Is it the quality content? The speed? Think about the differences, but don’t plan to match your competition, you should be beating them.

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Analyse design

It’s key to work out any small niggles that might give your user a negative experience (like the example further up the page). A good way to do this is using a heatmap to show what people are clicking on, and what they are avoiding. Take the areas they are avoiding, and think about why these aren’t being interacted with. Alternatively just ask for opinions from your friends, family & clients!

How have our plans changed to cater for this update? 

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Longer-form articles

We’re increasing the length of each blog article but changing the frequency & making them more evergreen. This is because updates to Google’s guidelines mean that churning out a 300-word generic blog post each month won’t impact SEO. Millions of blog posts are published online every day, so ensuring a blog is useful, relevant, and worth reading is key to success. Research needs to go into planning and writing worthy blog posts.

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Backlink Activity

Google’s focus has moved away from backlinks and more towards user experience. As such, to ensure our affordable packages retain their value, we have removed backlink acquisition activity and increased our focus on what matters; optimising core landing page and website experience. This is still available on our Enterprise & Premium Plans.

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Press Release Writing and Distribution

Clients on our premium package have the option to collaborate with us on getting a timely and newsworthy story out to the media. We will write and distribute press releases about or related to the business, including a website link. Press releases help with brand awareness, authority building and achieving brand mentions and backlinks.

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Relevant and Industry Niche Citations

Niche citations help search engines associate your business to specific industries. This enhances your relevancy and overall online presence to potential customers. The availability of niche citation platforms will depend upon the client’s industry as to whether they are widespread or scarce. SEO planners should help us to understand the customers’ industry so we can effectively place these citations.

#TLDR

Too long didn’t read? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Think about this update as user-friendly sites will rank higher than sites that aren’t user friendly.
  2. Make an experience that end users will love to use! Think about websites that you enjoy using and what elements of those you can bring into your own.
  3. You have been given notice, which means that Google aren’t rolling this out just yet due to COVID-19. Take advantage of this!

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