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google's core web vitals for page experience update

Are you ready to ride the wave of Google’s May 2021 algorithm update?

google's core web vitals for page experience update

Core algorithm changes from Google, Facebook and other key marketing platforms can be bad for your rankings, visibility and traffic if you’re not prepared for them.

And after the year we’ve had, it could well be that you’re less than prepared.   

But Google doesn’t stop changing – and their page experience update is rolling out in May 2021.  

Unfortunately, this algorithm change could dump your SEO rankings in the soup – because it includes some key changes that need planning and time to respond to.

With May only weeks away (scary, isn’t it?) –  it’s time to do a health check on your readiness to ride this wave.

How to prepare your website for Google’s page experience update 

The key changes requiring preparation are all things that have probably been on your “We should get around to that” list for a while anyway.  

They’re things like:

  1. Making your website more mobile-friendly – especially making the mobile experience faster.
  2. Making sure your website is secure for your visitors – especially if one of the items on your to-do list includes the detailed, time-consuming shift from http:// to https:// 
  3. Fixing broken links and pages.
  4. Making your pop-ups intelligent, appropriate and non-irritating (especially on mobile).

These are all sound website housekeeping practices. Ideally you’d do them anyway – like your housekeeping.

Think of it as updating your office premises and getting your customer-facing areas looking like they belong in 2021.

You may already know what’s needed

If you’re a MSD client and we’ve been “suggesting” for a while that you need to take action on:

  • 404 errors 
  • Switching your site to https:// 
  • Improving your page speed, especially your mobile speed
  • Making your pop-ups more sophisticated

Then Google is upping the ante. They want a good, safe, fast, engaging experience for their users. 

That’s most likely what you want too – an online “retail presence” that’s fast, reliable and safe.

So don’t play “wait-and-see”- because what you’re likely to see is a drop in your rankings that you’ll have to work to restore.

What is the Google Page Experience Update (and WHY are they doing it)?

Google wants their visitors to have a really good experience on the websites they send them to – so they’re making the user experience (often called the UX) more important in their ranking of search results.

The purpose of this update is to make sure that sites that rank at the top aren’t creating experiences that frustrate and annoy their users. So user-friendly sites will rank higher than sites that are:

  • Slow
  • Awkward
  • Frustrating
  • Annoying

According to Google:

“These signals measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.”

Google will also test showing searchers which pages have great usability – with “a visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience”.

Make this a priority for your business

We suggest that you don’t just treat this as “we have to do what Google says” and instead make it an opportunity for a bit of online business development. After all, a better user experience means that the humans who visit your pages will like you better (as well as Google’s web-crawling bots).

Happier visitors makes for an improved authority level and potentially more conversions (if your branding and your offer are clear).

What are the experiences that users value?

According to Google: 

“Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing Search signals: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.”

search signals for google's page experience update

So let’s start with Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are Google’s latest set of key user experience (UX) performance metrics for web developers. These include:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the speed at which a page’s main content is loaded. This should occur within 2.5 seconds of landing on a page. This is often to do with large images and videos slowing the speed down. 
  • First Input Delay (FID): Measures the speed at which users are able to interact with a page after landing on it. This should occur within 100 milliseconds.
    You need to ensure your browser responds quickly to a user’s first action on the page. As pages are assembling how long does it take for the page to respond to clicks, scrolls and typing?
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures how predictable the presentation of your page is, and how much control your visitors have. (No weird parallax, no jumping images, etc). Pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

Mobile friendliness

mobile friendly ecommerce store

More and more people are doing research and passing the time on their mobiles – and more are gradually buying there too. So Google increasingly favours mobile-friendly pages.  

What’s a mobile-friendly page?: 

  • It’s streamlined, with a minimum of interactions required
  • It prioritises and supports the most important and common tasks that users do
  • It presents fast and skinny, respecting speed and data constraints.

It’s consistent across all devices – from mobile to desktop – so you look like the same business.

Safe browsing

google's safe browsing warning

Google Safe Browsing aims at helping protect Google users by showing warnings on dangerous sites or dangerous download files. According to Google:

“Safe Browsing also notifies webmasters when their websites are compromised by malicious actors and helps them diagnose and resolve the problem so that their visitors stay safer.” 

Their primary target is “websites that repeatedly switch between compliant and policy-violating behaviour for the purpose of having a successful review and having warnings removed.” 

Their goal is to help webmasters provide a safe and secure browsing experience for their users.  

We suggest that you don’t wait for Google to tell you that you have a problem – be proactive about your security and your visitors’ safety.  

(If you’re a Mad Scientist client, you will already know what needs to be done.)

HTTPs

locked padlock and chain

Google is giving secure sites with an SSL certificate a minor ranking boost. This is part of Google’s algorithm because they want to “encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

According to Google:

HTTPS currently enables the best performance the web offers and powerful features that benefit site conversions, including both new features such as service workers for offline support and web push notifications, and existing features such as credit card autofill.

If your website is still on HTTP and you are looking to move to HTTPs, remember to follow a proper transition plan to ensure your SEO is maintained and your traffic doesn’t suffer.

Please note:

The shift from  HTTP to HTTPS isn’t just ‘flipping a switch’ – it’s a significant process that has some non-trivial time limitations. Your hosting service probably won’t be able to do it at 5pm on April 30th.

(Mad Scientist Digital offers a website transition service – so get in touch early.)

DON’T be frustrating and irritating online

You know what irritates you as you browse – especially if it’s on your mobile while you’re waiting around between appointments.

Ten steps to get to relevant content is a turnoff, and blanket popups on every page probably has you leaving the site.

According to Google:

Pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.

Make your popups user friendly

princess polly website popup

Google is reinforcing its emphasis on the mobile search experience with a penalty on intrusive interstitials (i.e popups) on mobile pages. 

According to Google the types of interstitials that are going to be problematic include:

  • A popup that covers the main content, displayed immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • A popup that the user has to dismiss before they can access the main content.
  • Layouts where the above-the-fold portion of the page looks like a popup, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

You can still use certain interstitials on your website but they must adhere to Google’s guidelines, including:

  • Where there is a legal obligation, such as a cookie used for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, private content such as emails or un-indexable content behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a moderate amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. 

Clean up broken pages on your website 

page not found 404 error

404 errors on your website mean that a requested page could not be found. It’s not a good look! 404s are frustrating for users searching online. 

404s can also negatively impact your SEO as it makes it harder for Google to crawl your site, and that means you could see a drop in rankings. 

Having lots of 404s on your website can also increase your site’s bounce rate as your visitors  leave after landing on a broken page. (And remember, bounce rate is one of Google’s many ranking signals and can cost you if it’s too high.)

As user experience becomes more and more important in Google’s algorithm, cleaning up the 404s on your website is a non-negotiable.

A key cause of 404s on a website is when pages have been removed or deleted and haven’t been redirected to a new page. Another common cause is when the URL of a page is changed.

Changing any part of a URL will result in a 404 error and you will need to redirect the old page to the new page with the updated URL. 

Don’t wait till your rankings drop, get your redirects done – and if you don’t have time, talk to Mad Scientist about getting it done –  before May.

So how do you know what needs doing on your site?

This is how you can check and optimise your website for these signals: 

  • Your website has its own Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console.
  • You can check for a range of 400 errors – including the dreaded 404 – in Google Search Console. 
  • Use Lighthouse reports. (Lighthouse is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages. You can run it against any web page, public or requiring authentication. It has audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, SEO and more.)
  • There’s a mobile friendliness test in Google Search Console.

If you have time, then this useful article from Search Engine Journal is a good starting point Google Now Has 6 Ways to Measure Core Web Vitals.

It really is time to do your website housekeeping

Your website – its health, performance and friendliness AS WELL AS its look and feel – is your online retail space.   

To get the most out of it, you need to keep it clean and tidy and looking as good as the results your business delivers.  Regardless of turndowns, pandemics and market conditions, keeping it current MATTERS.

If you’re a Mad Scientist Digital client then you already know we’re constantly monitoring Google’s changes and their impact on your website, so you will get plenty of timely advice on how to take action.

Quality content still matters, but…

While page experience is important, Google still seeks to rank pages with the best information overall, even if the page experience is subpar. 

A great page experience doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have great page content.

However, in a growing online market place where there are many pages that may be similar in quality and relevance, a good page experience is increasingly important for good rankings and your overall visibility in Search.

search engine results page serp spelled out in letters

How to optimise for Google’s featured snippets in 2021

search engine results page serp spelled out in letters

What’s a featured snippet anyway?

Featured Snippets are short pieces of text that Google pulls from a relevant website to provide a quick answer or summary for searchers. A featured snippet is the best possible Google ranking – because it comes BEFORE organic search results. It’s often called “position zero” – it appears first, and Google chooses what to put there. You can’t buy a featured snippet.

paragraph featured snippet indoor plants

What Google tells us

Google: “When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results”.

(Featured snippets usually come from content that’s already ranked on page 1 for the query.)

For some searches, Google provides a quick answer or summary with a content snippet from a relevant website. These featured snippets are most likely to show up when your search is in the form of a question.

Featured snippets include:

  • Information quoted from a third-party website
  • A link to the page
  • The page title
  • The URL of the page”

Why does a featured snippet matter? Because a featured snippet gives a significant boost to your organic click through rate – even if you’re close to the top for your chosen keywords.

The data scientists behind the Semrush online marketing platform have also found that Search Engines give Featured Snippets a significant amount of screen real estate – particularly on mobile devices.

“And we found that on average on a modern phone, if you earn a featured snippet, it takes over 50% of the screen on a mobile device. So you’re getting a lot of attention, a lot of bang for your buck.”

mobile featured snippet

How do featured snippets work?

Featured snippets try to provide fast answers – so they’re a whole lot more likely to appear as answers to questions.

For example: “why did my souffle collapse?” or “what are featured snippets?” or “how do i choose a good accountant?”

Featured snippets are extracts of content that Google chooses as being a relevant answer to the search question.

A well-crafted featured snippet can bring your website more organic traffic – so it’s worth investing in quality content with the goal of solving a searcher’s problem and winning a featured snippet.

Your goal is also to demonstrate that you are an authority in the area where your ideal customers are looking for solutions. When you do, a link to your content is put right under the searcher’s nose. 

Plus there’s potentially an extra trust boost because Google has evaluated your content and decided to put you in “Position 0”. (If you saw our post on the Psychology of Influencing and Trust, you might remember that your perceived authority is a key element of trust.) 

Featured snippets are useful answers to quite specific questions. The more useful, helpful, supportive content you have on your website about the specific issues your ideal customers are trying to solve, the better.

For example, our client Vortex Basketball earned a featured snippet for their blog post ‘World’s Top 10 Most Amazing Basketball Courts’. Over the last year, this post has been one of the top performing pages organically on the website, receiving 38.6% of all website clicks. 

vortex basketball featured snippet

What content increases your snippet potential?

Think about how to address your visitor’s needs – especially helping them to understand more clearly what their needs actually are. A lot of people searching online are beginning a journey – so it can be useful to help them understand “what they don’t know they don’t know.”

Good marketing strategy today is all around “making your customer the hero” – after all they’re the one on a quest to solve a problem. Good positioning is generally about demonstrating your ability to be their guide or mentor – so THEY win.

For example, someone who wants to make the perfect French macaron probably wants to DO the baking. Otherwise they would be asking “where do I buy the best macaron?”  So think about your visitor’s goals in their terms, not your expertise.

Snippets are most typically informational. They can be paragraphs, lists, tables, or videos.

semrush featured snippet format comparison

Source: https://www.semrush.com/webinars/how-anyone-can-win-featured-snippets-backed-by-data-science/

Fundamentally, they’re responses to questions – solutions to problems that people are facing – whether it’s making the perfect French macaron, getting an investment loan or moving house without having a nervous breakdown.

So think about the questions that your ideal customer would be asking as they search online:

Why do my macarons go sticky?

How can I afford my first investment property?

How do I protect my staff from COVID?

Then build rich, helpful content around answering those questions. You’re after a click-through, so make sure there’s more to click through to. For example:

Twenty tips for perfect French macarons.

How to buy your first investment property.

Snippets are extracts from your content – so rich, helpful supportive content will encourage searchers to click through to your website to read more.

Invest the time to create a high-quality explanation. For sequential information, do a well-designed table, list or video – something that Google can use as an effective featured snippet.

But think at least as much about really helping your visitors as about “what Google wants”. At the end of the day, people do business with people. So the best content is always about helping your customer. That’s what Google wants too. However much they play around with their algorithms, they want their users to find interesting, useful and entertaining content.

Is your content detailed and well-structured?

Create a broad range of content so that you can answer more specific users queries. Remember that their needs are likely to be more complex than their initial query may indicate.

Depending on what you do and the variety of solution spaces you work in, it may be worth revisiting the way you structure the helpful content on your website – so that it’s organised around subject areas.

How do I work out what questions people are asking?

cut out paper question marks

If you’re a Mad Scientist Digital client, then your targeted keywords are the foundation of your Featured Snippet experiments. There are also a range of tools related to developing keyword lists.

The Semrush platform (whose video inspired this post) offers a number of fantastic tools to analyse keywords and find opportunities. Check out their Keyword Magic tool to find question-based keywords relating to your targeted keywords. 

Another helpful tool is Also Asked – put in a keyword and it will aggregate Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ data to give you insights into what users are searching for. 

For the purposes of building content that could become Featured Snippets, we suggest that you hunt down fully formed questions. That’s because the full question helps you best understand the search intent – what the user is TRYING to search for. 

And it’s worth going beyond the research – a 10 minute chat with your best existing customers could also be a good way to explore the questions and concerns that brought them to you – or that they’re currently exploring.

What content will help me win a featured snippet?

Semrush found these patterns on the source content of snippets:

  • 98% were on secure servers (HTTPs).
  • They are mostly longer five minute reads – at least 1100 words.
  • They’re well-structured long-form content:

    • they use subheadings for scan-readers
    • they embed questions in the content to help Google extract answers
    • they use imagery and associated alt tags
  • They use structured data like lists and tables, which works extremely well (if it’s WELL-structured). Lists are great for any ‘How-to’ content whilst tables work well for anything that is comparative such as prices, rates and data. 
  • A longer-tail search with ‘Why’ in it triggers a featured snippet 70-80% of the time. Other question keywords such as ‘Can’, ‘Do’, ‘Are’ and ‘How’ also trigger featured snippets 65-72% of the time.

why do cats knead featured snippet

Is it worth the investment?

Supportive, strategic content focused on your customers and their needs is always a good long-term SEO investment.

So even if you don’t win a featured snippet to start with, it’s still worth investing in quality, well-structured content.

What we found is almost every single time we went and applied the principles of structuring the data, refreshing the content to optimise for featured snippets, our organic traffic increased every single time.

We didn’t always get the featured snippet, but the principles that are guiding it are important, because it’s forcing you to understand the user’s search intent, and to better the user experience, to answer their queries better and more succinctly and more purposefully.

You do that, and you’re going to win long term, the algorithm should chase you, not the other way around, at that point.” – Semrush

So get out your target keyword list and start turning it into questions – and create content that answers those questions. And if you don’t have a keyword list yet, or still feel unsure about how to find snippet opportunities, let us do the work for you and get in touch with us today. 

Optimising ‘Awesome’

Your Customer is Not An Algorithm

Most of my business as the Mad Scientist comes from SEO so you’d expect me to say that SEO is the most important part of your Google presence, right? WRONG. The most important thing you can do to make Google love you is to make sure your site provides an excellent customer experience.

The way Google is ranking sites now means that if you are using best practice across brand, design, content, SEO, and social media, you’re heading in the right direction. What best practice is, well, that’s a bit up for debate depending on who you ask, but luckily all these areas of digital marketing are converging, which is as it should be.

Optimising your business for Google

With over 600 algorithm updates in the past year, Google is in full throttle, working to remove the crap from search results. I can’t believe that people are still buying shitty links from third parties and participating in link schemes. We found one a few months ago in Australia – a huge one, linking multiple accommodation sites to each other. It had been keeping them high in search engines for years and had gone undetected by Google. One of our clients had spent over 6 months trying to get ahead of some of these guys and out of frustration we went digging to find out what was really going on. Google’s algorithm hadn’t picked up on it at that stage, but it recently did and our client is finally ranking where they deserve to be.

 

Regardless of all this technical wrestling, and the struggle to prioritise where you actually invest your marketing dollar, the most important factor in this whole equation is your customer. I hear a lot of rhetoric from marketing professionals about how focused they are on this critical customer person. So often though, the customer is forgotten or temporarily pushed aside because a marketer or a creative or an ambitious and sometimes arrogant entrepreneur just wants to have an awesome-looking LinkedIn profile or website and impress people at parties talking about their smoke-and-mirrors business. Don’t chase the wrong thing.

How does UX impact SEO?

UX is actually quite straightforward to conceptualise but very hard to do well. In other words, it’s simple, but not easy. My advice on how you do it? Here you go:

Be awesome.

That’s it. I’m done.

Well, not quite. The practical on-site user experience should engage your customer. First, it should fit your brand vision and values, and be easy to navigate. A great mix of visuals – video and images – should be juxtaposed with some incredibly compelling and engaging information. Lead with your story and the needs of your customer, and they’ll hang around and come back often.

What does “be awesome” mean?

It starts from ground zero.

  • Your business must have a clearly defined purpose and vision
  • You should understand your customer inside out (demographics, psychographics, online platforms and behaviours)
  • You must have a meaningful and visually appropriate and appealing brand look and feel
  • Tell your story and relate to your customers through content
  • Help your customers make good decisions in their lives and connect/engage with them
  • Be transparent about how you run your business (e.g. supply chain, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, internal culture experience)
  • You should have a complete digital marketing strategy that is updated and executed often
  • You should have an awesome website with a great user experience
    • Good mix of images, video, and text
    • Answer your customers questions quickly
    • Make it easy for customers to contact you and/or make a purchase
  • Champion thought leaders within your business to have their own voice (providing it aligns with the company, of course)
  • Engage with your audience where they live (appropriate social channels and community events and sponsorship)
  • Have a consistent bricks and mortar branding experience
  • Deliver an exemplary product or service with every detail thought of and revised often
  • Have an ongoing PR strategy and traditional marketing outreach.

Told you it was simple.

Let’s optimise ‘awesome’

SEO can plug a few holes for you to start with but if you’re are not willing to execute the “Be awesome” directive, or at least start the journey, then you’ll be pushing shit uphill. And we all knows what happens when you push shit up hill long enough and then get tired. 

An SEO strategy is much more fun for everyone if we have something to optimise.

How to Avoid Digital Marketing and SEO Rip-Offs

As a business owner, digital marketing (and SEO) is maybe something you are very confused about. However, you may have found yourself to be a victim of some fast talking sales person’s pitch or an email which promised you ‘guaranteed number 1 rankings’ on Google  in a very short period of time. Needless to say, more than likely it never happened. All that did happen was that your bank account was a little less full.

In an attempt to clean up the industry which is full of con artists and snake oil merchants, we have put together a small series of Google Hangouts with a list of what to watch out for BEFORE you sign ANY contract with an SEO company.

In this video, Andrew Radics and Ian Hopkinson discuss how to avoid being ripped off when you engage the services of a digital marketing company.

expert seo services