Dennis Kirwan is the CEO of Dymic, a global marketing agency empowering brands to win in a fast-changing, increasingly digital world.
If you have a website, then you likely know it needs good quality content and authoritative inbound links to achieve top organic search rankings — or as I like to call it, “beachfront property on Google.” But what about onsite optimization or technical SEO? How much do factors such as site speed and mobile user experience matter today?
The truth is that considering technical performance isn’t new for Google — we saw this happen previously when mobile-friendliness became a ranking component and when mobile speed was added to the equation. But Google’s latest algorithm update — the page experience update — takes technical SEO to the next level, and from what I’ve seen, it’s disrupting nearly everyone involved in the modern-day web experience.
What Is The Page Experience Update?
Google’s new recipe considers several benchmarks, including the Core Web Vitals metrics. These signals were developed to gauge page experience beyond informational value. They measure real-world user engagement, loading performance and the visual stability of a web page — and businesses that don’t meet the minimum criteria will likely face an uphill battle for search rankings from this moment forward.
Per Google, this update introduced “a new signal that combines Core Web Vitals with our existing signals for page experience to provide a holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on a web page.”
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What Are The Core Web Vitals Metrics?
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A technical term for the render time of the largest text or image block on a webpage. A fast LCP helps ensure the page is useful by decreasing how long it takes for the content to populate on a user’s device and optimizes loading performance.
First Input Delay (FID): A metric that calculates how quickly a user’s interactions are processed. A low FID helps ensure a webpage is usable because it reduces the time it takes to register a user’s interactions and process requests.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): A metric for measuring the movement of webpage elements (as they load). A low CLS ensures the page is predictable by reducing content jumps and skips, so the link you are attempting to click is what you get. For example, you may have experienced the annoying dynamic nature of some digital ads by now — which can cause unexpected layout shifts. This is why it’s important to minimize layout shifts to avoid negatively impacting user experience, conversion rates and now your search rankings as well.
The new page experience signals add Core Web Vitals to Google’s existing metrics, as a response to websites not living up to users’ expectations — a clear message for all to remedy the technical shortcomings that impact user experience. Consequently, Google has single-handedly forced the evolution of content management systems, SEO and web development, third-party plugins, and customer relationship management systems to significantly improve the performance of their products and services.
Additional Page Experience Signals
Website accessibility: This metric was added to ensure every onsite visitor can access the content and navigate all of your web pages effectively. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are not new (I’ve written about them before), but Google adding accessibility into its ranking formula is.
Mobile-friendliness: As more people use smartphones to access the internet, Google’s mobile-first indexing adapts to these usage patterns to ensure users get optimal results while conducting a search from their mobile device. As such, it’s important to make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
How Does This Impact Websites?
The digital ripple effect caused by this latest update is launching us into a new search era — and staying relevant will require improving the interactivity of your website while ensuring easy accessibility at high speeds for anyone using any device with a web browser. This algorithmic shift is blindsiding many business owners and skyrocketing the importance of immediate website updates — as it may very well be vital for their company’s online visibility and survival.
We have reached a crossroads, a proverbial fork in the road between the functionality of business websites and the real-world experience for visitors. On the one hand, business owners desire marketing functionality, CRM integrations, chatbots, etc. On the other hand, consumers want websites to load fast, be stable and be easily accessible. Put simply, they want a stellar user experience.
For years now, there has been an ongoing debate in the search world about whether to optimize for people or for search engines. On one side of the argument, the logic goes something like this, “optimize for search engines first; otherwise, people can’t find you.” However, when the Google Panda algorithm update was released in 2011 (rewarding higher-quality websites and devaluing lower-quality websites), those who served the algorithm at the consumer’s expense were put on notice.
What Does This Mean For SEO?
Since its inception, Google’s mission has been “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” or in other words, give internet users the most relevant, helpful and user-friendly websites to choose from when conducting a search. Over two decades later, content marketing and search engine optimization have finally converged as a byproduct of these essential algorithm updates. With this in mind, aligning SEO strategy with the buyer’s journey makes sense — perhaps now more than ever. As such, today’s brands need to strongly consider content mapping and designing their websites to support the buyer’s decision-making process, or evolved search engines like Google won’t want to reward them with top organic rankings.
Today, Google owns over 90% of the search engine market share — translating to roughly 5.6 billion searches per day. Over the past two decades, you could argue that Google has become the repository of human knowledge. Its core algorithm advancements have modernized our everyday lives, transitionally making its reach and influence unprecedented. Now, its neural networks operate much like our minds, and it’s completely changing the SEO game — probably forever. To rank on page one in this new search era, brands, marketers and agencies need to stop writing for robots and start creating captivating content for mortals again. It’s time to forget about trying to trick the almighty algorithm because, frankly, we can’t anymore.