Page Experience: Google’s New User Experience Algorithm Update
User experience has always been at the heart of good SEO. But on May 28, 2020, Google announced that page experience would become a new ranking signal sometime in 2021. This article kicks off our page experience series with an overview of the update and how to prepare.
UPDATE (as of 4/19/2021): Google announced that the update will be rolled out gradually beginning in June and finishing by August 2021.
It’s New But Not New
One thing is clear: Google is packaging many of the criteria that the ranking algorithm already uses into a new page experience signal.
We will introduce 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.
The combined signal will include things like:
- Page load performance
- Visual stability
- Safe browsing
- No intrusive interstitials
“Evaluating page experience for a better web,” Google Webmaster Central Blog
If you have great content but not-so-great page experience factors, then you may still rank well. Google clarified:
While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.
Simply put, ranking ties in terms of content will go to the best page experience score.
Google said it would give at least six months’ notice before rolling out the new combined ranking factor, so the earliest we may see it in action would be March 2021. But I recommend you start now on your changes.
The AMP Advantage Is Going Away (Finally)
In 2017 and then again in 2018, I predicted AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) would have diminishing value in the future. Overall, it has been a hassle for sites to put in place. Back in 2017, Google’s Gary Illyes said that if a site was fast enough, then AMP wouldn’t be necessary anyway.
Well, the time has come to say goodbye to AMP. With the new page experience ranking signal, news websites won’t be required to implement AMP to show up in the Top Stories carousel.
But Top Stories articles will be required to meet page experience standards:
As part of this update, we’ll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature in Search on mobile, and remove the AMP requirement from Top Stories eligibility. Google continues to support AMP, and will continue to link to AMP pages when available. …
When we roll out the page experience ranking update, we will also update the eligibility criteria for the Top Stories experience. AMP will no longer be necessary for stories to be featured in Top Stories on mobile; it will be open to any page.
Alongside this change, page experience will become a ranking factor in Top Stories, in addition to the many factors assessed. As before, pages must meet the Google News content policies to be eligible. Site owners who currently publish pages as AMP, or with an AMP version, will see no change in behavior – the AMP version will be what’s linked from Top Stories.
The bottom line here is if you can make your pages fast and offer a good user experience, you probably don’t need AMP. As a note, in a 5G nation, it isn’t needed, but some countries are still 2G, and AMP is useful as a solution.
If you cannot focus on page experience factors, then you will want to stick with good content and, reluctantly, AMP implementation for better mobile speed.
You will likely base your decision on how much effort you’ve already put into AMP, how much effort it will be to optimize page experience factors, what the Top Stories results actually look like after the new ranking signal, and other reasons.
Of course, the ultimate decision isn’t really about page experience versus AMP. It’s about improving your website in a way that’s good for SEO in general. So yes, everyone should look at how to improve their page experience.
Overview of the Page Experience Ranking Update
As mentioned, the new page experience ranking signal will be a combination of page experience factors (which are already part of the ranking algorithm) with what Google is calling “core web vitals” (which will be new factors).
Page Experience Factors
- Mobile-friendliness: Can mobile users easily use your site?
- Safe browsing: Is your site free from security issues such as potential harmful content?
- HTTPS: Is your site’s connection secure?
- No intrusive interstitials: Can mobile users access a webpage’s main content easily when they click through from the search results?
Core Web Vitals
These new ranking factors will be comprised of:
- Largest contentful paint: Is your webpage load time optimal?
- First input delay: Can users easily interact with the page?
- Cumulative layout shift: Are the elements on your webpage stable so that it doesn’t cause a bad user experience?
We explore all of these factors in our new series on page experience:
- What’s the Page Experience Update?
- How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Site
- Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO
- Safe Browsing to Protect Your Website, Visitors & Ranking
- HTTPS for Users and Ranking
- Core Web Vitals Overview
- Core Web Vitals: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
- Core Web Vitals: FID (First Input Delay)
- Core Web Vitals: CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
Also see our high-level Page Experience overview for CMOs.