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Both industry research and internal studies at Google have shown that users prefer to use websites that offer them an excellent page experience. Therefore, over the past few years, Google Search has consistently added several different criteria for user experience, for example how fast pages load as well as mobile friendliness, into its ranking results factors.
Not so long ago, it was announced by Google’s Chrome team that Core Web Vitals were announced. This set of metrics relating to responsiveness, visual stability and speed, would assist site owners to measure their users’ experiences on the internet.
More recently, Google decided to build on that work even further, and announced that a change would be made to Search rankings that would incorporate those page experience metrics. A new signal would be introduced that would combine Core Web Vitals with the existing page experience signals on order to provide a more holistic overview of the user’s experience quality when using any given web page.
Also within the new update, Google would be incorporating page experience metrics into its ranking criteria when determining which content would be included in the Top Stories mobile feature in Search while also removing from the Top Stories eligibility the AMP requirement, although Google would still be continuing to support AMP and would be continuing to link, when available, to AMP pages.
Furthermore, Google also updated its developer tools that would allow site owners and developers to better optimise their page experiences.
While these changes were announced back in 2020, Google was quick to recognise that most site owners had their focus firmly on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the decision was taken to only roll out the ranking changes that were in the pipeline before 2021, and promised to give a minimum of 6-months notice before rolling them out.
Nevertheless, Google decided to provide the necessary tools at the time of the original announcement so that site owners could get started quickly with making the appropriate website changes that would allow their sites to rank more highly.
Page experience signals measure elements of how the user perceives their experience when interacting with web pages. Optimising for those factors then makes the website more pleasant to use for users of all surfaces and browsers, thus helping sites to evolve towards better user expectations when using mobile devices. As a result, business success should improve on the internet as users become increasingly engaged and able to transact with minimal friction online.
Key elements of users’ experiences are quantified by Core Web Vitals – a set of user-centred, real-world metrics. These measure web usability dimensions like interactivity, content stability while loading and load time.
The signals that are derived from the Core Web Vitals would be combined with the existing Google Search signals that were in place for page experience – which included HTTPS-security, mobile-friendliness and the guidelines about intrusive interstitials – in order to provide a more holistic overview of the user’s page experience.
Since Google is continuing to work on measuring and identifying the key elements of the user page experience, it plans to include more signals regarding page experience every year in order to align further with ever-changing user expectations and also to increase the user experience elements that can be measured.
When people have a good page experience they can do more and also engage more effectively with a page. In contrast, having a poor page experience often obstructs people from finding the information they need to find on the page.
Google’s intention by including page experience in the many signals that are considered when ranking the search results was to enable users to access the web pages and information they need more easily while also supporting site owners and developers in providing experiences that users enjoy.
Although some developers have a good understanding already of how their site measures up using Core Web Vitals, others still need more work to identifying problems and sort them out. Therefore, Google updated PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse to surface recommendations and information about Core Web Vitals, while also providing dedicated reports on Google Search Console to assist site owners in identifying any improvement opportunities quickly and effectively.
Although every page experience component is important, Google intends to prioritise those pages that offer overall the best information, even when some elements of the user page experience aren’t quite up to standard.
Good page experiences don’t override having content that is excellent and relevant. But, in a case where multiple pages exist offering similar content, the page experience will be far more important when it comes to boosting visibility in the Search engine rankings.
The Top Stories mobile feature is a Search fresh content experience that currently emphasises AMP results that have been optimised to ensure an excellent page experience. For several years now, Top Stories has brought about new thinking about how better page experiences can be promoted web-wide.
Therefore, Google decided to update its eligibility criteria for Top Stories at the same time as the rollout of the update for page experience. The new criteria would no longer require AMP for a story to be included in Top Stories on mobiles – any page can be considered.
Also, page experience would be a Top Stories’ ranking factor as well as the many other factors assessed. Pages still would be required to meet the relevant policies for Google News content in order to be eligible. Any site owner currently publishing pages with AMP versions or as AMP wouldn’t be seeing any change in behaviour.
The idea of the page experience update is to promote improvement of user engagement through better web experiences. It was Google’s intention, by incorporating the new signals into its search rankings, to improve the internet for everybody, and now that the rollout has been completed, we will see whether it has been successful.