Why a great website experience is becoming more important

Google are about to reward great websites, and make it even harder for those offering a poor user experience to rank well. Here's what they are doing, and how you can improve your site experience.
7 Mar, 2021

Why it’s important to deliver a good website experience

If you have a website, you’ll want to give your visitors an experience that is straightforward and enjoyable, and which allows them to do what they came for with the minimum of fuss. If you get it right :

  • you will encourage them to visit you again;
  • they will recommend you to their friends;
  • they might link to you from their website or from their social media;
  • you will sell more to them;

If the visitor came from a search engine, then over time your ranking might improve. Google (other search engines are available) will have a reasonably good idea that the visit was successful because they may be able to see :

  • session time – amount of time spent on your site;
  • bounce rate / pages per visit – how many visitors bounce straight away again without looking at any other pages;
  • repeat visits – they’ll know if they send the same visitor to you again;
  • social shares that happen when visitors are browsing your pages;

What 5 things impact visitor experience the most?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and in no particular order, but it’s what user experience means to me.

Design

Design isn’t just about nice pictures and graphics. Design is about laying things out clearly for your visitors so that they see, and take, the appropriate action.

When visitors arrive on any page on your site are they able to satisfy their need quickly?

Do they immediately know they are in the right place? Are you speaking directly to them, describing their ‘problem’, offering them a real benefit?

Is the next step they should take clear? We have all visited websites that lead us down blind alleys, following threads we think will give us the answer. We like the 3-click rule to try to get all of your most important website content within easy reach, wherever a visitor lands on your site.

Good website experience reaps benefits

A good user experience will delight your visitors, and encourage them to return, to share, to buy and to refer

Security

Nothing persuades a visitor to leave a website more quickly than a browser warning saying the site isn’t secure.

Thing is – you might think your site is fine because you don’t ask for any information, don’t sell anything, and don’t even accept comments on your blog posts. Search engines don’t like it, and will most often show an alert in the browser bar (e.g. Google Chrome), or, worse still, show the warning against your site listing in the search results.

Over time, your page is likely to be ranked lower in the search results.

A properly installed and configured SSL certificate is what you need. We discuss this in our post about internet safety in 2021.

Speed

We’re not just talking about the absolute load time of a page, but also the amount of time before a visitor can take the action they want, like clicking a button, selecting an accordian / toggle etc.

Pay particular attention to load times on mobile devices. If a large proportion of your visitors are reaching you on their phones, make sure you do what you can to make things quick for them. Their phone connection may be slower than their office desktop, and they might also be in more of a hurry on their phone.

People are impatient. Even if you don’t like it, don’t make them wait.

Pages shifting during loading

How often are you about to click a link on a page only to find the page shifts and you end up clicking something else?

Websites load and display elements at different speeds. This could be because of the actual sequence of loading different types of element, or the file size of a particular element causing it to load more slowly than elements further down the page. It could also be because an image gets loaded and then resized by the web page. Often, external resources such as adverts, take slightly longer to load, and then disrupt the page loading when they do arrive.

It makes it a poor user experience if a visitor is trying to read content which is jumping about as other elements are loading. Even worse if they have spotted a link they want to click, which then shifts, revealing an advert link, just as they click it.

Popups and slide-in elements (‘Interstitials’)

We’ve seen the term ‘interruption marketing’ used to describe this type of element. You might also see the term ‘interstitial’. It includes things that pop up or get in the way of an otherwise normal page load. Here are a few examples…

Popups to get people to subscribe to your list;

Event reminders that slide in within a few seconds of you arriving at the page;

Those annoying ‘are you really leaving us’ popups when you are about to leave the page;

Social sharing prompts that are pushed in your face asking you to ‘like’ a post when you’ve only had time to read the first paragraph;

Adverts embedded within a piece of content;

The list goes on….

We absolutely get it that website owners need to extract the most possible value out of a visitor, but if you are going to do this, do it reasonably and proportionately. If you overdo it on the first page I visit – I’m unlikely to visit others.

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The Google Page Experience update is coming in 2021

If you have a website that has any of the above issues, or adopts any technique that hinders a good user experience, read on, as there are changes afoot that may impact your website ranking.

What is the Google Page Experience algorithm update?

Coming in 2021 (probably May), Google are going to start including page experience as a ranking signal. As usual with Google, and quite reasonably, they won’t say how much of an influence page experience will have on ranking.

[Update: On 21st May 2021, Google announced they were delaying the start of the Page Experience rollout until June, expecting to complete the rollout by September.]

It’s likely that the influence will fluctuate over time. Some websites will be impacted (positively or negatively) straight away. Others will no doubt be picked up later.

What Google are saying is that various ‘experience’ signals are going to feed into the ranking algorithm. It will include mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and ‘intrusive interstitials‘, as well as Core Web Vitals.

“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.”

What Google said about the balance between relevance (content) and page experience in May 2020

Mobile-Friendliness

This has been a factor for quite some time, with Google having adopted a ‘mobile first’ indexing policy. If you still have to ‘pinch and stretch’ when viewing your pages on a mobile device – you’re most likely not mobile friendly.

Check your website for mobile-friendliness here, and be sure to take notice of warnings in your Google Search Console.

Safe Browsing

This isn’t something that is always obvious from looking at your website. Essentially, Google are looking for malware issues, harmful downloads, and deceptive content such as phishing. Usually, these will be the result of malware on your site, but Google may also consider elements that you have consciously placed on your site as potential safe browsing issues. Check the Security issues report under Security & Manual Actions in Google Search Console.

HTTPS

Does your site have a valid and correctly configured SSL certificate and is it using https to deliver all pages?

You shouldn’t really need to pay for SSL certificates these days. We offer free SSL certificates with our professional hosting, and other hosting companies should too.

Intrusive Interstitials

Google have effectively imposed a mobile insterstitial penalty since 2017, but it may get a little more serious with the 2021 Google Page Experience update. Although mostly aimed at intrusive popups and other distracting elements on mobile devices, it’s fair to say that some website owners overdo it for their desktop visitors too.

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals have been showing up in Google Search Console dashboards for quite a while, giving some website owners the opportunity to address issues before they start affecting their search engine ranking.

Go to your Google Search Console, look in the ‘Enhancements’ section for ‘Core Web Vitals’. These are a collection of indicators that include page loading, interactivity, and visual stability.

It’s likely that other ‘vitals’ will be added over time, but for now you’ll see :

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – this is Google measuring the perceived load speed – the time it takes to get your main page content loaded;

First Input Delay (FID) – this gives an indication of earliest interactivity; the time it takes to reach a point where a visitor can actually do something on the page;

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – this measures the visual stability of your page, and tries to focus on annoying movement of content whilst the page is loading.

Core Web Vitals statistics from Screaming Frog

How many sites pass the Google Core Web Vitals Tests?

According to Screaming Frog, who carried out a survey of 20,000 web pages in August 2020, only 13% of web pages achieve a ‘Good’ assessment across all of the 3 Core Web Vitals checks.

Also interesting is that they found that pages at the top of Google search were 10% more likely to pass the Core Web Vitals tests than those in position 9 on page 1.

What these statistics show is that it really is worth pushing your site for a better Core Web Vitals score.

Screenshot of Google Search Console showing where to find Core Web Vitals

Create a good user website experience without getting ‘too technical’

As well as Google Search Console, there are plenty of good (and not so good) resources that will report potential issues, score your website, and offer recommendations on things to improve.

These can get quite technical, and hugely time consuming, and aren’t always practical for normal website owners. They often also lead website owners to think that their sites are failing miserably, when in fact they aren’t at all.

So, if you would rather not get too technical, here are some common sense things you could do :

  1. Implement an SSL certificate and check it is working properly – your web hosts will probably install an SSL certificate for you. You can then check that it is working ok by following our 2-minute test to check all website versions.
  2. Make sure your website is mobile friendly by using Google’s Mobile Test Tool.
  3. Speed up your page load times. If most of your visitors view on mobile devices, make sure the experience is especially good for them! We explain how you could test your website speed here. A combination of good hosting, optimised images and caching (plugins are available, WordPress users) should get you most of the way there.
  4. Remove any non-essential ‘distracting’ interstitials – do you need that popup on every page? does it need to popup repeatedly for the same visitor? Do you popup (or slide in) social sharing icons that are never clicked?
  5. Review your conversion processes – is your ecommerce buying process as slick as possible? Do you ask visitors to fill out too many fields on your contact forms? Can visitors easily find the content they need?

Don’t panic – Content is still King!

The fastest, cleanest, most interactive, most secure web page in the World still won’t get traffic if it has nothing to offer visitors.

Some of what we have written about may seem a little too technical, and might look a little complex to resolve. If you focus on finding common sense ways to deliver a better website experience to your visitors, whilst also providing brilliant content, you’ll need to worry less about the complexities of Google Page Experience.

Let us know if you are concerned about the Page Experience update

Drop us a line in the contact form at the bottom of this page if you want to discuss getting your website ready for the Google Page Experience update.

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