Is Your WordPress Site Ready for Google's 'Page Experience' Update?
For our clients, and the rest of you lovely people, with a website on the WordPress platform, Google, as it tends to do, is updating its algorithm.
This change was first announced back in May 2020, before we were even born as a business. It goes live one year later in May 2021 and means how it ranks website pages on WordPress is changing.
This is all thanks to a new ranking factor signal they have called ‘Page Experience’. Essentially, it takes a number of small sub-signals and rolls them into one, but what does that mean for you? Let’s take a look at how these changes in this update and how it might affect your website and what you can do about it so you’re ready for rollout and don’t suffer any negative reaction when it comes to people find your website.
WHAT DOES ‘PAGE EXPERIENCE’ MEAN?
The whole ‘User eXperience’ is very important to Google and many of its changes in recent years have put UX (as it’s known) at its heart, this one is no exception.
It’s worth remembering that Google’s algorithm changes all the time. It’s constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. Some changes will be tiny improvements you won’t notice, whilst others can fundamentally alter how your site is ranked. This one aims to give a better user experience to those browsing the web, which means your website needs to play its part, but what does that mean?
Page experience, at least in terms of SEO, takes into account the overall UX of the site, including the speed in which it loads. There are actually three areas, or factors, in this update it looks at for measurement. They are:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) - measures load performance.
First Input Delay (FID) - measures interactivity.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - measures visual stability.
Collectively, these metrics are called Core Web Vitals which Google itself describes as “a set of real-world, user-centred metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience”. Each of these three factors form part of the new Page Experience signal, but they can also be viewed as their own object.
These new signals are three of seven signals, all working together, that Google uses to measure the page experience for a website. Each one of them will output a score, although we don’t yet know the ‘weight’ each will be in the great scheme of things (and might never know), but they will all be combined to form the final score for Page Experience.
We think it’s great news that Google is using an object-oriented approach with this, so let’s look at each of them separately, what they mean for your WordPress site and how to get it ready, starting with….
1. LARGEST CONTENTFUL PAINT (LCP)
It’s a bit of a mouthful we know, but LCP is concerned with how long it takes for the largest piece of content on your WordPress site takes to become visible on a user’s screen.
Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean the time it takes for the entire page to load, but just the largest element on the page. This could be a large chunk of text, but just as easily be an image or even video. The logic being that the quicker a page loads (or at least the largest part of it), the better experience it will be for the user.
If you’ve got a WordPress site, then it’s time to look at what the largest element on each page is. Moreover, how quickly does it load? Anything more than 4 seconds is going to cause you a problem. The sweet spot is less than 2½ seconds.
One word of caution though, a page that loads fast for you, doesn’t necessarily mean it loads equally as fast for visitors. A combination of browser location or caching could give you a false sense of security.
If you’re over that time, what can you do to optimise it? Well, we’re glad you asked. Thankfully, there are a couple of things you can do, depending on your technical expertise:
If your pages are image-heavy, then they might need optimising. This could mean they are resized, compressed or the file type is changed so that they load quicker (.jpg files are generally smaller than .png files for example). It might sound obvious, but make any changes to the images BEFORE you upload them. If that’s not your thing, then there is also a plug-in called Smush (yes, seriously) that is designed to optimise images.
Think about your mobile site before the desktop version. Google now uses the mobile version for its ranking of your site, so look at that first. Make sure you’re using a responsive theme on your WordPress site. A plug-in called WebP Express is a favourite of our for this (although it does need the WebP Convert library also installing to work). WebP Express converts your images into the much quicker loading ‘webp’ versions (hence the name!).
Update your plug-ins. As with all WordPress sites, there are a wealth of plug-ins available giving all manner of extra features and functionality. The more you have, the more you’ll need to keep on top of them in terms of updating to the latest versions.
Make sure caching is enabled which will allow fast loading times as your site’s data can be stored locally on a user’s computer. This is especially useful when you get repeat visitors.
2. FIRST INPUT DELAY (FID)
First Input Delay is an important, real-world, user-centric metric concerned with the first interaction someone has on your WordPress site and the time it (the site) takes to action that request.
In other words, how quickly does your site respond to an input or interactivity from a visitor. Please note that this doesn’t include scrolling up / down or zooming in / out.
You might be thinking that’s well covered; a user presses something and it happens, but often a WordPress site, because of a plethora of plug-ins you have going on in the background, takes its sweet time to carry out the request. It might look like something’s happening, but that isn’t replicated on screen.
This could be the clicking of a link, a CTA (Call to Action) button or pressing keys to initiate ‘something’ quickly on the site, but how ‘quick’ is ‘quickly’?
In order for Google to give you top marks in this signal, the FID metric should respond to the first interaction in under 100 milliseconds to be classed as responsive. If it’s over 300 ms, then you’ve got a problem.
If you want to check how your site measures up, try Google’s Chrome User Experience Report via Big Query, their very own data warehouse, to see how you can improve and what you need to do.
3. CUMULATIVE LAYOUT SHIFT (CLS) Finally, let’s look at the third Core Web Vital in this update, Cumulative Layout Shifts (CLS).
This one tests whether assets move around on the screen when the site is loading and if it is, how often is it happening. In other words, the visual stability of the site.
When a site loads, any number of assets need to be loaded in; a block of text here, a CTA button there, some graphics, a photo or two and even some strategically placed adverts. With all this going on, it can affect the load time of the site.
As these items are loading, it can cause them to move around the screen as other assets appear in the space they just were, before the whole page is done. We’re sure you’ve seen it happen and it’s not a good experience for the user. If it happens a lot, Google is going to mark you down in this regard!
Any shift occurring below 0.1 is good, but anything over 0.25 is not. Don’t worry, there are things you can do.
Problems can occur particularly with poorly optimised images which we’ve talked about earlier, so get them optimised.
Another issue can be caused if you have adverts on your site. This will obviously only affect you if you have ads on your site. If you do, reserve the largest possible ad slot size.
It’s also a good idea to specifically set the width and height of any image / video through CSS, rather than letting the various browsers people use work it out themselves.
There you go! If you have a WordPress website, that’s how you get ready for the update coming in May 2021. Google have announced it will get annual updates, so check back for more on this and plenty of other wonderful blog posts that will help you.
If you need any help with this, or anything related to SEO or web design, please feel free to drop us a line to see how we can help. You can connect with us across social media so you never miss another post. If you think your family, friends, colleagues or anyone in your network would benefit from this, please consider sharing it using the links at the bottom of the page. You can also sign-up to our newsletter, which would be very nice. Blog photo courtesy of Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash