No one should be surprised that Google is going to make user experience a ranking factor. After all, what is mobile friendliness but a series of user experience metrics? And page speed is also a user experience metric, as nothing is more frustrating to the user than a painfully slow page load time. On the paid side, Google has had a landing page experience score for years, and solving problems caused by the algorithm update may help improve paid page experience.
A good rule of thumb is the longer the time between announcing an algorithm update and its implementation date, the more impact it will have. By announcing it in advance, Google seems to be acknowledging that if they just rolled out the update, most sites would not fare well, potentially creating SERPs that didn’t respond to user intent, location or other search factors.
It’s good to be forewarned, because this will be a lot of work for sites that have been aggressively working on page speed, and even more work for sites that haven’t. (Although, if your site hasn’t been working on reducing page speeds, give us a call for a second opinion.) Sites whose functionality is patched together or relies on old programming may be better off going through a site redesign. Those sites that have relied on link building and high inbound links/high authority to stay at the top of the SERPs may also struggle with the UX update. Why these? Because their strengths may have let them get away with slower page speeds and other issues, putting them behind the curve.
At Lever Interactive, we have been aggressive about working with clients to reduce page load times, especially Time to First Byte and First Contentful Paint. We also audit clients’ sites for issues that contribute to poor user experience, like too small tap targets and content too large for containers, because we find they lead to high bounce rate/low conversion rates pages, driving keyword ranks down over time. Imagine our shock when the switch to Core Web Vitals halved the number of pages rated “good” for some of our clients. Google has seemingly come out and said First Input Delay and Largest Contentful Paint are going to get extra weight as ranking factors. For those new to SEO, Google never does this.
Cumulative Layout Shift
But those two issues will be easier to deal with than Cumulative Layout Shift. How do you decrease time to first byte? By shifting resources and having them load later; depending on which resources were shifted, sites may be in for a one-step forward, two-steps backward situation, where resolving layout shift issues bumps page speeds up.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering what Cumulative Layout Shift even is, you are not alone. Cumulative Layout Shift is how much elements move around during loading; the more items move, the more distracting it is for users. If you’ve ever had a line of text jump as you read it or a “purchase now” button move as you were getting ready to click it, you’ve experienced layout shift.
Because of the weight being given to Cumulative Layout Shift, addressing the UX update can’t be only an SEO task. Addressing this will require cooperation between SEO, web developers, and design teams to get pages loading right and looking good. The good news is that we have about six months to identify issues and resolve them before the algorithm update rolls out. Lever Interactive has begun identifying common causes of layout shift across our clients’ sites and creating recommendations to resolve them.
If you need help identifying page speed issues and causes of layout shift, we can help.
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