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Google confirms timing for bringing page experience to Google Search

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 11, 2020

On Tuesday Google confirmed that page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021.

The news follows the May 2020 announcement of a new set of standards for measuring “page experience”. That is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user.

The new signals will combine Core Web Vitals with existing search signals, including: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

What does this mean for you as a website owner?

If you have started already, you need to ensure that your site, and landing pages, meet the new standards or risk seeing your search engine results penalised for poor performance (and higher performing competitors given a boost).

Fortunately Google has put in place clear guidelines for how they will measure page experience. And they have provided a suite of tools to help site owners identify and fix issues.

Search Console: use the report for Core Web Vitals for an overview of how your site is doing and a details into any issues.

Page Speed Insights: get your CWV score and suggestions on where to make improvements (also helpful for ongoing testing as you make changes to your site)

For the full suite of Google tools, visit Google’s Tools to measure Core Web Vitals.

For more detailed information, check out our previous blog post on the announcement back in May.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of page experience on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Google is bringing a big dose of science to web user experience…and it matters to anyone with a website

By John Woods  |  June 9, 2020

Google has announced a new set of standards for measuring “page experience” – that is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user. These new standards provide a specific, pass or fail benchmark for three aspects of page experience that Google’s research has identified as particularly impactful for users.

Many websites currently fail to meet these new standards. Google is allowing a period of time before enforcement, but site owners are now on notice: they will need to improve their websites to meet these new page experience benchmarks, or face penalties to their SEO rankings.

In this article I’ll give an overview of the new standards, discuss their implications for B2B digital marketers, and highlight some immediate next steps you should be taking to ensure you are not left behind as Google rolls out its implementation of these standards.

Introducing Core Web Vitals

Google is calling the new standards “Core Web Vitals”. You’ll start to see them appear in various Google tools and reports. For example, here’s how they show up in Google Search Console:

There are three separate measures in Core Web Vitals:

• Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): a measure of how long the page takes to display, when first loaded

• First Input Delay (FID): measures how quickly the page becomes interactive

• Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures what Google calls “visual stability”, in other words how much the page elements flicker and move around during the initial loading process.

Each of these measures has its own specific benchmarks on a traffic light system. For example the LCP needs to be below 2.5s to score as “good”. Between 2.5s and 4.0s LCP means “needs improvement”. And LCP above 4.0s means “poor”.

I’ll drill into these three measurements in a future article. For now, it’s enough to say that they measure separate and largely independent aspects of user experience: so for example a page that scores very highly on LCP could still score badly on FID or CLS. So each measure will need individual attention.

Why Core Web Vitals matter

Page experience has been important for SEO for a long time. Google and other search engines naturally want to feature pages that will provide a positive experience for users. But to date the exact impact of page experience on SEO rankings has been hard to understand.

This is great news for all of us when we use the web: by providing an explicit incentive to avoid poor page experience, Google is helping to encourage higher standards for user experience across the web.

It is also good news for site owners: with Core Web Vitals, Google is making the impact of page experience on SEO much more transparent. A website owner can use the Core Web Vitals benchmarks as a reliable guide to whether their page experience is good enough to avoid SEO penalties, and can target specific improvements if they are needed.

But there is some bad news for site owners: the Core Web Vitals benchmarks are pretty demanding! It is likely that many websites will need to make significant technical changes to meet the new benchmarks and avoid SEO penalties. This is especially true for niche B2B websites which have often been designed and implemented with relatively little concern for page experience.

Although Google haven’t said so explicitly, I predict that page experience will become a much more significant ranking factor for SEO as Google rolls out these standards. So B2B marketers who pay attention to Core Web Vitals and who take action to ensure their websites meet the new benchmarks will be rewarded with higher levels of organic search traffic. And those who do not take action are likely to see their organic traffic decline.

Google’s announcements so far only relate Core Web Vitals to organic search. But I would not be surprised to see Core Web Vitals quickly becoming a factor in quality score for paid search (PPC/SEM). Google Ads already has a component of quality score for “landing page experience”, so it would be entirely logical for Google to take Core Web Vitals into account in the future. If that happens, Core Web Vitals scores will have a direct bearing on PPC costs: because a higher quality score reduces the amount paid for each click, and vice versa.

There’s time, but the clock is ticking

Google acknowledges that website owners will need time to improve their page experience. Their announcement says that the new measures will not be incorporated into SEO rankings until 2021 at the earliest, and that there will be a minimum of 6 months’ notice of the specific date.

Google has introduced similar policies in the past designed to encourage improvements in user experience. In particular, Google encouraged site owners to move from non-secure http: to secure https: connections, and pushed for mobile-friendly page design. Both of these were introduced gently with a small SEO impact at first, increasing over time. I predict we will see the same with Core Web Vitals: a small penalty for sites that don’t meet the benchmarks at first,  but rising to a much more substantial penalty over time – to the point where, like https and mobile-friendliness, it will become inconceivable to attempt any meaningful SEO strategy on a site that does not meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks.

What to do now – find out where you stand

You can see how your web pages score against the Core Web Vitals benchmarks right away. Check your website with Google’s free Pagespeed Insights tool. You’ll see your current scores highlighted with a blue icon, like this example:

Some things to consider when using this tool:

• Each page will have its own scores. You should check more than one page: important pages like the homepage and the “contact us” page, for example, and any pages that you have built specifically to bring in organic traffic.

• Pagespeed Insights ranks mobile and desktop versions of your page separately. Make sure to look at both. Many B2B sites are built primarily for desktop, a great set of Core Web Vitals on desktop won’t help you much if you fail every measure on mobile.

• The report shows both “Field Data” and “Lab Data” – concentrate on Field Data if it is available. If your page has small numbers of visitors (like many niche B2B pages) there may not be enough data for the “Field Data” report to show. In that case you can use the “Lab Data” report as a backup.

What to do next – plan to pass the benchmarks

You may be lucky enough to find that all of your important pages already pass the Core Web Vitals benchmarks. If so, congratulations! You should still remain vigilant, especially if you plan any technical or design changes to your pages, but it’s unlikely you will need to do any major work.

But it is much more likely you will find that your pages fail at least some of the benchmarks. This is especially true for B2B websites, where page performance and user experience are typically not given high priority in the design and implementation stages. In that case you’ll need to plan and budget for technical or design changes, or brace yourself for an eventual SEO penalty and consequent loss of organic traffic – and perhaps other negative implications too.

For some B2B website implementations it may be impractical to meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks even with very large amounts of work. If your site is one of those, it may be time to consider a redesign or a complete replatform – with compliance with Core Web Vitals benchmarks an explicit goal for the project.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of Core Web Vitals on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Google is now your homepage

By John Woods  |  March 10, 2015

Have you done a search for your brand name on Google recently? If not, you might be surprised. Give it a try right now if you like–I’ll wait. (Pro tip: open an incognito window in your browser first, so you don’t get personalised search results.)

Since I don’t know your brand name, anonymous reader (I’m good at personalisation but not THAT good!), I will use the accountancy firm PwC as an example.

I am old enough to remember the Jurassic era of the internet. Way back then, a Google search result was just a hyperlinked heading and a snippet of summary text, much like this:

Blekko Search Result

 

PwC Google

But now the inhabitants of the internet have invented stone tools, tamed fire and developed the X Factor, Google has moved on:

PwC Google SERP

Now my example PwC is a BIG company with many, many locations. Let’s see what happens if we give Google a tiny extra hint:

PwC London Google SERP

Think for a moment about some of the things I can do from these two Google results pages:

• I can see a phone number for a nearby PwC office – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “contact us” page

• I can see the address of a nearby PwC office, and a clickable map – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “our office locations” page on the website

• I can use a dedicated search box to search the PwC website – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the site search engine

• I can go directly to the PwC Twitter, Google+ and YouTube accounts – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the “follow us on social media” functions.

• I can see navigation links (Google calls them “sitelinks”) that will take me direct to six different sections of the website – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find the careers link, the graduate careers link and so on. (It’s interesting to speculate why Google has chosen these particular links.)

• I can see company information and news – so I don’t have to visit the homepage and find “about us” or “news” if I just want some basic info.

• And if all else fails – I can click on the top link and visit the homepage!

Spot the common theme here? Google has provided many ways that I can bypass the homepage and get straight to the information I want.

If I had been logged in to Google when I ran this search, I might have seen different results personalised for me; for instance I might have seen more sitelinks slanted for B2B decision makers rather than job seekers. These could have replaced even more homepage functions. But in my anonymous state, Google has realised I’m searching from the UK and has personalised the search results to have a UK slant (showing the PwC UK website, not pwc.com). Very useful. If instead I’d just typed “pwc.com” in the browser, I’d end up on the PwC global website not the UK site:

PwC Website

…and then I have to find the “international PwC sites” link and navigate to the UK site before I get anything specific to the UK.

Let’s think about this from a user’s perspective:

• The Google results page is offering me a better user experience than the PwC home page for a large number of common use cases–like finding a phone number, or seeing info from the UK site instead of the global site. The information I want is right there on the Google search engine results page (SERP).

• The Google results page is offering me a more consistent user experience. If I search for a different brand I’ll see much the same functionality presented in much the same way, whereas if I visit two brand homepages I’ll see big differences in layout.

Over time, this combination of a better and a more consistent user experience is going to drive Google’s users to rely less and less on homepage navigation and more and more on brand search results.

So, Google has become your brand’s homepage, or at least it has mirrored and in most cases refined many of the functions that your homepage is designed to perform. And over time, it’s likely that Google will take over more and more of your homepage’s functions. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is irrelevant–Google has the initiative and there’s no going back.

This has some important consequences for B2B digital marketers:

• We need to stop thinking of the homepage as the first page in a user journey. For many, if not most users, the Google results page for your brand term is the first page of the user journey. Be familiar with that page and think of it as a key brand asset.

• Make sure your SEO team are aware of the things they can do to influence your brand results page, for instance providing location information via Google My Business.

• Natural search sitelinks are particularly important. They have a prominent position on the brand results page and they can be used to service important use cases like providing careers information for job seekers. Your SEO team can’t fully control these natural sitelinks, but they can influence them (using Google Webmaster Tools, for example).

• Paid search on brand terms is a way to take some control of the brand results page. Done well it can complement natural search and allow you to handle use cases for particular target segments.

Here’s an example of using paid brand search to complement natural search. See how the sitelinks in the paid ad for Expedia feature deals and city breaks, whereas the natural search links are mostly about flights and hotels. Combined, they provide better navigation options:

Expedia Google SERP

 

If Expedia’s brand ad wasn’t present on that results page, “Top City Breaks” would barely feature anywhere. A person looking for a city break might even give up at that point and search for a different brand name supplier.

So to recap: Google has now become your brand homepage. Internet users are learning that the Google results page for a brand term is the best place to find navigation links and other important functions, like site search and contact details. You can take advantage of this to offer a better user experience (and so better achieve your marketing objectives) by thinking of your brand search results page as the first page in the user journey, and by making full use of the various SEO and PPC tactics available to enable you to influence that page.

If nothing else: check your brand search results page regularly. Your prospective customers do.

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