Google is set to complete its release of a core algorithm update this month - May 2021. Websites that want to get the best Google ranking will need to ensure they are in compliance with core web vitals and page experience requirements.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, you only have a couple of weeks until the core update is completely rolled out, so if you haven't been proactive and considered updating your website in advance, now's the time to be REACTIVE!
Your website needs to be updated before Google's latest algorithm impacts your site rankings if the rollout hasn't done so already...
Make sure you follow, or else your business could see an adverse impact on traffic, revenue and customer engagement!
In this post, we will explore why Google is rolling out this core update and what it means for websites, detailing the 3 things websites need to change in order to comply with the new requirements.
Why is the update happening?
Google, and more specifically the Google Algorithm, seeks to give searchers what they're looking for with as little interference as possible. This means Google is constantly striving to display the highest quality, most trustworthy and relevant content it can find.
The changes being made are supposed to make search results less cluttered by reducing low-quality sites from the SERPs. This is done through a machine learning algorithm that uses information about user behaviour (such as visiting spammy pages or clicking adverts) combined with site content quality signals such as Pagerank and links from reputable sources like universities or government organisations.
For about a year now, we’ve been warned. It was back in May 2020 when Google announced how important page experience is and what it would be worth in coming algorithm updates. Although it was all the way back in 2010 when usability was first prioritised - since then, Google has been sending signals that it wants to reward sites that have better, more satisfying user experiences.
In short, Google is doing its searchers justice by serving them the best content on offer.
What will the core update consider?
The Google Core update rollout will be completed this month and will impact all queries - meaning that even if you haven’t been penalised for a low-quality website previously, the update may affect your site nevertheless.
So, what does this mean in practical terms? Websites need to focus on their core web vitals (such as loading time) and page experience requirements so they can lower bounce rates while increasing engagement metrics such as time spent per session or pages viewed per visit.
Let's take a look at the 3 key areas of the core update...
1. Page Experience
Page experience requirements are in place to ensure Google is indexing content that has the best user-friendly features.
In order for your site to be indexed, it needs to have:
- A Home Page URL present on all pages of your website;
- No 404 Pages or Broken Links throughout your entire website.
Page experience is also important for Google to index your site.
In order to improve your site's ranking in Google's search engine, it is recommended that your website provide a smooth user experience.
To uncover any technical hiccups, you can start by using Semrush's Site Audit Tool which will highlight broken links, 404s, duplicate content and a whole host of other issues that you'll need to fix.
Note: if you head to the bottom of this article, there's a free audit tool you can use ⬇️
Google will also look at content quality by looking at how many unique words are on each page, to ensure you're not just providing short content with no substance!
The core update is right around the corner, which means it's time for website owners everywhere to start focusing on their core vitals and making sure they have a solid user experience ready for Google's release.
The other requirement for page experience is quality content - original images/videos, internal linking structure (e.g., blog posts), etc. One way businesses can avoid Google's wrath is to keep their content updated with fresh and engaging posts that are relevant to the website.
A top tip here would be to conduct a content audit. Review your website content in its entirety to check whether you have any outdated or irrelevant content sitting on your site.
Do you still have a blog post titles 'top tips for 2016'? If so, update it! Make it relevant to 2021 by changing processes, updating recommendations and checking both internal and external links - you'll probably find some of the webpages you linked to as your sources don't exist anymore, that's not a great signal to Google that you use reliable and up-to-date research to inform your own content.
2. Core Web Vitals
Google's core web vitals currently revolve around 4 key areas, but the new algorithm update will see the introduction of 3 more:
Loading speeds are no surprise for Google, which seems to have been focused on this core web vital since the beginning with their Page Speed Insights Tool and Chrome's Lighthouse extension.
Keep in mind that mobile devices are much slower than desktop or laptop computers, with loading speeds being almost three times as slow! Make sure you're optimising for all platforms by using Google's Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. This will not only help improve page load time but it'll also increase visitor conversion rates because Google gives preference to websites that have been optimised for mobile users over those who haven't!
Here are some tips for making your pages faster to load:
- Use an image optimisation platform like tinypng
- Manually create smaller versions of each picture at different sizes
- Optimise file size on webpages
- Use CSS sprites if possible
- Make sure no extra scripts slow down page
On top of loading time, the time from when a user first interacts with your page to the time when the browser responds to that interaction, is becoming more and more important. This measurement is important on pages where the user needs to do something, because this is when the page has become interactive.
No-one wants to hang around for a website to realise that a button or link has been clicked and metaphorically watch the cogs go around whilst it decides where to take you!
Mobile compatibility continues to be a huge deal in regards to this - it doesn't matter if your site quickly becomes interactive when you use desktop browsers if it takes forever to load on mobile devices.
Layout and ease of navigation (UX) are huge factors for Google. If your website is difficult to navigate, or if it doesn't offer a good user experience, you'll find yourself way down the search engine rankings.
This includes monitoring element shifts - this is important because having pages elements shift while a user is trying to interact with it is causes a poor user experience.
We've also noted some common mistakes that webmasters make when working on their sites - unnecessary features/widgets. These should be removed from all pages and posts where they hold no value (or even add dead weight).
3. Mobile usability
Mobile usability should be a top priority. Page speed is an important factor in mobile optimisation, which means that your website will need to load quickly on not just smartphones but also tablets and other gadgets with limited bandwidth. This can take some time or money upfront, but it could pay off in the long-run.
Mobile usability is one of Google's existing core web vitals, which means that a website needs to be mobile-optimised in order to rank well on Google's SERP. This includes using responsive design (if you're missing this basic requirement, you probably need a whole new site!) and making sure it loads quickly across devices with limited bandwidth like smartphones or tablets.
Mobile optimisation also includes consistency between different sites so that visitors don't get frustrated by having to change settings when they switch from desktop browsing to mobile use or vice versa.
As mobile usage soars to represent more than 50% of all Google traffic, it's crucial that both website owners and marketers are aware of the need to update websites in order for them to rank well on Google.
What is staying the same?
Some of the current ranking factors will remain:
- Mobile-friendliness: websites that perform well on mobile devices
- Safe browsing: websites that don't use deceptive practices or malware - little to no risk in web security that would allow hackers to exploit site visitors' data.
- HTTPS: websites that have an SSL certificate
- No intrusive interstitials: If the website doesn’t use pop-ups, or other types of content that block the webpage content that your visitor expects, or is looking for.
How to discover what you need to update on your website
Google Search Console will be your best friend for monitoring any issues you run into as a result of the core update. They’ve provided a whole report titled “Core Web Vitals”. Any issues on your site will be flagged on both your desktop and mobile site. They really couldn’t have made it easier for us!
Though you don’t need to be an experienced developer or SEO expert to identify any issues related to Core Web Vitals, you will need help from a professional to rectify any issues as much of these changes will be coding-related.
However, it’s important to note that even nailing all aspects of page experience will not guarantee rankings if you’re serving weak content; high-quality content still needs to be at the forefront of your SEO strategy.
The good news for site owners is Google has created an extensive report titled “Core Web Vitals” outlining what web vitals are necessary for your website if you want it to avoid being flagged by the core search algorithm update; these include responsive design, AMP pages, Schema markup, loading speed, mobile-friendliness, adequate link profile permalinks/permalink structure).
Need a hand getting core-web-vitals-ready?
The chances are your website needs an update in some way shape or form to perform in line with Google's core update.
As a full-stack marketing agency, we've got you covered from every angle. Whether that's a visual redesign, content audit and refresh or technical SEO implementation, we can help.
Drop us a line and let us know what you need - or better yet, get our free website and marketing review and we'll share some insights with you about where we can help.