Google confirms ‘page experience’ will affect ranking: What does this mean for search?

May 29th, 2020

Google has announced that, in 2021, it will make changes to its ranking algorithm by adding a combination of Core Web Vitals within their existing signals for page experience. These ranking changes won’t come into effect until next year and Google will provide at least 6 months’ notice before the update is fully rolled out. We analysed what this will mean for search and digital marketers

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness and visual stability,  based on three key factors:

1. Largest Contentful Paint 

Measures when the largest content element in the viewport becomes visible. It can be used to determine when the main content of the page has finished rendering on the screen. Sites should strive to have Largest Contentful Paint occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load. The types of elements considered for Largest Contentful Paint are:

  • <img> elements
  • <image> elements inside an <svg> element
  • <video> elements (the poster image is used)
  • An element with a background image loaded via the url() function (as opposed to a CSS gradient)
  • Block-level elements containing text nodes or other inline-level text elements children.

2. Cumulative Layout Shift 

Measures the sum total of all individual layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of the page. Which means if text moves on a page without warning or you are about to click on an element and the element moves that would be considered a bad CLS. Sites should strive to have a CLS score of less than 0.1.

Layout shift score = impact fraction * distance fraction:

  • The impact fraction measures how unstable elements impact the viewport area between two frames.
  • The distance fraction measures the distance that unstable elements have moved, relative to the viewport.

3. First Input Delay 

Measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction. Sites should strive to have a First Input Delay of less than 100 milliseconds.

Optimising for Web Core Vitals

To optimise for Web Core Vitals, there are a number of tools that can be used such as:

  • Google Search Console’s new Core Web Vitals tool – This will help identify groups of pages that require attention. 
  • Page Speed Insights can then be used to diagnose issues on a page.
  • Lighthouse and Chrome DevTools can then be used to measure Core Web Vitals and get actionable guidance on exactly what to fix. The Web Vital Chrome extension gives you a real-time view of metrics. 
  • There is a new CrUX dashboard created by Google that incorporates Web Core Vitals. 

What are page experience signals?

Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. The existing page experience signals are:

  • Mobile-Friendliness
  • Safe-browsing (ie, safe malware and no security issues)
  • HTTPS 
  • No intrusive interstitials


Optimising for page experience signals

The existing page experience signals can be measured by:

  • Using the Google Mobile Friendliness test
  • Using the Security Issues Report in GSC
  • Check that the site connection is secure (ie, HTTPS)
  • Ensure content is easily accessible and there are no intrusive interstitials affecting how easily content is accessed. 

How will Google Top Stories be impacted?

When the update is rolled out in 2021 Google Top Stories criteria will also include the Web Core Vitals and Page Experience Signals. This means that there will no longer be a requirement for AMP to feature in Google Top Stories. However AMP will still be supported by Google. Google has also stated that pages must still meet the Google News content policies to be eligible for Google Top Stories. Sites that currently use AMP shouldn’t experience any major changes, AMP pages will still be linked to from Google Top Stories. 

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