Google’s New Page Experience Signal for UX in 2021: Will It Have Teeth?

There’s a lot of potential for how AI and machine learning can improve our lives in the future, but what about now? Google is currently testing out new ways to tap into their user base through personalization. This will allow users to get more personalized results with less effort, as well as offer up higher quality content that they are actually looking for. The big question here is whether or not this strategy will have any teeth, since it may be too late if people don’t respond quickly enough.

The “page experience algorithm” is a new feature that Google has released in an effort to improve the user experience. The page experience algorithm will be able to tell if users are on a mobile device or not and what type of device they are using.

Google introduced the Page Experience signal in May of this year, which will be a new ranking component starting in 2021. It merges many sub-signals into a single bigger signal (some of which are currently utilized as ranking criteria).

Google also revealed that the new Page Experience signal will be a ranking factor for Top Stories on mobile, and that the AMP requirement would be abolished. As a result, the new signal has an effect on the 10-blue links and Top Stories (which is a big driver of traffic for many news publishers).

In terms of timeliness, Google said that it will give site owners six months’ notice before implementing the Page Experience signal, giving them enough time to prepare. Google said on November 10, 2020 that the Page Experience signal would be available in May 2021.

Object-Oriented Methodology

For the new signal, Google is using an Object-Oriented Methodology, which I think is brilliant. For example, each factor that is part of the new signal can be viewed as its own object. Each object will output a score, which will be combined to form the final Page Experience score.

Note: we don’t know the weight of each object, just that all signals will be part of the larger Page Experience signal. This approach makes it very easy to adjust scoring across the factors, add or refine factors, remove others, etc. It is extremely scalable. Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-WillIn this post, I am going to cover Google’s Object-Oriented Methodology to building the signal. I will cover the various factors involved, I will speculate about how powerful the signal will be, brainstorm some additional signals that could be added in the future, and cover what Googlers (including what some of the Chrome team) have said about the upcoming signal. Here is a breakdown: 

Google places a high value on user experience, which has expressed itself in the form of new ranking variables in recent years. For example, having mobile-friendly pages is crucial for people reading your material on mobile devices; sites should avoid utilizing mobile popups and interstitials, which may obstruct the user experience; having a secure site is vital to keep user information safe; and so on.

Google already takes some of these signals into consideration for ranking reasons, based on how they affect the user experience. That’s fantastic (when those criteria have teeth), but they’ve never been combined into a single signal. And that is precisely what the Page Experience signal is attempting to do.

I appreciate the concept and method, however the devil is in the details (like everything else in SEO). I’ll return to the signal’s potential potency in a moment.

I’m referring to the “objects,” which are the signals that are involved:

Let’s go through the different components of the new Page Experience signal before moving on. Some of them are already functioning independently, while others are brand new.

The new Page Experience signal is made up of five different signals. They are as follows:

  • The Essentials of the Internet (new)

    • The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is a metric that gauges how well a painting loads.

    • Interactivity is measured by the First Input Delay (FID).

    • The Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a visual stability metric.

  • Adaptable to mobile devices (currently running)

  • Browse with confidence (currently running, but impacts pages visually in Search)

  • HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP (currently running)

  • No invasive interstitials/mobile popup algorithm – (currently running) 

We don’t know how the sub-signals that make up the Page Experience signal are weighted, and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever find out.

Furthermore, Google has said that the Page Experience signal, as well as Core Web Vitals, would be updated on a yearly basis. As a result, new user experience signals might be introduced, withdrawn, or given various weights, among other things. Each year, new Core Web Vitals might be added or withdrawn. More on it later.

Despite the fact that the Page Experience signal will be refreshed once a year, we don’t know whether Google will be able to tweak the intensity of each sub-signal as it sees suitable. So, although large additions or deletions may occur once a year, the fine-tuning of the signal may occur throughout the year (if Google’s search experts deem it essential).

Also, some people assume that Core Web Vitals will be assessed in the same manner that Lighthouse does, but we don’t know for sure. The folks working on Core Web Vitals on the Chrome team are not the same as the search developers working on the ranking signal.

Here is the scoring of metrics for Lighthouse 6: 1636643166_972_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-WillYou will also notice that FID is not part of Lighthouse scoring. Phil Walton from Google’s Chrome team (who is working on Core Web Vitals) has explained that since it requires interactivity, it is not part of the metrics reported in Lighthouse. Instead, you can look at Total Blocking Time as a proxy for FID.

That is, Core Web Vitals is its own object that will cooperate with other objects to build up the bigger Page Experience signal.

You can learn more about the numerous sub-signals that make up the new Page Experience signal by visiting Google’s developer center and reading their blog article on the new signal.

I was able to attend a call with the Chrome team and several other Googlers to ask questions regarding the new signal after it was released on May 28, 2020. Aleyda Solis was also on the line at the time. We asked a lot of questions between the two of us.

On that conversation, one of the most important points we both emphasized was that the new signal MUST HAVE TEETH. If the signal isn’t sufficiently strong, it won’t be taken seriously. We highlighted that enhancing the user experience would be futile unless site owners went through some suffering as a result of a poor Page Experience score.

The Chrome team seems to grasp our concerns and said that they are attempting to strike the correct balance. They did say, though, that outstanding material would always triumph. Even if a page contains excellent content and is the most relevant for the visitor, it will still rank highly (even if the Page Experience scoring is low).

This is also true for branded searches. To put it another way, if a user searches for Starbucks, Google will not return Dunkin Donuts if Starbucks’ Page Experience score is low. That would obviously be absurd.

After attending the call with the Chrome team, I started a Twitter thread that highlights some of the most relevant topics from the conversation (click to view the whole thread):

A quick note: I recently participated in a roundtable discussion with various Google employees (including the Chrome team) on the upcoming Page Experience upgrade. This thread will discuss some of the things I learnt during the meeting: pic.twitter.com/tuUG7h17fD

May 28, 2020 — Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe)

Also, Google’s Gary Illyes joined in on a Reddit topic discussing Core Web Vitals earlier this week (and the Page Experience signal). Gary emphasized that Google strives to provide the user with the best quality and most relevant results. And Core Web Vitals have a little role in this.

He explained that you shouldn’t ignore Core Web Vitals, since the Page Experience signal will become a ranking factor soon, but they won’t become THE primary factor.1636643169_112_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-WillBeyond what the Chrome team and Gary said, it is important to remember that several of those signals that comprise the larger Page Experience signal are running right now. I have analyzed several of those signals heavily over time, and it is important to review their current strength if you want to estimate how powerful the new Page Experience signal could be.

Below, I’ll go through a few of those signals and what I discovered during my testing.

When the mobile popup algorithm was released in 2016, I was ecstatic (which can demote pages in the SERPs that employ mobile popups or interstitials). I compiled a long list of sites that use mobile popups in preparation for the launch. And as soon as the move went live, I began studying rankings for the sites on the list. I was curious as to how effective the algorithm was in demoting sites in mobile SERPs.

That investigation led to multiple blog postings in which I highlighted how flawed the algorithm was. And, to be honest, I don’t think anything has changed. I just dusted up the paper and retested some of those sites. Unfortunately, despite deploying mobile popups, they continue to score highly.

Here’s an example of a search for “top baseball podcasts.” The whole screen was covered with an overlay urging me to join up within seconds of accessing that page: Page experience example of mobile popup in SERPs Page experience mobile popup example

We know that HTTPS is more of a decider than anything else, apart from mobile popups. This has been explained several times by Google. Yes, site owners should have changed to HTTPS by now (on several levels), however the ranking influence is negligible.

On that point, Google’s John Mueller just released an outstanding video explaining HTTPS, which I strongly suggest you see. Starting at 8:59 in the video below, John discusses the modest ranking bump for https:

1636526363_333_What-Is-HTTPS-The-Definitive-Guide-to-How-HTTPS-Works

We are all aware that page speed has always been a minor ranking influence (as confirmed by Google several times and also based on what we have seen in the SERPs). Many prominent websites rank well while having incredibly sluggish pages.

With one of the most recent assertions from Google’s Martin Splitt in a mythbusting episode with Eric Enge covering page speed, the company has also revealed that is a lightweight ranking criteria. Martin and Eric discuss the minor ranking bump for speed in the video below, which begins around 3:00:

1636643179_407_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-Will

As a result, history suggests that the Page Experience signal may be modest as well. I truly hope it has fangs, but it would need the folks working on it amplifying the signals from each “thing” involved. I have no clue whether that will be the case, but I hope it isn’t just another little aspect that site owners, developers, and SEOs overlook.

In 2017, Google introduced Ad Experience Violations, which means that if you violate the Better Adverts Standards, Chrome will remove all ads from your site. Chrome was clearly playing a larger part in how Google guaranteed a positive user experience. To be clear, this was not a ranking factor (more on that later), but Chrome could penalize website owners who ran intrusive and aggressive advertisements by eliminating all of the adverts from the page.

Core Web Vitals, on the other hand, is based on actual data from real individuals when they visit your site.

Google doesn’t need to do lab experiments to figure out how visitors interact with your site and how performance affects the user experience. It may instead examine data collected directly from consumers (based on visiting sites from their own geographic region and via their own device). It’s tremendously powerful to be able to accomplish this since it eliminates the need for guesswork. This information is available in various locations, including the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX), Search Console’s Core Web Vitals reporting, and testing tools like Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights.

I fully anticipate Google to use Chrome to enrich the Page Experience signal over time now that they have access to this data. Although we know that both Core Web Vitals and the Page Experience signal will be refreshed once a year, Chrome is more than simply speed measurements. Chrome can detect a variety of characteristics that have an influence on the user experience. That’s an excellent lead-in to the following part, which discusses potential additions.

Because I don’t work for Google, I can’t tell for sure what will be included. That said, I thought it would be amusing to list a few of the signals that are now accessible to Google and might eventually be included into the bigger Page Experience signal. Again, this is just supposition on my part, but it’s a great exercise to do.

As I previously said, Chrome began blocking advertisements from sites that use aggressive or obtrusive ads in February of 2018. The Better Ads Standards describe the forms that might result in a violation. Chrome will reject all advertising from a website if it detects a violation. I made an article with instances of this occurring, and over time, I’ve tweeted numerous examples. Filtering, on the other hand, only affects the worst of the worst ad experiences. The majority of sites will not be in breach of the rules.

However, if Google were to include this “object” in the Page Experience signal, that would be intriguing. Because such forceful and invasive advertising have such a detrimental influence on the user experience, they would theoretically fall under the Page Experience signal.

Here’s an example of a site where advertising are being blocked because of a violation:Page experience Ads blocked example

Google added safeguards in Chrome in 2017 to detect and counteract harmful situations.

For instance, websites that unexpectedly reroute visitors, offering links to third-party sites disguised as play buttons or user interface components, providing transparent overlays that collect clicks, and so on. When Chrome identifies certain abusive experiences, it will prevent them from occurring and report them in the Google Search Console’s Abusive Experiences report.

This signal, similar to Ad Experience violations, might find its way into the Page Experience signal. Users find abusive encounters that end in a violation incredibly irritating and aggravating, therefore this doesn’t surprise me. 

Google abusive experiences example

Chrome said in May 2020 that it wants to solve advertising that eat a significant amount of device resources without the user being aware of it (since it can impact things like battery life and network data). Chrome will restrict the amount of resources an ad may consume and may even delete the ad if it reaches the limit.

Only.3% of advertising meet the criterion, according to Google’s blog post, thus not many ads will be affected. However, it seems that this is the sort of signal that may be included into the bigger Page Experience signal. Because of the high volume of adverts, it has a direct influence on the user experience. 1636643188_889_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-Will

Chrome has also taken action against websites that use aggressive notifications. Sites that make abusive permission requests or notifications will be enrolled in the quiet notifications API starting in July, and users will be notified when they visit those sites.

This is another sub-signal that might be added to the Page Experience signal in the future since it affects the user experience. Again, this is just conjecture, but I envision the Page Experience signal expanding in breadth over time (and hopefully in power). 

1636643191_736_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-Will

GIF

Unfortunately, most websites fail horribly in terms of accessibility. It may be a genuinely horrible experience for those who use screen-readers to visit websites. You may find out for yourself by using a screen reader and browsing the internet.

As a result, if Google wants to make a difference in the accessibility of websites, it might include accessibility in the Page Experience signal. Adding an accessibility signal, like mobile-friendly and https, might significantly accelerate progress in that area. Change would undoubtedly occur as a result of the increase in awareness.

To be honest, I don’t think this is going to happen, but it would be a fun and useful addition. Many people have questioned Google whether accessibility is a ranking consideration, and the answer is that it isn’t at this moment. However, it’s possible that it will be in the future (even if it’s just a minor portion of the overall Page Experience signal).

Recently, Google’s John Mueller responded to the question:

I won’t say never, but I’m not aware of any immediate plans. In general though, when sites are hard to use, people steer away from them anyway, so over time things like recommendations & other signals tend to drop away, resulting in the site being less visible in search too.

April 4, 2020 — John (@JohnMu)

Finally, a word regarding Chrome’s engagement in UX. Addy Osami, a Chrome engineering manager, shared further details regarding the future “Fast page” badge, which will be available in Chrome for Android. When you long-press a link, a “Fast page” label appears for URLs that perform well in terms of Core Web Vitals (or based on pages similar to that page).

Here is what the label looks like: 1636643194_45_Googles-New-Page-Experience-Signal-for-UX-in-2021-WillAddy explained that they will be testing other Chrome UI changes to transparently communicate the page experience to users. That got me thinking — could Chrome add a “User-friendly” label that encompasses more signals than just speed? And could those badges or labels end up elsewhere in Chrome (like more visible areas than just when someone long-presses a link)?

It’s difficult to tell, but it’s simply another method for Google and Chrome to emphasize the significance of a good user experience. Keep an eye on this as time goes on.

We will find out soon. It is great to see Google create a new Page Experience signal using a brilliant Object-Oriented Methodology. I think it is smart, flexible, and scalable. That said, in my opinion, the signal must have teeth in order for it to be taken seriously by site owners, developers, and SEOs. If not, it can fall by the wayside.

Google has said that it would provide six months’ notice before implementing the new signal, and we recently got notification on November 10, 2020, that the Page Experience signal will be implemented in May 2021. As a result, site owners have more time to focus on the Page Experience signal’s sub-signals. I simply hope their efforts pay off in terms of rankings. May 2021 is coming swiftly, so we’ll know soon enough!

Google has announced that it will be updating its algorithm in 2021. The update is expected to have a significant impact on the way Google ranks websites, making them more user-friendly and improving their UX. Reference: google algorithm update 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Googles page experience update?

A: Google page experience is a web design feature that was created to help provide users with more responsive and customizable experiences when they visit your website. Its been integrated into the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera and Safari browsers.

Is page experience a ranking factor?

A: No, page experience is not a ranking factor.

How is Google page experience calculated?

A: Google page experience is the number of unique users who visited your website. It does not include visits from bots, such as search engine crawlers or social media robots

Related Tags

  • evaluating page experience for a better web
  • google page experience test
  • how to improve page experience
  • your site has no urls with a good page experience
  • page experience update

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.