Search signals for page experience

Scott Tehrani,

Users already highly value page experience when it comes to browsing the web, from how quickly a site loads to ease of use and the level of interactivity. As part of a new update, Google is now also taking the value of page experience and using it as a search metric, with the aim to deliver better web experiences for users.

Brands will need to focus on delivering the best experiences for their site visitors across all platforms, matching the high expectations for design, interactivity, and stability. The new Core Web Vitals will measure the user experience in these terms, including everything from load times to content stability, so having a button shift position mid-load will lead to hit in your rankings. 

This new update is particularly important in the age of mobile supremacy, where Google operates a mobile-first algorithm, and users have high expectations for their mobile experiences. We’ve been chatting to the specialists from across our agency to find out more about how we can respond to these new and demanding metrics.  

Here’s what Scott Tehrani, our Director of Acquisition, has to say:

Google’s use of user metrics to validate the output of their algorithm, the SERPs, dates back to the early 00s and the now defunct Google Toolbar, which anonymously tracked SERP and page browsing. Now, with Chrome being the browser of choice for many, they have access to far more data points to track browsing behaviour (see Chrome User Experience Report) and real-world page satisfaction rates i.e. was the result relevant, did it satisfy the intent behind the user query or did the user return. 

This behaviour is known as pogosticking and has been mooted in the SEO community for over a decade, since the early Panda algorithms and later ratified in Google’s ‘Query Augmentation’ patent filed back in 2015, which further explores the notion of ‘long click vs short click’.  

Long click (positive signal) is explained as: 

“A long click occurs when a user, after clicking on a search result, dwells on the landing page of the search result (i.e. the document to which the search result links) or clicks on additional links that are present on the landing page.”

And conversely a short click (negative signal) as:

“A click-through reversion (also known as a "short click") occurs when a user, after clicking on a search result and being provided the referenced document, quickly returns to the search results page from the referenced document. A click-through reversion can be interpreted as a signal that the query did not identify information that the user deemed to be interesting, as the user quickly returned to the search results page." 

The patent goes on to introduce the concept called ‘overall performance score’:

“These example implicit signals can be aggregated for each query, such as by collecting statistics for multiple instances of use of the query in search operations, and can further be used to compute an overall performance score. For example, a query having a high CTR, many long clicks, and few click-through reversions would likely have a high performance score; conversely, a query having a low CTR, few long clicks, and many click-through reversions would likely have a low performance score.

Given the context of these patents it is easy to see how the new Page Experience score could be used as a precursor to evaluating a page’s Performance Score. Page Experience is essentially a series of speed, security, and mobile signals that, together with content and a compelling snippet, influence the likelihood that a user will click and stay on a page/website i.e. a long click. 

That said, core ranking principles will remain omnipresent - technical integrity, content quality and authority which have been around since the dawn of Google. However, it is easy to see with the depth and complexity of these signals in 2020, that it is becoming harder to distinguish between quality sites that tick a lot of the boxes. For example, is it right for a website to outrank another if it has a handful of links more than a competitor, which might have a faster, more engaging site? A user only cares about the latter. 

To this effect, in competitive verticals, good SEO will become more of a ‘hygiene factor’ for top positions, with Page Experience being the key performance differentiator. 

A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.

At 26, we have always gone beyond a ranking; alongside other specialist teams, we aim to create an optimised end-to-end search experience from the SERP snippet and landing page alignment to next best action and ultimately, to conversion and advocacy - creating a cyclical and memorable user experience that grows clients’ organic revenue contribution over the long-term. 

It has taken Google decades to build the infrastructure to collect, analyse and predict this behaviour. For years they have being hesitant incorporating click throughs and user metrics into their core algorithms for the fear that they can spoofed by bots.

Now that the solution seems to be in place, with more data and enhanced machine learning, Page Experience is here to stay and will evolve to become a larger part of the ranking algorithm over the next decade. 

Richard Jones (CSO) and Mike Stead (UX Architect) added:

One of the most important changes Google is introducing here is the way your website needs to be developed. When we think about the ‘user experience’ of a site, we immediately turn the responsibility over to the UX and design team. Makes sense, right? 

However, in Google’s case, page experience signals fall under multiple specialisms like design, SEO and development. This means that teams start to cross pollinate now more than ever; SEO teams start to align much more closely with UX, and UX with the development teams. Google is challenging how we perceive ‘user experience’ by moving the goal posts forward. Page experience has expanded the remit of a user experience designers’ role, in a very positive, collaborative way that has already been a core part of the delivery process for years at 26. 

This being said, it is extremely important to remember that these vitals do not mean content takes a back seat. Relevant, engaging content related to a search will still rank very well even, if in theory, it has a poor page experience signal. 

Google has stated that the Web Vitals act as a tie-breaker to sites who both have excellent content and the one with a better overall page experience signal will rank higher. Useful content, persuasive language, trust signals and all the rest of the core user experience elements are still as powerful as ever, but start to consider how you can make the most of these changes in your UX strategy going forward. 

While these changes aren’t being rolled out immediately, it is worth building your UX strategy (particularly for enterprise level sites) to align with these Core Vitals. Planning ahead and understanding how these metrics work could yield massive benefits for your site if caught now, where you have time to plan either a new site or changes to your existing code base to make the most of your page experience. 

Check the web vitals of your site

While Google have added a nifty little tool to check the Web Vitals of your site, understanding how your content, language, touchpoints and core journeys through the site and how these affect your overall Web Vitals strategy is going to be key to maintaining a successful web presence above your competitors. 

If you’d like a hand in navigating all this, please get in touch.

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