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Getting Ready for May 2021: Understanding Google’s Algorithm Update

Last May, Google announced an initiative to improve user experience online. It’s a Google algorithm update called Page Experience, and it’s set to roll out in May 2021.

Three months remain before everyone’s favorite internet behemoth delivers the update.

Our advice is to use these three months to prepare for the Page Experience update. It’ll affect your rankings in Google, and depending on how well your site is optimized, the change could be incredibly good or terribly bad for your business.

Keep reading to learn more about what’s included in the update and how you can be prepared.

Page Experience = Core Web Vitals + Existing Metrics

Before we dive into the Page Experience update, we need to talk about its partner, Core Web Vitals. Web Vitals are sets of metrics that website developers analyze to improve the functionality and user-friendliness of their site.

If you’re wondering why they’re important, think about it like this: are you likely to stay on a website that takes two minutes to load? Will you stay on a page that doesn’t respond to your clicks? Probably not, and Google knows that.

As the world’s largest and most popular search engine, Google wants to provide users with the most relevant, well-optimized sites. That’s because you’re more likely to interact with a well-functioning website. Thus, Google rewards user-friendly sites by improving their rankings and penalizes badly-functioning sites by placing them lower in results.

Part 1: Core Web Vitals

First task: access the Vitals. You can find this data in the “Enhancements” section of your Google Search Console account on the left side of the page. Click on it and you can access desktop and mobile reports. Simple.

Now let’s take a closer look at the things Web Vitals measures:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Measures the loading time of the largest content on a page. A fast LCP (2.5 seconds or below) shows users that the page is relevant, useful, and healthy.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – Measures the time from a user’s first interaction with a page (clicking a link, tapping a button, etc.) to when the browser actually processes and responds to the interaction. A well-designed page should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – A layout shift occurs when a visual element, such as a sign-up form or a link, changes its position on the page and “shifts” up or down. The CLS metric measures the total number of unexpected layout shifts that occur on a page. A good CLS score is less than 0.1.

LCP, FID, and CLS are what we might call “behind the scenes” metrics, but they play an enormous role in determining the value and health of individual pages and websites alike.

Core Web Vitals will roll out alongside the Page Experience update in May. Now that we have a third of the equation down, let’s move on to the next part of the formula – existing metrics.

Part 2: Existing Metrics

Like other large corporations, Google is into recycling – their own algorithms, that is. But hey, stick with what you know, right? It’s gotten them by this far.

Google’s May update features several existing metrics for determining quality pages and better user experience:

  • Mobile-friendliness – Google introduced their mobile-friendly update in April 2015. Many SEO professionals were apprehensive about the update, dubbing it “Mobilegeddon” and worrying over rankings. These fears were mostly unfounded, as developers made the changes they needed to and saw rankings affected accordingly, just as Google said they would.

Pages that were quick to load and easy to read experienced higher rankings while their lagging, clustered counterparts sank lower and lower in results.

Mobile-friendliness is crucial for a healthy site; to Google, a mobile-friendly website is a user-friendly website, and that’s huge for rankings.

  • Browsing safety – Google’s Safe Browsing software helps developers fix website security issues and protects users’ personal information from malware and other malicious online threats.

Safe Browsing detects and helps eliminate threats like malware, deceptive pages, harmful
downloads, and uncommon downloads.

  • HTTPS security – Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an internet communication protocol that protects user data. All data sent via HTTPS is authentic, encrypted, and safe from modification.

In 2018, Google began penalizing sites with unencrypted connections, labeling them “not secure” in the URL bar. Generally, users are more likely to trust and interact with HTTPS sites, so you must adopt this encryption for your website.

  • Intrusive interstitial compliance – An “intrusive interstitial” is essentially a popup ad. It’s something that comes between the user and the page they clicked on, which can be really annoying on phones where there just isn’t as much space for ads as on computers.

Penalized interstitials include regular popup ads, full-screen interstitials that sit above a
website’s header, and full-screen modal windows that block the content on a page.

Those four elements – mobile-friendliness, browsing safety, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitial compliance – will continue to affect website rankings alongside the latest Google algorithm update.

To avoid confusion with all these updates and features, think about it this way: Core Web Vitals + existing page experience metrics = Page Experience update.

Alright, now that we’ve answered the what, it’s time to move on to why.

Why You Should Care About Page Experience

Here’s something we’ve learned over the years – you should never underestimate the power of a Google algorithm update. If you do, you’re pretty much guaranteed to drop in rankings. And since rankings = traffic = business, it’s a good idea to take this update seriously and plan for its arrival.

Still not convinced? Here are some reasons why the Page Experience update matters:

Page Experience will be a deciding ranking factor between similar pages.

This means that Google will rank Page A higher than its identical twin, Page B, if Page A follows the update with existing metrics and Page B doesn’t.

If you’re one of 500 personal injury lawyers in Chicago, there could be 499 with nearly identical pages to yours. You’ve got to make your site stand out, and the Page Experience update can help you do just that.

You’d better start optimizing if you want to rank higher than your competitors.

Pages that fall behind or fail to comply with these metrics will drop in rankings.

Google’s goal is to put the most relevant, high-quality content in front of users. If your site doesn’t follow the parameters Google has clearly laid out, they’ll assume your content isn’t helpful or relevant.

Google could drop you in rankings, which means less exposure for your business and fewer clientele coming to you.

This update will ride the wave of user-focused SEO, helping you in the future.

Just four years ago, many people considered it a revolutionary idea that user experience could be a driving force of SEO. Optimization wasn’t just keywords anymore; suddenly, SEO professionals had to consider the user.

Fast forward to 2021 and we’re seeing this trend continue. Who knows what the UX-SEO relationship will look like in five years, but Google has made it clear that for now, as well as in the foreseeable future, user experience will become a stronger and stronger ranking factor. So it’s best to get started now and avoid being left in the dust.

Page Experience Prep: Get Ready for the Google Algorithm Update

If you think the best update preparation method is to “let Google do their thing,” you’re in for a big surprise. You need to take this update seriously if you want your firm to rank higher and beat your competitors.

After all, you should never underestimate the power of a Google algorithm update. But you also don’t have to be afraid or paranoid. Here are three simple tips you can follow to get your site on the right track:

  1. Perform a site-wide audit to know exactly where you can improve. Look at your site’s page speeds, HTTPS security, and Core Vitals, which Google explains more about on their Core Web Vitals Report page. For a free, in-depth report, contact EverSpark – we’ll show you how your site is performing and identify the best areas for improvement.
  2. Fix any issues with existing metrics. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, make sure it is before May 2021. If you need to get an HTTPS certificate, do it sooner rather than later. EverSpark can fix existing metrics and get your site in front of Google. Sign up for a consultation today to learn more.
  3. Start planning fixes for ranking factors that will come out in the Page Experience update. These include Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). If your site has issues with those, you’ll be affected by the update. Plan to fix those as soon as possible with the help of a law firm SEO company like EverSpark.

SEO for Law Firms

Google reportedly updates its algorithm more than 3,000 times a year. Understandably, someone would look at that statistic and assume the Page Experience update really won’t matter.

That’s a dangerous fallacy.

Not only does Page Experience matter, but it could cost you valuable traffic and put you at the bottom of rankings if you’re not ready for it. Luckily, SEO professionals at EverSpark have anticipated this update since Google made the announcement last May.

We know what Google is looking for, we understand the metrics, and we have the tools to make sure your website stays optimized and competitive. Google’s algorithm update will happen whether you’re ready for it or not, so be proactive and start optimizing today.

Contact EverSpark for more information and to arrange your free site analysis.