Google’s launching their major ‘Page Experience’ algorithm change in 2021. You need to be ready for it or your site rankings may plummet.
What’s In This Episode?
- Why this is a BIG deal! (0:50)
- Core Web Vitals: what can you do? (6:30)
- Website Security: what can you do?(11:30)
- User Experience: what can you do? (17:25)
Today we’re talking about Google’s upcoming algorithm change that might wipe your site from search results, and what you can do to best prepare for it.
Welcome to Creative Juices, the show where we help you feel personally confident about your online presence.
I’m your host Josh and today I am joined by Julz and Em.
Em: Hey Josh!
Julz: Hey Josh!
Josh: How are you guys?
Josh: So today we’re going to be talking about a crazy upcoming change in 2021. Google announced at the start of 2020 that they were going to roll out this massive algorithm change, but because of Covid they delayed it. Now we are on the cusp of them implementing it. And this is a big deal, right?
Em: Yeah! It’s a huge deal!!
Josh: So why is this such a massive deal?
Em: Well, obviously we know that Google’s always updating their algorithm. Even daily, there’s minor tweaks and changes happening. But this is a major algorithm update and even the fact that Google has given us pre-warning that they’re doing it, I mean that’s huge! They don’t normally do that. But we also know from past algorithm updates, you remember Bert and Penguin, these major ones can have some serious consequences if websites are not catered towards them.
So we know from past experience that these big updates can even potentially wipe websites from search results.
Julz: It totally did!! I remember like when they… when they went down and crawling these… because we saw the traffic going up and down on a number of our websites and generally that’s a sign that, you know, there’s some big things shaking up in this… in the Google world. And as I was trolling through these forums people were just at the ends of themselves, because they have lost everything…
Julz: …in the flick of a switch for Google.
Josh: So in 2012 they implemented Penguin which dealt with a lot of keyword stuffing. And what happened is hundreds of sites got blacklisted, and then the most recent one which is Bert was 2018. Particularly for healthcare we saw multiple websites um just totally de-rank! And like you were just telling me in this example before Julz, of like health websites that are like oh these… if you work with these chakras then you’ll find total healing.
Julz: My crystals will heal your cancer! Stuff like that!
Julz: You know, it’s just so bogus and Google was just like nah, you’re out!
Josh: Yeah. So they cracked down on it!
Julz: So we should stipulate that there are legitimate health… you know practices, that go on and Google does recommend those and so it’s just the dodgy stuff.
Josh: Yeah. And so, one of Google’s goals over the last year or two is to start to deal with a bit of fake news. And so there’s a whole load of misdirection and misinformation out there and Google started to crack down on it and that algorithm change left hundreds of businesses without a website that was ranking! Like they still had a website, but it just wasn’t showing up on any search results.
Julz & Em: Yeah.
Josh: And so this is why we’re saying that you need to be prepared for this next upcoming change. I mean don’t worry now. Your website traffic hasn’t been changed now, but Google’s new algorithm which has everything to do with what they call ‘page experience’ will be implemented early in 2021. In fact, this is what they said. They say
“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”
What does that sound like to you Julz?
Julz: That sounds like everything we’ve been banging on about for the last two years!
Basically Google is now officially taking this very seriously on user experience, particularly with mobile. So any site that’s not up to scratch, you’re now officially going to be left behind!
Josh: Absolutely!! Google’s goal is to try and rank websites that users actually love.
Josh: And so this change is massive in terms of like Google but it’s also massive in terms of your approach to SEO, to website building, to everything really! I mean like Em, you talk about this all the time that SEO is… yes, it’s more than just content, right?
Em: Yeah. Absolutely! And this is a major… I guess, push in that direction that we’re talking about more than just content. We’re talking about how people experience your website and if that’s a great experience for them, or if it’s clunky, or hard, or whatever that looks like, that’s basically what this whole algorithm update is about.
Josh: I mean there’s over 200 ranking factors for websites. And so what do you think? What kind of websites do you think Google would want to rank? A website with great backlinks or a website with perfect code? Kind of not so much in where they’re heading.
Google wants to rank sites that users love the most. And so while all these little things may be important, there are greater weighted metrics that we need to focus on. And so the big focus that Google is heading towards is user experience.
But more immediately talking about this next change, we are going to chat a little bit about what are some little practical things that you can do as a business owner or perhaps as the website owner to prepare for this algorithm update. And of course this isn’t a silver bullet answer. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet answer online, but these may be a few things that you can focus on.
Now the first major thing with this page experience algorithm, what is it Julz?
Julz: It would be the core web vitals.
Josh: Yeah. So we’ve spoken about this in the past right?
Julz: We have. We did a previous podcast on it, and it was… it was a great one. Go check it out!
Josh: Yeah! So go check it out. We’re not going to be talking a lot about it, but the technical metrics of this is… they’re ranking your site for the largest contentful paint, the first input delay and the cumulative layout shift. Can you translate those?
Julz: That all sounds pretty hectic! So in layman’s terms, that would be page speed load, things like speed until the user can actually interact or click a button or scroll.
Julz: And visual stability. So, you know, making sure that elements on the page aren’t jumping around and… you know, throwing the user off.
Josh: Yeah. So a great example of that one is, I was on a site the other day. I went to purchase a product and I chose the wrong product, so I wanted to cancel the order and I was a little bit quicker than the website. So, I went to click cancel and then this little pop-up box appeared above the product which pushed the whole element down, and then it forced me to press buy now, instead of go back.
Em: I mean that actually could be really great!
Josh: Great for them. Frustrating for me!!
So Google is going to be looking at all of these things and ranking them. So practically, what are some tools that we can use to kind of measure these things?
Julz: So practically, there’s one tool in particular called Google’s Lighthouse Test. This one is brutal I have to say. It’s probably one of the hardest tests that I’ve ever had to try to overcome with our development, and there’s also Search Console as well.
Josh: Yeah. So, in both of these tests or in both of these platforms, it kind of gives you some ranking for these metrics, right?
Julz: Yes. Exactly!
Josh: Yeah. So let’s talk about page speed load, speed until a user can interact, and visual stability. What are some things, practically, that the listeners can fix on their site before 2021?
Julz: Depends on how technically savvy you are I suppose. There’s all sorts of things like image optimization… you know, reducing the size of your images is probably the biggest one actually. We came across this actually just yesterday. Someone who was trying to upload a website, an image to their blog that was bigger than two megabytes, and I was like no. That’s… you just can’t have that. I mean, you know, if you get tons of users to your site trying to visit that page then you know, images is just a big one. And it’s one that people don’t… I’m guilty of this especially back in my early web design days of uploading images that were too big. So that’s definitely number one.
Josh: It’s easy because you go on Unsplash or Shutterstock and they always give you an HD image.
Josh: So you just want to upload that, right?
Julz: Just download, upload, right?
Josh: No!! Resize!!
Julz: If you’re not down with that kind of lingo, or that tech savvy, then definitely get a developer who is…
Julz: …and chat to them about this. Just mention core web vitals.
Josh: One of the other major things we see with particularly people who may have managed the site by themselves, or they’re going with a low-cost solution for websites is third-party scripts and plug-ins as well.
Josh: Yeah. And some of these are legit, right?
Julz: Yeah, yeah. Something you can’t escape from YouTube and you know, like Facebook…
Josh: Facebook analytics even.
Julz: …things like that. Yeah. And also like dodgy web hosts. Things like Go Daddy, Crazy Domains. They’re just horrible!
Julz: Appeal to the masses but they’re technically not sound.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely! So the solution is to look into better hosting, because better hosting equals faster loading. The other thing is that audit the plugins and things that you currently have installed on your site.
A great example is Google Analytics and Facebook and all of these extra scripts that you’ve installed, you can install them all via Google Tag Manager. And so that’s one way to reduce the masses of scripts. And the other thing is, is in particular look at your chat. I mean, we’ve done a whole podcast on this one, but we’ve found some chat plugins can slow down your site by up to like 10 seconds.
Julz: Yeah, for sure! We saw it last week.
Josh: Yeah. And so, if you slow down your site by 10 seconds, you’re not going to rank well for these core web vitals. And so that’s kind of some practical tips for the major one, which is the core web vitals, and then that’s where we move on to website security.
Website security. And so this is about safe browsing and https.
Julz: Yeah. I know that we’ve mentioned this previously as well, but again, I think that they are cracking down on that even further, particularly with user data and… you know, things like that. I know that with Covid that the increase of attacks and hacks has increased exponentially, and so insecure websites are just being compromised.
Julz: Google doesn’t want to send people that way, you know. Why would they want to do that? It’s going to compromise that user experience of what we’re coming back to.
Josh: So if we’re talking about safe browsing, it’s like we want to avoid like malicious kind of things. How can we avoid that?
Julz: If you’re using like us, like WordPress and things like that, then you know, anti-spam filters, spam comment filters because that’s one of the easiest ways to inject malicious code and things like that. Your login portal, is it easy to access? Your login data?
Julz: If you haven’t changed your password for a while it could be time to do that, even your username for your login portals and things like that.
Josh: Absolutely! And so one of the… one of the more alarming things that we came across while researching this is that… this is directly from Google… they say that the page must not contain malicious, which of course is malware and all that kind of stuff, but doesn’t contain malicious or deceptive content. And so this is… it kind of is hinting towards where Google’s heading.
Josh: Like we mentioned, the Bert update was locking… was coming down on people who are saying like oh if you do this it’ll cure cancer. And it’s like well, that’s kind of fake news, but they’re locking down more on deceptive content.
So Em, can you tell us a little bit about that kind of content? What do they mean by deceptive content?
Em: Yeah. So I guess we deal with a lot of healthcare clinic websites and deceptive content can be as simple as making out that your service can cure someone, or you know, something like that for example. If you are an exercise physiologist who works with cancer patients then you just need to be really careful in how you phrase things. So for example, you can’t say that one of your services is for cancer patients, but maybe you can phrase it like we help people who are going through cancer manage their symptoms. So we just need to be really clear that we’re not trying to cure…
Julz: Make those big claims…
Em: Yeah or make those big claims, but make it really clear that what your service does, helps manage the symptoms, or will help with more energy while they’re going through treatment. So that’s one example that people can do in terms of that.
Josh: Yeah. Now this kind of content, if you have that kind of content on your website, you don’t have to worry at the moment. You’re not going to get immediately de-ranked because of this, but this is the way that Google is heading.
For Australia for example, we have APRA which oversees a lot of the allied health and clinics and they have all these rules that line up with this, that it can’t be deceptive. You can’t claim things that aren’t science-backed. The other thing is you can’t claim that exercise will cure anxiety or any mental illnesses.
Now like I mentioned, like Google is kind of heading towards that way as well, and so we need to be careful about that content to make sure that it’s not misleading or deceptive.
Em: Yeah, I know that the Osteopaths in Australia have definitely had a bit of a crackdown on that one recently, so they’ll definitely know what we’re talking about in terms of your phrasing and your content on your website too.
Josh: Absolutely! So website security, make sure you get an SSL certificate. You should get that from your hosting. The other thing is that you can run a security check through a company called Securi. You can also check on your search console to see if there’s any… like errors there for a lot of this.
The other thing is, you want to limit the amount of plugins and iframes and external scripts all throughout your website. And this is why we always recommend ongoing site care.
Julz: Yeah, for sure! I mean, we came across that just a couple of weeks ago with someone that came across our desk, and they didn’t want to update their site. It was a five years out of date and this is the sort of… and I knew that there was a plug-in on that site that was compromised.
Julz: And you know, for whatever reason they didn’t want to do it! So too bad. So sad. We just can’t work with that, because I mean… you know, that’s…
Julz: It’s got to be the best. If it’s not going to work then it’s a poor reflection on your business and your website.
Josh: Absolutely, and that’s why websites are always updating, because hackers are always getting smarter!
Julz: Yeah, and that’s why we have care plans. And our clients get reports every month about how much we’ve updated, because they always happen like this.
Johs: Absolutely! So we’ve covered… out of this new algorithm page experience, we’ve covered the core web vitals, the safe browsing and https, and then we get to our favourite little pillar of this, and what is that?
Julz: Ahh! User experience!
Josh: User experience.
Julz: Oh! I feel like about this so much!!
Josh: It is the majority of what we do. It’s a pillar, one of our four pillars and the metrics that come under user experience is no intrusive interstitials….
Josh: Interstitials… mobile friendly and dwell time. So can someone translate those?
Em: So intrusive interstitials… so basically pop-ups. So you know how you go to a website and straight away there’s a huge pop-up that covers the whole screen and it doesn’t line up with what you’re trying to look at…
Julz: So Annoying!!!
Em: …and that’s frustrating, right? So that’s something to take into consideration with user experience that Google is cracking down on.
If you have intrusive pop-ups on your site, that might be something that you need to look at. Is it necessary? How can I make this not so intrusive? Maybe you can put a notice on the page itself or maybe more of a banner style. That’s something you can do to help that.
Josh: And that’s something that you also need to look at, your goals as well. So like Em we were just talking about before, that your blog, when you scroll down to the bottom of a blog a pop-up pops up to say hey, follow me on Instagram for more access to all of this. And while we go well, Google doesn’t really like it, the other thing you need to take into consideration is well, that pop-up worked for you, right?
Em: Yeah! Pop-ups work like crazy!
Josh: So if it leads to conversions, I guess it’s a good thing.
Josh: But maybe look at a ways that you can make it less intrusive.
Em: Yeah. I think it’s about weighing up the value. So for me, pop-ups are valuable. They help for my platform and they also don’t pop up straight away. They pop up after about 10 seconds. So if someone’s still on the page by then, then they might be interested in following me over on Instagram for example. But if it’s not such an important thing like you said, you can just try and create it in a different way if it’s not going to lead towards conversions. If it’s just a notice or something, then maybe it can be better placed somewhere else on the site.
Josh: Well, the other thing is you’ve also put so much effort into all 199 other metrics that help you rank.
Em: Yeah. Exactly so…
Julz: Yeah, and we know at that site that there’s a high dwell time. So there’s a high percentage of people that are engaged with the content longer than the pop-up. So that’s saying to Google straight up, that this is a valuable website. Maybe we’ll overlook that.
Em: It’s all a balance really. Like these are all factors, so it’s not like you have to get 100 of these and tick all the boxes to rank. Like it’s really… it’s an algorithm. It’s complex, so it’s really trying to make the best out of each of these points and factors and trying to improve each one.
Josh: So the intrusive interstitials is mostly pop-ups. You can have banners and cookies of course, but we just spoke about that. The next one is mobile friendly.
Julz: Yeah, for sure! I mean it’s a no-brainer now like the day and age that we live in, everybody’s on mobile!
Julz: And so Google knows that. They’re simply just changing their algorithm to suit that, to suit the user. It’s all about what people are doing and how they’re viewing on the web and gearing everything toward that. So if your theme, and surprisingly there are so many websites out there that are still so not mobile friendly. It’s shocking!
Julz: It’s shocking actually.
Josh: Well, to read that Google quote again from the very beginning about this whole page experience, they said
“Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”
So all about mobile!
Julz: And then back to that Lighthouse test. One of their things is best practices. And so that’s what they’re looking into, is the site using the best practices possible for user experience!
Josh: Now the issue here is that most web developers and even the drag and drop builders like Squarespace and Wix, you build them on a desktop.
Josh: You sit there on your computer, you drag them in and you build it on desktop.
Josh: But Google is saying hey, you need to prioritize mobile first.
Julz: Yeah! Absolutely!
Josh: If it doesn’t work on mobile, it’s not going to work anywhere else no matter how beautiful it looks on desktop.
So that’s mobile friendly. And then the next one you mentioned, that’s dwell time.
Julz: Yeah, dwell time. So we want to keep people on your site as long as possible. So I mean, that goes into how engaging are you, really. So it crosses over less of a metric, more about a strategy. If your content is no good and not engaging, people aren’t going to stick around and hang out on that thing. Or if they don’t have an easy next step, you know, to take, if they can’t bounce through your website easily then it’s doing damage.
Em: I think it comes back to that point about not being deceiving, too, like not having those ‘click-baity’ headings. So if people click to your site from Google and what they see doesn’t line up with what they thought they were clicking on, then they’re going to be out of there pretty quick. So it’s about drawing the user in to spend more time on your site, by making sure your pages are like consistent with what you’re saying they’re about, having a consistent design so if they click through to another page and it’s completely different, they don’t get turned off and think oh what’s happened. All of those things can help with dwell time.
Josh: Absolutely! So you’re kind of the content queen! What are some tools that you use to help create content and copy and stuff that people dwell on?
Em: Yeah. I um… well I guess a few tips could be to make sure that you’re linking your internal pages. So for example, if you have a page of content, and then you know that if someone’s reading one page then they might be interested in moving on to the next page, linking that in. Getting to the bottom of the page and having a next step for the user. So is that a call-to-action? Is that a sign up? Is that a book online? Keeping them on your site that way, and then just having engaging content, which I think comes back to how you write. So thinking about your audience is key, and thinking about what sort of language will I use to draw them in? Am I going to be using jargony words that they can’t understand and they’re just going to lose interest or am I going to speak to them as if I’m having a conversation with them and just using common language that they can easily understand.
Josh: Absolutely! And all those things you’re just mentioning is you don’t want to drive people to a dead end.
Josh: You want to lead people places. And so, on your Google Analytics you can actually see are people exiting this, the exit rate on particular pages. You can drill down to see each page’s exit rate as well as the journey of the user. And then, you can just go okay, well this content’s obviously resonating let’s do more like that.
Em: And on those exit pages, take another look at them and see what’s missing. Is it that next step, is it an internal link, or what can you do to maybe keep them on your website?
Josh: Absolutely! And so that is some practical tips on how to prepare for Google’s page experience algorithm update.
Just one thing I do need to mention. If you have no idea about this, you need to bring this up with your web developer. Any good web developer should be prepared for this algorithm update, and these algorithm changes.
The other thing is you can run your website through our free Test Your Site audit where we can audit your site to make sure that they’re going to meet, and be up to scratch for this new algorithm update.
So that’s us for today and we will see you next time!
Em: Thanks Josh!