Google’s Page Experience Algorithm Update & What It Means for Higher Ed

Posted: May 11, 2021

Alex Lucas Project Manager

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5 min. read

It’s long been the shared consensus that when it comes to SEO ranking factors, content is king. After all, what is a website without content? 

In a more recent study aimed at determining the most important SEO ranking factors, relevancy of page content was ranked as the number one factor influencing search by more than 1,300 SEO professionals throughout the industry. This tells us that by ensuring your website content is quality, relevant, and informative, that Google will look favorably upon it when ranking your site. 

With this status quo in mind, though, how will Google’s new page experience algorithm affect the SEO landscape and what does this mean for your website? 

WHAT IS THE NEW PAGE EXPERIENCE ALGORITHM UPDATE? 

Recently, Google has announced a new page experience algorithm update and implementation of core web vitals, which is scheduled to release in June 2021.

In Google’s own words, they describe the objective of the new page experience algorithm as such:

“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.”

Simply put, the new page experience update is designed to measure how usable your website is, and aims to use this measurement to rank websites that users enjoy the most higher in search results. 

WHAT CAN I DO TO OPTIMIZE FOR THE NEW UPDATE? 

Broadly speaking, optimizing your website for a positive user experience can be seen as common sense (think about the elements that come to mind when you’ve personally encountered a poor website). However, some key factors to consider optimizing for include:

1. Pay attention to Site Speed and Core Web Vitals.

Ensure your site content loads quickly by optimizing for speed and core web vitals including:

  • Largest Content Paint (LCP): LCP measures perceived load speed. It determines the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded. Ideally loading speed should not exceed 2.5 seconds. 
  • First Input Delay (FID): FID measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page. A user’s first interaction should happen within 100 microseconds of landing on the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content. (An example of an unexpected layout shift on a page is when browsing on a mobile device, you click on a tab with your finger, however, the tab shifts from your point of click.)

2. Ensure Mobile-First Thinking.

With mobile devices driving 61% of website visits in 2020, ensuring your website is responsive and optimized for mobile is essential. 

You can take a quick test to determine the mobile friendliness of your site by using Google’s quick mobile friendly tool. And for a more detailed look, you can use Google Search Consoles Mobile Usability Report.

Some key elements for mobile-first optimization include:

  • Integrate responsive design into your website.
  • Deploy hamburger navigation menus for easy mobile navigation.
  • Optimize title tags and meta descriptions to quickly convey information to the user.
  • Write for the small screen. Your content is likely to be viewed on a mobile device, so view your content with this mindset.
  • Use pop-ups sparingly.

3. Eliminate any 400 error codes.

Crawl your site for pages showing 400 error codes and either fix or remove these from your crawlable site map.

4. Enhance Your UX with Heat Mapping.

Review your site design and user engagement experience. For example, are your users browsing your site how you expect them to? Are they engaging with your site in the way you expect them to? Are there any critical UX improvements or design changes needed informed by user interaction?

To determine the answer to the above questions, you can use heat maps across your website to see how users are actually engaging with the site and then determine any needed UX improvements.

OUR EXPECTATIONS & OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

It’s important to note that quality content is still the deciding factor when it comes to page rank so we do not expect institutions’ website traffic to fall off a cliff upon the roll out of the algorithm.

In fact, Google will be deploying its new algorithm in June 2021 and then exploring how it alters rankings until the end of August.

In Google’s own words:

“We’ll begin using page experience as part of our ranking systems beginning in mid-June 2021. However, page experience won’t play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August. You can think of it as if you’re adding a flavoring to a food you’re preparing. Rather than add the flavor all at once into the mix, we’ll be slowly adding it all over this time period.”

If we continue Google’s food analogy, imagine your website content as the cake of SEO ranking factors, and the page experience ranking factors the icing on the cake helping to make your cake stand out to hungry students. 

We expect that institutions who are proactive in their SEO efforts and optimize their sites to aid user experience will reap ranking rewards from the update. 

In a vastly competitive enrollment landscape, institutions who take on this endeavor will no doubt be able to maximize their chances of ranking at the top of Google’s search result pages and, in turn, move ahead of competition. 

To our clients – VisionPoint remains committed to providing clarity and action with you now and as further best practices are determined. We’ll continue to keep you informed. Please reach out to your Client Services team with any immediate questions.

Not a VisionPoint client but would like to discuss this topic with us further? Reach out today to start a conversation with our team. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.