06/05/21 Beu Smith

Google’s Page Experience and Core Web Vitals: Updates and More Details on How To Optimise for SEO in 2021

We recently wrote a comprehensive guide on Google’s Core Web Vitals, which detailed what the update is focused on, factors to optimise for page speed, and the impact this will have in the industry. On Monday 19th April 2021, Google shared more details around the Page Experience updates and, it turns out, we hit the nail on the head!

In the announcement, Google confirmed that the Core Web Vitals update is being pushed back to mid-June. Google does not want to rush releasing this update and potentially disrupt the search results by rolling out before it is ready. It wouldn’t surprise me if the update is pushed back further still into the latter part of 2021, but for now, we’ll proceed with ‘mid-June’.

It has also been confirmed that the Core Web Vitals update will be introduced gradually rather than with a sudden algorithm change. Google compared it to adding flavours to a food you are preparing, saying:

“Rather than add the flavour all at once into the mix, we'll be slowly adding it all over this time period.” - Google Search Central

This means that there is still some wiggle room for you to improve the Core Web Vitals score before you start to see a potentially negative performance but I wouldn’t leave it any longer.

New Page Experience in Search Console To Help Analyse and Track Performance

One thing I like about Google is that when they introduce new factors into search, they provide resources, tools, and reading material that helps us to analyse and understand what the changes are. 

Recently, Search Console has had a new ‘Experience’ section added to the sidebar which houses breakdowns of Core Web Vitals, Mobile Usability, and Page Experience. 

Google Search Console: Experience

Page Experience is an overview of how the selected domain in search console scores against Google’s Page Experience metrics. This really helps give an overview of how the site scores as a whole and helps you to understand how Google ‘views’ your user experience. The report allows you to drill down into URLs that are flagged as ‘failing’ according to the Page Experience signals by device type, affected URLs by Score, and Core Web Vitals metrics.

It’s worth noting that this data is built from the CrUX dashboard that is available in Google’s Data Studio. It’s always a good idea to use the two tools side-by-side when analysing site performance as they give different views which can highlight different opportunities. 

For example, new tabs have been added to the Core Web Vitals report that shows device distribution and connection distribution. This insight could help you optimise your key target audience by leveraging the quality of their internet speed and browsing device.

Google Search Console: Experience

Signed Exchange: Google’s New Way To Optimise For Page Experience

What is a Signed Exchange (SXG)?

An SXG  is a way to prefetch key resources by authenticating the resource origin prior to it being requested. Previously, only AMP results were able to utilise Signed Exchange. Now, however, both AMP and non-AMP results should be able to request critical resources (such as HTML, JavaScript, CSS, images, and fonts) earlier in the rendering process, in a privacy-preserving manner. 

How SXG can Improve Page Experience?

This means websites that implement SXG could improve the Core Web Vitals score simply by having a lower Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) score for your content. While Google Search doesn't consider the use of SXG as a direct factor in ranking, the lower LCP may affect ranking because page experience will be a ranking factor.

What Impact can Implementing Signed Exchange have on SEO?

Verified testing using SXG on Android Chrome by a Japanese based site (Nikkei Style) saw a reduction in Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)  by -300ms. This impacted other behavioural metrics, seeing user engagement increase by +12% and pageview by +9%. Therefore, not only is page speed a ranking factor, but it also correlates with engagement and click-through rate.

What Browsers Support SXG?

SXGs are supported by Chromium-based browsers starting with versions: 

  • Chrome 73
  • Edge 79 
  • Opera 64 and above

Be sure to investigate what browsers and devices your users are on and factor this into your decision for implementation. If you want to learn more about implementing SXG on your site, you can use this in-depth article on Signed Exchange (SXG). 

What To Look Out For

We’re all in agreement that Core Web Vitals and Page Experience are fast becoming the main focus for SEO in Google’s eyes. I don’t think this is because other ranking factors are less important. Rather, it’s that the overall standard of websites has improved across the board and  Google now wants to raise the bar again to make sure we are serving the best results to the user.

The current question I'm hearing around Core Web Vitals and Page Experience is ‘what do our competitors score?’ as we look to benchmark against other sites we’re familiar with. Well, a recent study from Tom Wells at Searchmetrics on Google’s Core Web Vitals revealed that from 2 million URLs crawled, only 4% achieved a ‘good’ score on a desktop for all three Core Web Vitals (LCP, FID, CLS) and on mobile only 10% scored ‘good’. That means on desktop and mobile, between 90-96% of sites do not pass Google’s current speed test. 

Granted that when looking at the internet as a whole, 2 million URLs is a small portion compared to the estimated 1 trillion indexed pages, in fact, it works out to be 0.0002%. However, the statistic of only 4% of sites scoring ‘good’ on all three Core Web Vitals falls in line with sites I have audited and overall page speed scores which range from ‘poor’ to ‘needs improvement’. 

Final thoughts: Future Impacts On SEO

Don’t feel impending doom if your site's page speed score is not passing Google’s page speed tests or scoring ‘good’ on its Core Web Vitals!

Spend some time focusing on your performance and working with your SEO department and Web Development team to find where the opportunity is and test, test, test. That way, if you aren’t ready by mid-June when the update is due to roll out, you should be caught up by the end of the year when the ranking factor importance is increased and will hopefully be rewarded for your efforts.

If you are unsure about your site score or not clued up about how to improve it, then reach out and drop us a message using the contact form.

Beu Smith

SEO Lead specialising in techical SEO across eCommerce, B2B and B2C. Passionate about delivering organic growth.