The Google Page Experience Report: What’s in It, and Why It Matters
Let’s start off with addressing the latest and greatest update from Google: their Page Experience report. This has been a clear emphasis on what we already know from Google in terms of what they want from our websites: better user experience and fast-loading content.
Nothing is inherently new, and they are currently promising not to penalize sites that rank poorly in these reports. Some of the items they callout have been around in other reports (lighthouse) for years, but it's clear Google is driving the point home - your site needs to look good, work well, and load quickly; do that and we’ll reward you.
Will I Get Penalized for a Poor Score?
While Google isn’t directly penalizing sites at this point, it’s a penalty in it’s own right if a competitor knocks you out key rankings because their site is clearly optimized to perform. Most of these revolve around your content, how it is loading in, and have you done enough to keep it from slowing your site down.
Some of these signals can in fact already set your site up for penalty, so it’s not like the truth is wholly transparent. Largest Contentful Paint loading in for a longer time frame can definitely get you a failing score in Page Speed Insights.
Another thing to note: Google doesn’t always penalize a site for an update today, but down the road, these factors may become cause for penalization and ultimately loss in ranking.
In the world of search competition, every advantage is a bonus, and every time you don’t leverage an advantage, you are basically at a penalty.
So again, to address the question of penalty - will Google penalize you for not getting a strong enough score? Not necessarily, but your competitors certainly will.
What Are the Signals to Consider?
Google actually provides that information and more, but I’ll break them down here as well. There are several existing reports that they have pulled together to make sense of this sort of ambiguous report and update, all of which have been in play in some form.
The general list:
- Core Web Vitals (available in search console as well)
- No intrusive interstitials
These are four core factors in developing the page experience report. These are key factors in the area of User Experience and how your site presents information, but Google does provide guidance that the value of the information is ultimately the prize at hand when it comes to ranking.
Regardless, here are the key aspects of the aforementioned signals.
Core Web Vitals
LCP, FID, CLS - some acronyms for your brain to fall apart on. The actual word usage isn’t much help, either.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is really the “largest” piece of content that loads in on a page on your site - which is measured in seconds and data. Here, Google is placing an emphasis on loading that content in quickly, as they recognize the waterfall effect of pushing those numbers down across the board.
LCP load times are recommended at 2.5 seconds or less - attached to that is a compression that figures to minimize the data required for that content to load. Google is killing two birds here, saving data and ensuring users get their content quickly.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is the final Core Web Vitals report and may be the most important to the user when experiencing your site. From a pure UX perspective, this ensures that the user doesn’t experience jarring changes in layout and content that may, again, “break” their experience of your site. Google uses a word - delight - to explain how your page should perform. A low CLS will ensure your user is enjoying your content and your site - rather than wishing it would burn to the ground…
People are surprised to see this as the claim by many has been “my site is responsive” or “the website works on mobile” - and then the site truly isn’t mobile-friendly, in more ways than we can count. Even if your content doesn’t break or flow off the screen, or a myriad of other things, you should always run a mobile test, and spend some time checking the site through on devices. UAT should be a core part of your product life cycle anyway, so don’t take Google’s word for it.
Your Site needs to be secure. Do this. Don’t ask why you need the SSL cert, or if you should be HTTPS/2 (yes) - HTTP/3 is coming soon - you need to be using modern forms of web security, and this is a key aspect of that. Please stop doing things backwards.
No Intrusive Interstitials
This one is hard for businesses and organizations to move past. Marketers love throwing nonsense over their content and then making it hard to get past that in order to read the content.
If you are doing this, you are a) trying to monetize your content (like a paywall) or b) trying to get user data/information before they access it. Some sites provide an escape from this feature (the x in the corner), others use “dark patterns” to let you escape if you want to try - still, sites will overlook this practice if they think it is to their advantage.
Google isn’t a fan, but to each their own and good luck deciding if this is a necessity for your organization.
What Next and What Does This Mean for My SEO?
First, run these reports and review them in search console. Head down to your local dev team (or hire ours!) and discuss what can be done to optimize for page experience (you should be doing this anyway) and ensure that your site is really working for your users.
The best way to impact SEO is to ensure that users are liking the information you are providing on your site more than others, and if they do, typically, Google will rank your content better. A great way to ensure that your content matters is to ensure your technology creates a “delightful” experience (google’s words, not mine).
Spend some time with these considerations, because a reward today is a penalty tomorrow - with Google, that’s the only guarantee.