Page experience: a new Google ranking factor

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced Web Vitals — a new set of metrics to measure the speed and user experience of websites. Last week, Google announced that these metrics will make its way into a core algorithm update as new ways of judging and ranking sites based on the page experience they offer. This update is due to arrive some time in 2021.

UX matters, for real now

In 2010, Google announced that it would take site speed into account while determining rankings. In 2018, Google followed up with the page speed ranking factor in the mobile search results. Now, Google announces a new update that looks at a variety of new or updated metrics — combined with other user experience factors, to form the page experience update.

Page experience you say? In an ideal world, you’d click a link in the search results and the corresponding page would appear instantly. But we all know that’s a pipe dream. Over the years, pages have only increased in size and the popularity of JavaScript made them ever more complex and harder to load. Even with lightning-fast internet connections and potent devices, loading a web page can be a drag. For users, waiting for pages to load can be stressful as well. Not to mention the maddening on-site performance that some websites offer that lead to miss-clicks and the like.

For years, optimizing the performance of websites mostly meant optimizing for speed. But loading times are only part of the equation and the other part is harder to define and measure. This is about how a user experiences all those optimizations. The site might be fast according to the metrics, but does it feel fast? Thus, it’s high time to take a drastic look at page experience.

According to Google, “Great page experiences enable people to get more done and engage more deeply; in contrast, a bad page experience could stand in the way of a person being able to find the valuable information on a page.”

Enter Web Vitals

Early May 2020, Google announced Web Vitals — a thoroughly researched set of metrics to help anyone determine opportunities to improve the experience of their sites. Within those new metrics, there is a subset of metrics every site owner should focus on, the so-called Core Web Vitals. According to Google, “Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience.”

Each Core Web Vital looks at a specific piece of the page experience puzzle and together they help both Google and yourself make sense of the perceived experience of a site. Core Web Vitals are available in all Google tools that measure the page experience.

The Core Web Vitals will evolve over time and new ones might be added in due time. For 2020, Google identified three specific focal points:

  • Loading,
  • Interactivity,
  • Visual stability.

These focal points correspond with three new metrics:

  • LCP, or Largest Contentful Paint: This metric tells how long it takes for the largest content element you see in the viewport to load.
  • FID, or First Input Delay: The FID looks at how long it takes for a browser to respond to an interaction first triggered by the user (clicking a button, for instance)
  • CLS, or Cumulative Layout Shift: This new metric measures the percentage of the screen affected by movement — i.e. does stuff jump around on screen?
The new Core Web Vitals are aimed helping you improve the page experience of your site (image Google)

As you see, these core metrics don’t simply look at how fast something loads. They also look at how long it takes for elements to become ready to use. The Cumulative Layout Shift is the most forward-thinking of the bunch. This has nothing to do with speed, but everything with preventing a bad user experience — like hitting a wrong button, because an ad loaded at the final moment. Think about how you feel when that happens? Pretty infuriating, right?

Combining new metrics with existing ranking factors

The launch of Web Vitals was noteworthy on its own, but Google took it up a notch this week. Google is going to use these new metrics — combined with existing experience ranking factors, to help with ranking a pages. Keep in mind, Google uses an unknown number of factors to judge sites and rank them. Some factors weigh a lot, but most have a smaller impact. Combined, however, they tell the story of a website.

The new Web Vitals join several existing factors to make up the page experience ranking factors:

  • Mobile-friendliness: is your site optimized for mobile?
  • HTTPS: is your site using a secure connection?
  • Interstitial use: does your site stay away from nasty pop-ups?
  • Safe browsing: is your site harmless for visitors?

These are now joined by real-world, user-centred metrics, like the LCP, FID and CLS mentioned earlier. Combined, these factors take into account everything a user experiences on a website to try to come up with a holistic picture of the performance of your site, as Google likes to say.

The Core Web Vitals are combined with existing ranking factors to form the page experience factors (image Google)

Of course, this is just another way for Google to get a sense of how good your site is and it might be easy to overstate the importance of this particular update. It’s still going to be impossible to rank a site with a great user experience but crappy content.

While the quality of your content still reigns supreme in getting good rankings, the performance and perceived experience users have now also come into play. With these metrics, Google has found a way to get a whole lot of insights that look at your site from all angles.

Our own Jono Alderson and Joost de Valk talked about the recent news in the latest instalment of SEO News, part of the premium content in our Yoast SEO academy subscription. Sign up and be sure to check that out.

Google page experience update in 2021

Google has often been accused of not communicating with SEOs and site owners. In the past, we have seen many core algorithm update happen without a word from a Googler. Today, however, Google appears more upfront than ever. In the case of the page experience update, Google warns us twice: one with the announcement of the page experience ranking factors and once six months in advance of rolling out the update in 2021.

By announcing this way ahead of time, Google gives site owners, SEOs and developers ample time to prepare for this update. There are loads of new tools to come to grips with how these metrics function and how you can improve your site using these insights. There’s a lot of new documentation to sift through. And you can start right now. Sometime next year, Google will give you a heads up that the update will be rolling out in six months time.

No more AMP requirements for Top Stories

You can find another interesting tidbit regarding the page experience update. Google will no longer require AMP for getting your news pages in the Top Stories section. Now, any well-built, Google News-validated site can aim for that top spot. Page experience will become a ranking factor for Top Stories, so your site better be good.

New page experience tools? You got it!

Google went all out for to get every site owner to adapt to the page experience changes. New or updated tools help you get the insights you need. They also help you to make sense of what it all means.

Start testing, start improving!

In the past, optimizing your site for user experience and speed was a bit like flying blind — you never had truly good insights into what makes a site fast and what makes one feel fast. Over the years, Google saw the need for good metrics and heard the cries of users in need of usable, safe and fast sites. By announcing these metrics — and by announcing them as ranking factors —, Google makes page experience measurable and deems it helpful enough to judge sites by.

Remember, the update won’t roll out until sometime in 2021, but the tools are there, so you can start testing and improving. To start, we have collected five things you can do to improve your Core Web Vitals. Good luck!

Get a free SEO for beginners training!

  • Make your site rank higher
  • Understand how search engines work
  • Quick wins to kickstart your SEO with Yoast
  • Free online & on-demand SEO training
More info

58 Responses to Page experience: a new Google ranking factor

  1. Andrew
    Andrew  • 3 months ago

    Good to know. It’s a full time job keeping up with Google’s ranking requirements! Many thanks

  2. Michael Daniel
    Michael Daniel  • 3 months ago

    Thanks for this write up! SEO seems to be constantly shifting and changing so it’s nice to have well written content that explains what Google wants from websites. Appreciate it!

    • Edwin Toonen

      You’re welcome, Michael. We’re here to keep you up to date!

  3. Meredith Oliver
    Meredith Oliver  • 3 months ago

    Will the Yoast plugin offer tools to address these metrics?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Meredith. Not sure yet, we’re exploring what we can do with it. Stay tuned.

  4. Stephen
    Stephen  • 4 months ago

    Thanks for the updates.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      You’re welcome Stephen!

  5. Blessing
    Blessing  • 4 months ago

    Thanks a lot yoast team .. you guys are amazing.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Thank you for those kind words!

  6. Devika Vishnu
    Devika Vishnu  • 4 months ago

    Hi Edwin,
    Thanks for sharing. Its really a helpful blog for beginners like me. User experience is an essential element of a website and considering this factor while doing seo is another important criteria.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      You’re welcome, Devika. And we agree, user experience is definitely something to keep in mind. Both for your users, as for your SEO.

      Lots of luck with your site!

  7. Remco Wietsma
    Remco Wietsma  • 4 months ago

    Hi Edwin,

    Great article. However, I noticed just a tiny little error. The link on **FID, or First Input Delay** links to https://web.dev/lcp/, which should be https://web.dev/fid/ instead.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      Thanks Remco, we changed it right away!

  8. Phát Gia
    Phát Gia  • 4 months ago

    Thank for your writting. In recent years, GG has always had algorithm updates that make it difficult for webmasters to keep their keywords on the top. User experience is very important but I think the content that the site gives users will be extremely important. Now that GG is very interested in semantic keywords, and hummingbird algorithms.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Phát. Ranking will consists of more and more factors. The weight of these factors will also differ across industries and maybe even markets. So yes, users experience will play a bigger role in all of this, but you can rank a website without high-quality content. Content has to be your number one priority, but the quality of your site and the experience you offer has to be a close second.

  9. rahul
    rahul  • 4 months ago

    so I just wanted to share my fair opinion for the Yoast plugin, in previously I was used to All In One SEO Plugin but just a few months ago I starter to use Yoast and this plugin is really amazing and helping me to grow I love to thanks entire team of Yoast for providing such an amazing service. thanks a lot

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      Thank you for those heartwarming words, Rahul. It’s wonderful to hear that our plugin is helping you grow! Keep up the great work :)

  10. Romel Adhikary
    Romel Adhikary  • 4 months ago

    Great article. So helpful as well. Thank you so much.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      You’re welcome, Romel :)

  11. Tunde Sanusi (Tuham)
    Tunde Sanusi (Tuham)  • 4 months ago

    Hey there, i couldnt find the share button on this article

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Hi there Tunde! If you would like to share this article, you can use the following link to post it on social media or send it to someone who might enjoy reading it: https://yoast.com/page-experience-google-ranking-factor/

      Have a great day!

  12. jonathan chartrand
    jonathan chartrand  • 4 months ago

    For a long article, there are only a few words that attempt to explain the core web essentials. Loading time and interactivity is obvious, but visual stability is not clear. Does that refer to popups, or sections that shift when a user clicks on a link for example?
    Examples would help.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Jonathan. I see what you mean. This article was purely meant to give people a heads up about the news and a small overview of what to expect. We’ll have more content on this topic coming, and we’ll dive deeper into what these metrics mean, plus we’ll also check out what all these tools do. Check back soon!

  13. Mandy
    Mandy  • 4 months ago

    I am an editor, so I care about you! It’s “reign supreme”. ❤️

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Thanks Mandy, good catch!

  14. aziz haida
    aziz haida  • 4 months ago

    great update and I think it is time to focus on user experience, but all comes to quality, relevancy, and authority. I can wait for 1 min for a page to load, if it provides quality content. And will not open a fast page with low-quality content.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Hi there Aziz,

      You’re right that quality content is and will stay important. Page experience as a ranking factor will not change that. If you offer great content (that’s better than your competitor’s content), you’ll still rank. But, to keep that top position you should try to improve your site and page experience where you can :)

      • aziz haida
        aziz haida  • 3 months ago

        Agree Camille :)

  15. Joost
    Joost  • 4 months ago

    Thanks for sharing. I have been experimenting with these new metrics. It is actually pretty hard for a non developer to get all scores right. Improving one often degrades the other.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Hi there Joost, thanks for your comment. I can imagine this can be hard, but it sounds like you’re on the right track. I would recommend using the tools mentioned above to keep on testing and improving your site!

  16. Dax
    Dax  • 4 months ago

    Thanks for this post.

    I use Yoast Premium on two of my sites. Looks like I have a lot of work to do to bring my sites up to speed. Image sizing looks like the best place to start…

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      You’re welcome, Dax. It requires some work, but it will definitely not hurt to already start improving your site! Good luck :)

  17. ms
    ms  • 4 months ago

    Can you explain Google page experience update in detail

  18. اعمار المملكة للمقاولات بالرياض
    اعمار المملكة للمقاولات بالرياض  • 4 months ago

    good greeting
    My site has been linked to SEARCH CONSOLE, and the webmaster address will not appear on the YAOST SEO Extension Dashboard.
    is there a problem ??

  19. nhseven
    nhseven  • 4 months ago

    Wonderful information you have shared for us. Thank you.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      You’re welcome!

  20. Brin
    Brin  • 4 months ago

    Nice article. At the end it says “…the tools are there, so you can start testing and improving” – where is ‘there’? I.e. where these tools? How do we test our pages for Web Vitals? Thanks.

  21. suman kumari
    suman kumari  • 4 months ago

    Nicely said. I totally agree that user experience is an important factor in ranking.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      Thank you, Suman!

  22. Amy
    Amy  • 4 months ago

    Thank you so much for the great article! Having a heads up and not getting stuck in these algorithms is great.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 months ago

      You’re welcome, Amy. Glad to be of help!

  23. Jeganathan
    Jeganathan  • 4 months ago

    Sir, I couldn’t understand the difference between the blog title and post/page title. Which one is most important to come up in a search engine?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 months ago

      Hi Jegenathan! The blog post or page title is the title you see above your post. The SEO title is the title Google will display in the search results. So for SEO the SEO title matters the most! That’s what people see and (hopefully) click on. Here you’ll find a detailed explanation: https://yoast.com/whats-the-difference-between-an-h1-heading-and-the-seo-title/

  24. Jorma J Tontti
    Jorma J Tontti  • 4 months ago

    Google sets new qualitative targets for site-pages, which is good but challenging. This is a sort of “Big Brother” attitude, where se says what is good and what is bad.
    On the other hand, they have to do that, because they must set the search results into a certain order.
    Hard to say, what these new requirements mean in the daily marketing, but hopefully there is a relatively easy way to execute them.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Jorma. I don’t think Google is in big brother mode for this. For years, we’ve seen them working on better ways to measure site speed and offering advice on making sites faster and better. In addition, we know that the experience part of judging websites is getting more important. Google has never said that user experience was a ranking factor, but it is not hard to see that it eventually would be.

      But experience is an abstract concept. That’s why Google did a lot of research on what impacts experience and how that ties together with site speed and other trust factors. They’ve tried a number of metrics over the years, but these were all rather abstract and hard to interpret. These new metrics are really thorough, well-researched and broadly incorporated into the different tools. The scores will be useful and the huge amount of documentation insightful. So yes, I think they are on the right track with this. It might not be perfect right from the start, but they’ll get there.

      Last but not least, it’s not that you won’t be able to rank anymore if your web vitals scores are not green across the board. Of course, you should try to improve wherever you can, but if you offer excellent content — exactly what your users are looking for and of better quality than your competitors –, you will still rank. Content will remain king.

  25. Clint L. Sanchez
    Clint L. Sanchez  • 4 months ago

    Man, I’m going to be honest, this new metric scares the heck out of me. What I find to be aggravating is how pagespeed insights will show one thing, and gtmetrix, something totally different.

    I guess time will tell right?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Why would these metrics scare you, Clint? I think these are going to play important part in how we do SEO from now on. If we want our sites to stand out and offer an excellent user experience, we need help if we want to measure something as abstract as ‘experience’. So, I’m glad Google found a way to get a realistic sense of how users might experience a site.

      And keep in mind, every site speed tool offers different metrics. Of course, that’s one of the reasons Google embarked on this project. But it isn’t inherently bad. Our advice has always been to look at metrics from multiple providers — there’s no one truth in this. Even if Google would like us to use just their metrics, I would still regularly check what other tools say about my site.

  26. Brandon H
    Brandon H  • 4 months ago

    Thank you so much for your article! I always look to your site for advice on SEO.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 months ago

      You’re welcome, Brandon. That’s great to hear!

  27. Julie
    Julie  • 4 months ago

    Hi Edwin, my blog lost it’s traffic recently and don’t know exactly the reasons, I am quite new to blogging world, your post is short and summarized, & I can feel it, i know what I need to improve. Thanks for sharing!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 months ago

      Hi Julie, that’s frustrating! When you experience a sudden drop in traffic, it’s smart to investigate why this happened. This post might help you analyze the drop: https://yoast.com/analyze-drop-traffic/ Good luck!

  28. Tibor
    Tibor  • 4 months ago

    I’m really struggling with Largest Contentful paint. No matter how optimized your image is, as soon as you use a really big hero picture, the largest Contentful paint is going up dramatically. The result will be that you have to choose between a visually stunning website or very good google rankings…

  29. Alex David
    Alex David  • 4 months ago

    Very informative. Your information always helps as a means to have the upper hand over the competition.

    • Gabriel U.
      Gabriel U.  • 4 months ago

      Thank you very much for this information.

      But I think it’s great if you can share us the origin of this notice (maybe the link) where Google company talk about the 2021 update.

      Thanks
      Gabriel

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 months ago

      Thanks, David!