Google’s Page Experience Update – A Developer’s Perspective
Our thoughts on the Google Page Experience Update as it begins its global rollout, and how meeting this criteria may not be as easy as it looks.
Google announced their upcoming Page Experience Update back in 2020 and it has been the topic on many tongues ever since. Whilst Google themselves did delay the roll out from an original date of April 2021 to “late Summer”, they have recently announced that it is now being phased into Search Results on a global basis, and will be complete by the end of August 2021.
What does it mean?
We won’t go into reams of detail here because most readers will by now know what the Page Experience Update is looking at. So, in short:
- User experience design – can users use the site well, is it designed with users in mind?
- Mobile functionality – hand in hand with the Mobile Friendly algorithm.
- Loading speed – this goes beyond “fast” or “slow” and looks at the download size and speed of a site, and how it downloads.
- SSL – is the site safe for users, does it have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) in place?
These factors are the primary areas that the Page Experience Update is looking at, and together they make up something that Google has dubbed, “Core Web Vitals”.
Those who use Google Search Console will have seen these being introduced as a new area over the past few months, with scoring (by Google) as to how their site perform in these areas.
What does it mean for Developers?
Other than “a headache” (potentially), Google’s decision to focus in on these areas has meant that website development needs to place even more importance on these “core” areas. It is always a fine balance between design and functionality (especially with websites that need to have clear, hi res images or media as part of their selling point) but this balance now needs to be even more finely honed. Not only do all pages on a site need to be optimised for all devices, they need to load quickly, and effectively, they need to be secure and they need to be designed with user experience predominantly in mind (no change there for us to be fair). All of these combined can be very tricky to achieve and honestly, there’s going to be millions of websites out there that will now score badly on these metrics because of this need to find a balance.
Why is it such a juggling act? Well, we have to bear in mind a few key points:
- Sometimes aspects that aid usability on websites cause lag on speed – but we want users to have a good experience!
- Lower quality images will aid speed but can impact buying decisions or the general impression that a user has of a company.
- The cost of changing over technologies on a site to cater for aspects like increased speed can be high, depending on what needs to be done.
- Not all companies have the means to produce media such as videos, which Google recommend as well as content to tick the usability box and aid those who don’t want to read content.
- Producing content or media for the sake of it is not conducive to usability, but there will be instances where people end up doing this to tick the Google boxes, inadvertently then doing exactly what Google say they shouldn’t.
This isn’t to say that we don’t agree with Google’s drive to aid usability and ensure users have a safe browsing experience and a couple of the aspects that make up the Core Web Vitals are, in the most part, commonplace now.
- SSL certificates are (in our mind) now an essential part of a website build and this box is one that most websites will be able to tick the easiest. Mobile friendliness – again, this is a core part of the internet now, most people use a smart device to browse as well as desktops or laptops, and websites need to cater to that.
- Mobile friendless is easier to achieve than it used to be (rather than back in the day when we used to have to build two websites for mobile and desktop) so again, this box should be an eas(ier) tick!
So where do things start getting tricky?
- Site speed – as above, when we introduce elements on a website that aid users, they can impact speed. For example, pop up contact or chat windows. Easy, “out of the box” solutions are not always going to be speed friendly but they do make a user feel like the company is easy to reach. So the best solution is to have a custom solution built – but at an increased cost to the company who want the website built. This may not be budgeted for and the decision maker may not see the value – after all, other websites use standard solutions and are doing well in the SERPs.
- It’s also not always custom built aspects that cause issues – Google have released more info on how they want a website to load for both mobile and desktop users and these differ – so the time that goes into meeting these requirements will add overall to the cost. And then who knows whether Google will change this guidance in the future. Also – established websites will then need work to meet these criteria – again, costs that a decision maker may not see the value of or have the available budget to make the decision.
- User experience as a whole – this is a tricky area because it is such an individual thing. Whilst there are some elements of a website that most of us agree aid usability – logo linking back to the homepage, for example, other areas will be largely down to the decisions made by the company in question as to how they want things to look, feel and work. this may include navigation menus, imagery, media and social media widgets, but there’s a massive list of elements that make up “usability” and how Google want things to be is not going to be how companies want things to be.
With all of this in mind, we aren’t saying that meeting Google’s criteria is impossible and, as more info has been released from Google HQ, we have adapted our building technologies to accommodate where we can, within reason. What we are saying is that achieving a 100% Core Web Vitals score is unlikely, and most website owners / developers will have to accept this (or be prepared to make sacrifices on design/functionality/cost to make things as Google want them to be). Google do have a “Good” bracket score of 90-100, and we do try to meet this where possible.