Google’s 2021 Algorithm Update

Google 2021 Algorithm

Much like computers & smartphones, Google Search is regularly updated. In fact, Google Search updates thousands of times per year with minor changes meant to improve the experience and the quality of results that go relatively unnoticed. Conversely, Google has released a core Google algorithm update every few months or so.  

In May 2020, Google announced the planned launch of a core algorithm update — the “Page Experience” update. The planned launch, May 2021, would focus on measuring the quality of a web page’s user experience. Google made the announcement over a year in advance to give web admins sufficient time to improve their sites before the new ranking factors went live.

However, on April 19th, 2021, Google announced that the rollout wouldn’t begin until June 2021 and that it would be gradual at first before fully impacting rankings by the end of August 2021. Due to the coronavirus, they decided to give web admins a heads up on the algorithm update and what it entails so they could adjust your website and your traffic doesn’t tank.

So, what is the Page Experience update, and how can you prepare for it? According to Google, here’s what it means:

“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, they are looking to see how usable your website is. Google wants to ensure that sites that rank at the top aren’t creating experiences that users hate. In other words,  user-friendly sites will rank higher than sites that aren’t user-friendly.

Google’s need for speed

Google openly admits they are “obsessed with speed.” So much so, they made it a ranking factor in 2018. They are doubling down with this new algorithm update that primarily focuses on how fast your website loads and runs and the user experience. The core web vitals Google is focusing on include:

  • Mobile-friendliness — Check if your page is mobile-friendly with the Mobile-Friendly Test
  • Safe browsing — Check if your site has any safe-browsing issues with the Security Issues report
  • Security (https) —  Check if your site’s connection is secure
  • No intrusive interstitials (e.g., pop-up ads that interrupt the browsing experience)
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) — page loading time
  • First Input Delay (FID) — page responsiveness
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) — visual stability

How do you measure those core vitals?

LCP, FID, and CLS measure various user experiences with your site that ultimately determine your overall page speed and page performance scores and impact your page rankings in search results. In other words, if they take too long, your site isn’t loading fast enough.

Google Speed Rankings

LCP measures how quickly the largest and most important piece of content on a page loads for a user visiting the site. To provide a good user experience, sites should aim to have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load. It accounts for 25% of your Google Performance Score. Learn more here.

FID measures interactivity — how responsive your web page is to user input, like the clicking of a button. Your web page should register a response time under 100 milliseconds. It also accounts for 25% of your Google Performance Score. Learn more here

CLS measures the stability of your web page and whether elements move out of place as additional ones are loaded. In other words, is the layout of the page shifting resulting in a poor user experience? Your web page needs to register a score under .1. It accounts for 5% of your Google Performance Score. Learn more here.

To pass a core Web Vitals assessment and receive a better ranking, your page needs a passing score for each of these metrics. These three metrics will also be evaluated alongside existing page experience metrics, including mobile-friendly, safe-browsing, https, and having no intrusive interstitials. 

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