It’s not just you. Many sites have been on an SEO roller coaster over the last several months thanks to a number of key algorithm updates that have rolled out in succession. Even sites that have historically enjoyed strong SEO and desirable rankings have seen notable keyword loss and decreased organic traffic.
That includes the Square 2 website.
If like us and many of the clients we engage with you’re seeing alarming peaks and valleys in keyword rankings and organic traffic, page experience is likely the culprit.
A Picture Of Volatility
The graph below represents keyword data taken directly from Semrush and reflects the volatility many sites have experienced in the last year – notable losses followed by modest gains then further losses and more modest gains.
Behind these swings is Google’s commitment to prioritizing sites that offer not just great content but an exceptional user experience. In the past year, the world’s leading search engine has rolled out two page experience updates – one for mobile in July 2021 and another for desktop in February 2022 – that have combined to reshape search engine results pages (SERPs) and the way we think about website design and development.
What Is Google’s Page Experience Update?
If you casually follow SEO, you’ve likely been hearing about Google’s commitment to user experience for some time, especially as it relates to mobile searches. In fact, you could be forgiven if you thought this update already occurred. That’s because a couple of years ago Google announced it had moved to mobile-first indexing and, as such, mobile-friendliness and site speed became key ranking factors.
But those were just two factors in what would become a more significant update. Last July, Google introduced its page experience update, which introduced several more factors used to determine whether a page offers a great experience. The full list of page experience ranking factors now includes the following:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – How quickly the primary content of a web page loads, measured as the time from when a user opens a page to when the largest image or text block renders.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Unexpected shifting while a page is downloading, often caused by fonts, images, videos, forms and buttons.
- First Input Delay (FID) – The time from when a user first clicks a link or button to when the browser responds to the interaction.
- HTTPS Security – Whether a site is providing a secure experience by serving pages over HTTPS.
- Absence Of Intrusive Interstitials – Interruptive overlays and dialogs that prevent visitors from interacting with page content.
- Mobile Friendliness – How easily visitors can use your site on a mobile device.
In February 2022, Google introduced a companion page experience update for desktop. It consisted of all the same ranking factors except for mobile friendliness.
As you can see, Google is taking a much more holistic view of what constitutes an ideal page experience. And, if as of last summer you had only optimized your site for mobile responsiveness and speed, you may have suddenly found yourself out of favor with Google’s new page experience requirements in July and then again in February.
We did. We had been using various popups and dialogs across our site, interfering with visitor engagements. Not all our images were in next-gen formats, slowing load times. And we’re not alone. Having audited numerous sites over the past year, there’s almost always a sudden drop in keywords in July and/or August then again in February and/or March.
Some Losses Are Often Recouped, But That Doesn’t Mean Everything Is Good
In general, as updates are completed and Google gets a better understanding of how sites meet the new standards, some keyword (and traffic) losses are regained. There’s a leveling out.
This is something we’re seeing with the page experience updates, which is good and bad. While it’s great that lost keywords are coming back, it’s often not all of them, and those gain-backs provide a false sense of security and foster inaction. In all likelihood, there are issues that need to be addressed. Because they will be problematic as more sites optimize around these new guidelines and your site continues to offer the same poor user experience.
Has Your SEO Been Impacted By The Page Experience Update?
While initial reports stated that the page experience updates were unlikely to negatively impact sites, it’s clear that they did. If you want to check to see if your SEO has been affected, there are a few easy ways to do so.
- Check your rankings and traffic – If you use a tool like Semrush, you can see if you have lost keywords and if they coincide with the summer and winter updates. Since keyword losses don’t necessarily translate into traffic loss, check Google Analytics for changes in organic sessions.
- Look in Search Console – Google has given Search Console a makeover, including offering insights into page experience for mobile and desktop. If you have Search Console connected, you can go into “page experience” and see how many URLs get a passing score, which pages fail and what issues are impacting performance.
- If you don’t have Search Console connected, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which has been expanded to include a Core Web Vitals assessment. Just put in any URL and it will provide a pass/fail grade for both desktop and mobile, metrics for each ranking factor and recommendations on how to improve the page.
These Updates May Be More Challenging To Address
For many companies, the page experience updates will hit differently than Google’s semi-regular core updates because they may prove harder to fix. With many core updates, often the answer is to simply optimize page content to ensure it’s of a quality that people can trust and take value from.
However, the page experience updates may require backend fixes that require specialized expertise. If you have an in-house development team with backend SEO expertise, prioritize which pages need to be addressed first, starting with your homepage and core business pages. If you don’t have in-house expertise, find a partner that can help you optimize page experience to meet SEO best practices.
Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s mobile and desktop performance. This free tool tests individual pages rather than the whole site, so start with your homepage, which is typically the most important and most visited page on any site. You can then check pages that are core to your business.
While PageSpeed Insights doesn’t check for every factor within the page experience update, it does check Core Web Vitals, a subset of page experience that includes LCP, CLS and FID. A failing score in any one area means you have work to do.