Preparing for Google’s Page Experience update: three businesses share their stories
Posted by Luci Wood on July 28, 2021
Just like loungewear and ‘you’re on mute’, the buzz around ‘Core Web Vitals’ has been a staple of 2021 for SEOs across the world.
As we now head into the much anticipated rollout-out phase of Google’s Page Experience update, we caught up with a few of our clients to see how they’ve been getting on with preparations for the update.
We chatted with Harry Griffiths, Digital Marketing Manager at Night Zookeeper, Mona Nikzad, Digital & eCommerce Marketing Strategist at Organix and Simon Glanville, Head of SEO at Future about how they’ve been preparing for the update.
The impact of the Page Experience update
The first question on our list is one you may have found yourself asking, or having your clients ask you. What’s the real impact of the Page Experience update? Will it be as groundbreaking as Penguin, or is the hype all for nothing? More importantly, what does it mean for businesses and their customers?
It seems most folks see Google’s messaging around Core Web Vitals being a ‘tiebreaker’ ranking signal, rather than a groundbreaking update to its algorithms.
[Mona] We understand the Page Experience update will act as a tie break ranking signal, so our online visibility may improve as a result of the positive work completed. The work has also had a positive impact on usability and page speed, meaning our rate of conversions through the shop may also improve.
[Simon] In terms of traffic and rankings, I’m not convinced that the page experience signal will have a noticeable impact across the board. However, it’s interesting that Google has said it could be applied in a tie-breaker situation, which could mean this comes into play on very competitive search terms where a number of pages have strong content. Ultimately, I still think the content itself is the most important signal (along with links), but any steps you’re taking to improve user experience can only be a good thing.
Interestingly, for Night Zookeeper, the update has triggered wider business conversations around their technology stack, and has led to an overhaul of the CMS.
[Harry] The Page Experience update has been the catalyst for us moving from a hardcoded site to a headless CMS. We already wanted to move to a CMS for various internal reasons, but the fact our site had so many Page Experience issues to address meant it made sense to make such infrastructure changes during a migration to a new CMS. I believe that on the new CMS (which is optimised towards Page Experience update), traffic will increase, conversions will probably increase proportionally to the traffic increase.
Preparing for the update
Having knowledge of the update is one thing, but undertaking preparations is quite another. Whilst some clients, including Night Zookeeper, have focused on making improvements to their CMS, others have gone much more granular to make iterative improvements to key Core Web Vitals metrics.
We asked Simon, Mona and Harry what actions they’ve taken as a business to prepare for the page experience update.
[Simon] Our sites were already mobile-friendly and without security issues, but we’ve had to do a significant amount of work to improve our Core Web Vitals scores. Most of our sites scored ‘Poor’ for CLS, and we also had some issues with LCP and FID.
[Mona] Though we already had a backlog of page speed improvements to make to the site from Blue Array, the team completed a further investigation looking specifically at Core Web Vitals metrics that needed work. We have implemented these recommendations on our subdomain, and have plans in place to complete all other Page Experience recommendations across all domains.
Challenges, complications and shifting priorities
Like everything in SEO, success and simplicity are never guaranteed. Though we’ve all enjoyed an extended deadline on the rollout, getting ready in time has meant shuffling plans and resources for many of our clients. Harry, Mona and Simon all reflected that priorities changed in some way to accommodate preparations for the update:
[Harry] Shifting roadmaps and internal priorities to accommodate the CMS migration, negotiating the delay Google made to their Page Experience update, expressing how important the Page Experience update is to internal stakeholders.
[Mona] We have had to shift around priorities in our roadmaps to make sure we are fully prepared ahead of the roll out.
[Simon] The biggest challenge has been the development resource required to improve our Core Web Vitals metrics, which has had an impact on our roadmap. This has meant some projects – including platform migrations and platform enhancements – have had to be pushed back or moved around in the roadmap.
So is anyone starting to see any results off the back of their hard work? Or is it too early to tell?
The answer (you guessed it)? It depends.
[Mona] All URLs that were previously flagged as having Core Web Vitals issues on our subdomain are now considered ‘Good’. We are hoping for similar results on our other domains once complete.
[Simon] We’ve seen a significant improvement in Core Web Vitals scores across our sites, with many now with the vast majority of their URLs classed as ‘Good’. This has also been reflected in the new Page Experience report in Google Search Console, where some sites are scoring 100% and the majority are scoring above 90%.
[Harry] None yet, as we are yet to launch!
How can we as SEOs support businesses through the update?
Here at Blue Array, we stand for SEO. That means doing our utmost to support our clients in facing the peaks and troughs of SEO – from algorithm updates to ever-changing SERP landscapes.
Over the last few months, we’ve been working very closely with all of our clients to inform, educate and support them as they prepare for the Page Experience update. It won’t come as a surprise that many of our clients already had page speed on their radars, and whilst Core Web Vitals may have been a new phrase to grapple with, most have risen to the challenge.
[Mona] The BA team has been very proactive in raising the Page Experience update as a priority task, and leading the project to prepare our sites for it. They have explained what it means for us using an appropriate level of detail, but then engaged well with the digital agency to share exactly what needed to be done along with reasons for the implementation.
[Harry] [Blue Array] prepared a great report of the major issues that concerned our site vis a vis Page Experience, that helped encourage our development team to transition to a new CMS and address the issues in the process.
At Blue Array, we firmly believe in an honest and collaborative approach with our clients. For the last few months, our technical team have been busy preparing audits that focus solely on Core Web Vitals for our clients and giving them honest advice and guidance on the importance of user experience:
“The one thing that stands out for me when doing Core Web Vital audits is that we have the ability to tell our clients that Content Layout Shift is a bad thing! As a user of websites (of course!) it is so pleasing to know that I can now advise clients to consider their end users when designing their sites (with backup from Google) – I just hope this gets rolled out to intrusive and unnecessary interstitials on desktop sites soon as well, as that is my other bugbear! – Daim Edwards, Technical SEO Specialist at Blue Array.
As with many aspects of SEO, theory and execution are two very different things. Happily, Google has provided advanced notice, timelines and guidance around the Page Experience update, and the importance of improving page experience is understood by most digital marketers.
For some brands, the update has prompted wider business discussions around the technology stack and has accelerated roadmaps to overhaul the technologies supporting the site.
Though no-one can predict the exact impact of the page experience update, we do know that it forms yet another signal in the algorithm arsenal, and is likely to be more of a ‘tie-breaker’ signal, than something that will transform poorly performing sites to first page stardom. Not only that, but naturally that impact of the update will vary depending on a multitude of factors, including competitive landscape, site setup and configuration, and available resources.
About our contributors
Harry Griffiths is the Digital Marketing Manager at Night Zookeeper, an online learning platform that has helped over 1 million children aged 6-12, to develop their writing, reading and creative thinking skills.
Mona Nikzad, Digital & eCommerce Marketing Strategist at Organix, the UK’s number one brand for organic baby food, toddler and baby snacks, and sells products both online and via supermarkets and health stores.
Simon Glanville is Head of SEO at Future. Future is the largest magazine publisher in the UK with a combined circulation of more than 3 million across their publications. Future’s content reaches 1 in 3 adults online in both the UK & the US, and SEO is a very important channel for growing and retaining readership.
A big thank you to Harry, Mona and Simon for their contributions.