How to Improve Page Experience at Enterprise Scale?
Google regularly updates its algorithm and the next big change to the algorithm is the inclusion of Page Experience as a ranking factor. The Page Experience rollout takes into account consumers' experience of interacting with a site without obstacles and errors. Page Experience as a ranking signal was initially expected to be fully rolled out by May 2021. But as per a new update, Google is now pushing to introduce the update starting mid-June and fully roll it out by August 2021.
Performance Matters - Users rank the time it takes a page to load as the most important metric. Speed ranks higher than site usability or how attractive the site looks.
To provide consumers a positive experience, Google provides higher ranking to sites that provide consumers a seamless journey. To meet this requirement, sites need to be responsive, stable, fast and allow consumers to navigate the site without interruptions.
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics Google has created to measure the Page Experience for a web page. Page Experience is an algorithm update that Google will be rolling out and Google has been very specific about the metrics and the related benchmarks it expects.
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics that measure a webpage’s user experience.
Page experience is measured by quantifying the load time, interactivity, and visual stability of a page. Currently, Core Web Vitals includes three metrics - Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Each Core Web Vital measures a real and distinct aspect of the user experience as explained below.
Core Web Vitals take into account the time it takes for a page to load, the time it takes for a page to become interactive and the amount of unexpected movement of content on a page.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is the amount of time it takes for the main content on the page to load. A study conducted by Akamai found out that 53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Several studies have found the conversion rate is the best if the page loads within four seconds. (Portent, 2019).
Google recommends sites should aim to keep First Input Delay (FID) under 100 milliseconds for 75% of page loads.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is the amount of unexpected movement of content(s) on a page. Each layout shift on the page is calculated based on the size of the HTML Element and the distance the HTML element moved from the original location. CLS for a page is then calculated by adding up all individual layout shifts that take place on the page. Low CLS scores imply very few elements have shifted on the page. Review how unexpected movement of HTML elements affects CLS score and other layout shifts in detail here.
Individual layout shifts can happen because pages load HTML elements progressively or content is dynamically injected into the page. A base-level experience is loaded first and the more advanced functionality is loaded later. This technique is used by developers to support legacy browsers. The progressive loading technique is also used to load pages fast and lower LCP.
While pages may load fast, the visible elements on the page keep shifting thereby negatively affecting the user page experience journey. More importantly, in some cases, large layout shifts can cause serious errors. For example, a user may be intending to click the cancel button but may land up clicking on the buy button or may click buy twice.
For these reasons, it's important to keep the CLS on a page low. Google recommends sites aim for a CLS of less than 0.1 for 75% of page loads. A few practices that can help keep the CLS score low include adding size attributes to images and never inserting content above existing content. Review how to improve CLS here.
Google has announced that Page Experience will officially become an important ranking factor in August 2021 and will potentially have an outsized impact on the organic traffic to a site. This feature was earlier expected to be launched in May 2021, but Google has postponed the change to gradually roll out starting mid-June and become completely live by end of August 2021.
This postponement signifies how big this change is for enterprises to manage and why businesses should employ resources to optimize their websites for Core Web Vitals metrics.
Page Experience pulls together all three Core Web Vital metrics to classify a page as Good, Needs Improvement, or Poor. The table below is the criteria used to classify pages.
Google has invested a significant amount of time and research to come up with all the Core Web Vitals thresholds listed in this article. The threshold-based recommendation is based on analyzing data from tens of thousands of sites available in the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) database.
Page Experience for the landing pages is the top factor along with Click Through Rate (CTR) for improving Ad Quality Score as well. It is thus essential to improve your website’s Page Experience scores.
Good Page Experience is important but it is one of several important ranking factors like High-quality and relevant content, Site security, Mobile Friendliness, and several other factors.
Note: Google has more than 200 ranking signals. So, a Good Page Experience rating on its own is not sufficient to gain organic traffic. Page experience work must be complemented with other ranking factors like high-quality and relevant content. For example, in addition to Page Performance Experience, Google also tracks overall Site Security (HTTPS-security), Site Accessibility, Mobile Friendliness, Technical SEO, User Experience (CTR, Bounce Rate and Dwell time), Internal and External linking, and No Intrusive Interstitials (or no popup ads) to list a few important ranking factors.
There are several tools available to help improve the Page Experience rating for a page. Performance tools are based on Field data or Lab data.
Field data (also referred to as Real User Monitoring or RUM) is based on data collected by the Chrome browser. Lab data on the other hand is based on loading and analyzing page performance data on a server. Some of the top tools available include:
There are several tools available to help you measure and optimize the Page Experience score for your webpage.
Field (RUM) Tools
Google Search Console (GSC)- Core Web Vitals Report
The Page Experience feature of GSC classifies a page as Poor, Needs improvement, or Good. Additionally, the Speed Test feature on GSC has been replaced with Core Web Vitals to provide more granular information on the page.
Chrome User Experience Report (CRuX) is a database of performance data gathered from real users’ web browsing experience. Google maintains this database and collects real user experience data from Chrome. This database contains data from more than 18 million websites and provides insights into how users experience the Web.
PageSpeed Insights (PSI)
A tool provided by Google to let consumers understand how a site is performing. PSI collects Field Data* for pages over 28 days and provides suggestions on how the performance of a page can be improved. Under the hood, PSI uses Lighthouse to calculate performance metrics using field data.
Lighthouse is Google’s open-source tool for improving the quality of web pages. It does this by running hundreds of audits on a page for performance, accessibility, SEO, mobile, and best practices. Lighthouse runs a series of audits and generates a report for the page in JSON and HTML format.
WebPageTest is a Lab tool that gives the user fine-grained control on loading a Web page. The user can specify the device, browser, geographic location, connection speed, and cache state.
*Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tests for page speed using Google Lighthouse but uses field data to calculate performance metrics.
Currently, the process for tracking and addressing issues related to Core Web Vitals and Page Experience is done on a page-by-page basis using the tools listed above. Each team in an organization uses Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, or one of the other tools to analyze performance data for the pages they own.
Once these issues are highlighted by Lighthouse or other tools, teams have to look through the reports generated for each page to identify all the issues, prioritize issues they believe will have the highest impact, and fix them.
The reports generate tens of thousands of issues that need fixes across several web pages on the site. Prioritizing issues to work on and improving these pages can take time and cause your Page Experience scores to remain poor for longer thereby affecting the traffic to your web pages.
Furthermore, most teams that use PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse lack the expertise and experience to convert the reports generated from performance tools into actionable code improvements.
The current process described does not scale for large enterprise websites that may have thousands of pages. Furthermore, there are several additional problems with the current process described below.
Google recommends optimizing Core Web Vitals for the consumer journey throughout the site and not just for a specific page. The goal is to remove interruptions, obstacles, and errors to provide users a seamless journey site-wide.
The only way to ensure site-wide optimization is by fixing issues on each specific web page. Performance improvement work is usually targeted to specific teams and pages. As a result, a few pages on your site have ‘Good’ Page Experience ratings while most other pages on the site have ‘Poor’ Page Experience ratings. The result of local optimization is poor consumer journey through the site which in turn can result in lower ranking on Google search for organic traffic.
It is important to benchmark your site’s user experience relative to the competition. Having visibility into the competitive landscape allows you to offer the best-in-class user experience.
For example, businesses like automobile loans, mortgages, credit cards are highly competitive and tend to invest a lot in site usability. Similarly, other sites that have B2B traffic may tend to invest less in site usability and more in terms of adding functionality.
Thus, understanding the industry and competitor-specific performance scores for each page and keyword is essential. It is critical to have visibility on your competitor’s Page Experience scores and to make sure your page experience is better, something that current optimization tools do not offer.
The reports generated by the performance tools like Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights do not link web resources to traffic or other metrics like clicks, impressions, and conversion. As a result, teams do not have sufficient visibility on how to prioritize work and spend a lot of development cycles making less impactful improvements. These changes do not necessarily make big performance score impacts and are unable to move the needle for businesses.
After teams have released a performance improvement they do not have tools to correlate the performance improvements they make with business success metrics like clicks, impressions, and conversions. All these shortcomings fail to provide a wider view on how to improve Core Web Vitals and align them with your business needs to grow organic traffic and improve conversion for paid traffic.
The Quattr platform addresses the shortcomings of the current process and helps you optimize your site to improve overall Page Experience and Core Web Vitals. Quattr is a data-driven AI platform trusted by the world's top brands to grow organic and paid presence on search engines. The platform helps customers grow traffic twice as fast and improve conversion by optimizing not just Page Experience Factors but so much more.
The Quattr platform generates, connects, and transforms data from multiple sources including Lighthouse and Google Search Console into a single coherent SEO Data Lake. The platform runs Google’s open-source Lighthouse tool on your website and competitor sites in a controlled simulation environment using multiple network profiles in both desktop and mobile mode. Network profiles are based on average network conditions for each country.
The Data Lake includes data for your website and your top competitors. The platform then uses advanced analytics to score your website and top competitors based on performance experience and users’ journey across devices and locations.
The platform uses AI and other advanced analytics techniques to generate a ranked list of highly actionable core web vitals and page experience recommendations. Organizations can use these recommendations to gain unprecedented speed in improving Page Experience for the entire site.
In addition to the Core Web Vitals, the platform also reviews and generates recommendations for other performance metrics, all tracked weekly. The metrics include Time To First Byte (TTFB), First Contentful Paint (FCP), Speed Index, and Time To Interactive (TTI).
At any point in time Lighthouse can surface hundreds of issues per page that adds up to tens of thousands of issues across the site. It's important to first address issues that will have the highest user experience and business impact. To create a list of ranked recommendations the Quattr platform first converts all issues generated for all pages into milliseconds wasted. It then applies proprietary AI algorithms to generate a ranked set of highly actionable recommendations.
The ranking is based on many factors to optimize site-wide performance rather than performance improvements that are local to a specific page. It does this by taking into account milliseconds wasted by the resource, the number of pages impacted by the resource, the total clicks impacted by the resource, and quantifying how this issue impacts your website’s organic traffic.
The ranked and quantified usability recommendations allow developers to focus on the highest value work that can potentially have an outsized site-wide impact. Teams also have an option to filter and organize recommendations by Department, Type of technical work, Keyword Intent, and Page experience rating.
For example, using filters teams can ask questions like:
Show me all recommendations for pages owned by my department that have a “poor Page Experience”. Focusing on these recommendations allows you to improve the Page Experience rating from “Poor” to “Good”.
Show me all images that need to be converted to a next-generation format.
Show me all images that are not correctly encoded and run through an image optimizer.
The platform includes automatic competitor identification for each page and provides complete competitive analysis which is critical for benchmarking. This helps teams understand how they are operating within the competitive landscape. The platform provides side by side comparison for each Core Web Vital and Page Experience as shown in the illustration below. Besides, the platform also provides side by side comparison for several other ranking factors.
To maximize the business impact, your website should have performance scores that are better than the fastest competitor. Quattr's Site Usability platform automatically identifies competitor’s pages, benchmarks your site, and provides specific recommendations on improving your site performance.
The Quattr platform provides a comprehensive heat map view of experience factors including Page Experience rating so that users can quickly identify the part of the site that needs attention.
Teams can review and co-relate performance metrics with traffic metrics like impressions, clicks, position, and conversion over a period. In addition to the current period, the platform supports period over period analysis. The period over period analysis can be quarterly, monthly, or a custom period. After a performance change is completed teams can use this feature to measure the impact of their change.
Search Engine Optimization is a zero-sum game with long-term impacts. One of the best ways to receive a boost in traffic is to have a Good Page Experience score for all the vital pages in a customer’s journey. Enterprise websites with thousands of pages of content need a better way to monitor gaps, prioritize issues and measure impact and make this a continuous process.
Yet, for enterprises, the development cost and infrastructure cost required to improve the overall Page Experience can be very high and can take valuable time away from other high-impact work.
The Quattr platform provides an automated, data-driven AI system that addresses shortcomings with the current approach to improve core web vitals and page experience at scale. It enables you to optimize your website based on recommendations with the highest business impact that can be delivered in the lowest time with minimal effort.
Core Web Vitals is a major update by the Google search algorithm and the right tools like Quattr can help you stay ahead of the curve and beat your competition.