The Google Page Experience update is set to launch next May, Google confirmed Tuesday. That’s roughly a year after the company first announced the update and gives us another six months to prepare for it.
The update will take expected user experience into consideration for ranking in search results. “Today we’re announcing that the page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021,” Google said in the announcement.
Google will also test showing a “visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience,” the company noted Tuesday.
What is page experience?
To understand how a user will perceive the experience of a specific web page, Google will evaluate a set of signals. These include signals such as how quickly a page loads, if it’s mobile-friendly, runs on HTTPS, has intrusive interstitials and whether content jumps around as the page loads.
As we outlined in May, page experience is made up of several existing Google search ranking factors, including the Mobile-friendly update, Page Speed Update, the HTTPS ranking boost, the intrusive interstitials penalty, safe browsing penalty, while refining metrics around speed and usability. These refinements are under what Google calls Core Web Vitals.
Read our Guide to Core Web Vitals for a deeper dive into what you need to know about these key user experience metrics.
Visual indicators of user experience in search results
When the Page Experience update goes live, Google said it will test various ways to display a “visual indicator” in the search results that will inform a searcher if a specific search result is expected to have a great experience. Google has shown these types of visual indicators before with AMP icons, slow labels, mobile-friendly labels, and more.
“We believe that providing information about the quality of a web page’s experience can be helpful to users in choosing the search result that they want to visit,” Google wrote. “On results, the snippet or image preview helps provide topical context for users to know what information a page can provide. Visual indicators on the results are another way to do the same, and we are working on one that identifies pages that have met all of the page experience criteria.” [emphasis added.]
We asked Google for a sample of what this visual indicator may look like, but the company had nothing to share at this time.
It is hard to say how long the user experience indicators will last, it depends on if Google decides, based on the data, if it is worth displaying in the search results.
Testing soon. Google said you may see these icons and labels in the search results soon. “We plan to test this soon and if the testing is successful, it will launch in May 2021 and we’ll share more details on the progress of this in the coming months,” Google wrote.
How to prepare for the Page Experience update
You can start preparing now for user experience to become a ranking factor now. The Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console is an excellent place to start getting a sense of how your site is performing in these areas.
AMP won’t be required for articles to show in the Top Stories carousel in search after this update launches in May 2021. Google will continue to support AMP, however, calling it “one of the easiest and cost-effective ways for publishers looking to achieve great page experience outcomes.” If you publish an AMP version of your content, Google Search will “link to that cache-optimized AMP version to help optimize delivery to users, just as is the case today,” the company said
How much of an impact this will really have on rankings isn’t yet clear. Many SEOs expect it will be relatively minor, since many of the Page Experience signals already factor into Google’s search algorithms. However the visual indicator Google announced today will give SEOs a bigger speaker to advocate for their companies to pay more attention to Core Web Vitals and other experience signals.
“I think this gives you good ammunition to go to your web team or your performance team and say, ‘Hey, you know, Google . . . [is] going to release this in six months and so we need to focus on it’,” Aja Frost, head of content SEO at HubSpot, said during a Live with Search Engine Land on the Page Experience update in June, adding, “It can be hard to convince those teams that what you want to focus on is what they want to focus on, so any kind of official update or messaging does help push your cause.”