Everything You Need To Know About Google's May 2021 Update

By Ilia Jones | May 2021

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If you think your website is as optimized for SEO as possible, get ready to think again.

Google is rolling out a new algorithm.

While there are a few updated factors, the most significant change—and the one most likely to impact you—is the introduction of what they're calling Page Experience. 

Here's what we know so far. 

The New Algorithm Will Be Rolled Out In May

We don't have a specific date in May when the rollout will occur, but all signs point to the new algorithm going into effect in May 2021. 

In reality, Google updates its algorithm up to 500 to 600 times per year. But these are minor updates that go unnoticed by a majority of users and web developers. 

More extensive updates, the kind that SEO strategists and marketers need to know about and prepare for, are rarer. For example, in 2020, Google released three core algorithm updates and one other update related to featured snippets. 

Page Experience is About to be Quantified

What makes this upcoming update such a big deal is the inclusion of a factor called Page Experience.

Page Experience consists of several metrics, including a subset that they are calling Core Web Vitals:

  • Loading
  • Interactivity
  • Visual Stability

These Core Web Vitals directly relate to the user experience, essentially ranking sites that users love higher than other, less user-friendly sites. 

Other metrics will continue to be tracked, such as:

  • Mobile-friendly
  • Safe Browsing
  • HTTPS
  • No Intrusive Interstitials

What Google Has To Say

In a statement, Google explained their goals and rationale for the upcoming changes:

"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. 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."

How to Optimize Your Page Experience

Google offers a couple of tools to help you improve your page experience metrics, using what they call Field Data and Lab Data. Field Data is based on actual, real-world user experience. Lab Data refers to website performance in a controlled environment. 

Field Data is captured by the Google Search Console, which includes the Chrome UX Report for Core Web Vitals under Enhancements. The report will show your website's desktop and mobile performance. 

Lab Data can be accessed using Google Lighthouse. This tool is best used for finding issues and bug fixes as it allows you to make changes in a controlled environment. 

Loading 

Website loading performance, or Largest Colorful Paint (LCP), refers to the speed at which the largest content block or image above the fold loads. Basically, it tracks the loading time of the hero image and initial content. 

Aim for an LCP loading time of 2.5 seconds or less. 

Interactivity

The next metric to track is interactivity, or First Input Delay (FID). This measures the delay that a user experiences in clicking, tapping or pressing a key after the website appears to be finished loading. 

Aim for an FID of less than 100 milliseconds for at least 75% of your web pages. 

Visual Stability

Visual stability, or Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), is the apparent movement of page elements, such as buttons or images, during page load. For example, if your page appears to be done loading, and a user tries to click a button that "moves" or the page shifts causing them to click a different button instead, you would score low in CLS. 

Aim for a CLS score of .1 or less for at least 75% of page loads. 

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What This Means for The Future of SEO

Time will tell how the new Google algorithm update impacts SEO. For now, we know for sure that user experience will become an even bigger factor in page ranking. 

However, that doesn't mean that you can give up your content marketing strategy or stop integrating your social media with your website. As Google has stated, “Great page experience doesn’t override having great page content.” 

Do your Homework Now

To avoid being blindsided by the algorithm rollout in May, start doing your homework now. Take a close look at how your website performs in the Page Experience metrics like LCP, FID and CLS, and do what you can to improve your scores. 

While Google offers some great tools to start with, there are many other tools available that can help improve page performance and user experience. Consider doing heatmap testing to see what areas of your website are engaging your users. Try a traffic analyzer to gain more insight into the traffic your website gets. While you're at it, review your competitors' sites as well.

Any tool that can help you gain insight into your page performance and improve user experience will help you prepare for the update so you don't lose your hard-won SEO ranking. 

Of course, ArcStone is here to help if you need a little extra support for your website. We offer website design and development as well as digital marketing strategies for thoughtful brands and nonprofits. To learn more about how we can help you navigate the new Google algorithm update, contact us today. 

Topics: Digital Marketing

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