Google ranks for experiences and so should you
It is more important than ever to have a well-optimized website and a great digital experience in the current landscape - many industries are now relying heavily upon digital and eCommerce to replace their pre-Covid store footfall.
One of the key pieces for success in the digital world is having a solid SEO strategy. Google is the most utilized search engine, making optimizing for their algorithm an important task for driving traffic to your websites.
Last year, for the first time ever, Google announced coming changes to their algorithm in advance, giving the industry a large hint that there were substantial changes to come. They announced there would be increased focus on the digital experience websites afford – in other words the focus was moving from rewarding websites that were easy to crawl to those that provided excellent digital experiences for their customers.
The first part of these changes, Core Web Vitals, was rolled out on June, 12 2021 – so what is it? And what has it changed?
INTRODUCING CORE WEB VITALS
These are a set of 3 parameters that Google believes is part of the makeup of a good digital experience: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
The Core Web Vitals are essentially the fundamental requirements in order to facilitate a good experience - see below for a breakdown of what each means.
LCP – Largest Contentful Paint
The time taken for your website to load the largest image and text in view. In other words, ensuring the user is able to visit your site and quickly view the main content – allowing them to make a split-second judgement whether the content’s what they were looking for.
A good user experience: for LCP to occur within 2.5s of the page starting to load. As Amazon discovered over a decade ago, every millisecond matters and 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales.
FID – First Input Delay
The reactivity of a website – or rather, the time taken for the website to be reactive. So that when a user interacts with a piece of functionality it takes place in a short period of time and is able to overrule a previous requested action. For example, when a user clicks to purchase something, but quickly changes their mind and hits the back button (shown below).
A good experience: an FID less than 100 milliseconds.
CLS – Cumulative Layout Shift
Measures how consistent the placement of your content is. Whether as your page continues to load the existing content is bumped or ‘shifted’ to another position - resulting in a website that is difficult to read, navigate and browse.A good user experience is defined as one with a CLS score of less than 0.1.
To read further about how this score is calculated see here.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Ultimately, that Google is adding layers to it’s ranking algorithm so that it not only rewards crawler-friendly websites, but also those that provide a great customer experience – whilst placing greater weight to the digital experience. Meaning they’re now prioritizing websites that empower users to easily digest and interact with their content.
This change is now live; if you are not within their thresholds for a good experience, then you are going to be penalized and your ranking will be impacted. Ultimately resulting in your organic traffic decreasing.
However, a good digital experience shouldn’t just be about appealing to Google. It’s about creating differentiation from your competition through forging a unique experience, making the process from browsing products through to purchase as seamless and enjoyable as possible. A recent study conducted by Gartner of more than 3,000 customers found:
“Nearly half of customers can’t tell the difference between most brands’ digital experiences, and even fewer customers actually report doing something different as a result of a recent digital experience.”
Showing that the majority of experiences that have been created are not differentiating sufficiently from a customer standpoint. On the other hand, the study concluded that a good digital experience provides a large opportunity to build loyalty - an active change brought about by the digital experience increased impact brand preference by 37% and advocacy by 54%.
Supporting this, research conducted by ZenDesk found that 75% of customers are willing to spend more from a company with a good digital experience, whilst 50% will switch to a competitor after a bad one.
When it comes to curating a digital experience, it shouldn’t be about determining specific load speeds but about the holistic experience - delivering real business value through a superior connection with your customers.
WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?
Your first step should be to determine whether the new Core Web Vitals is having a negative impact on your SEO strategy and businesses bottom line. To do this you should investigate your website’s current performance – Google Search Console has a dedicated page to identify where your current performance stacks up. For those with a mature SEO strategy you are likely already monitoring your target organic keywords (and if not you should be!), over the coming weeks and months you should pay careful attention to any shifting rankings and potentially correlate those changes with Core Web Vitals – those that do nothing and have poor Core Web Vital scores will likely see their search positions tumble in favour of your competitors.
If you have identified that your digital experience is not meeting the Core Web Vitals you may want to consider what is required in order to change this. In doing so you will likely not only improve your search rankings but also your customers shopping experience, conversion rates and your businesses bottom line. It’s worth considering that the importance of digital experiences is likely only to increase, for Google and our consumers alike.
If your current CMS is limiting the digital experiences you can create or is impeding your ability to achieve solid Core Web Vital scores without hacks and work arounds, it may be worth an investigation into more modern solutions like Amplience and the broader MACH and Jamstack technology landscape. Whilst technology alone will never solve for core web vitals entirely (the devil will be in the implementation and holistic experience), modern tools, products and vendors like Amplience are relentlessly focused on providing a superior, blazing fast and polished experience for their customers.
Looking to learn more? Read the Future of Ecommerce 2021 report by Raconteur, as published in the Times.