034. Google Ranking Factors (that you pretty much definitely have to do)


released April 2, 2021
(recorded March 31, 2021) - 1 hours, 22 minutes

Today we’ve got beeping power supplies and upcoming changes to Google ranking factors. We’re bringing these technical topics down to an understandable level and giving you ideas of how to deal with them today and tomorrow.

Google Page Experience Ranking Factors are 1 month away. This is our first episode in April 2021. We are now one month away from when Google is supposed to change website ranking to include Page Experience factors.

To start off, we need to remind our listeners that the most important ranking factor is your content. Google will always rank its results according to the best content that they believe will answer the question that the person is asking.

Common search phrases of 5 words or less, that include words related to products and services, usually return search results from very competitive businesses. Results within competitive industries are usually made up of good looking and functioning website.

Within competitive industries, you will rarely see search results that include bad looking websites that are broken. Competitive industries also have a lot of related paid ads.

That said, Matt often finds poorly formatted and broken websites amongst search results when he's doing research on technical or obscure topics. Recently, when he was doing his research for the automatic color calculators for RGB, HSL, and HSV he had to sift through 15 year old websites that had somehow lost their formatting, but the information was still accurate. In these situations, Google throws all ranking factors out the window and relies solely on the content itself.

Google cares about customer experience. Well, to be honest, Google cares about the money it makes through Google Ads, but the only way they can make more money from Google Ads is if they make people happy.

How do we make people happy? By giving them a good customer experience.

Google publishes blogs for every one of its departments and sub companies. In the blog they talk about new ideas and what they are developing. They also give recommendations of what they want websites to do, and how they want them to function. All these recommendations are based on the idea of improving customer experience.

Google wants faster websites
It was August 9, 2010 when Google first said that consumers wanted websites to be faster. They urged web developers to make faster websites, but we web developers are a stubborn group and we are forced to follow the directions of website owners who have always wanted websites that flew in the face of Google recommendations.

From 2010 to 2017 most websites didn't really care about speed. Google had to force everyone to pay attention to speed, so it made it a ranking factor in July 2018.

Mobile websites as a ranking factor
Page speed isn't the only customer experience recommendation that Google's made over the years. They first recommended the importance of mobile websites on February 2011, but it took them until April 21, 2015 to make that a ranking factor. This algorithm update was referred to as Mobilegeddon.

Website security
Google wanted to give everyone a safer website experience to reduce the chances of identity theft, so on June 26, 2014 they recommended that all websites use secure certificates/SSL/https. Google felt this was an easy upgrade for websites, and securing your website made so much sense as a way for a business to show that they care about customers. It was only 6 weeks later that Google began using HTTPS as a ranking factor.

Website popups as a ranking factor
We all hate popups that appear as soon as you land on the home page. These popups block the content and require that you X-out of the popup or scroll down. Google learned that popups create a bad customer experience, so on August 23, 2016 they announced that websites should avoid popups on mobile sites. They then started using popups as a ranking factor on January 10, 2017.

Most web developers and website owners have followed the secure website recommendation, all but old websites have followed the mobile recommendations, may have also followed the recommendations for pagespeed but it seems like web developers haven't embraced speed because Google says it's a lightweight ranking factor.

What's interesting is that, even though many sites are scoring well for security, mobile friendliness, and speed, there are still a myriad of sites, including, that have interstitial ad pages that ignore the potential for a Google's ranking factor penalty. The sites ignoring the interstitial recommendation are usually large websites that have an existing following and they really don't care about their Google ranking.

Largest Contentful Paint
On September 10, 2019, Google introduced another way to measure the page performance of your website called the "Largest Contentful Paint," which is referred to as LCP for short. This metric measures the amount of time for your web page to load enough content for someone to see and start consuming. This metric is interesting because Google was trying to convince website owners and developers to pay attention to the download size of content that was on a website. But as internet speeds on 4G and WiFi increased, webmasters didn't feel like they should bother paying attention to image and website content optimization.

First Input Delay
On November 7, 2019 Google then introduced the page performance metric called "First Input Delay," which is referred to as FID. This measures the time it takes for links, buttons, and controls to activate. This metric became important to measure as more developers began using javascripts to create fancy interactions on websites.

Our listeners are probably familiar with the abbreviation HTML, which is the programming code that we use to build websites. What our listeners might not know is that websites are now programmed with at least 4 different programming languages. The other languages include CSS, JavaScript, and whatever language runs on the web server.

CSS controls the look and design of your site.

JavaScript is multiuse, and commonly controls moving images, expanding menus, and loading of information as you scroll down the screen.

The fourth programming language can be PHP, .NET, C++, Java, ColdFusion, WebDNA, and many others. These languages are what your website developer used to create your website platform.

The First Input Delay metric means they are measuring how long it takes for the four languages to work together to activate website interactions. In Matt's opinion, the reason FID became important to measure is because many web developers began using very large, free public JavaScript libraries that include hundreds of fancy website features. It doesn't make sense to use these large free JavaScript libraries when you only need to use one or two of those features. Although these JavaScript libraries are good for the development stage, they should be minimized before a website goes live, but typical web developers do not do this. As an analogy, using these large JavaScript libraries is like carrying around a very large suitcase with only a pair of socks and underwear inside.

Cumulative Layout Shift
The on May 21, 2020 Google announced a third page experience metric called Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS for short. This metric measures any content that appears lower on your page that only appears when you scroll. You might be familiar with this feature in social networks that load the next set of messages once you scroll to the bottom of the screen.

Some websites use this feature to load large images only when you scroll down enough that you need to see it. This delayed loading is good because it speeds up the measurements for Largest Contentful Paint and First Input Delay, but some sites don't implement it correctly. This isn't usually a problem on jewelry sites, but you do see this problem a lot on blogging and news websites that sell ads.

Many news sites have ads that refresh with different sizes, and every refresh causes a shift in the content. Some of those ads do not load until you start scrolling, and then all of a sudden the words you were reading get shifted up off the screen or down off the screen.

Google is concerned with this because they do not want you to load new content that causes buttons, links, or other interactive element to shift away just as you wanted to click on it. If you look at Google's blog you will see their example showing a Cancel Purchase button below a Complete Purchase button. They demonstrate how slow loading content shifts the buttons just as someone is about to press the Cancel button, but the shifted content tricks the person into pressing the Purchase button instead.

Again, I don't see this happening on any jewelry sites right now, so you probably don't need to worry about it, but you should still be aware of it.

Google's Reasons for Wanting Improvement and the Barriers to Improving Page Experience
So these new measurements are all designed to create a better user experience. Showing website results with good user experiences will motivate people to continue to use Google, and therefore Google can continue to sell ads.

But yet, we as users all want these better websites. The problem is that, even though we all want them, small businesses owners don't want to pay for these types of improvements. Being told you should do something because it will make people happy isn't really a motivating factor to spend money.

For the last two days Matt has been attending the Instore Magazine online event called "How to Crush it Online." There was a session called "How to Build the Ultimate Website" with a panel of 3 jewelers who explained their stories of launching ecommerce websites in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of them explained that there was an "ah-ha" moment when they realized that there website wasn't user friendly, and they had to rethink it completely. The pandemic forced them to use their website themselves for the first time, which is when they realized that they had designed it based on their own ideas of what the site should look like without ever putting themselves in their customers shoes to try and use the site for real.

In our experience, we find that it's very hard for anyone to understand why a 5 year old website is bad, or why even a brand new website is bad, unless we can force them to try and use the website from the point of view of a customer. Without that shift of your point of view, there's no motivation to improve the user experience that Google is asking for.

We've covered all the reasons why website owners and web developers have ignored the page experience metrics that Google talks about. Just like in the past, Google said "hey this is a good idea" and then later announced that those good ideas would be included as ranking factors.

Google Announces Page Experience Will Become a Ranking Factor
In July 2020, Google announced that they would incorporate LCP, FID, and CLS into the ranking algorithm in May 2021. All together they called these Core Website Vitals. This announcement sent many website professionals into a tailspin because now they had a deadline to improve their sites otherwise they might drop in search ranking.

Even though Google forewarned everyone of the need to improve page experience as far back as September 10, 2019, many didn't listen. We can't even blame the COVID-19 pandemic either, especially since there were millions of new websites that were launched over the last 12 months.

If this is the first time you're hearing about any of this, then you have to blame your web developer. Let's face it, if your website wasn't put through a page experience test as part of the original setup, then you're probably going to rank lower than your competitor that is paying attention to this stuff.

Some developers do pay attention to page experience factors and they bake their website platforms with speed in mind. One of the big speed arguments involves responsive website design and the added time factor for Contenful Paint and First Input Delay because your browsers needs to load everything before it can figure out how it will appear on different size screens.

We have a very long writeup on our website that compares speed of responsive website design to those that are using dynamic serving design. Recently, the terminology of dynamic serving websites has shifted to being called headless design and server rendering. That long writeup can be found here

Our GlitterPaw Platform uses the headless/dynamic/server rendering strategy.

Google has an online testing tool that shows you how good or bad your website is right now. They score websites from 0 to 100 and they tell you exactly what's wrong with your website and how to correct it. A lot of the found issues are highly technical and need to be fixed by your web developer.
That tool can be found here:

We're pretty happy that GlitterPaw often scores above a 90 on this page usability test.

You've probably heard a lot of buzz around about something called "mobile-first websites." Originally this buzz referred to tweaking your responsive design so it looked perfect on a mobile device, but not spending as much time tweaking what it looks like on desktops. This approach also causes issues with page experience because people on desktops have a harder time using your site than if they were on their smartphone.

In the last year or so the method of mobile-first has begun to move towards the dynamic and server rendering of websites. As more devices and screen sizes become available, you can't rely on the responsive design. For example, a responsive design focusing on smartphones is probably not going to function very well on a smart watch, on a car dashboard screen, or on a smart appliance screen.

While someone might not be looking at your jewelry website on their refrigerator, there's a good chance that they will preview websites on their smart watch and on their car's dashboard screen.

What you need to do and avoid
As we said, the content is the most important thing on your website. No matter what, you always have a chance to outrank someone else in Google search results if your website provides better information than your competitor.

Google has also told us that the page experience metrics will be a small factor in how they rank you. They called it a sub-factor.

However, in the highly competitive jewelry market, it's these sub-factors that can bump you from positions 5 to 10 on Google to positions 1 to 4 in the results.

There are several things that you are probably doing on your website that go against page experience. Here's a few:

1. Home page slider images
2. Non-optimized JavaScripts
3. Buttons and menus that need JavaScript to run
4. Responsive design

At this point, you should go to the Google PageInsights Tool and test a few pages of your website. Look at all the problems they list and contact your web developer.

If you're using Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, and Shopify, you're not going to be able to fix the technical issues that Google shows you, but you can still follow their recommendations for improving the content on your website.

Google: Core Web Vitals Becoming Ranking Signals in May 2021
Google’s Core Web Vitals to Become Ranking Signals
The Google Page Experience Update: User experience to become a Google ranking factor
AT: 04/02/2021 07:07:45 PM  

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