On May 28, 2020, Google announced that its page experience update would debut sometime in 2021. It's the most advance notice Google has given for a pending update, and it has had SEO teams around the world racing to be sure their sites are prepared.
"Page experience" means that the elements on your site not only work well technically but also provide a good user experience.
In other words, your site should be intuitive and enjoyable to use, it should meet the needs of your customers, and it should have the content they need to help them move forward in their unique buyer's journey.
Many current SEO strategies rightfully highlight and focus on readability and scannability. Now, content strategists and tech teams must ensure that once someone arrives at their site or page, it functions flawlessly across both Web and mobile browsers.
What We Know About the Update
"The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page," said Google regarding the update. "Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction."
Basically, Google is trying to be more human about SEO. Though its current system does account for some backend and stylistic factors, the update will reward pages that are usable and liked by visitors.
The information Google has released about the update emphasizes the importance of what it calls Core Web Vitals, which look at usability dimensions, such as pageload time, interactivity, and the stability of the content as it loads (an example can be found in the video on this page).
How Page Experience Will Fit Into Your SEO Strategy
It is difficult to report exactly how much Google's page experience update will affect site ranking. The notice is so far in advance that either Google is keeping quiet on the exact impact or it itself isn't even sure yet.
However, Google SEO updates are not unprecedented, and there are some we can look to as potential indicators of the impact. Google's Panda and BERT updates, although more related to queries, fall into a similar sphere as the upcoming page experience update. On their release, Panda affected about 12% of all queries, and Google BERT affected 10%.
Assuming that the page experience update holds a similar weight (about 10%), page experience will not take over as the most important factor in getting a page to rank. That assumption was confirmed by Rudy Galfi, product lead of Google's Google Search Ecosystem. He told Search Engine Land that great content will still hold the most weight in ranking.
Google went a bit further on its blog, saying a page with good content and information but a poor page experience could still rank high, though not necessarily vice versa. Page experience will serve more as a tiebreaker between sites with similarly reputable content.
Three areas to focus on are content, mobile friendliness, and site security:
- Because content is still king, B2B sites should ensure their posts answer their customers' most important questions. From there, find the pages that bring you the most organic traffic; that's where your content audit should begin to guarantee that your page experiences are user friendly.
- More purchases are being made on mobile devices than ever before, and Google has already begun rolling out mobile-first measures. Those, coupled with the page experience rollout, should inspire B2B marketers to make sure their CTA placement and formatting are properly optimized.
- Site security speaks for itself. If a website isn't secure, or it has a high presence of malware and phishing activity, inherently it does not have a good page experience for users; thus, Google will penalize the site accordingly.
How Page Experience Will Affect B2Bs
Up to this point, we've discussed elements of page experience that hold true whether your business is B2B or B2C. But the B2B buyer's journey is different from that of a B2C consumer, and optimal on-page experiences will also differ.
B2C has a direct sales funnel: attract, educate, convert. A B2C company's goal is to move potential customers from the top of the funnel to the bottom in linear fashion, at least within the context of a website. Accordingly, it can be easier to understand how to create a good page experience for B2Cs. The Web team's job is to make sure the already-simple funnel feels effortless to those inside of it—high functionality of the "add to cart" feature or a good product filtering system, for example.
For B2Bs, however, the sales funnel is not always as linear as we expect it to be. B2B sites optimized for the sales funnel should feel less like a path and more like a playground wherein users can explore their own interests and needs. When optimizing for page experience, therefore, B2B companies need unique recommendations that reflect the complexity of their business model.
So, what can you do to create a better B2B page experience? First, sites need to allow users to be in control of their own journey. Make sure your site is easy to navigate so users can continue to explore all of the information you have to offer, regardless of where they are in the funnel.
On each page, your site should present options that allow users to progress from any given stage within the sales funnel to the next. That allows potential customers to take a journey that might not follow the linear funnel used in B2C marketing. If you provide only CTAs that push your users down the sales funnel, visitors may bounce from your site if they don't feel ready to take the next step. The goal is to help your users explore for as long as they need to, until they eventually convert.
You might also consider investing in conversion rate optimization (CRO) testing for the most essential pages on your site. CRO testing is capable of turning your best hypothesis about what your customers want into hard data. It's also cost-effective and it brings big returns.
Just as B2B customers need more variety during the buyer's journey, they also prefer variety in the content provided. Some users will want data, others may prefer something more visual. Some will learn from video; others might prefer a whitepaper. Some will want phone calls; others prefer to connect via email or chatbots.
Different users will feel connected to your site through different mediums, so it's important to provide as much variety as you can on your site so that it meets their needs more comprehensively.
Also, because users are taking their own journey through your site, they can jump in at any point without necessarily having picked up on industry jargon. Don't assume your potential customers know anything about your industry. Do thorough keyword research to understand the language your audience is actually using. That information will allow you to talk to and connect with your audience in a way that meets them where they are.
Why Page Experience Matters
Does this Google update really matter? If you adjust your strategy, shouldn't your site or webpage maintain its effectiveness?
The shortest of answers would be "Yes, it matters" and "Yes, theoretically, your site should continue to do as well as it had been." But those are overly simplified statements. SEO teams should view the upcoming update as an opportunity to advance by centering their content on audience experience.
Page experience is crucial to B2Bs and other businesses because it levels the playing field.
Up to now, SEO has heavily favored big brand names. Think about some of the biggest consensus ranking factors, such as backlinks or keyword search density: Well-known brands are going to be linked to more often because of convenience, and because their names are widely recognized; they also receive an innate boost in searches because their brand name may literally be part of the query.
What page experience does is introduce a ranking factor that has little to do with brand. Large companies have endless resources to deploy, including tech and SEO teams that can clean up any content currently underperforming, but they also have larger sites to manage. The page experience update, while perhaps not allowing smaller sites to immediately jump ahead of industry giants, will introduce an opportunity for smaller sites to have one ranking factor with which they can be competitive.
Site performance metrics, such as click rate, visit duration, and bounce rate are about to become even more crucial. As I noted, Google is doing its best to humanize its ranking factors by going beyond algorithmic results and directing people to sites they like. Performance metrics are the easiest ways to measure that. So if your site has slow loading periods, bad gateways, or buttons that don't work correctly, or the site simply doesn't look good on Web or mobile, your content is less likely to retain visitors.
Page experience is key for any business, but for B2Bs, in particular, it should be emphasized regardless of Google's update. A B2B website needs to convey a bit more information than the average site. Because of that, positive page experience is a must for turning your site's content into conversions.
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Google's upcoming update may convince your business to optimize its website page experience eventually, but I encourage you to begin making necessary changes right away.
Keeping the page experience update in mind, start rolling out page designs and, using multivariate testing, find which experience gives your business the best conversion rate. That way, by the time the Google update goes live, you'll be ready—not only to rank higher but also to bring in better business.
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