As always, Google is making changes and updating how they rank websites. But right now, the big news has been around their Page Experience Update, which is rolling out in its most current state, this month. To gain more insight on what this means for small businesses, I met with Ahref’s Patrick Stox: a product advisor, technical SEO and brand ambassador, and an all around really cool guy. The following is a transcript of that conversation. (Or if you prefer video over reading, watch the entire conversation above!)
Lance: I’m being joined right now by Patrick Stox. He’s a product advisor, technical SEO and brand ambassador for Ahrefs. Thanks for joining us.
Patrick: Thanks for having me. It’s good to see you again.
Lance: Yes. Likewise, Patrick. Core web vitals is a hot topic right now in SEO. What is it and why is it important?
Patrick: I’m going to start with why it’s important. It’s because, hey, this is rolling out. It’s a new algorithm. It’s made up of a lot of signals that are from older signals that they use, but it’s basically a set of user experience signals. They’re calling it page experience. This is how they’re measuring how a user perceives a page. Made up of things like mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS, no intrusive interstitials like pop-ups and stuff and then what they’re calling core web vitals, which are speed metrics. They’re looking at basically how fast your site loads? Can I do things on it? Is it interactive? Is it stable? Is the layout stable?
Lance: With so many things like content, site structure, architecture, backlinks being part of the ranking algorithm, how much impact will core vitals have on a company’s search presence?
Patrick: They’re saying it’s not going to be a lot. I think part of that is because a lot of these signals have existed for years. HTTPS, mobile-friendliness, we had mobilegeddon years ago. These are things that have been around for a while. Even speed metrics, they weren’t this granular, but they were measuring desktop and mobile speed already. These things are already baked into the algorithm. I don’t think that they’re going to weight it much higher than they are now, it’s just a newer, more modern way of measuring and looking at a lot of these metrics. I don’t think meeting a lot of these thresholds is really going to have much of an impact.
Lance: If core web vitals will not have a huge impact, why all the effort?
Patrick: Mainly because it is what is good for the user. I should say, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of initial impact. There’s nothing wrong with ever improving your site’s speed and making your website faster. They may give a little icon in the search results for page experience if you’re passing all the things, so like, you get a little carrot that way. In general, it’s not something I’d be like, oh, go panic, and I need to solve this now. At least initially, it’s not going to be a very heavy weight, as with any Google signal that can change over time. These are things that you should be striving for, for user experience.
You get secondary benefits too. Google always pushes that if your site’s faster, you record more data, so you get more users, technically, at least recorded. Then they push more conversions if you’re e-commerce and everything. It’s really more data is being recorded. To me, that’s a big thing for businesses. If I tell a business it’s not going to have much impact on your rankings, they’re not going to want to do this. If I say I’m going to record more data for you, businesses love data and that is important. Getting more data recorded in your systems is pretty vital.
Lance: I’ve noted over the years, Google has historically brought the public along and phased in rollouts of new things that they find important. Then all of a sudden, it’s mandatory and it’s actually a significant part of the algorithm. What do you think about that?
Patrick: You’re absolutely right. Even some of the signals for this mobile friendliness was not a big deal initially. Now, there are only crawling mobile versions of sites. For the most part, it’s like a few stragglers, they’ve moved to the mobile-first index. Over time, they’re going to make this stuff more important. I would say it was the same with HTTPS, it’s hard to say whether that’s really having more of an impact now or simply that more sites have adopted it, but you pretty much don’t see any result on the first page anymore that’s not HTTPS. I would say that’s very rare. When they rolled this out, it was low. It was 40% maybe.
Now it’s, I don’t know, I’m making up a number, 90-some percent. I think really it’s like 75 plus percent of all results are now HTTPS. A lot of folks have moved over because they have to at some point. It’s a bunch of little signals but when you think about it, we’ve got seven signals here just for this page experience update. That’s seven things, seven ways to differentiate yourself to get a little better. When you’re talking over 200 ranking factors and all on Google, I think every little bit can really make a difference.
Lance: How can companies measure core web vitals?
Patrick: There is only one real source of truth for that and that is the Chrome User Experience Report. It is a scary BigQuery database, so don’t use that. There are tools to make this easier. Google Search Console is a great one, they basically pull in that data for you, they show you the different issues, they show you page groups that have those issues. Basically, here are groups with issues that probably share the exact same theme. You fix it once, you fix that issue for all those pages. Then there’s a bunch of other tools that will pull in that data. Ahrefs is one of them, we have that. Also, Google PageSpeed Insights is a great source for that data. You also get lab data.
The Chrome User Experience Report, the core vitals are measured with real users of Chrome. There’s literally one source of that. Google has that data. No one else has that. They can pull it from there. Then you can actually test a lot of these things in lab environments. PageSpeed Insights is a great way to do that. It’s basically giving you a real-time test, rather than a rolling 28-day average, which you get in the Chrome User Experience Report.
Lance: Thank you so much, Patrick, for coming in. If you want to learn more from Patrick Stox, you can find him over at Ahrefs, where he’s talking all things SEO. Thanks again, my friend.
Patrick: Thank you so much for having me.