Tara is the in-house content lead at Digistorm, tending to all content needs, big or small! When she’s not writing copy or managing the Insights editorial calendar, Tara is passionate about supporting theatre and live music.
Now, I know what you're thinking..."Not another algorithm update!" But, don't worry, Google's latest update hasn't rolled out just yet – there's still plenty of time to get your head around what it will mean for your school websites' SEO, before it rolls out in 2021. Now that you've breathed an easy sigh of relief, let's dive into what this new algorithm update is all about, and take a look at some of the ways to make sure your school website is ready for it.
Straight from the technology giant itself, here's what Google says the new page experience update is all about. The page experience signal works by measuring aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and works to optimise factors that create more favourable user experiences. Why the change? Essentially, Google wants to ensure that websites with poor user experiences aren't the ones that are ranking at the top of your search results. Rather, Google's main goal is to help people more easily access the information and web pages they're looking for, and support site owners in providing experiences that users enjoy.
This update will shake up the SEO game by providing greater opportunities to websites that may not have huge brand equity, but offer fantastic user experiences. It's also Google's not so subtle way of telling website owners to step up, or risk getting left behind. As a part of the update, Google has introduced Core Web Vitals. These are a set of metrics that you'll want to get familiar with as they help Google to determine how good your web page experience is.
There are three Core Web Vitals that'll be used to measure your websites' speed and user experience on a page-level basis. It's important to just make a quick note here. If you have a few pages on your website that a little sub-par, but the rest are amazing, Google says it won't reduce rankings for your entire website. This is reassuring, but, why would you want pages on your school website that aren't at the top of their game? Let's take a closer look now at these core web vitals, and how you can improve your school website.
The three key factors in Google's new core web vitals are: loading, interactivity, and visual stability. Let's start by taking a look at web page load time, how do you measure this, and what is current best practice?
The best way to measure your website's' load time is by analysing its Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). In other words, how long it takes for your largest piece of content to become visible on your web page upon loading. According to best practice guidelines, it should take no longer than 2.5 seconds for your LCP to occur. You can measure your web pages by heading over to Google's free PageSpeed Insights tool.
How to improve your web page load time:
First Input Display (FID) measures how long the delay is between when a user takes an action on your website, (like clicking a button), and the website responding (landing on an enrollment form). This is a big one. Just think about how many times you've left a website out of frustration because lengthy FID times have left you in loading limbo.
Let's consider the user experience of a prospective parent who has just landed on your school website. They're excited and eager to apply, so they click "start application." But instead of instantly getting stuck into filling out their details, they're growing impatient, waiting for the next page to load. If you're really lucky, these parents will wait it out, but in reality, it's more likely that they'll ditch your school website altogether. The goal is to make sure your FID is less than 100 milliseconds. If you think there could be some room to improve, talk to your school websites' web developer about how you can cut this down.
Finally, we have our third core web vital: visual stability. Google measures this metric according to Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which looks at the layout of web pages and how much they shift when they load. This one is a bit technical, but the best practice is to ensure that your web pages are built according to best practice HTML structure and that all of your digital assets are uploaded to the correct containers within that structure.
This might seem like a lot to take on board, but thankfully Google has created an easy solution to keep on top of these core web vitals. Inside Google Search Console, you'll now find a new report that helps webmasters to monitor and identify opportunities for improvement. In other words, Google has made it so that there's no excuse for not being ready when this algorithm update rolls out in 2021.
As part of the page experience update, Google says it'll also be cracking down on web pages that aren't optmised for mobile search. Mobile responsiveness has been a hot topic, pretty much since smartphones landed in our hands – and with good reason! The latest data is in: 61.9% of Google searches are now performed on mobile devices. With numbers like this, ensuring that your school website is fully mobile responsive has become a non-negotiable.
The way we think about SEO is changing, so it's important to be equipped with all the information you need to ensure you don't get left behind. Google's 2021 page experience update will encourage us to think about how to create greater user experiences for prospective parents when they're engaging with your school website.
For all of our Digistorm Website clients out there, you can rest assured that our sites are designed in line with all of the best practices covered in this article. If you're not sure where your website stands, reach out to our team and ask how we can help.