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Google page experience update: how will it affect websites for accountants?

3rd Jun 2020
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Man looking at his website stressed

Google has announced that user experience will become a ranking factor as early as 2021. Here’s what you can do to prepare.

We already know how important user experience is as a part of web design, for accountants as much as any other business.

If someone has a negative experience when they use your site – they can’t find the information they need, for example, or a link doesn’t take them where they thought it would – the chances are, the irritation they feel about it will colour the rest of their experience with your firm.

If your website is designed for good user experience, on the other hand, your user should come away with a positive impression, having achieved what they set out to achieve, and found the information they were looking for without any disruption. 

But now there’s all the more reason to care about your website’s user experience, as Google have announced they’re going to include it as a ranking factor from 2021 at the earliest.

What’s changing?

Google already looks at several criteria related to user experience as part of its search-ranking algorithm. Things like mobile responsiveness and HTTPS security can improve your chances of ranking, while intrusive pop-ups and unsafe content tend to be penalised. 

The newly-announced algorithm will combine those factors with metrics on load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads.

Google will assess page experience through seven main signals.

Google will assess page experience through seven main signals. Source: Google Webmaster Central Blog

If your website is found to have “poor user experience” according to these factors, it could fall in the search rankings as a result.

But there’s still time to find and fix any issues. Read on for some practical tips to get your website ready for the page experience update.

Check your core web vitals

The terminology in the graphic above looks more complex than it really is, so let’s break down some of the information.

The first three factors on the list come under the term ‘core web vitals’. These are metrics that Google recommends all website owners measure to provide a high-quality user experience.

You can check all three of these in Google search console. Here are some things to look out for.

Loading (largest contentful paint) 

This is a way of measuring how quickly pages on your website load. In particular, it looks at how long it takes the largest content element on your website to load. 

For a good user experience, this element should load within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.

Interactivity (first input delay)

First input delay measures how interactive and responsive your website is – how quickly the browser responds when someone clicks on a link or taps a button. 

You should aim to have a first input delay of less than 100 milliseconds. 

Visual stability (cumulative layout shift)

This looks at whether visual elements of your website jump around the page as it loads. These unexpected movements can be annoying for users, particularly if they click on a link they didn’t mean to.

For the best results, your page should have a cumulative layout shift score of less than 0.1.

Other page experience factors

Aside from the core web vitals, there are four other factors that will be included in Google’s page experience update.

Mobile friendliness 

Google has already announced its plans to switch over to mobile-first indexing this year, but in the page experience update, mobile responsiveness will become a ranking factor too.

In short, this means your website should work just as well on smartphones and tablets as it does on desktop. Check whether your website is mobile friendly or not here.

Safe browsing 

This is about checking that your website doesn’t contain harmful content, such as malware, or links to deceptive pages like phishing websites.

You can check for security issues through Google search console

HTTPS

This is an extension to HTTP that protects users’ data when they visit your website. You can check that a website is HTTPS-secure by looking for the padlock item next to the website’s URL, as you can see on our website:

PracticeWeb is HTTPS secure

If you haven’t done so already, find out how to migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS.

No intrusive interstitials

Google wants to prevent ads and pop-ups that make websites less accessible to users. This could include pop-ups that cover the main content of your page, or that the user has to dismiss before they can see your content.

On the other hand, notices that you have to display due to legal obligations – for example, to check consent for cookie usage – shouldn’t affect your rankings. Google also makes an exception for login forms that block private content, or banners that take up a “reasonable” amount of screen space.

Read more about intrusive interstitials here.

A final note on content

This update will not make website content any less significant. As Google’s blog post on the new algorithm says:

While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritise pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”

Ultimately, Google wants users to be able to find the information they’re looking for, as easily as possible.

If your website contains detailed and helpful content, and presents it in an accessible way, you should be in a great position to move up the search rankings.

We’re here to help

Right now, most businesses are understandably more focused on responding to the COVID-19 crisis than on their website design.

Google recognises that, and has said the changes won’t happen until next year. Website owners will also be given six months’ notice before the update rolls out.

That gives you plenty of time to work out if there are any changes you should make to your website, and to implement them. 

We’re on hand to help, too. If you’re a PracticeWeb client and you need some support preparing your website for the page experience update, get in touch with your account manager, or call 0117 915 0420.

Our websites for accountants are mobile-responsive, HTTPS-secure, and designed with great user experience in mind.

Talk to us to find out more.

Editorial: Melissa Tredinnick

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