Last year, Google announced an upcoming update for May 2021 regarding search ranking. They introduced a series of criteria to assure a better user experience under the category “Search signals for page experience” or “Google UX Signals”.
With this update, Google is making user experience (UX) the center of search engine optimization (SEO). Indeed, UX is a key factor on web pages and is now receiving more attention than ever. Anyone owning a website should be aware of it.
Google has a lot of information on UX scattered on its Search Central that you can check out for that purpose. I took the trouble to process it into this one-piece article to save you some time.
Google UX Signals
As we were saying, Google is incorporating in its algorithm Search signals for page experience or UX Signals. In total, they are seven and can be divided into two groups:
- Existing search signals:
- safe browsing
- no intrusive interstitial
- Core web vitals:
- visual stability
Keep reading to understand each one and how to optimize them.
When it comes to SEO, Google offers two guides: one for beginners and one advance. We’ll include both and start with the easiest steps.
1. Help the right people find you.
The Internet is a big place, so it’s easy to get lost. To help your target audience find you, they -and Google- have to understand your content. A few simple ideas to achieve that goal are:
Pay attention to your title! It’s the first thing people see. Create unique, accurate titles for each page on your site that effectively communicates its topic. Have in mind that a title can be both short and informative. A very long title might be cut off in the search result which isn’t ideal.
Update your content to account for seasons or trends. Consider holidays that are related to your niche and prepare special content for each one. You can be celebrating a whole month for holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s day.
Keep your site up to date
Updating your site keeps people interested in it. Besides, updating old posts takes less effort than writing a new one and can provide equally good results.
Promote your website
Although we can’t emphasize enough the importance of visual content on your site to catch visitors’ eye, key information has to be in text, not graphics. Google doesn’t understand non-text formats as easily as text.
2. Hierarchize your content and optimize images.
Give structure to your site. Don’t throw people a website with pages and pages of disorganized content.
First, plan your navigation based on your homepage and think about how visitors will get to specific content. Do you have a lot of articles about living in Paris or chocolate cake recipes? Classify your content or products under multiple category and subcategory pages.
Then, use breadcrumb lists. A breadcrumb is an internal link that allows users to track where they are on a website and quickly navigate back to a previous section. Google has a guideline to implement breadcrumbs in your site.
Finally, don’t forget about URLs. Use recognizable and relevant words in URLs so visitors have a more friendly navigation experience. Avoid putting generic names and excessive keywords. Keep it simple.
The same thing applies to images. The alt attribute shows up when the image can’t be displayed for some reason or a visitor is using assistive technologies. Alt text, as well as filenames, should be brief and descriptive.
Another tip for image optimization is to use HTML image elements instead of CSS.
3. Have a site compatible with multiple browsers.
Test your site with as many browsers as possible. Although Google Chrome’s market share far exceeds Safari and others, you need to assure cross-browser compatibility for at least the top five. That is, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer and Edge, Firefox, and Opera.
You should test your website in different browsers, and use cross-browser compatible libraries and frameworks.
Some steps you can take to make sure your site doesn’t behave in unexpected ways:
- Write good, clean HTML. Tools such as HTML TIDY help you quickly clean up your code. Also, write your page using valid HTML and CSS to make sure your page looks good in all browsers.
- Specify your character encoding. Always specify an encoding for your document at the top of the document or frame.
- Consider accessibility. Test your website in a text-only browser such as Lynx.
4. Implement search features.
Google search results include different types of display features: from the original “plain blue link” to featured snippets and knowledge panel entries. Being part of the rich results means your content is just what people are looking for and Google will point that out.
To provide search results that are more engaging to users, consider adding search features that are appropriate for your site.
For example, if you have a recipes blog, Carousel structured data and review stars will help enhance your results. Or if you write articles, as we do, how-to’s will be great to reach the right users.
In general, for any type of content, Q&A tags, images, and breadcrumbs are highly recommended.
In this post, we explain the importance of search results features and why it’s relevant to search intent.
Enhancing the rich snippers is also possible through schema markup. Schema is code that you place on your website to improve how search engines read and represent your page in the SERPs.
Although Schema.org was launched back in 2011, millions of websites still don’t use it. This is nuts if you consider that sites with schema markup rank better in the SERP than companies without it.
5. Help Google find your content.
Google will sometimes find your content through links from other pages. However, you can help Google and make sure it finds you by submitting a sitemap.
A sitemap is a file on your site that tells search engines about the pages, videos, and other files on your site and the relationships between them. If your site is really large (more than 500 pages), has few external links to it, or a lot of rich media content, Google advises using a sitemap.
Why? Because sitemaps tell Google which pages you think are most important in your site and provide valuable information like when the page was last updated and any alternate language versions of the page.
Once you build your sitemap, you can submit it to Google using the Search Console Sitemaps report.
Another form of helping search engines find your content is using LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords. Keyword research is the most significant aspect of SEO. When users search for the information they use certain keywords.
Identifying these keywords and creating content around them will get you closer to first-page rankings. To achieve it you should at least make a little research on your target audience and work on your angle.
6. No intrusive interstitial.
This is one of Google UX Signals and it ensures users easily access your content. Popups tend to feel more annoying on a mobile phone than on desktops because the size of the screen is smaller. If your content isn’t immediately accessible on mobile, your site will rank lower.
Here are some techniques that count as intrusive interstitials on mobile:
- A popup that covers the main content.
- A standalone interstitial the user has to dismiss to access the content.
- A layout.
Oppositely, interstitials related to a legal obligation (like cookie usage or legal verification), login dialogs, and small banners won’t affect your ranking. They won’t be a problem, as long as you use them responsibly, of course.
7. Use HTTPS.
Use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) instead of HTTP. Sites that use HTTP might be tagged as “unsafe” on Chrome.
According to Google, “HTTPS helps prevent intruders from tampering with the communications between your websites and your users’ browsers. Intruders include intentionally malicious attackers, and legitimate but intrusive companies, such as ISPs or hotels that inject ads into pages”.
Even if you don’t handle sensitive communications, you should always protect your websites with HTTPS.
How do you use HTTPS, you wonder? You must obtain a security certificate from a reliable certificate authority (CA).
8. Optimize for mobile.
Mobile-friendly websites are a big SEO optimization and therefore part of Google UX signals. As a webmaster, never forget about mobile customers. Their numbers are increasing each day. Just take a look at your analytics and you’ll find many visitors browsing from their mobiles.
To build a site for mobile devices:
- Select a responsive template or theme. That way, you optimize site experience across different screen sizes without creating multiple websites.
- Streamline the potential steps in your visitors’ journey and reduce the number of user interactions.
- Replace text links with buttons and menus.
- Make content scrollable.
- Check. To make sure if your website is mobile-friendly, take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
9. Safe browsing.
To check if a site’s connection is safe, just look at the security status to the left of the web status. A lock icon will tell you it’s safe and you don’t have to worry about malware, deceptive pages, or harmful downloads.
Google recommends using Search Console to receive a Security Issues report with explanations of different security issues. It also offers tailored recommendations for each type of issue and remediation actions webmasters can take to deal with the issue.
Besides, Google is constantly making updates and raising the bar in terms of security, so using one of its tools, will keep your site 100% secure.
Do you know what I hate? When content takes too long to load. I know you too, everybody does and it’s a major poor user experience factor.
That’s why Google measures how long it takes the largest (usually more meaningful) element on your page to render.
Google establishes sites should have LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load. Our grandparents would lose their mind with that number!
To keep LCP at decent levels, consider:
- establishing third-party connections early
- optimize and compress images
- compress text files
- deliver different assets based on the network connection
First Input Delay (FID) is a metric that measures how long the browser takes to respond after a user first interacts with the page. It’s a field metric and can’t be simulated in a lab environment: you’ll need real user interaction to measure it.
For pages where you have to click on something like a login or signup page, FID is very important.
Interaction readiness delay shares some causes with LCP. In recent posts about Google UX Signals, experts recommend:
- Using a web worker.
- Optimizing for interaction readiness.
- Removing any non-critical third-party scripts.
12. Visual Stability.
The final UX signal refers to expectations. Abrupt changes in your content and layouts create a bad user experience.
A button that moves just when you are about to click it, it’s very annoying. And sometimes these types of abrupt changes can cause real damage. Like, hum, sending that text to your ex instead of deleting it.
So the golden rule of user experience is no surprises.
The Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) metric will tell you how often unexpected content happens to real users. A good CLS score is 0.1 or less.
To help your score, never insert content above existing content, except in response to user interaction. A user-initiated layout shift is usually fine.
That’s all, folks. Google UX Signals will be implemented in a couple of weeks so start preparing.
We hope this guide was useful. There was a lot to cover but we tried to be as brief as possible. Let us know if you like us to go more in-depth on any particular point.