Google publishes expanded FAQ on Page Experience update, Core Web Vitals

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 13 Apr, 2021
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The FAQ covers the technical parameters, importance and effect of the upcoming page experience update. Plus, Google updates the Core Web Vitals CLS scoring.

Google Core Web Vitals.

Google has published a new Core Web Vitals and Page Experience FAQ which expands on the previous FAQ page published in December 2020.

We delve into the details here. See also below for an update by Google to the CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) score.

Google says the FAQ was based on user questions, and the resource has now been updated to cover more questions which were received in the meantime.

The FAQ, which is published in the Community section of Search Console Help, is divided into 3 sections:

  • Metrics & Tooling
  • Page Experience & Search
  • Top Stories
  • AMP

It offers guidance to webmasters ahead of the page experience update, which is due in May.

Some of the most interesting FAQ information follows:

Q: What is the page experience update and how important is it compared to other ranking signals?

Google says a good page experience doesn’t win over having quality content and their systems will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some of the page experience aspects are “subpar”.

The page experience update is a new signal which Google’s search algorithms will use alongside hundreds of other signals and it will be more important in “tie-breaker” types of situations. With pages of similar quality and content, a better page experience might be the factor that nudges one higher.

“Publishers shouldn’t worry that when we begin using page experience, that they may suffer some immediate significant drop, if they’re still working on making improvements. But publishers should be focused on making those improvements a relative priority over time. This is because as more and more sites continue to improve their page experience, it will be the norm that publishers will want to match.”

Q: Are Core Web Vitals a ranking factor when using Google Search on non-Chrome browsers?

“Yes. Page experience ranking signals, based on Core Web Vitals, are applied globally on all browsers on mobile devices.”

Q: Where does the Core Web Vitals data that Search considers come from?
The data comes from the Chrome User Experience Report, which is based on field data (actual user visits and interactions with web pages).

If you have a newly published url which doesn’t yet have 28 days of data, Google says you don’t need to worry. It will use techniques such as grouping pages that are similar, and compute scores based on that aggregation. This is applicable to pages that receive little to no traffic.

Q: A 3rd Party service (eg client-side A/B Testing, Social Embed, Personalization Engines, Comment Systems etc.) is slowing down my site.  

Core Web Vitals only look at the total observed experience of the page as seen by the end user, without making a distinction between any 3rd party code or services used.

Google says: “Like all other features on a page, it may help to regularly assess the impact of third-party components of the experience on the Core Web Vitals. There may be an improved form of integration or configuration that improves the user experience and will be reflected with improved Core Web Vitals metrics.”

In the FAQ, Google confirmed that all web pages irrespective of their page experience status or Core Web Vitals score are eligible for the Top Stories carousel.

The FAQ has a large section on AMP.  Google says it remains the case that if both AMP and non/AMP versions of a page are offered, Google will continue to link to the AMP version of the page on mobile. However, AMP is not effectively becoming a ranking signal. “AMP has never been a ranking signal, and is not becoming one”.

Google guidance has the same thresholds for Core Web Vitals for all types of pages. This is because these are meant to be foundational metrics that apply across the board, independent of page type.

With the May rollout for the page experience ranking update fast approaching, this is a useful resource for webmasters.  While it’s still not clear how big an effect it will have, Google are certainly making a big deal of it, so it’s worth paying attention.

Over time, making sure your page experience is up to scratch makes sense. It benefits your users, may help your rankings and stops you falling behind the competition. Coasting along just isn’t going to cut it.

For more on Core Web Vitals and the page experience update see our blog posts:

What are Core Web Vitals and why are they such a big deal?, including our own plan of action, and

Understanding Google Site Performance and Web Vitals.

Cumulative Layout Shift scoring update

On 7th April, Google announced that it had updated the CLS "to be more fair to long-lived pages".

Google says no pages will have a worse score as a result. 55% of pages will see no difference, 42% will see a slight improvement, and around 3% will see scores improve from having a "needs improvement" or "poor" rating to having a "good" rating. 

See Google's blog post for further details of this change.

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