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There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the August 2021 Google algorithm update. We’re here to provide some clarity on what’s happening, timing, and what you need to do.
But first, here’s the view from 30,000 feet: The Aug. 2021 Google algorithm update is going to make “Core Web Vitals” a much bigger deal. They’re going to get formally rolled up into “Page Experience,” a critical new SEO ranking factor.
Hold up … August? I Read May.
You sure did!
This was initially supposed to go down in May 2021. Google pushed the Page Experience update back last week. It will technically start hitting in mid-June, but the full effects won’t be felt until August. So, August 2021 Google algorithm update it is.
‘Ranking Factor.’ Tell Me About That.
A ranking factor is what it sounds like – what Google takes into account when it decides to show a site on Page 1, Page 2 … or Page 70.
Now, we don’t know them all. Nobody really does. Trust us, we’ve asked.
But we know for sure, for instance, that speed and performance is a ranking factor. We know that the length of a post is a ranking factor.
There are literally hundreds of Google ranking factors.
Fine. But What Is Page Experience?
Page Experience is a new amalgamation of five factors that contribute to user experience on a post or page:
- Core Web Vitals
- Mobile usability
- Security issues
- Ad experience
The first is the biggest change. Things like mobile friendliness and using an SSL certificate aren’t exactly news.
Meanwhile, while Core Web Vitals have been a thing for some time, they’ve never explicitly been ranking factors. Soon, they will be.
But … What Are Core Web Vitals?
Glad you asked!
Core Web Vitals are three user experience benchmarks that Google clearly takes very seriously.
Basically, they measure:
- Load time (quantified as largest contentful paint)
- Interactivity (quantified as first input delay)
- Visual stability (quantified as cumulative layout shift)
Their increasing importance has been alluded to over the last few years. (Google likes to drop hints.) But now, we know for sure that they’re going to be part of Page Experience, which will absolutely be a ranking factor after the August 2021 Google algorithm update.
Now, that list of Core Web Vitals might look unfamiliar. That’s because they’ve changed. For instance, an early measurement of load time was “first contentful paint” – the time it took for anything to show up. That’s gone now in favor of LCP.
So it goes.
Now, let’s break the Core Web Vitals down:
Web Vital #1: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This is a measure of loading performance. What you’re looking for is the important stuff on your page to appear – to be painted. It’s basically another way of saying perceived “site speed.”
Google’s benchmark here is LCP within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading. This can be measured with Lighthouse.
Web Vital #2: First Input Delay (FID)
This vital looks at the time from when a user takes an action – like a click – until the site becomes truly interactive. It’s a measure of that time gap. The benchmark is 100 milliseconds from the first user action to your page responding.
You actually can’t measure FID with Lighthouse. Instead, it’s only available with real user monitoring. (Also known as RUM – which has a better ring to it, don’t you think?) This can be tough data to get to, but Time to Interactive (measured by Lighthouse) is a rough analogue.
Web Vital #3: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
At some point, we’ve all been on a recipe site and accidentally clicked on an ad because it loaded so late into our page experience. Thanks to the content shift, they’d get their X cents for the click, and you’d accidentally skip over a key ingredient in your no-knead bread recipe.
That’s a major no-no now. The mandate for a “good” Page Experience is a CLS of less than 0.1, as measured by Lighthouse or PageSpeed Insights.
So What’s Going to Happen?
(That sounds overly ominous, but it’s the truth.)
Just like anything they do, the Aug. 2021 Google algorithm update is a bit mysterious. We do know that Page Experience will become a formal thing, and factor into your SEO rankings.
We just don’t know how big an impact it will have.
There have been Google algorithm updates, such as the Feb. 2011 update called Panda, that had major impacts across the web. (Panda penalized perceived low-quality sites and content.) That update was really the beginning of how we do things today.
There have been other algorithm updates that didn’t cause people to lose too much sleep at night. Take Medic, the Aug. 2018 Google algorithm update that largely hit financial- and health-focused sites. It gave us good information and rolled out “E-A-T,” but didn’t exactly rock the worlds of B2B marketers.
As for the Aug. 2021 Google algorithm update – we honestly don’t know yet. 🤷
Why Would They Do This? WHY?!
Search results are pretty good right now. So why is Google shaking things up … again?
Honestly, it’s an evolution, not a revolution.
Panda showed us a decade ago that Google is a UX provider through and through. Updates since then have continued to prune low-quality content, non-authoritative content and slow sites from SERPs.
If users come to Google and get a crappy answer, they won’t be happy. That means user experience is Job #1 in Mountain View, and has been for a while.
Hence, Page Experience update.
Remember: User experience translates directly to Google’s revenue. Google is not here for SEOs and web developers. It’s here for users. (Or at least to keep users happy enough to keep coming back.)
How Do I Protect My Site From This?
First, make sure your house is in order. Google has rolled a new Page Experience report into Search Console, giving you feedback on its perception of your site. Likewise, you can use Lighthouse – over at web.dev – to check LCP and CLS.
Just remember that Lighthouse tests page by page. The Search Console Page Experience report is more comprehensive.
(For our part, we’re actively testing client sites.)
If you’re clean, with few pages returning a “bad experience,” you’re almost certainly good to go. If you’re not, you’re probably asking …
How Do I Actually Fix This Stuff?
Unfortunately, the average website owner is out of their depth here. This is one of those times where you’ll have to talk to a developer, because this gets into … code-y things.
So if you’re worried, don’t try to fix it yourself. Avoid the temptation to toss up yet another WordPress plugin. Give a professional a shout and let them guide you.
tl;dr: August 2021 Google Algorithm Update
We know the Page Experience update is going to make Core Web Vitals a ranking factor in Google SERPs. But that’s just the “what.” The “what happens after” is still an unknown.
That said, don’t panic. If your house is in order – a quick site that interacts well with users and doesn’t shift content after it loads – you’re probably going to be fine. Give it a test, and if you have concerns, call a pro.
In the meantime, keep focusing on user experience. It’s not just good for the search engines, after all.