For those that follow SEO news — and speculation — you may have been hearing a lot of chatter about the upcoming Google update that is centered around user experience. Over the past couple months many SEO experts have been openly discussing it and Google itself has made it public.

So, it’s really not speculation — it’s fact. I like to rip on the self-proclaimed SEO “gurus” but this time they really aren’t predicting the future like they want you to think. Most of them are simply copying/pasting what Google has said word-for-word.

If you haven’t heard about this, here is what Google said regarding the upcoming user experience focused algorithm update:


The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.


It’s also important to be fully aware that this isn’t coming within the next few weeks — or months. This is an update that Google has planned for next year — 2021.

Why in the world would Google give SEOs a heads up with such a large window of time before it’s rolled out? I think it’s due to two reasons. First, coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic delayed and pushed back a lot of things. I think it’s safe to say this is one of those things.

Maybe Google has a heart, afterall. Imagine if they just blindsided businesses and after months of being forced to shut down their online visibility and traffic was just wiped off the map? That would not be a good look for Google.

I don’t think they would have provided this much of a warning — at least not a transparent one — if coronavirus and the pandemic didn’t enter the picture. While some will say it’s because they wanted to give small business owners a heads up — and ample time to prepare — I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was to avoid a complete PR nightmare.

Imagine the headlines if they just rolled it out and businesses tanked in the SERPs? Media outlets would have been all over the, “Google Ruins Small Businesses” narrative. They want to avoid that — and that is the main reason why they are giving such a heads up. When else have they done this in the past? They haven’t.



Preparing for the Google User Experience Algorithm Update

Algorithm updates of the past, like Panda and Penguin, were fairly vague in terms of details directly from Google. Much of the information uncovered involving the old “animal” Google updates were discovered essentially by trial and error.

Site owners would report their drops (or gains) and with a little reverse engineering it was discovered what each update was likely to be targeting. This update, however, is much easier to prepare for because we know for certain what it’s going to be targeting.

If your website provides a poor user experience then you are more than likely to see a drop in rankings.

How do you prevent that from happening?

It’s quite simple — make sure that your website is usable on all devices.

Honestly, preparing for this Google update is very easy.

You have to dig deeper than just offering a visually appealing user experience. Yes, that is important, but Google is going to be looking for more of the technical aspects — like menu and navigational ease.

If someone lands on a page how easily can they find your home page? How easily can they contact you? Are your products easily found? Are your CTAs and buttons spaced out enough to make mobile use convenient?

There are no what-ifs when it comes to UX. Someone can either easily navigate your website or they cannot.


Why Google’s 2021 UX Update is Important

Don’t let this news distract you from what’s still important when it comes to SEO and ranking — and that is links. Now we just have another component of an overall SEO campaign to optimize for — UX.

So, if you are already ranking nicely then you are going to plant your anchor a little deeper by making sure your user experience is on point. You might even make a little jump if your competition fails to address their UX or if you can create a more pleasant experience on your website.

SEO doesn’t “die” like many proclaim. Instead, it evolves and becomes more complex. Remember when links were the number one focus? Well, they still are, but now there are many other things to take into account in addition to them.

Remember when the focus was on brand mentions? They are still important — there are just additional optimization factors to also consider on top of them. UX is just the newest in the laundry list of ranking signals added, just like HTTPS was a few years ago.

While some brands like Amazon and Walmart dominate the SERPs because of their brand’s authority, those mega brands represent such a small percentage of websites. So, in order to provide the best results for its users Google must constantly introduce factors it can consider, which all contribute to their ability to discover the best results for any keyword or search phrase processed through its search engine.

For every Amazon, there are 10,000 small business websites all fighting for some of that organic exposure.

One reason this update is so important is because of the impact it will have beyond the SERPs. Brands that take the time to really focus on UX and optimize their website to provide the best experience are going to be rewarded with higher conversion rates and ultimately more leads, sales, and income.



How to Optimize and Prepare for the Google User Experience Update

The biggest question you probably have is how to optimize for UX. There isn’t a single response that will answer the question. There isn’t a cookie cutter solution. The user experience for an ecommerce website selling beauty supplies is going to have different requirements than a landing page with a video and a three field form submit.

What I can say is that every single page on your website will need to be optimized with UX in mind. From your contact page to your About page and your checkout pages — they all have different intent and needs.

There is something very specific in Google’s announcement that makes it very clear that each individual page is going to require your attention. The continually mention “page experience,” which makes me believe that each page on your website will receive an internal “page experience score.”

So, while one page might have a great UX and rank high, another page might have a low internal score, therefore be lower in the SERPs than it would be if it provided a better UX, according to Google’s internal score.

Preparation is key — we have already started auditing clients’ pages and working on UX optimization. Here are the three main factors you need to take into consideration in order to be prepared for the upcoming update.


1. Optimize for Speed and Load Time (While Being 100% Technically Perfect)

Page speed has always been important in relation to on-page optimization, but now expect it to carry even more weight. Afterall, a fast website is what your visitors expect. In their eyes (and Google’s) a slow website delivers a poor user experience.

I’d even go as far as to say that speed is the most criticized UX element that a visitor will complain about. Someone might not notice if a form has a smaller submit button or if the navigation menu is a bit too confusing — but they will 100% of the time know if your website loads like a slow pig.

If I were to bet on how this update plays out I’d be willing to wager that speed will be one of the big pieces of this update. The concept is easy to comprehend — the faster your website loads the better the user experience.

Again, this is something you will have to do on a page level, as things like plugins, addons, widgets, and scripts can impact each page differently. Use free tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to test your speed and make the suggested changes.

If you have a huge site you might want to use a CDN to help improve the load time. Leverage caching, image compression and g-zip to make little gains. You want to be under two seconds at thievery least, but sub-one second load time is ideal.


2. Create a Better User Experience Than Your Competitors’

Just like you want to build better links than your competitors’ you will want to provide a better user experience as well. This is free to do — it only takes your time. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and visit the websites of your top competition.

Keep the following in mind:

  • How is their navigation compared to your website? Is it easy to quickly find the pages, items or content you are looking for?


  • How is their content? Is it high quality? Does it provide value or is it just SEO-filler fluff?


  • Is there a single CTA on each page? Is it easy to complete (even on a mobile screen)?


You have to think like your customer — and not like the competitor. This allows you to really see where they are better, where you are better and what you can do to provide a much better UX.

Remember, you don’t want to simply provide a similar user experience. You want to blow their UX out of the water. Think of it as a competition — this is your chance to blow their doors off. Doing so will ensure Google’s new algorithm will favor your UX over theirs.



3. Modify Your Website Design and Layout with UX the Top Priority

A lot of the UX changes you will need to make will be obvious when you start to dive into your pages and also when you start to see how your competitors’ UX stacks up to yours. But, some things will not be obvious on the surface, so you will need to use technology in order to dive deeper.

In order to find out how a visitor is acting on your website you can use a heatmap, which shows where they click and scroll. Tools like Crazy Egg and Hotjar are the most popular and easy to use.

If a user is only scrolling a little bit down the page you are going to have to make some changes. Maybe move content up so they don’t have to search for it. If users aren’t clicking on CTA buttons they might need to be re-positioned and placed in more visible locations.

A website that looks great is a good start — but it’s the UX changes you make that will contribute to conversions — and your page experience score starting in 2021.


Final Thoughts

User experience has always been important when it comes to converting website traffic into leads and sales. But, even though a customer might not convert on a site it is still possible that they find the particular websites or landing page via Google search.

Now, you aren’t going to even get the opportunity to convert a visitor unless UX is a main focus. It should be no surprise that Google is going to factor in user experience. I have said it over and over — you need to focus on providing the best experience to a potential visitor, from start to finish. Why? Because it’s in Google’s best interest to only show those types of websites.

They make billions of dollars because they own the market. That isn’t by luck. People are almost trained to say, “Let me Google that,” rather than, “Let me Bing that” simply because in their mind Google is the number one option for all online searches.

Google wants to maintain the domination, so they are constantly rolling out algorithm updates that helps them return the best quality results to their users.Build a website that your visitors love and it’s a safe bet that Google will also love it, and show it love — in the SERPs.

You also need to understand that Google algorithms are highly unpredictable. There will undoubtedly be several versions of the update and the SERPs might be bumps for a bit while it all gets ironed out.

This is another reason why diversification is so important. What if the SERPs are a rollercoaster for several months in 2021 due to this update? They could be — we have no idea. So, if you don’t have multiple sources of traffic now is the time to get started. From social media and content marketing to PPC — make sure your business will stay above water in the vent that organic traffic comes to a halt.

The only difference between this Google algorithm update and the previous ones is that we have all been given a warning that it is coming. Now is the time to make changes to ensure that your website delivers its users a pleasant experience.

Do you have any specific UX questions? What do you think about Google giving an advance notice of this update? Are you with me thinking that they did this to avoid a complete PR nightmare? I’d love to hear your thoughts — leave them in the comments below.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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