Google’s Page Experience Update and Major Algorithm Updates Timeline

Last week, Google announced that it would be delaying the release of the Page Experience update from April/May of 2021 to mid-June, with a gradual roll-out that will have the full update scheduled to take effect by the end of August 2021. The update, “designed to highlight pages that offer great user experiences,” could have an impact on the ranking of websites that don’t make Google’s suggested improvements. The update schedule was adjusted, according to Google, to help users make the necessary changes to their websites with page experience in mind before the update goes into effect.

Although the Page Experience update could result in some shifts in Google results, algorithm updates are nothing new. With this new update right around the corner, we’re going to define the purpose of Google algorithm updates, a checklist to help you prepare for the newest update, and an overview of some of the most significant Google algorithm updates we’ve seen to date.

What is a Google algorithm update?

A Google algorithm update refers to a change in the processes that determine how Google ranks websites in search results. Google consistently updates these algorithms to improve search experience, relevance, and quality of results for users. The impact of these algorithm updates can range significantly – some go unnoticed, while others can have a major and nearly immediate impact on search results (and potentially your own website’s ranking).

What is a Google core update?

A core update refers to an algorithm update that changes key processes or factors of how Google ranks things, and thus has a significant impact on search results. Although the impacts on your website’s ranking of a core update can be positive or negative, staying up-to-date on major updates will ensure that you are informed and well-positioned to make any necessary changes and updates yourself.

What can you expect from the Page Experience update?

The Page Experience update aims to place more emphasis on the functionality of a site across user experience. Put a bit more simply, websites that are more user-friendly will take precedence in results over websites that aren’t. This is a significant change, as Google is introducing a new set of ranking factors with this update.

This update will take into account several signals to determine the quality of user experience on a given page. Some of these considerations include whether the page is secure or not (https vs. http), how quickly a page loads, if the page is mobile-friendly, if there are pop-ups, etc.

google algorithm update
Source: Search Engine Land

In line with this update, Google has also introduced a new set of metrics with the Core Web Vitals called  the Page Experience report that will provide you with scores for your website to see how it is performing in certain user-experience categories. These categories are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which measures loading performance, First Input Delay (FID), which measures interactivity, and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures visible stability.

Google released the Core Web Vitals tool in Google Search Console to help you address these issues for your site.

Additionally, this update will remove the necessity of AMP for news content to rank in Google News and certain top stories as long as it meets Google News content policies and guidelines.

Despite these changes, Google has also confirmed that quality content remains a key factor in determining ranking in results, and that pages with poor user experience and great content will still be a more important factor in determining ranking.

Page Experience Checklist

These are the key factors (we’ve touched on some throughout this article) that will be taken into consideration when determining your site’s page experience standing, according to Search Engine Land:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. Sites providing good user experience should have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. Sites providing good user experience should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. Sites providing good user experience should have a CLS score of less than 0.1.

As stated earlier, all three of these measurements are accessible via the Core Web Vitals report on Google Search Console.

Additional Considerations

Is your page mobile-friendly?

This update prioritizes mobile users, so use Google’s mobile-friendliness tool to ensure your page is optimized for mobile users.

Does your page ensure safe browsing?

Safe browsing means the page doesn’t contain malicious or deceptive content. You can check this with the security issues report.

Does your page use http or https?

Utilizing https in your page’s URL will ensure that your site’s connection is secure.

Does your page have pop-ups?

If content on the page is not easily accessible due to pop-up windows for advertisements, mailing lists, etc., this may penalize the user experience of your site by making the content on it less accessible.

How to Prepare Your Website for the Page Experience Update

For most websites, some changes will need to be made in anticipation of the Page Experience update. Google has put together a guide for what to consider for this update, and we’ve highlighted three key actions you can take to prepare for the update and improve your overall user experience:

  1. Remove broken pages: broken pages (400 errors) can significantly impact user experience, so in anticipation of this update it is vital to remove or repair any broken pages on your website.
  2. Optimize your website speed: you can use this tool to check your site’s speed – the faster your site loads the better. The ideal load time for desktop and mobile is 1 second, but aim for at least under 3 seconds.
  3. Fix issues in Google Search Console: if you haven’t already, create a Google Search Console (GSC) account. This will give you vital information about your website, and can help streamline certain processes when issues arise. Once you have GSC set up, check your Core Web Vitals and address any issues that arise, first for mobile (as this update is going to favor mobile searches) and then desktop.

Major Update Timeline

Google has rolled out several major and smaller updates and changes to its search engine algorithms since its first documented update in 2002. For a more comprehensive list of the updates and changes Google has rolled out, check out Moz’s timeline. Here, we’ll take a closer look at some of the hard hitters

Bert, 2019: like RankBrain, this update functioned as a continuation of the Hummingbird update. This update improved Google’s understanding of  nuance in words used in search queries and results. Although the Bert update did not have a significant impact on rankings at the time of its release, it has changed the approach to content online, as content that is written with users in mind (as opposed to search engines) is rewarded as a result of this update.

Medic, 2018: this update aimed to provide searchers with more reputable and trustworthy resources when searching for health- or money-related information. The update penalized websites that appeared to make unsubstantiated claims or advice regarding medical and financial topics, and these sites saw significant drops in their rankings.

Fred, 2017: an unconfirmed update, Fred refers to ongoing updates related to quality of sites that are otherwise not defined by Google.

Possum, 2016: another unconfirmed update, Possum affected local search results. Similar to Pigeon, this update aimed to improve local search by diversifying results and limiting spam, and increased the importance of the searcher’s location in displaying results.

RankBrain, 2015: related to the Hummingbird update, this update took into consideration both search intent and a user’s own search history to provide users with more relevant results. RankBrain is central to Google’s core algorithm, and utilizes machine learning to determine what the most relevant results are to submitted search queries. This is one of the reasons why search results are not static, as the “best” answer for a particular query can be subject to change.

Mobilegeddon, 2015: this update, also known as the Mobile-friendly Ranking Factor Update, was a response to the increasing number of mobile searches, boosting mobile-friendly websites and penalizing those that are not well-formatted for mobile searches.

HTTPS/SSL Update, 2014: this update confirmed that Google would be giving preference to secure sites – sites using https over http – as well as giving a “small boost” to sites that implemented encryption.

Pigeon, 2014: this update was released to improve local search for users by providing more relevant, useful, and accurate local search results.

Hummingbird, 2013: this update aimed to improve user experience and what users saw in results by changing how the search engine processed search queries. Instead of just vocabulary matching, users received results that were more relevant to the intention of their search.  

Penguin, 2012: this update targeted spamming and manipulative link building practices. Similar to the Panda update, this update targeted low-quality results, in this case penalizing spammy results.

Freshness, 2011: this update confirmed prioritization of newer or more recent pages in Google results, particularly for time-sensitive queries. Although timeliness is more relevant to some topics than others, this update increased the focus on recent and updated content across the board. Google stated that this update noticeably impacts up to 10% of results.

Panda, 2011: this update was released to reduce the prevalence of low-quality content in search results, in part by rewarding unique, high-quality content. Following this update, pages receive a quality classification from Google that impacts their ranking.

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