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Google to penalize slow, user “unfriendly” sites (updated)

by Michael O'Laughlin July 16, 2020
Update: April 2021

Last week, Google officially announced that the rollout of its page experience ranking change will begin in mid-June of this year. It will be a gradual rollout, with page experience going into full effect by the end of August.

There are many factors that Google is planning to take into consideration when ranking with page experience. With less than two months until the rollout starts, we recommend focusing on the following to see the biggest impact.

  1. Serve images in next-gen formats: It’s best to leverage new formats of images, such as JPG 2000, JPGXG and WebP. Although not all formats are supported by all browsers, there are code updates that can be made to allow for fallback to traditional formats.
  2. Efficiently encode images: When images are properly compressed, it reduces your total page size, helping the page to load faster.
  3. Properly size images: It used to be acceptable to upload an image in the largest size necessary and scale it down through code to deliver an appropriate size per device. Google is now pushing site owners away from this strategy. Instead, it would prefer for sites to deliver images to the user in the specific size that’s optimized for their screen.

When working with clients to audit and optimize their performance, these three opportunities to improve page speed nearly always come up in the top spots. Addressing these can help significantly improve your page load speeds, shaving valuable seconds off load times. For a deeper dive into additional opportunities to improve page speed specific to your website, check out PageSpeed Insights.

Although Google hasn’t yet officially announced this as its intention, we strongly suspect that in addition to penalizing sites from an SEO perspective, it will also eventually begin to flag sites it deems as underperforming. Google already does this for sites without the appropriate security certificate, going as far as to call some sites Not Secure or Dangerous. The new warnings could label sites as user-unfriendly, deterring traffic and engagement.

If you’re trying to decide the best way to tackle updates, we can help by performing a Page Speed Audit of your site and making recommendations based on a cost/benefit analysis of the suggested updates. The audit will include a plan to improve your site score and the estimated cost of implementation, which will be dependent on multiple factors, including the age, size and complexity of your site. You may even already be leveraging a service that can help you solve some of these issues without code. If not, we can work with you to develop a solution that fits best for your needs. Contact your account rep or fill out our Contact Us form for more information.


Original post: July 2020

Providing an optimal page experience for users has always been important. If you want to keep your audiences engaged and coming back, you have to offer them fast page loads, compelling interactivity and intuitive navigation. And soon, your site’s usability will have a direct impact on your Google search ranking.

Google recently announced an update coming to its ranking algorithm that will take into account page experience and reward sites with better usability by ranking them higher in search results. Mobile friendliness and load speed are already included in current rankings; however, Google also recently introduced Core Web Vitals, which expands the metrics it takes into account related to speed, responsiveness and visual stability when measuring a site’s user experience.

Luckily, Google has always provided a way to test your site’s pages with PageSpeed Insights or with an audit tool in the Chrome browser. Testing our clients’ sites with these tools is a standard practice of ours. During recent routine testing, we noticed that, as far back as 5/29/2020, these tools were taking the upcoming ranking changes into account when scoring pages. The current list of measurements and opportunities for the performance audits can be found here. They provide critical insight and help site owners uncover gaps in their experiences.

Google has said that because of COVID-19, the update to search rankings will not happen before next year. It has also promised to provide at least six months’ notice before the updates are rolled out. Now would be a great time to identify improvement opportunities and create a plan for enhancing your page experience before the new algorithm is at play. One North can help by taking an audit of your site, identifying recommended improvements and developing a roadmap that prioritizes and tackles the updates.

Contact your account manager or one of our client development directors today to get started and protect (or improve) your Google search ranking.

As Director, QA & Managed Applications, Michael is responsible for delivering One North digital experiences to clients and creating both web applications and custom data integration solutions. Michael’s favorite Chicago spot is the United Center, watching the Hawks in the playoffs.

Favorite movie quote: “Great moments…are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game; not tonight.” – Miracle

What you wanted to be when you were little: A firefighter

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