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In a move that’s bound to have substantial repercussions for both SEO experts and social media consultants alike, search giant Google has given advance notice that it is changing its algorithm in 2021 to take into account a factor called “page experience.” In short, websites with pages that load quickly, that aren’t filled with all kinds of annoying pop-ups, and that let you consume content without being bombarded with all kinds of distractions are going to be prioritized by the Google search algorithm. And, to make this admittedly fuzzy concept of “page experience” as transparent as possible, Google is working on ways to quantify the different metrics that will go into this factor.
Google and the new page experience
To see where this is headed, just check out what the Google Chrome team is doing. They have created a set of metrics called “Web Vitals” that quantify the whole page experience of users. There are three major factors that it looks at: how quickly the main content of a page loads, how quickly the website responds when you click on the page, and whether or not ads rearrange, hide or obfuscate the content you are currently consuming.
Don’t you just hate it when you’re trying to read a story online and you’re delivered all sorts of annoying pop-ups (“Do you want to subscribe to our weekly newsletter?”) or various ad formats that take over your entire page and make it impossible to continue reading without clicking on as many “x” buttons as you can find? That’s the type of negative page experience that Google is hoping to avoid. So it will give more search engine juice to the types of websites that deliver a quick, fast-loading and annoyance-free browsing experience.
There’s a lot to commend Google for doing – it’s basically using a “carrot and stick” approach to cleaning up the web. The Silicon Valley giant is basically telling content creators and advertisers: if you fill up your web pages with lots of junk and clutter, then we’re going to punish you by demoting you in our search algorithm. And, vice versa, if you make your pages as crisp and fast-loading as possible, then you’ll see a nice little bump in your search results. To make things as non-controversial as possible, Google even delayed the rollout of this new algorithmic tweak until way after the 2020 election, by which time it can’t be blamed for spoiling the results of the election by somehow biasing its algorithm toward certain types of content.
Implications for digital marketers
For marketers of all types, there’s a lot to chew on here. First and most importantly, it means that the best ad formats may be the ones that don’t take over the browsing experience. Page takeovers are the worst for users, but are also the most lucrative. So publishers will have to weigh the relative value of getting lots of advertiser dollars for splashy full-page video ads versus the pain and suffering that will come from lost Google search juice. On social media, video has been king recently, and the changes by Google could have some follow-on repercussions here as well. If advertisers no longer feel welcome, they might scale back their use of video ads across the entire web, including social media.
Secondly, there could be a readjustment of the budgetary dollars that companies allocate to social media. Most companies today would probably rather buy an ad on Facebook rather than an ad on Google, but that dynamic could change. And, most companies would probably buy a banner ad or video ad than a text ad, and that dynamic could also change. Advertisers will spend their money where they can get the most bang for their buck. So we could see a new allocation of ad spend.
Will Google change the way we use the web?
For years, Google has been talking about cleaning up the web. Remember how the creation of the AMP format for mobile content led to a huge change in the way people created news content for mobile? And remember how Google has been trying to come up with new ad formats and new advertising business models in order to make the web as consumer-friendly as possible? Well, that serves as an interesting framework from which to view the current changes happening at Google.
The company clearly has a vested interest in getting people to use Google search as much as possible, making Google Chrome their browser of choice, and in getting people to use Google advertising as much as possible. As a result, that has a direct impact on the types of behaviors and incentives that the company is willing to promote. While Google clearly has a business mindset about all this, it should be applauded for making the everyday experience of reading content online as simple and convenient as possible.