UX design process for Google’s algorithm update

By Tom Turner

In May 2020, Google released a set of new metrics named “Core Web Vitals”, designed to help site owners measure the user experience on their sites. Later that month, Google stated they would be combining these “Core Web Vitals” with their pre-existing user experience signals (mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing etc.) and creating a new, more comprehensive page experience algorithm that would at some point be integrated into Google Search rankings.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the work that website owners were already doing to adapt to it, Google broadcast that site owners would be given at least 6 months advance notice before the changes went live. The SEO, UX and web development community, whilst having other things on their mind at the time admittedly, waited with bated breath. 

In November, Google confirmed that the updates would be rolled out in May 2021. In preparation for the change, it is time to consider what adaptations need to be made to your site to ensure it is fit for purpose and not left behind (or pushed down in the rankings).

What is page experience?

Google has stated that page experience “is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.” 

This set of signals is made up of five central metrics:

  • Core Web Vitals 
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPs-security
  • Intrusive interstitial guidelines

As the “Core Web Vitals” signals are the new addition, it is necessary to dissect what they exactly are and how you can tailor your site to meet these new metrics. 

Diagram explaining core web vitals for Google Search
Source: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2020/11/timing-for-page-experience

“Core Web Vitals” explained 

There are three central pillars that make up “Core Web Vitals”. They can be simplified into loading, interactivity, and visual stability:

Loading: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – this measurement is used to ascertain perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load time when the main content (image/video/text block) is loaded and visible. Sites should aim to have LCP occur within 2.5 seconds.

Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID) – measures load responsiveness and denotes the time from when a user first interacts with a page to the time when the page is interactive, that is, when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction. Sites should aim to have FID under 100 milliseconds.

Visual stability: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – this quantifies unexpected layout shifts on a site and you should be aiming for a CLS under 0.1. This is to prevent the experience users often have when they go to click on a button and something changes on the page unexpectedly. 

Adapting to the change

Make use of Google’s tools for diagnostics 

As a result of the addition of “Core Web Vitals”, Google has updated the web developer tools for its Chrome browser to allow measurement of these new signals, and help site owners run better diagnostics in order to achieve optimal page experience. There are a number of tools available including Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, and Search Console’s Core Web Vitals report that can help you understand any issues. From here, you can start to formulate a winning UX design process as well as an engineering strategy.

UX design process is now more important than ever

The way you approach and map out UX has always been important for building a successful site and attracting users, but now it is even more so. In the next five months,

Site owners should evaluate their UX design process and ensure it is coherent and comprehensive. This is essential if you want to optimise for these new metrics.

This means setting out objectives that pertain to a number of different areas of the digital landscape. You will have to optimise for site speed, remove broken links, use heat maps to locate areas on the site that are causing problems on the user journey. Organisations will need to apply usability testing to find out ways in which end users are interacting at different digital touchpoints, something Inviqa did successfully to help jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu. Another useful technique is to conduct a performance audit to identify and correct frontend, backend, and server infrastructure problems. 

These are a diverse set of issues and techniques that require expertise in both UX design and engineering. Any UX design process and roadmap will have to specify how both teams will collaborate with each other and create healthy feedback loops. It is only by examining the process, planning and de-risking assumptions that a site owner can build a great on-page experience for the user.

A traditional UX agency is not enough 

This latest change to Google Search is further demonstration that a long-term, holistic approach to UX is the best way forward and those that get siloed into any one area of digital design or development will be destined for problems. 

After acquiring UX agency Webcredible in 2018, Inviqa now offers expertise in digital strategy consulting, UX/UI design, and technology engineering. We know from over 13 years’ of experience that a company needs all these different services in order to build and refine for successful digital experiences. Too often it is the case that organisations do not approach creating digital experiences in a multifaceted way and when they try to expand or adapt, they do not have the structure in place to do so. The organisation then ends up losing customers and having to pay to completely refactor their technology stack. 

Ultimately, the best approach to optimising your site will be specific to your organisation's unique set up. However, one new approach to solving the disconnect between UX design and engineering, which we are increasingly adopting, is a headless commerce architecture. This is where the front-end is decoupled and connected to the back-end via APIs. This means the UX is independent from and no longer restricted by the underlying platform, so improvements and changes can be made to the UX much more easily and quickly. 

Be ready

This latest update from Google is another reminder that site owners need to be constantly optimising and refreshing their development and UX design process in order to stay relevant and popular. The complexities around optimising a site require expertise in multiple different domains of the digital ecosystem. If you are looking to devise and implement an integrated solution for your site, then get in touch with us now!