Metric loss

What does Google’s new “page experience” metric mean for publishers?

Credit: safou to Unsplash

Google’s new page experience metric will determine your website’s performance on search engines starting in February. This means that readers could see more variety in news brands appearing in Google’s top search results as better content and site performance are recognized by the change.

For news publishers, whose content-heavy websites are some of the slowest on the web, this is another criteria to meet to ensure that their hard-earned audience is able to find their contents.

[Read more: What publishers need to know about the latest changes in Google search]

Page Experience Update is a measure of how users interact with a web page, beyond simply ingesting content, to gauge its usefulness.

The little technology

Three metrics will determine the feel of reading and browsing a webpage, from loading speed to stability.

The first, quickly named Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), measures the loading time of the largest content.

It could be a splash on the homepage, an exclusive photo, or a video – typically, top article publishers want users to click. Google thinks that if it loads slowly, it can be completely missed.

The second, First Input Delay (FID), measures the speed between landing on a page and the first click becoming available. A landing page should lead users deeper into the content. But if that first click is slow, attention – and readership – can be lost.

The third, Cumulative Layout Shift, is the most intangible. It measures this final movement of images and text when a page finishes loading.

New nits

Google search showed that the likelihood of a bounce – when a user leaves a site without continuing to click on another page – increased by 32% when load times increased from one to three seconds.

By the time a potential reader has waited five seconds for a page to load, there’s a 90% chance they won’t read a word of its content.

Of the ten most popular news sites in the UK, three had load times of over three seconds. Not a single home page loaded in less than one.

Data source: pingdom.com

News sites will always be content rich and optimizing load times can often fall to the bottom of any to-do list. But as Google rolls out the Page Experience, the pressure changes.

The Global media group, which owns radio stations like LBC, Heart or Capital, has spent a lot of time and money helping its journalism achieve better Google rankings.

Through a mix of search engine optimization (SEO) and working towards this new page experience metric, Global’s sites appear higher in search and load times decrease – the homepage of LBC loads in 533 ms for example.

Steve Wilson-Beales, Head of SEO and Editorial Products for Global, said, “We all jumped on it. We’re engaging a lot more with our developers to improve [our loading speed].

“It’s just about getting the quality of our journalism out there as quickly as possible and making sure [our sites] a place where people come back for more.

Wilson-Beales added that having a clear, simple, and easy-to-understand message the moment someone lands on your website is the most important thing. Page experience won’t make a huge difference to a journalist’s job, but publishers will see competition for top rankings from smaller websites that serve their audiences better.

“Journalists are plugged into their story,” says Wilson-Beales. “The best search ranking job I’ve seen is when a reporter takes what’s just been announced and predicts what people are going to search for.”

Quick reports

Google has gone to great lengths to point out that a fast site with a good “page experience” will not outperform a slow site with rich, meaningful content.

Google Developer Advocate Martin Splitt noted: “A fast website with terrible content is probably not what people are looking for.

“But if you have two good pieces of content and one is going to be extremely slow, we might want to give the faster one a better position.”

The message is especially important for mobile websites. According to last year’s figures from Statistamore than two-thirds of Britons use their phones to access the news.

The practical part

There are many ways for journalists and web editors to improve their understanding of super-fast sites, improved page experience, and SEO.

[Read more: How can journalists learn SEO and why do they need to?]

Wilson-Beales recommends checking Google Trends when researching a story to see what your competitors are writing about and asking the question, “Can I improve on this or take my own angle?”

Google’s own explainers are a bit technical but have a lot of useful information to take in.

Journalism.co.uk hosts a range of courses that will help improve your sites’ rankings, from essential SEO skills to understanding the analytics behind websites, traffic and audiences.

The impact since rolling out to mobile hasn’t been as deep as publishers feared, Wilson-Beales said, but should be reminded that the best way to secure traffic is to make websites destinations in themselves.

If readers can find content that resonates with them, like podcasts, newsletters, and exclusives, that’s a more powerful tool than a solid SEO ranking.

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