Avoid Hemorrhaging Website Visitors in 2021 With ‘Page Experience’

1st November 2020

Google is cracking down hard on UX (User Experience) to make the web a better place, and yours could be in their sights if you don’t plan ahead.

What’s happening?

Websites keep improving naturally as we realise our own has become dated and needs a refresh.

However, Google is pushing this further and faster by, let’s face it, demanding websites are fast and easy to use.

I say “demanding” because when they tell us they’re looking out for certain aspects of a website to decide who gets a good spot, we listen — we want to appear on the first page, so we ignore it at our peril.

As much work as it is to keep an eye on what they look for and to adapt to it, their changes do make for a better experience across the web.

Back in the not-so-good-old-days, websites could play the game and fool the pubescent Google in spammy, unethical ways to appear on the first page.

Now though, Google has matured hugely (seriously, you don’t want to go down that worm hole) to be the pipe smoking elder who can spot a fishy website a mile off.

Old Google spammy results vs new Google better quality results
Spammy websites you don’t want to see in 2006, verses much better quality in 2020

The first page for all searches include some quality results where you’re confident you’ll find a decent amount of highly relevant information.

Anyway, I’m rambling slightly, Page Experience…

What is Page Experience?

Page Experience is what visitors will witness when they reach your website. It’s what they experience when viewing your pages. They encompass seven main areas, but three of these are fairly new and come under the term Core Web Vitals.

They’re called this because they are more centred around the user and become the core issues which would make them leave and try another website instead.

Page speed

How fast the page loads.

The faster your website the better, because visitors don’t like to hang around while your site loads — they’re impatient and they’ll go somewhere else if it’s slow.

Technology moves at an incredible pace, so we’ve been conditioned to expect progress fairly quickly. You only have to keep a phone for a few years and feel a large increase in speed from the latest model when you upgrade.

Once any of your pages take longer than three seconds to load, visitors will become impatient and could leave to visit your competitors instead.

The image below from Google shows just how damaging a slow website is (a ‘bounce’ is when someone visits a single page and then leaves).

The dramatic effect of lost visitors for pages loading in four seconds and longer

One to three seconds is fairly average, but once you reach four and five seconds, you’ve lost 58% more visitors.

Most new visitors see your homepage first, so enter it into Google’s PageSpeed to see how long it’s taking to load on a phone and computer.


How to optimise for this

PageSpeed will give you a good idea about what to do, but if you find it confusing then you may prefer GTmetrix.

Images usually take the longest to download, so if you’re using WordPress then add the Optimole plugin to speed them up. Allowing visitors to automatically reuse files needed to load the website is also handy, so add WP Fastest Cache while you’re at it.

If none of this makes sense, then you’ll need to speak to the person who set up your website originally, or I can also help if you’d like to ask from my Contact page.


Time to interactive

How long it takes before you can click on something.

SEO - Time to Interactive

This is equally important as visitors will be very frustrated if they can’t click on anything because the page is still loading.

Elements such as buttons and links may not do anything if the website is still trying to load the rest of the page.


How to optimise for this

Again, increasing the speed at which all of the site’s files are loaded on the page will mean it’s ready to be interacted with. So, the same instructions as the previous section ‘Page speed’ will apply here.

There’s also more you can do by limiting the amount that’s on the page, but that all depends on whether it needs to be there. It’s out of the scope of this article to give more technical details than that.

If none of this makes sense, then you’ll need to speak to the person who set up your website originally, or I can also help if you’d like to ask from my Contact page.


Visual stability

Elements of the page (text, images, etc.) moving around as the whole page loads.

This is not good for UX (User Experience) as it’s not only annoying, but visitors could click on the wrong link or button.

It’s going to be a tough one for those of you who don’t have any coding knowledge, so you’ll need to get in touch with someone if you visit PageSpeed and see a red figure for Cumulative Layout Shift.

High cumulative layout shift screenshot
A red triangle and number indicate too many moving parts when the page loads

How to optimise for this

Again, without coding knowledge, you’re not going to be able to sort this out properly. Get in touch with the person who created the website, or seek a freelance Web Developer. I also may be able to help, so feel free to reach out via the Contact page.


Existing qualities that Google looks for

Google is matching up the above with existing overarching qualities they look for in a website to ensure the most user-friendly are found first.

So, unfortunately, you’ll need to also think about these if you’re serious about beating your competitors.

Mobile-friendly

Visitors are mostly visiting websites on their phone these days. The point at which they overtook computers was actually back in 2015!

I’ve seen statistics from a number of websites to this day — mainly B2B — where computer-based visitors still outnumber mobile, but generally speaking, more of them are arriving from phones.

In fact, as of 2019, Google inspects your website from a mobile perspective, so it’s definitely worth taking these visitors very seriously even if there aren’t as many, just to appease the Google gods.

If you’re not sure what your visitors are using, then you’ll need to set up Google Analytics (which is free). Let me know in the comments if you don’t know how to do this, or head over to my DIY videos for instructions.

All information on websites is required to be clearly visible (large fonts and images) and easy to use (large buttons and forms).

Mobile-friendly website verses unoptimised desktop website
An unoptimised computer-only website verses a flexible mobile-friendly website

The first thing you should do is actually visit your website on a phone. Can you see everything perfectly well without zooming in? Squinting and moving your phone closer doesn’t count.

If not, you’ll need a flexible layout by moving to a better web builder such as Squarespace, WordPress.com, or hiring someone.


How to optimise for this

All text should be at least 16px on a phone, most images will need to be full width across the screen, buttons large enough to easily tap first time without trying, and in most cases only single column content (with the odd exception).

If you’re not sure how to do this, then you’ll need to speak to the person who set up your website originally, or I can also help if you’d like to ask from my Contact page.


Safe browsing

No malware to be on the site or in downloads from the site.

Most websites will be fine here as they’re genuine businesses, but it’s worth making sure that your website hasn’t been hacked.

Hackers can infiltrate a website and plant malicious files without the owner knowing. So, make sure to take security seriously and add a plugin like Wordfence or similar if you’re using WordPress to monitor the site.


How to optimise for this

For WordPress users, Wordfence will be enough to hold off a huge number of hackers. If you don’t use Wordfence, then comment at the bottom of this article and I’ll let you know what you can do instead.

Also, make sure to sign up to Google’s Search Console and add your website there. It will send you alerts if Google has noticed anything fishy that will harm your position in the search rankings.


Basic security

As previously mentioned, hackers can gain access to a website fairly easily without having to manually do anything — they create programs (called ‘bots’) that search the internet looking for all websites.

They automatically try different ways to hack a website while the human hacker is doing something else.

They’re very sophisticated, so you could be hacked at any time unless you take precautions.

Google really hates a hacked website as it could drastically alter the experience of visitors by automatically downloading viruses (malware) to their computer. Google doesn’t want to send people to a website that puts them in harms way.

Therefore, if Google found out — which is easy if your site has been hacked — you would be relegated to the shadowy realms where no one will find your website. You can kiss page one goodbye for a long time.


How to optimise for this

If you’re using WordPress, then again, Wordfence should be added as a plugin. If you don’t know how to do this then reach out in the comments, ask on my Contact page, or talk to the person who created your website.

There are a lot of very technical tasks to perform if you’re to do a good job of securing your site, so you really need to talk to a professional.


Intrusive pop-ups

Avoid pop-ups on a phone that take up too much room.

This is one that will catch people out for a long time yet. Pop-ups are very important as you can immediately bring an offer or download to someone’s attention in the hopes of gaining their email address.

It works really well, especially a discount for an online shop.

It’s fine on a computer, but that same size is going to take up the whole screen on a phone. And therein lies the problem — what may be a reasonable size on a laptop is too intrusive and in your face on a phone.

This will ruin the experience and Google hates that. Also, sometimes the ‘close’ button can be hidden if the pop-up is too big.

So, for phones, your pop-ups will need to be smaller — Google says 20% of the screen as a maximum, but apparently cookie notices are exempt.


How to optimise for this

If you have your own freelance web developer to call on, make sure they shrink it for phones. If you don’t have one, then either get one, hire me, or wait until the WP plugins catch up with regulations. For other sites, please contact the web builder (Squarespace, Wix, etc.) that you created it with.


Summary

The dawn of a new web is upon us. Those who don’t embrace the lightning speeds and good experience necessary for Google will simply fall off the tenth page, never to be seen by anyone ever again (from searching, anyway).

They have made a big effort to make sure the web is a better place, and reward those who make an effort with a much better chance of being seen on the first page.

So, take this lightly at your peril, because your competitors may not.

Work on speeding up your site first and then get around to the others. But, for God’s sake, take it seriously.

Are you concerned about making any of these changes to your website? Are you unsure how to start? Leave a comment below.