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New Google ranking factors to optimize for in 2021

Vladislav Polikevych SEO Industry April 22, 2021
Google looks at a raft of things before it brings your website to the SERP. Historically, it uses over 200 ranking factors, and some of them prevail over the others. Think mobile-friendliness, backlinks, website security, authority, page speed, and content.

These factors are still the biggest signals to optimize for in 2021, although they are not the only ones here. Google is about to put another update into practice, which will cast a new look at page experience.

Remember the May 2020 core update that has turned many Google rankings upside down? The new one may provoke the same uproar. Scheduled for May 2021, this update adds new signals to existing Google search ranking factors. It’s important to gear up for it until it’s in full swing.
A word of SEO advice: Track SERP fluctuations to know when Google rolls out new updates that may affect your rankings.
With this update, all eyes are on UX-related signals. Google has already revealed that it will use Core Web Vitals metrics to measure them. Looking ahead to May, if your page experience is poor, your rankings may sink. 

Read on to get a grasp on the new update and how you can fortify your page experience. 

How Core Web Vitals fit into the new update

The upcoming update will assess the experience your page delivers by analyzing its speed, interactivity, and stability. In other words, it will put it to the Core Web Vitals test for:
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
  • First Input Delay (FID)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
recent study has shown that few pages are currently good enough from a Google Core Web Vitals perspective. Of 20,000 URLs, only 13% of desktop and 12% of mobile pages make the cut.

Learn what each metric means and how you can make your website test-ready.

Largest Contentful Paint

This metric is for how long it takes for your page to display the largest piece of content. It only goes for the main text block or image that users can see without scrolling down.

LCP is one of the key Web Vitals as it refers to how fast people can use your page once they click a link to it. No wonder Google is set to treat it as a ranking factor within the Page Experience update.

If your LCP leaves a lot to be desired, you will likely fail to deliver a good page experience. This may eat away at your Google search rankings as your bounce rate increases. In fact, poor LCP (like 6 seconds) may cause it to go 106% up. That’s why speed comes first.

All pages out there should aim for less than 2.5s in their LCP. If your one takes between 2.5s and 4s to load, you may need to consider some improvements. And, of course, you must do something about your LCP if it’s 4s or slower.

First Input Delay

This metric is for how long it takes for the browser to start responding to a user’s interaction while your page is loading. It’s like how soon they can input data in your login field or click a link in your menu after seeing it.

FID is all about interactions. With this new update, it’s becoming one of the vital SEO factors measuring your site’s responsiveness. Google will rely on it as a ranking signal to combat interaction issues during the page loading stage.

The logic to FID is similar to LCP. If users can’t interact with your website as soon as possible, their experience is bad. And they are likely to give up waiting unless your page responds right away.

Google sets three benchmarks for FID:
  • less than 100ms
  • between 100ms and 300ms
  • more than 300ms
If your page is fully interactive within 100ms or faster, your FID is perfect. A moderate level is capped at 300ms and means you should do better. Serious fixes are a must if it’s longer than 300ms.

Cumulative Layout Shift

This metric is for how stable the content on your page is while it’s loading. It refers to the rearrangement of ads, images, buttons, and input fields that cause your on-page elements to move up, down, or sideways as they appear.

CLS is another Core Web Vitals ranking factor. It’s meant to reduce unintentional clicks and save users from figuring out where your content has shifted. That’s how it helps you ensure a stable experience and get a pat on the back from Google for your UX efforts.

In a perfect world, all websites would score 0.1 or less in their CLS. You want to hit this level to prove that your layouts do not make users sway up and down, whether on mobile or desktop pages.

The CLS score of 0.1-0.25 isn’t that bad, yet it should be improved anyway. And if you hit more than 0.25, you should definitely optimize your layouts.

What else goes into page experience signals?

Google’s Web Vitals aside, the new update in May 2021 will factor in four more signals to measure page experience:
  • how mobile-friendly your website is
  • how safe it is for users to browse it
  • whether it is secure enough (with an eye to an SSL certificate and HTTPS)
  • whether your website has intrusive interstitials
While a lot has been said about the first three signals, intrusive interstitials may throw you into confusion. To avoid it, imagine pop-ups that are triggered all of a sudden or prevent your content from being visible as users browse your website. These pop-ups are intrusive interstitials.

Adding intrusive interstitials to your pages is a murky practice. Even though the best-performing pop-ups may have a more than 11% conversion rate, they should never be displayed at the cost of user experience. Place them in a way that keeps your content visible to shine when the new update is rolled out.
A word of SEO advice: Sometimes, it’s okay to use intrusive interstitials. If you need to place one to verify a user’s age before they access your content (e.g., for an online cannabis dispensary), this doesn’t violate Google’s page experience guidelines.

What about AMP pages within the new update?

The upcoming update is also related to AMP.

Let’s get back to basics. AMP technology allows you to create stripped-down page versions for faster loading on mobile devices. It “accelerates” them by reducing JS and CSS elements that need to be rendered to display a page.

In other words, these pages are sort of simplified. The only reason they matter to your SEO is that they reduce loading times and thus come with their fair share of UX benefits.

Today, AMP websites are the only ones that can be listed in Google’s Top Stories. It is a SERP feature that shows relevant articles as you search for some news.

This is going to change once the page experience update is released in May. Google will no longer treat AMP as the prerequisite for Top Stories listings. So, your non-AMP website can also appear in that carousel, which may be an extra traffic boost.

Keep it up to be ready for any update

If you were Google, would you refine search results or leave them as they are? That’s the point.

Search algorithm changes are always underway to improve how Google delivers search results. But it keeps a lid on them, so webmasters are aware of few details.

Core Web Vitals have been the biggest thing in the SEO world so far this year. And given everything we know about the upcoming update, we can make short-term predictions about how it will affect website rankings.

But there’s always a chance that these predictions will turn out to be false in May 2021.

That is why it’s important to be on the lookout. How? Use Semalt Insights to track your traffic, real-time Google ranking changes, SERP fluctuations, and competitor behaviors. That’s how you can be the first to know if Google’s updates hit you.

With Semalt Insights, you can be sure no updates go unnoticed. It’s your best tool kit to survive them by responding to any changes as they come into play.

We know how to kickstart your SEO campaign and double your organic traffic.
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