Here's why every CMO should have a plan for Google’s UX ranking updates
February 15, 2021
Google just announced that your site’s "user experience" will now impact search rankings in 2021. This announcement arrives just as brands are planning for another big pending change... a cookie-less world. These modifications to Google's search algorithm are part of a larger Google plan to make search, and the overall web experience, more relevant and secure.
These changes shouldn’t be a surprise (Google changes their search algorithm daily after all). That said, truly big announcements and changes only come a few times a year, and they can create havoc for digital brands unprepared for the future. You might remember the late-2019 change that cost brands 50% of their traffic overnight.
Basically, Google means business—literally and figuratively. They will typically provide some warning about big changes, but really, they're on the side of the user rather than brands.
Pre-emptive user experience planning for future search ranking
At Mighty & True, we tend to see these things as an opportunity. Forward-thinking CMO’s can spin changes like this into a competitive advantage by proactively aligning digital assets to the new reality. If you can be the first to roll out your own updates, you're in prime position to outrank and outperform your competition.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare your brand for Google’s newfound focus on user experience:
Understand what Google means by user experience in regards to search ranking
In Google’s world, user experience = page experience. "Page Experience" is the framework Google uses to gauge whether users can efficiently find and interact with the most relevant content.
The latest search guidance from Google combines the recently launched Core Web Vitals with existing page experience metrics in order to improve the overall search rankings algorithm. This announcement expands upon Google's ongoing efforts to ensure quality user experience.
Core Web Vitals adds three important metrics to your site’s ranking performance:
Largest Contentful Paint provides an estimate of how long a page is likely to load for a user. It does so by marking the point in the load timeline where the page's main content has likely loaded.
First Input Delay quantifies your site's interactivity and responsiveness by measuring the time between a user's first interacting (e.g. clicking a button) and when the browser is actually able to begin processing the action.
Cumulative Layout Shift measures visual stability by evaluating the likelihood of unexpected layout shifting of the page's visible content.
While these new measurements get quite technical quite quickly, it’s a good idea to get to know the core concepts. They have a direct correlation to your brand design and content strategy.
How you plan your website's user experience is just as important as how you design it. A quick review of Core Web Vitals performance can give you a new perspective on content and user experience.
User experience is not a one-time thing if you want to rank
You need a long-term and ongoing user experience strategy in place. Forrester Research estimates that every dollar spent on user experience nets $100 in return. That seems reasonable given how much time and science goes into the industry's best digital user experiences.
As a digital CMO, you need to constantly and consistently scrutinize and iterate on your brand's user experience. A consistent, always-on plan for tools, processes and people/partners can help drive performance improvements that are also empathetic to your users' needs—ultimately, Google’s primary goal with every update.
Having a long-term, ongoing strategy and contingency planning will enable you to quickly react to changes so you're not blindsided by new algorithms.
Building a user experience plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It should, however, have a framework for ongoing measurement and iteration. An effective user experience strategy will consider how to:
Become more discoverable by your core users
Ensure your digital assets are more easily navigable for those users
Design your digital assets so users can understand and interact with them more easily
Monitor your site's performance as well as updates and changes to the search algorithm
Be more flexible so you can quickly and effectively pivot to address the unexpected
Ensure your entire digital presence and user experience confidently represents your brand's core values
Having a broad user experience design strategy for all your digital content (beyond your website) will actually give your brand more context. Essentially, it will help your brand make more sense to users so they're more likely to interact with your site and your brand as a whole.
Evangelize and educate your team on user experience
Many of your peers probably don't understand user experience and how significantly it impacts how customers perceive your brand and, ultimately, the revenue potential those customers represent.
It's even more likely that they don’t understand Google’s search algorithms.
That means you’ll likely have to justify the time and expense it will take to actually get results to people who, let's face it, just don't get it.
It's vitally important that you effectively educate your peers on the necessity of design and user experience and trumpet even the smallest successes.
A well-prepared dashboard and effective tools enable you to "show your work" to the doubting Thomases among your company's org chart. They allow you to directly correlate user experience initiatives to conversion success. This will help your team and peers maintain focus on the wins so they can better understand the value of a well-designed and well-maintained user experience strategy.
Any user experience planning and education effort should address the following core ideas:
Good takes time: User experience is hard. It takes time and effort. Most gains won't happen overnight, but they will add up and build momentum over time.
ROI is probable: A well-maintained user experience has plenty of upsides over the long-run. It's important to forecast success over time as accurately as possible and demonstrate progress towards reaching your end-goals.
This is real-life stuff: When you can, show them the dramatic losses and big wins one user at a time. Showing your executive team a screen recording of an abandoned-cart event or a fresh, new form-fill is a great way to get them to wake up to user experience's impact.
We can avoid big losses: User experience planning hedges against big losses. Iterating over time will flatten the curve on losses while amplifying the wins.
This will take experts: You may need specialized roles to support your efforts. Don’t skimp on hiring experts when user experience expertise is a critical part of your own success plan.
Get to know the language: user experience has a specific lexicon that might sound strange at first. Once your team and peers understand terms like User Testing, IA, Usability and A/B testing, they're more likely to internalize a stronger user experience mindset.
Find a user experience team or partner that can help you navigate toward better search ranking and performance
It’s, admittedly, a bit self-serving for us to mention this one, but if you don’t have an expert team or partners with the necessary design and user experience chops, you need to rethink your organizational plan. The reality of today's market means it's impossible to separate the science of the web from the art of great user experience design.
Legacy organizations often have to make due with what they have. That said, if you want your company to be competitive, you need to do the hard thing and enlist the right people with the right set of user experience and design skills—whether they're employees or third-party resources.
Complacency is your enemy. The faster you build a user experience-optimised and brand performance-minded team, the better off you’ll be (and the more fun you’ll have).
Here’s to better user experiences (and search ranking in 2021)
There sure have been a lot of surprises in 2020… but Google changing their search ranking to include page experience isn't wholly unexpected. In fact, as users ourselves, we should all be happy about it (even while we struggle to keep up with effects).
We hope you found this bit of insight useful. If you happen to need a partner who can help you rethink and redesign your user experience and brand performance programs, look us up. We do this for a living.