E-Commerce and Google’s 2021 Update – Is Your Website Ready?

E-Commerce has never been so competitive and if you’re not ahead of digital updates, you’ll find your customers being directed elsewhere.

In 2020, Google announced a new ranking factor which will be rolled out in the Spring of 2021. This new ranking factor is called “Page Experience” and essentially measures how users perceive the experience of interacting with a specific web page.

The purpose of this update is to ensure that Google will rank websites at the top of its search results (SERPS) that its users really love. What is Google’s definition of love? As it’s a crawling, clever, data driven and qualitative robot it loves a user-friendly website and will rank it higher than non user-friendly ones, once this update is rolled out.

USER FRIENDLY DEFINITION

In terms of search engines (yeah, Google) offering we digital marketers want to ensure your website offers its users the ultimate experience. We want our clients’ webpages to keep searches engaged, stick to the site, shout out about the site, and come back to the site. Yes, we want your site to be “User Friendly”, so read on for an explanation.

Making a website SEO and user friendly means that Google and other search engines can crawl each page on the website efficiently. They can interpret the content effectively, and index it in their databases. Once indexed, they can then serve the most relevant and valuable web pages to their users based on the topics they search for. Simple right?

Google Page Experience 2021 for Shopify
Google’s Page Experience Algorithm Update 2021

USER EXPERIENCE UNDERSTANDING

Digital Marketing encompasses a variety of methods and search engine optimisation includes “user experience” or “UX”.  SEO targets search engines, and UX targets your website’s visitors. Both share a common goal of giving users the best experience.

Google’s Page Experience Rollout

Google’s new update is great news for users because it means websites will be forced to provide a solid user experience (UX) for visitors rather than flooding a site full of dark patterns and frustrating navigational nuances. What does this mean for E-Commerce businesses? It means showing Google that you are looking after your customers in a way that offers them the absolute best in website user experience.

This new ranking factor signals the beginning of a shift in the world of SEO. It also means that many online stores and brands, no matter their size or turnover, may now find themselves in the position of needing to update their website (maybe you’ve grown too big for Shopify and need to change it up a gear to WooCommerce, as an example), and will need to take action with their current website UX.

I’ve broken down the impact that this new algorithm will have on your website’s ranking and how you can prepare for its arrival.

What is UX and how does it tie in with SEO and Website Marketing?

To reiterate, UX stands for User Experience and SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.

SEO is a multifaceted digital marketing specialism that entails website optimisation which includes ensuring the UX of a website adheres to Google (and of course the other search engines) guidelines and follows best practice. Ultimately, a website is not just a 2D business card, in a world of digitalisation, savvy consumers and behaviour psychology, law practices are beyond a shadow of a doubt, businesses through and through and your website needs to show its audience and Google that it cares about its audience.

Indirectly as it may be, UX has been a staple of page rankings for a while. Poor UX leads to visitors leaking from your site, increasing bounce rates, and ultimately harming your domain. However, the new Google page experience algorithm puts the UX of a website as a direct factor in terms of ranking higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

It’s rare Google provides the public with news of any upcoming updates so when they do it’s important to capitalise, so here’s what you need to know. What do I mean by this? I mean don’t wait until your competitors have jumped on it, act now! SEO takes a while to kick in, it’s not a quick fix or win, it’s work in progress and the sooner you begin this process the sooner your website will shine and generate the leads it deserves.

Google’s Page Experience Algorithm Requirements

User-friendly browsing is front and centre 

The main aim of the new algorithm Google is to improve the UX across all devices, so desktop, mobile and tablet.

Google has been pushing towards this for a while, by developing several factors to measure experience, such as whether a site has an SSL certificate or how mobile-friendly it is. Core Web Vitals is another company created by Google which helps businesses determine their website speed and functionality, another key component of the UX.

Whilst all these factors have been indirectly playing a part with website rankings, they will now directly impact SERPs. Google will now combine the Core Web Vitals* and UX factors to determine a combined page experience score, with low scoring sites slumping down the SERPs.

Fashion, Accessories & Apparel E-Commerce

Who is your audience? Who do you want to come to your site? How are you going to make it effectively simple for them to browse, shop and pay? If you have designer apparel for the Gen Z ages, who is the one making the decision to buy? Think about it, a 10 year old searches for a t-shirt they love…they show their parent, their parent may be a Generation X, so although the Gen Z found the site (probably through YouTube or their social media of choice), but their parent will be the one navigating the site, checking out the delivery notes, the quality, browsing the site to see if it’s legitimate, PLUS they may need reading glasses so think of the font…you get my gist!

Ok, let’s focus on manufacturing and distribution E-Commerce businesses.  COVID-19 has forced us all to shift gear up a notch with our digital game and this industry is no different. The B2B sector needs a steadfast, simple, and effective UX for the business it’s selling to.

Manufacturing E-Commerce

The Drum had a great article I recently read where research in the fields of manufacturing was being led by their distributors and their customers to open online shopping sites for them.

  • There has been a growing trend for 24/7 business operations, and an ability to search and buy products has become the norm in most markets.
  • E-Commerce can reduce a huge amount of office admin (some reports estimate it at 60%).
  • The market is also opening with small businesses buying more as consumers begin to run their own SMEs, which E-Commerce can facilitate.
  • Many ‘trade-only’ products can now be found online anyway, through trade stores and diverse shopping portals such as Amazon.

Giving customers the convenience and speed to buy online can leverage a premium price and distributor pricing can be managed.

E-Commerce Digital Marketing and Page Experience

It’s about tailoring your UX to your audience by understanding where they search for you and how they absorb information.

*What are Core Web Vitals?

Currently, there are three Core Web Vitals which Google will be updating progressively:

The Core Web Vitals report shows how your pages perform based on real world usage data (sometimes called field data). You can read more about this initiative on the Google Webmaster blog.

Why page performance matters:

Longer page load times have a severe effect on bounce rates. For example:

If page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases 32%

If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, bounce rate increases by 106%

Source: Google’s Search Console

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): LCP tracks the time it takes to load up any given page on a website. Ideally, Google suggests this should be 2.5 seconds or less to range in the ‘good’ boundary.  E-Commerce sites must be careful with image sizing and plugins – if they get it wrong, it can negatively impact your site being ranked (and therefore a big fat no for leads and conversions).
  2. First Input Delay (FID): FID measures the time it takes from interacting with your site to the site registering the action and responding to it. Think of it like ringing someone’s doorbell and the time it takes for the door to open. Websites need to have an FID of 100milliseconds or less.  This is seriously important for conversions, let alone ranking. We want answers NOW, we are all an impatient lot!
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS looks at the stability of a site and whether the layout will begin to shift depending on an action any given user takes on your site such as clicking a button. Pages should try to maintain a score of 0.1 or less to be user friendly.  If this is blowing your mind and you’re switching off – take a quick look at this short article with visuals to give you examples.

What other factors make up the Page Experience ranking?

There are currently four further factors that affect page rankings, which Google has stated it will assess and expand accordingly. They are:

  1. Mobile-friendliness: How well the website performs across mobile devices. Most website builders (Squarespace, Shopify and Wix) have inbuilt coding, but having a developer or SEO marketer to look at your site to ensure it’s spot on, will only help your overall ranking and website clicks. This is where the UX in the SEO umbrella comes into its own.
  2. Safe-browsing: Determines whether your page is safe for the user to browse by detecting for malware or any other viruses that could put the user at risk. E-Commerce and online shopping is one of the main sources of cybercrime, because of the money “changing hands”. Lovely article for consumers HERE from Urban Network.
  • Choose E-Commerce Hosting (do your research)
  • Switch to HTTPS (see bullet point below!)
  • Choose A Secure Platform & Keep It Secure
  • Secure Your Admin Area
  • Backup Your Data Regularly
  • Never Hold Client Card Data (where do you capture data?)
  1. HTTPS: Linked in part to the above, Google prefers sites that have an SSL certificate (locked under safe and key!) as websites with no secure HTTPS connection will suffer.  Don’t be fooled by thinking your main URL is going to protect your whole site; you must delve deeper than that. Where are your images from? Are you internal links secure? Have your checked for spammy backlinks damaging your site? This can all be part of an SEO’s job to keep a monthly website health check, if you want them to, ask for this on your monthly retainer package.
  2. Intrusiveness: Dark patterns have been quite prominent in the UX of websites for a while. Google will now investigate whether a site has any dark pattern hallmarks such as an intrusive web design, pop-ups that cover parts of a page, or adverts that need dismissing before entering a site.  We’ve all been there, reading an article or attempting to click on a CTA when a huge ad pops up or an ugly old newsletter subscription drops in front of your view.  Yes, these are lead magnets, and yes, they are still a particularly useful data gathering tool for email marketing, BUT it’s HOW they integrate into your site. Are they annoying to the user or are they offering the user a great experience?

How to get ready for the update

With Google giving users prior notice, businesses have enough time to implement some necessary steps before the update drops sometime in 2021.

Use the tools available

The most logical place to start is by using Google’s Developer Tools to assess Core Web Vitals and the four further factors that make up the page experience ranking. At present there are six tools:

There are also a further two tools that can measure page experience outside of the Core Vitals:

Utilising all these tools in conjunction with one another will allow businesses to gauge an idea of their page experience score.

Create a report

Your website probably had Google Analytics? This is where you track your website traffic.  But does your website have Google Search Console integrated as well?  For a quick reminder, please read this article explaining the difference between GA and GCS for your info.

For more information on how you’re performing against the Core Vitals, located within the Google Search Console is the Core Web Vitals report. Utilising the Search Console will have benefits for tracking and analysing what’s going on with your website in real time – highlighting issues that need fixing.

Another report that should be used alongside the Core Web Vitals report is the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). The CrUX also uses real-time data and measures Core Vitals; however, the added benefit of the CrUX report is that it allows E-Commerce businesses to measure data from the previous month, allowing businesses to measure improvements over time.  What I’m saying here is the quicker you have these tools integrated into your website the easier it will be for you or your marketing department or outsourced agency to help you and your website stay in line with Google’s algorithm.

The report also allows users to drill down into the results further by segmenting via a few factors such as browsing devices or geographical locations, allowing users to see what external factors could be affecting the results.

In Conclusion – How to take action from the results

Once you have all the data from the tools mentioned above, you can build a clear picture of what needs to be done to improve your Page Experience and ultimately your SERP ranking. The information offered from Google is quite unusual because it doesn’t usually give us such obvious insight. The team and I at Pickled Ginger Marketing, are always researching, learning, and keeping up with our own CPD when it comes to Google updates and so when there are algorithm changes, we monitor website movements, differences, and have to play ratios via UX, onsite technicalities and off page link building. Google has made it easy for all businesses to determine what needs doing by offering recommendations on many of its tools. For example, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test provides a list of errors and reasons why your website may be performing poorly on mobile.

Whilst it’s important your Page Experience score is high by meeting the recommended LCP, FID and CLS scores (as mentioned above), we mustn’t lose sight that Google still states it will prioritise sites that offer the most value through useful content.

None of us should ever underestimate the power of content (text, video, podcast) for a Google search or voice search through Alexa or Siri (as an example).  Did you know that Google wants you, as a business, to follow its E-A-T Guidelines when updating content through blogs etc?  If you’re not -sure what E-A-T means, here’s a short article to explain in more depth. Once you know, it’s easier to write your news, blog, or article on your website and more likely to get qualified clicks to your website also.

The team here at Pickled Ginger Marketing do understand with the day-to-day running of your shop (phew, supply & demand, returns and COVID-19 etc), dedicating time to keeping up to date with the latest digital hacks, analysing your site whilst also pushing out regular content isn’t always feasible. So, if you want to ensure that you’re providing your customers with value whilst dominating in a competitive market, it’s good to know that we can support you with a number of proven strategies.

Pickled Ginger Marketing has your back, and we offer competitive digital marketing packages to complement your budget to help your business thrive. Why not get in touch for a chat? No pressure, no fuss.

 

 

 

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