User experience (UX) is a tough thing to measure quantitatively. How would you quantitatively measure the UX of a web page or site? It can be like trying to grade art, wine, or your favorite restaurant. What you might consider to be good or great is not necessarily what others might consider to be good or great.
When it comes to search, many people might consider the ranking of web pages to be subjective. How can anyone determine what the best web page is for a given search query? Can you rank the best web pages from 1 – 100 for every keyword, question, and query on the planet in the blink of an eye? Google can, and they have made it their business to consume the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. In fact, it’s their mission statement.
Over time, they have used signals related to links, keywords, content, and more to determine relevance, but they are now making big strides in measuring user experience (UX) and introducing signals into their algorithms that measure UX.
Measuring Things that are Subjective is in Google’s DNA
If anyone has proven that they are capable of measuring things that people think are subjective, it is Google. Just look at the opening paragraph of the paper on the original PageRank formula by Larry Page and Sergey Brin:
“The importance of a Web page is an inherently subjective matter, which depends on the readers interests, knowledge and attitudes. But there is still much that can be said objectively about the relative importance of Web pages. This paper describes PageRank, a method for rating Web pages objectively and mechanically, effectively measuring the human interest and attention devoted to them.”
So, if anyone has proven their ability to take something subjective and create scalable way to quantitatively measure it, Google is the one.
How Google Has Historically Approached Measuring UX for Organic Rankings
While Google has gotten extremely good at measuring relevancy, UX has always been a work in progress. You have probably encountered many pages in search results that have a poor user experience. You have likely encountered web pages that load slowly and are laden with ads, making the page almost impossible to use. You may have even closed pages with a bad UX in frustration, I know I have.
Google has tried to measure these things over the years, including:
However, these types of UX algorithm updates were often few and far between, and more importantly, the impact they had on actual rankings was very small. Therefore, organizations often did not prioritize these types of efforts when compared to those that would have a bigger impact on moving the needle, like content updates and keyword targeting.
How Google is Beginning to Make Strides in Measuring UX
This brings us to (the end of) 2020 and Google’s announcement about the Page Experience update that will be coming in May 2021. Google will be adding three new signals (called Core Web Vitals) and packaging these up with four existing signals to create one new combined umbrella called “Search signals for page experience.” These metrics will be one component to Google’s continued push to quantitatively measure UX.
Google is arriving at these conclusions about what to measure through machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (ML). They are using ML and AI to measure and predict the outcomes of positive and negative user experiences, and then take those signals and add them to algorithms that determine the organic rankings of web pages.
However, what makes this different than Google’s past efforts like the Page Layout algorithm and page speed updates we mentioned earlier? Well, there are two key differences that standout to me:
What to Do
Expect this trend to continue into 2021 and beyond, with Google likely to introduce more signals (some they will announce publicly and others they probably will not) that will apply quantitative measurements to UX and use that for rankings. Additionally, expect these updates to grow in importance and their impact on your organic visibility.
Based on all of this, we must ask ourselves, what should we do? If we know that Google is going to continue in this direction, we should place an emphasis on UX. Although that is not groundbreaking, it is still an area that is not emphasized enough by most organizations.
Given the inherent subjective nature of UX (at least historically), many organizations do not improve it, because they do not measure it. Therefore, we recommend:
If you have any questions on how we can help you better measure, test, or improve the UX of your website, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.