There are few things more annoying than a website that doesn’t work how you expect it to. Slow load times, badly designed (or intentionally misleading) interfaces, and pages that shift in place as they load distract from the content on the page, making it hard to get information you need—and are just plain frustrating.
So Google is stepping in. As part of a new set of best practices, the company will start factoring user experience into its search results, as well as the top stories feature in mobile search. Google is no longer just optimizing for information that’s closest to your keywords, but optimizing for a more delightful web. Intuitive, user-friendly page design is about to become even more important.
The new ranking factor will combine quantifiable metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability with other criteria like mobile friendliness, safe browsing, https, and no intrusive pop-up windows in order to provide a more well-rounded picture of a web page’s UX.
Drilling into how Google will parse these metrics gets pretty technical, but essentially, pages should load within 2.5 seconds and users should be able to interact with the page within 100 microseconds. Another measurement looks at how often often visible page content unexpectedly shifts around.
Though Google prefaced the announcement by citing internal research that shows users prefer sites with a good page experience, it’s not the end-all-be-all for search rankings. Google will still rank pages with the best information first, even if the UX is less than ideal. “Great page experience doesn’t override having great page content,” the company said in a blog post. “However, in cases where there are many pages that may be similar in relevance, page experience can be much more important for visibility in search.”
Citing COVID-19, Google says the ranking changes won’t happen until next year, and the company will provide at least six months’ notice before they’re rolled out. The update will also no longer require that publishers use Accelerated Mobile Pages to be eligible for top stories. AMP keeps users within Google’s interface rather than taking them to the site itself.
Designers already know that great UX leads to better understanding of information and deeper engagement. And maybe, prioritizing page experience can even spark a bit of unexpected joy.