Content SEO

Are Core Web Vitals and Page Experience The Same Thing?

By Tania

Since the terms “Core Web Vitals” and “Page Experience” became marketing buzzwords around the same time, many believe that they are synonymous with one another. The terms are not the same, however. In reality, Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a system of metrics developed by Google to measure three specific aspects of a user’s individual experience with a web page. For Google, these measurements are quantitative measurements of something truly qualitative in nature. Page experience refers not only to the “Page Experience Score” that Google’s upcoming Core Web Vitals algorithm update (launching in June 2021) will measure but to all of the various ways an actual user can experience a website. In many ways, page experience is more akin to user website experience than the CWV metrics Google is implementing. 

What Is Page Experience Really? 

If you perform a search query on Google for “page experience,” the first thing you come across is a Google Developer Guide on explaining what page experience means to search results and is defined as the following: 

“Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.” 

Google Advanced Technical SEO Developer Guide

In simpler terms, Google is trying to say that page experience is how easy and valuable users find their time on your website, regardless of if your website provided the information they were after. You can think of Google’s statement here as a restaurant menu. You might be looking for a specific dish that the restaurant doesn’t serve, but how quickly were you able to find that information out? Was it immediately apparent to you, or did you have to wait to ask a server? Even worse, did you get frustrated flipping through pages and give up? The simpler the user experience, the more likely you had a positive page experience. Google (along with other search engines) is keen to reward websites that provide good overall experiences. 

What About User Experience or UX? 

To more traditional marketers or product managers, you might remember the term “user experience.” This term has been along for some time and speaks to something much broader than just a website. User experience is the interaction that a user has with a company in many aspects. Often called UX, the goal is to create a useful, simple, and efficient experience for someone using your offering or product and goes beyond marketing. UX can include design, product, customer success, sales teams, marketing, or other core functions in your business. 

User experience is entirely subjective and human. The way that you experience a company may be completely different than the way a colleague does. In our previous menu example, you may have gotten frustrated with the menu’s complexity, whereas someone else appreciated the appearance of such variety. We all have individual preferences.

The challenge for Google and other search engines is that search bots can’t experience a website in the same way that a human does. They can’t get emotional or frustrated and leave. They’re programmed to execute a task like crawling a website within the allotted budget. To measure this truly subjective experience, Google has outlined measurable KPIs for what a search bot can determine as a positive experience on a webpage. 

What Matters To Google In Terms of Page Experience? 

For Google, page experience is a little bit more explicit than the subjective experience of UX. The five critical components of web page experience as outlined by Google are: 

  • Core Web Vitals: A system of metrics created by Google, these largely aim to measure how fast the critical content on a page loads, how easy a website is to navigate, and how stable the page layout is. 
  • Mobile-Friendly: Google’s shift to the mobile-first algorithm for its search bots means that a central component of a “good” page experience is how the page looks on a mobile device. 
  • Safe-Browsing: No one wants to find any critters across the internet, and Google certainly doesn’t want to send searchers to pages filled with those. A page that is safe to browse means that it doesn’t contain any spyware, malware (regardless of the device you are browsing on) and isn’t deceptive. 
  • HTTPS: Google Chrome has been warning users when a page is insecure (i.e., not using a secure-socket-layer or SSL) since 2017. It first became a ranking factor for SERPs in 2019, and Google also considers this a valuable element of page experience – especially for e-commerce websites. 
  • Interstitials: Have you ever been on a website that fires a cookie consent banner, then a live chat pop-up, and then an exit-intent pop-up? While some of these are essential – like the cookie consent banner – to ensure a safe and secure experience, Google now considers these “interruption marketing” tactics detrimental to page experience. 

For many, these Google changes are taking the subjective user experience and putting them into measurable terms that any search bot can understand. It’s much easier to measure how long a page takes to load its content or if it’s using a secure server than it is to measure someone’s subjective opinion over a webpage layout. 

How Do Core Web Vitals Measure Page Experience? 

There are three components to Google’s Core Web Vitals update: Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift. These technical terms are easy to understand when you think about our prior menu analogy. 

  • Largest Contentful Paint is a measurement of how quickly the page loads. You can think of this as how quickly the menu gets into your hands. Does it take your waiter a while to bring the menu to the table, or are you promptly seated with menus in hand? 
  • First Input Delay is a measure of how easy it is to navigate a page. Is the menu dozens of pages that make no sense, or is it a simple one-page overview with pictures? 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift measures whether or not the page is changing when a user is trying to navigate. Personalization or JavaScript is often the cause of this. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and tried to order something only to be told that’s from the Happy Hour menu or only for weekends, you already understand how frustrating that experience is. 

If your website performs well in these areas, Google will “reward” your website with stronger SERPs than another website that delivers a poorer overall page experience in these areas. However, as much of the world prepares for the launch of June’s Core Web Vital algorithm update, many believe the repercussions of this update will not be as drastic as one might first think, as we’ve had some time to prepare for this update. Only time will tell; until then, we hope your return to dining experiences – and website visits – are frustration-free!

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