What Google's Page Experience Update Means for Car Dealers

The Google Page Experience update, also sometimes referred to as the Core Web Vitals update has been a long time coming, and now it’s finally here. However, if you missed the memo on Core Web Vitals, here’s everything you need to know about Google’s next big search algorithm update and how it may impact rankings for car dealers.

What are Core Web Vitals?

In Google’s own words, “Core Web Vitals are a set of field metrics that measure important aspects of real-world user experience on the web.

Core Web Vitals includes metrics, as well as target thresholds for each metric, which help developers qualitatively understand whether the experience of their site is “good”, “needs improvement”, or is “poor”.”

In layman’s terms, Google is looking to set parameters for what a “good” user experience is based on the following three aspects of a page. These metrics currently make up the Core Web Vitals:

  • Loading
  • Interactivity
  • Visual Stability

The end goal of course is to raise the bar in web development. According to Google, “The immediate benefit will be a better experience for users that visit your site, but in the long-term we believe that working towards a shared set of user experience metrics and thresholds across all websites, will be critical in order to sustain a healthy web ecosystem.”

For more information about web vitals, visit the official Google Developer site Web.Dev.

So Then What’s the Page Experience Update?

The update is actually putting the Core Web Vitals into practice. Meaning, page load performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page will be added to the long list of known ranking factors.  

The overall objective is to further improve user experience by offering up “good” pages more frequently in search, when applicable. (More on that below.)

The Page Experience update will gradually rollout over the summer, beginning mid-June 2021. It will be applied globally on all browsers on mobile devices. Presumably, desktop will follow. We are living in a mobile-first world though, so don’t think this won’t impact the majority of searches. There will be some page-one shake ups.

Also worth noting, these are not the first user-experience ranking factors introduced. If you may recall Google already takes into account secure browsing, page speed, and mobile friendliness among others.

How Are Core Web Vitals Measured and What is Considered a “Good” Page?

Pages are essentially assessed on a pass / fail basis. They either meet the standards and are considered “good” or they don’t and are labeled as “poor.” There’s also a “needs improvement” designation, although technically anything not “good” needs to be improved. I guess it’s just a little less demoralizing to land somewhere in the middle.

These are the metrics and target thresholds for the Core Web Vitals that currently matter to the Google Page Experience update:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of 100 milliseconds or less.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of 0.1. or less.

How Do I Know If My Site’s Pages Are “Good?”

Visit the good ol’ Google Search Console. In the Experience section you’ll find dedicated dashboards for “Page Experience” and “Core Web Vitals.” There you’ll be able to see how your site and its pages score for these metrics.

Fair warning, there’s a good chance, “Your site has no URLs with a good page experience.”     

Don’t panic.

You’re not alone. In a recent study conducted by Searchmetrics, less than 4% of U.S. websites passed all core web vital tests. Most car dealership websites fall within the failing majority.

Will My Site Be Penalized If Most of My URLs Are “Poor”?

No. The Page Experience update is not in the penalty game. A site or its pages that are not considered ‘up to snuff’ will not just disappear from search.

Rather, Core Web Vitals will more often serve as a tiebreaker. If two sites offer quality content that is relevant to a search query, the page that offers the better user experience will have the upperhand. 

In fact, Google has explicitly stated in a recent Core Web Vitals and Page Experience FAQs post in the Search Console Community that content will remain a key ranking factor:

“The page experience update introduces a new signal that our search algorithms will use alongside hundreds of other signals to determine the best content to show in response to a query. Our systems will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”

So What’s the Big Deal About the Page Experience Update?

Algorithm updates happen all the time, but when Google announces an update in advance, and provides guidelines, it’s a harbinger of significant change. Google’s Page Experience algorithm update falls into the latter category and is sure to rock the boat for many industries across search, even with the current abysmal averages.

However, car dealers are in a unique position to weather the storm together as many utilize the same website platforms. Meaning page experience is pretty uniformly poor across the board.

Yet, there are two key takeaways for car dealers at the onset of this algorithm update:

  1. It bears repeating, but content is still king. With the limited ability to fundamentally change how your website is designed, content remains the best avenue for outranking competitions. Invest in quality content that speaks to the unique needs of your customers in all phases of the buyer’s journey. Google has been clear that great, relevant content matters most.
  2. Google My Business is one of the top sources for high quality traffic to car dealership websites, and that’s unlikely to change in the wake of the Page Experience update. So while you cannot singlehandedly redesign your site, nor can you control the Core Web Vitals scores on third-party lead gen sites like AutoTrader, CarGurus, and Edmunds, or independent used car dealership websites, or local and franchised auto repair shops, you can leverage your listings by following best practices for Google My Business optimization for sales, service, and parts. 

It’ll be a while before we know the full extent of the fall-out from the Google Page Experience algorithm update, but in the meantime it’s essential to commit to local SEO and content strategies that are in your control. (But if you can move the needle on the loading, interactivity, or visual stability metrics that would be good too.) Don’t wait for the dust to settle, just because there isn’t a proverbial ‘penalty box’ for Core Web Vitals, doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. Search is ever-changing and the easiest way to find yourself outranked is to do nothing.

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Jamie Paton
Jamie Paton is the SEO Director at PCG Digital by day and a TV connoisseur by night. As an experienced digital marketing nerd with a knack for search engine optimization and content creation, she channels her powers for good by developing strategies, poking around Google Analytics and Search Console, and by writing blogs like this one for PCG.

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