THE QUICK SUMMARY
Preview of contents—or if you don’t have time to read.
- Your Page Experience: Ditch automated slideshows. Perhaps ditch any slideshows.
- Your Page “Semantics: Use headlines as a proper hierarchy, like an outline, use bold and italics when a feature counts, and use lists to block out a handful of key informative points.
- Your FAQs: Tell your web developer to ensure “FAQ schema” is present in your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
- Your Website Readability: Check your website on a small phone for any text that’s too small to read easily, and links or icons that are too close together to avoid fat-fingering. Pay special attention to the website header and footer.
OK, here’s the detail:
I. Your Page Experience
Page experience is the most significant and far-reaching update to Google’s algorithm in 2021 and will impact countless websites. Essentially, Google is punishing pages that have elements that move AFTER the page loads, without user input, or that take too long to load BECAUSE they are moving during the load.
- An example of moving DURING the page load is (for instance) if the website takes too long to load custom fonts, and the typeface shifts visibly from a standard browser font (e.g. Arial, Verdana, Helvetica) to a custom font like Roboto or Oswald. Even if these are Google Fonts, it makes a difference in how Google ‘scores’ the page.
- An example of moving AFTER the load is (for instance) automated slideshows. If you have a slideshow, we want to emphasize that it shouldn’t be an AUTOMATED one. It shouldn’t move without user input. The visitor should need to press an arrow or circle to advance the slideshow. Moving on its OWN is now essentially bad usability, because the page shifts while the user is viewing it, created an unexpected user experience, which Google is emphasizing that a page should not do. This algorithm update is not fully rolled out—it’s being implemented in phases, and may eventually impact popups that don’t load until a set time, for example. For now, no automated slideshows!
- We’d be remiss not to mention that slideshows, in general, are so2010. Excellent research now shows that this ‘fad’ of the previous decade creates negative user engagement. People don’t want to pull up a website and sit and watch it passively like a movie. They want to be in control, click, scroll, interact, and have the site respond to their user input. In a website audit, I routinely recommend eliminating slideshows from web layouts altogether. There is a partial exception for real estate property listings. Here is a slideshow example that REQUIRES user input. I typically recommend using a ‘gallery‘ instead (a slight difference), or a gallery that had a user-directed slideshow feature (click any thumbnail and it enlarges and you can use arrows for additional enlarged thumbnails without closing the gallery).
- Since users drop off of slow-loading websites, and Google punishes drop-offs and slowness to load, another reason to omit slideshows on a home page or main pages like About, is they take precious time to load, and often need to load multiple high-resolution images in the background. Generally speaking a slideshow at the top of a home page is never something I recommend. If the client is dead set on a slideshow, I’ll often suggest it’s the last thing on the page, just before the footer. Slideshows are fraught devices.
II. Your Page Semantics
Semantic SEO was a change from a couple of years ago… semantics in this context is essentially about how a document is structured (titles, headlines, subheadlines) AND how SOME text is emphasized as more important than other text (bold, italics) or is set apart as a more digestible way to engage text than a standard paragraph (e.g. a bulleted or number list). The way in which we structure content in a document that might make its way onto the web affects how search engines TREAT that copy and content at both a granular and overall level. Here’s the skinny…
- Headline hierarchy: The TITLE (of a page or post) is (ideally) an H1 / headline1 (not merely bold). The subsequent HEADLINES are H2 and subheadlines are H3 and so on. This signals Google how to use its AI to read the web copy. Those semantic signals are used by Google to better understand the hierarchy of human ideas on the page. For instance, if an ABOUT page has a STAFF section, is it a NEW topic or a subordinate topic of “About This Company”? Since Google favors high-quality pages and regards semantic markup as a quality factor, it tends to favor pages with good semantic markup, making every page worth a bit more with good markup.
- What you emphasize: Using bold and italics, by contrast, allows Google to understand what’s important WITHIN a paragraph. It’s not necessary to bold headlines. But often we’ll see a web page have words like very italicized or extra bolded. Yet Google can’t really use that information properly because it’s emphasizing it as if for the spoken word. No one is searching for “very” good beer or “extra” delicious bubblegum. But if one wanted to bold or italicize a key phrase in a paragraph, like “The beer we make at J&J is slow-brewed to create more esters in the fermentation…” search engines now know that “slow-brewed” is a product feature that someone might be searching for, and the page will do better for ‘long tail searches’ like “best slow-brewed ale”. And yes, it knows that some searchers looking for beer are really looking for ale and vice versa.
- How you frame lists: bullets (not asterisks but real list bullets) and numbered lists disproportionately communicate information to Google too. 20 bullets rarely make a good page, but a handful can make for a higher quality score. Over-used, they tell Google to ignore their semantic value as an indicator of key information. Lightly used, they tell Google that a) this in an information section with key points. Google looks at that as a page-quality factor—i.e. the page is well organized semantically AND has a distinction between raw information or feature lists and narrative insight.
III. Your FAQs
Many developers don’t even know that special markup can be added to FAQs so that Google, Bing, and other search engines can READ an FAQ the way a human might. What’s more, this FAQ schema markup does 2 things: 1) improves the ‘quality of the page with the FAQ from Google’s standpoint, for similar reasons as semantic SEO, and 2) makes the FAQs eligible for front page Google display as “Google answers” for some user questions. Type a question into Google… “How to remove blood stains?” And you’ll see instantly a set of top-of-results questions. Not ALL of them are FAQs, but FAQs with FAQ schema become MORE likely to be featured that way. As you click your closest match for what you want out of those results, Google adds MORE possible ‘close question and answer matches’. FAQ schema tends to help OUR questions and answers be eligible to get featured. No guarantee, but it helps. A simple note to the web developer “please ensure we apply FAQ schema to these FAQs” can add value many developers won’t do unless specifically prompted to do. The end result is our answers to common searcher questions are potentially worth more. Of course, if we’re answering questions people aren’t really asking, it’s moot. That’s a different evaluation.
IV. Your Website Readability
Part of Google’s readability standard is building everything from a mobile-first posture. Text that looks fine on a laptop/desktop but is either too small to read easily in mobile or includes links or icons too close together to avoid “fat fingering” them on a phone is likely to ding the readability score for the website. If it’s severe enough it can even make the site fail a mobile usability test. Pay attention to these:
- If a paragraph has multiple links close together in a sentence, consider linking fewer words like this: “Our slow-brewed ales and hand-crafted beers are…” rather than “Our slow-brewed ales and hand-crafted beers are…” (which might be too close together if the text is smaller on a phone)/
- WHAT you choose to link is similar to what you choose to bold or italicize for emphasis. Linked text is weighted as slightly more important. Since, in this example, ale and beer are a given. Google WILL know the page is about those things, it’s better to link slow-brewed and hand-crafted (e.g. to other pages on the website), to support ‘long-tail searches’ where the Google user is trying to limit results to particular KINDS of beers and ales.
- Using internal links (links to OTHER pages on the site) helps search engines understand the importance of our pages. These informal navigation elements (links between pages in the text) signal to Google a) there’s a relationship between their contents, b) WHAT that relationship is – including any implied hierarchy between pages and/or ideas, and c) it should pass some of the authority from one page to another, even if the other page might have been otherwise considered less authoritative on its topic.
- A general rule (loose rule) about internal links is to avoid too many or too few (2-3 is superb) and don’t generally link out of the first paragraph or first 50 words or so, which can tell search engines that the REAL authority belongs with the other page, and THIS page is just an onramp to that.
Ideally, this adds to your core knowledge about how your website can be better indexed in search and lets you ensure the best TREATMENT of your content by web developers who deploy it on a website.