Perception vs Experience: UX Will Make or Break your 2021 Google Ranking

Digital Marketing|Thought Leadership|

On May 28th, Google announced their 2021 ranking algorithm will include weighted factors that directly assess the user’s perception, as well as the built-in UX, of every single webpage. These factors will be taken as part of your site’s holistic engagement and ultimately have some deciding impact on how high (or low) your page ranks in search.

Oh, did you hear that? Don’t mind us — that’s just some long overdue excitement from an entire discipline rejoicing. Now…back to what we were writing. 

Since the what and how have been covered from every facet of the industry, our team has taken a few weeks to think bigger. Here are our top discussions on the announcement and how we foresee blending this into our clients’ strategies:

User Perception vs User Experience

Search Engine Land was one of the first on the scene to cover the tech specs of the Google page experience. It explained, “… if Google thinks your website users will have a poor experience on your pages — measured by a new set of metrics called Core Web Values — Google may not rank those pages as highly as they are now.”* Our conversation centered around tech savviness and the concept of a “typical user”. The biggest question was whose perception are we ranking? We’ve all had to help a parent make that first online bill payment or explain how to use the customer service chat bot. On the flip side, we also know that one person who refuses to browse without critiquing the source code.

Our core takeaway was to focus on what we already know about our consumers. For example, our assisted living clients deal with a wide range of users: adult children helping elderly parents make a decision (who index high on mobile) as well as the parents themselves who often initiate the conversation and actively participate in researching potential caregiving facilities. As we plan web updates for this segment, legibility and responsiveness take centerstage. The new page experience factors will likely inform some of the finer touches, such as CTA buttons, direct pathways to core info (pricing, services, compliance, etc.) and even creative assets.

It’s Not Just a Numbers Game

As often happens with any major update from Google, and other heavy-hitters in our industry, the temptation to game the system can override the senses. Jungle pointed out three thought-stopping stats in their recap:

  • “On average, being indexed just one place higher will increase […] click through to the page by almost 31%
  • When typing a search query into Google, 32% of all users click the number # 1 result in Google’s search index
  • […] less than 3% of browsers click the position # 10 ranked website on search results!”**

The conversation then turned to the tactics. We talked hypothetical design flaws and fixes, tossed around radical re-dos, and even beamed the developer’s guide to the big screen. The core realization here is that any change in Google’s algorithm is meticulously designed to push the best content to the top — chopping your site to bits or prioritizing status over substance are surefire ways to push your own content lower. Optimizing your website is a critical component of maintaining a good relationship with your consumers. Just don’t neglect the core function of your site in the rush for that #1 spot. Know why you exist, whether that’s to provide information, education, entertainment or transactions, and fine-tune your site to showcase that expertise. Google will find you.

Which Industries Have the Most Work to Do

Search Engine Land also spoke to Rudy Galfi, product lead on the Google Search ecosystem team. He cautioned, “A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.”* With all the talk around loading, interactivity and visual stability, it can be easy to sideline the fundamentals in pursuit of the fantastic. The big question tossed around our Zoom sessions was what about the industries that aren’t built on shiny, pretty things? Online banking, public utilities, logistics, healthcare and manufacturing were top of mind. With so much of the UX in those sectors dependent on streamlined, secure transactions it’s very interesting to think about how, or if, these new weighted factors will affect them.

In a perfect scenario, beautiful UX melts into compelling content and creates a fluid, intuitive experience that helps fortify brand loyalty. Our teams are already thinking of and working on ways to enhance site architecture for our clients. From e-commerce and retail to real estate and luxury living, we’re digging into the strategies and whiteboarding smart UX optimizations that will push each brand’s purpose front and center (and, OK, push them up a notch or two in search results, too). 

Ready to talk about what’s possible with your Google rankings and UX? Email Vince  and we’ll help you get started.



*Schwartz, Barry. “The Google Page Experience Update[…].” Search Engine Land, Third Door Media, Inc., 28 May, 2020,

**McKee, Martin. “Google’s New Page Experience Algorithm[…].” Jungle, Jungle, 19 June, 2020.


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