What Google’s 2021 Algorithm Update Means for Your Website?


Google is always looking for ways to improve search experiences for users, and for brands. Sometimes their algorithm updates can cause headaches for brands and for marketers. 

But for Accountants, how can you be expected to keep up to date with all the changes to Google’s algorithm with the objective of improving your website rankings AND stay on top of all the client responsibilities and constant changes in the market (Jobkeeper updates and changes, anyone?).

As you may well know, your potential clients will do their due diligence and research your firm before engaging you as their accountant. They will judge, scrutinize, and develop their own assessment of you as a trusted advisor and credible accountant simply by how your website looks, and what content you are putting out into the market.

But it’s soon going to become more competitive in search results, so having good content and a nice looking website is only a piece of the pie… although a rather large piece of course. Your potential clients need to find your website first.

In 2021, Google will roll out a new set of signals called Core Web Vitals. This is part of the “page experience” signals. It will require websites to please both the Google algorithm and the user.

This basically means optimising your website for the quality of user experience even more so than before.

Google is focussing on user experience, as should you

Google announced years ago that they’re obsessed with speed, and in 2018 they made it a ranking factor for websites. This meant that slow website speed would result in poor search ranking performance for a website.

In addition to that, Google has started using user experience metrics to assess your websites’ rankability. 

What does this mean?

Put simply, they are looking for how usable your website is. 

Google wants to rank websites that users love the most. And what users love is a good experience. 

Experiences are bad when:

  • Users are unable to easily navigate a website
  • The site isn’t mobile-friendly
  • The website is not secure
  • They’re interrupted by interstitial pop-ups or ads that load as they scroll
  • A website or website pages are slow to load
  • Objects are moving and appearing where the user takes an undesired action on the site. 

What are the Core Web Vitals and how do they affect your accounting website performance?

Ok, it can get quite complicated when talking about the metrics of the Core Web Vitals signals. But you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure you’ll wrap your head around it. 

At its most basic level, the Core Web Vitals measures the type of experience visitors get when they land on your website. As an example, they will determine if your website is loading slow, which would potentially cause a high bounce rate. If this is the case, Google will rank a website with a faster loading speed instead. Ouch! That hurts.

So, in addition to mobile-friendly experiences, HTTPS security, safe browsing, and no intrusive interstitials (those annoying pop ups), your website now has to please the new Core Web Vitals if it wants better rankings in search results.

Here is a basic rundown of the Core Web Vitals, and what your website should be reaching for in each metric.

The metricWhat it meansWhat you should aim for
Largest Contentful PaintThe time it takes for a page’s main content to load.2.5 seconds or faster.
First Input DelayThe time it takes for a page to become interactive after clicking on something.100 ms
Cumulative Layout ShiftThe frequency of unexpected layout changes and a web page’s overall visual stability. Below 0.1

Let’s break down each section so you have a better idea of what they mean for your website.

Largest Contentful Paint

This basically means that Google will measure how long it takes for the main content on any given page to load. This could be an image, video, or text on the page. 

For example… Say a user lands on your homepage and it takes 6 seconds or more to load the main or interesting content in the user’s ‘viewport’ (the user’s visible area of a web page on their screen). This may cause some dead space, white space, or just a coloured background to stay on the screen while your content loads. 

Google will notice this and consider it a potentially bad experience for users. What happens then? Well, your rankings may not be as high as you want them to be.

So, how fast is your page content loading? A good benchmark for the Largest Contentful Paint metric is 2.5 seconds or faster.

First Input Delay

Ok, this one is a simple one to understand. Say a user fills out a form on your contact page with the intent to send an enquiry to your firm. After they click the “submit” button, how long does it take for your site to respond with a follow-up message on the page (e.g. Thanks for your enquiry, we’ll be in touch within the next 24 hours)?

Another example is when a user clicks on a link or a button, so they can view a downloadable brochure or a whitepaper you produced. How long does it take for your website to produce that asset to the user? 

You can think of this metric as measuring the frustrations of the user. 

A good benchmark for your website when measuring First Input Delay is 100ms.

Cumulative Layout Shift

This one is slightly more complicated. 

Remember when you were visiting a website on your phone, and when you go to tap on something, the page moves with an unexpected shift and you end up tapping on something else? That’s annoying, right?

This is essentially what Google is analysing here. It’s the unexpected layout changes on a page on any device. Now, this isn’t as big an issue for accounting websites because you typically won’t have as many interactive elements as an eCommerce website would have. But it is still something that appears on some accounting websites, especially across devices. 

How can you find out if your website meets the criteria?

To see how your website performs when it comes to the Core Web Vitals, head to this link, enter your website URL, and click analyse. Wait a few moments and you’ll see just how fast your website is. 

You’ll be able to find out where your website sits on each of the 3 metrics mentioned in this article. 

We may see some new labels in search results

Alright, so this isn’t certain. There is however speculation that Google will display new labels on websites in search results that would indicate a specific site has a good user experience. These labels would act as visual indicators to identify sites that have met all of the page experience criteria I mentioned above.

Think of it as a kind of ‘recommendation’ from Google within the already recommended results. 

This isn’t certain to roll out right away, however, if it does, there will be few accounting websites that would pass the test and qualify for this label indicating “this accounting website has a good user experience”. 

For accountants who do have this label against their search results, this would drastically increase the click-through rate and improve the overall site performance and engagement. 

How can you optimise your website for the Core Web Vitals?

Primarily it all comes down to speed at this stage. If your website is sitting well below the benchmark for each of the 3 Core Web Vitals, it’s time to make some updates.

My recommendation is to engage your digital partner to optimise your website for you. It can become overwhelming for you to try analyse and implement required changes yourself. Alternatively, if you’re feeling up to the challenge, you could log into your Google Search Console, navigate to the “Core Web Vitals” in the side menu, and Google will tell you which pages need improvement. 

It may be a case of minimising image file size, adjusting element animations, deactivating any unused plugins, and maybe removing any of those annoying pop-ups.

However, your digital agency partner should be able to do a thorough analysis for you and action relevant updates to ensure you comply with the new experience signals.

Don’t wait, act now!

There is no use waiting for these changes to officially roll out. Start analysing and implementing changes and updates now so when Google officially rolls out the Core Web Vitals as rankability metrics, you’ll be on the front foot and your accounting website ranks better than others.

We don’t know yet just how much influence Google’s Core Web Vitals will have on search rankings. It could be significant, it could be minimal. But what we do know is that Google is paying a lot more attention to the experience a user has on a page. You should pay more attention too. 

If you are 100% confused with the Core Web Vitals, but now have the fear of God in you after reading all of this, get in touch with us at Practice + Pixels, and let’s discuss how we can help you optimise your website and improve the overall user experience.

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