March 12th, 2021

Is Poor UX Destroying Your Search Rankings?

Author: Ian Wilson
Ian Wilson
Partner & Creative Director

Google’s new core web vitals highlight importance of user experience for SEO.

As anyone who’s paid attention to SEO developments over the years knows, Google is constantly updating its search algorithms to better deliver meaningful results to users. Every round of updates says something new about Google’s priorities, which are often a meaningful indication of searcher priorities. Google’s job is to deliver search results that its users find meaningful and relevant, so if searchers don’t seem happy with results, then Google’s likely to push those pages down in the rankings.

Over the years, Google has used different factors to determine which pages are most valuable to users. SEO often focuses on optimizing content (alt tags, headers, HTML formatting, rich text markup), but many of Google’s ranking factors are related to more fundamental site structure issues. This shows that Google doesn’t just care about the content of a page—it also cares about whether that page is delivering a good experience to site visitors.

In other words, good site design, which leads to a good user experience, is fundamental to building search engine rankings. Here are six of Google’s core web vitals that prove why.

1. Largest Content Paint

You may never have heard of Largest Content Paint (LCP) before, but you probably have heard about site speed, and how important it is to your website’s success. LCP is a measure related to site speed. It’s not measuring how long it takes to load your page, but it is measuring how long it takes for your page to feel loaded.

These days, may websites are built to render some elements before others. If you have a large video on your site, your web page will render the surrounding text, hyperlinks, and images first, so that visitors can start reading and navigating your site before the heavier elements are fully rendered. These lighter elements are often so quick to load that they can gain you a couple extra seconds of load time without your visitors even knowing. Google considers good LCP load time to be within 2.5 seconds.

2. First Input Delay

Page load isn’t the only measure of responsiveness for a website. For instance, if you click on a link while a page is still loading, how quickly does the website respond to that interaction?

The lag between the first interaction with a website and the website’s response is called the First Input Delay, and it truly needs to be lighting fast. Google expects this to take no longer than a tenth of a second. Users can experience latency if a website is busy loading complex JavaScript file and can’t pay attention to a user’s actions. Reducing input delay means reducing JavaScript and improving page load times.

3. Visual Stability

Asynchronous loading (which lets some parts of a site load faster than others) has been a real boon to user experience in a lot of ways, but it has also introduced one significant problem. Because it lets users begin interacting with a page before loading is complete, it sometimes results in a user going to click on part of a page only for that link or button to move suddenly as another page element loads.

This seems to happen to me every time I try to log in to my bank account. I go to click the “login” button, and at the last second, the button jumps down and I end up hitting the “forgot password” button instead. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to predict how these issues may occur in real time, across various browsers and with different internet connections. To prevent user errors, developers need to avoid dynamic elements that may unexpectedly resize, and monitor live pages to spot any that are causing user errors.

4. Mobile Friendly

It’s been years now since mobile traffic passed desktop traffic, yet many websites continue to deliver poor mobile experience to their users. Sometimes it’s because they adopted a mobile friendly design ten years ago, and haven’t updated it since. Sometimes it’s because they chose a responsive theme, but never tested it for mobile UX. And sometimes it’s because they simply forget how much of their traffic is accessed on mobile devices.

Google doesn’t forget, however. If your site isn’t operating well on mobile (and trust us, smaller screen sizes and touch navigation can lead to endless UX errors), it will take a toll on your search engine rankings.


A few years ago, Google began more prominently flagging any pages that weren’t using HTTPS encryption. These days, HTTPS encryption is so standard, especially on WordPress sites, that a business would have to go out of their way not to use it.

This hasn’t prevented one of our competitors from failing to use HTTPS on their own site, however. So pro tip: If you’re looking to hire a web developer, and you see this in their address bar:

https security

… run the other way. These people are too careless with their own security to be trusted with your website.

6. Lack of Intrusive Pop-ups

Finally, Google cares a lot about how you’re using pop-ups on your site. If you’re using a pop-up that only covers part of the screen, is easy to close, and is only triggered by a delay or a certain user action, you’re probably OK. But if your pop-up covers the entire screen before the user has had a chance to even see the content and if it’s hard to close, then you’re probably going to be in trouble.

Google’s emphasis on UX is an indication of future core web vitals.

We preach the gospel of UX because, once a user finds a website, we want their time on it to be enjoyable. But it turns out that having a pleasing website also helps new users to find it. And this will only grow more true as the baseline standards for web design continue to rise. If you aren’t relentlessly focused on delivering excellent user experience, your ranking will begin to slip, and you’ll lose visitors as well.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. That’s why you need trusted UX partners who understand the principles of good Michigan web design and infrastructure, and who can help you make design decisions that will put your users first. Because we know better than anyone that putting users first is the only way to succeed.

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