Glenn Gabe’s most recent September 2023 HCU rundown was thought provoking as usual.
Regardless of whether your site was hit by this latest update or not, it’s absolutely worth a read.
Here’s the TLDR.
Based on the 500+ domains that Glenn has documented so far, a clear trend has emerged.
Sites with obvious content quality issues aside, he’s noticed that sites with decent content but terrible user experience have also been hit.
More specifically, it seems Google has taken the emphasis away from core web vitals and shined a spotlight on UX.
Glenn emphasizes that he’s not suggesting poor UX alone will get a site slammed. After all, it’s called the Helpful Content Update for a reason. This is primarily about content quality.
That said, Google’s updated page experience documentation makes it clear that for queries where plenty of helpful content is available, “having a great page experience can contribute to success in Search“.
But what qualifies as a great page experience?
And equally importantly, what qualifies a terrible page experience?
I’ve been thinking a lot about UX over the past few weeks and two areas in particular…
Ad Density & Placement
Earlier this week I tweeted the following:
The feedback and opinions I’ve received since have been all over the place…
…ranging from complete agreement, to sort of agreeing but adamant ad management services would never share this kind of data, to putting ad management responsibilities 100% on site owners.
I try to navigate life with the baseline assumption that “the truth is usually somewhere in the middle“.
I think that applies here.
YES, it is true that as a site owner you always have the responsibility to view your site through the eyes of your reader.
The user most always come first.
And if your site display ads look anything like the site below, you’re knowingly putting yourself in Google’s crosshairs.
*Honestly, this site doesn’t look too far off from the current Ezoic ad settings on The Flexible Worker, even after my initial attempts to dial it down. 🙃*
BUT at the same time, I believe ad management services need to continue to evolve with us in response to these updates.
As opposed to pressing sites to activate max ads at every corner, why not use the data they have in house to offer more refined and balanced ad placement recommendations?
Opinions on what the “right” amount of display ads looks like will always vary by user.
I poke around other niche sites constantly and ever since Niche Pursuits switched over to Mediavine, I’ve felt they’re a good example of how to maintain a fair amount of ads without meaningfully diminishing page experience.
Another example of what good ad settings looks like to me is Epic Gardening.
Regardless of where you land, it seems clear that it’s more important than ever to take a measured and thoughtful approach to display ads.
And at the end of the day, you are your own best advocate to make sure Mediavine, Raptive and Ezoic get this right.
Beyond display ads, another UX self-assessment question Google encourages content creators to ask themselves to determine if they are on track to providing a good page experience is:
How easily can visitors navigate to or locate the main content of your pages?
Admittedly, I glazed over this when I first read it. But more recently I’ve come back around to it.
The way that I’ve *tried* to address content navigation is by throwing in a collapsed table of contents just after my introduction.
In fact, this is what 90+% of niche sites do.
But if we’re being honest, how helpful is a collapsed TOC really? Are there other ways we could do this more effectively?
Stater Story for example, has a sticky table of contents in the left side bar that stays with you as you progress through the interview.
And this is subtle, but the TOC does not just map 1:1 to the H2 title tags. Instead, they are modified to be truncated and straight to the point.
The strategy for how to best address content navigation can and should change depending on the piece of content and even the niche you are in.
Take My Korean Kitchen for example that offers a ‘Jump to Recipe‘ button at the very top of every recipe post.
Sue knows that many of her readers simply want to get to brass tax right away and this jump link helps them do exactly that.
So, what does all this translate to?
In short, Mike and I have more work to do.
And that’s as it should be.
Site ownership is a constant game of creating, iterating and improving.
Alright, that’s a wrap.
Tomorrow we’re celebrating my son’s 1st birthday.
Time flys. Don’t blink.
Have a weekend. ✌
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