Audio = better user experience = good for SEO

The reason for this post is Google’s recently set timeline to include page experience signals in Google Search ranking. This is a VERY interesting thing because of its premise:

Directly measuring how users perceive the experience of interacting with your website.

User experience is a fairly broad term that covers a wide spectrum of activities: from the general and specific ease of use to how content is displayed across various platforms and everything in between, quite literally. As of May 2021, it will also be one of the more important factors Google will consider for SEO purposes, especially for mobile sites (more on that in a bit). 

Each user’s experience is subjective so that doesn’t tell you anything. What can you do and where does audio fit in all of it? Scroll down to find out.

What is page experience, exactly?

To understand how the upcoming change affects you, you first need to get a good grasp on what constitutes a page experience and Google’s efforts to measure it. 

The search engine’s devs define page experience as a set of signals that measure how usable a page within your site is. The idea behind the update is to ensure that top-ranking sites are those with experiences that users like. To determine how much a user enjoys a specific page, Google will use Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics that measure the real-world user experience for three elements:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – measures loading performance. Sites should strive to have LCP occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load for a good user experience.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, sites should aim to have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measures visual stability. A CLS score of less than 0.1 is necessary to provide a good user experience. 

These signals will go along the usual suspects of mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

A diagram illustrating the components of Search’s signal for page experience.

Google also recommends a number of tools to measure Core Web Vitals and optimize your page’s performance so make sure to give them a serious look too – you’ll need them. 

Where does audio fit?

There is a content overload present, especially with the shift to a more home-based model of working and studying. Hence, audiences have become more demanding and choosy, driving content consumption on their own terms: when and where they want it. In that regard, readers no longer have the time or patience to spend their time solely reading. 

A great user experience is simply one that includes audio. Period. 

There are plenty of reasons why audio will be a necessary addition very soon. It has this awesome ability to reach and engage audiences in places and situations most visual mediums aren’t able to. There’s a direct one-on-one connection with the audience, which results in more involvement, spending more time on your site and exploring more content. That’s why many listeners look to audio for information, entertainment, even companionship and inspiration.

Another thing that is directly tied to the page experience update is audio’s mobile-friendly nature. It’s a great way to make your content portable and remove any kind of friction for users who are keen on multitasking. Google has been very specific about prioritizing mobile pages (those that meet the Google News content policies) with a great page experience ranking. Considering that mobile technology is one of the key drivers of listening as 26% of all audio listening is done on a smartphone alone (particularly for Gen Z who prefer listening on their smartphones), the case for audio becomes pretty solid. 

There’s more. Setting the importance of page experience aside, pages with the best information overall will still be ahead ranking-wise, meaning nothing trumps having great page content. However, if the content relevance and quality between you and your competitor is too close to call, a better page experience may be the deciding factor in terms of visibility, and along with it – offering a listening experience.

Audio SEO enters the picture

How much of an impact Page Experience update will have on SEO isn’t yet clear. However, there will be some impact, which brings me to another point: audio SEO.

Happy James Corden GIF by The Late Late Show with James Corden

Now, this is just a theory of mine based on overall Google’s direction with audio so take it with a grain of salt. As content evolves and more publishers embrace audio, audio SEO will play a significant role in future search rankings, likely as a ranking signal. I base this on the fact that Google has been pushing podcasts to the surface of search engine results for some time now, as well as the fact that smart speakers are using snippets to read results out loud.

Thanks to its understanding of what is actually being said in a podcast episode, users are shown results based on the content within an episode – and on the other end of the coin, are being read results that are written in an audio-friendly manner. In the near future, I fully expect Google to favor sites that are audio-friendly, making them easier to discover and appreciating the user experience aspect they deliver.

Final thoughts

With the transition to audio and voice content growing on a daily basis, offering a listening experience will likely be massively important (perhaps even mandatory) in the next few years. Search engines will increasingly prioritize sites that provide an option to listen so having an audio player will be important SEO-wise in getting a better ranking and delivering an optimal user experience. 

For now, you have six months to prepare for the latest change and shift your mindset to focus on user experience even more than you already have been. Google is constantly evolving the parameters for ranking to provide the most relevant results and over the next few years, I’m willing to bet there will be more algorithm updates focusing on user experience. For now, audio SEO is in its inception but if you want your digital podium to become larger, audio will have to come into play at some point. 

It’s something to think about, at the very least.


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Image credits:

https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2020/05/evaluating-page-experience
https://giphy.com/gifs/latelateshow-james-corden-late-show-xTiQyBOIQe5cgiyUPS