If you have a website, then you should care about how your site performs in search engines. You have likely heard of SEO and may have even tried it to improve your site's metrics, Google rankings, and performance.
But you may not know what specific metrics influence Google to reward your site with page 1 web rankings. And Google, places significant emphasis on UX (user experience), which of course, includes user interaction with your page.
The reality is that in addition to UX, there are hundreds of factors, which is why SEO was born. And to make things even more challenging, Google typically doesn't tell us what goes into their search algorithm, but when they do, we listen.
Last year Google announced their newest ranking factor: Core Web Vitals. It is important you know a little about Core Web Vitals, the upcoming Google algorithm change, and how it will affect your site.
In fact, not only did Google announce they were making core web vitals a search ranking factor in advance, they even gave us a target date! That's right, and if all goes as planned, Core Web Vitals will become a Google ranking factor in May of 2021.
Why Should I Care About Core Web Vitals?
Before we dig too deep into the details of core web vitals metrics, let's discuss why you should care about Core Web Vitals. The answer is simple. Optimizing your site for Core Web Vitals is a quick win. A way to improve your site's search rankings quickly and with a relatively small amount of effort.
From a search optimization perspective, Core Web Vitals will soon be a ranking factor on the web. How much will this influence the search landscape? We won't know that until it is released. Some releases have entirely changed the search landscape, like the Panda, Penguin, or Florida updates.
However, these are just a few of the most memorable. Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times every year. Most of these are small, nearly invisible changes. Where on the spectrum Core Web Vitals will fall, remains to be seen, but there is no question it will impact the web and in search ranking performance.
While the update as a ranking factor in itself is important, the actual effect it has on your website is even more critical. Google did a study and found that, among other things, when you have good Core Web Vitals, users are 24% less likely to abandon the site.
Abandonment is a simple way of saying someone leaves the site before taking your desired conversion action. This decrease in abandonment inevitably leads to an increase in conversion.
What Are Page Experience Signals?
There are many different groups of quality signals Google uses for their ranking algorithm. All of them affect performance and how well pages ranks.
Most site owners are most familiar with the on-page factors, which primarily relate to the content—these look at using keywords and having quality, human-generated content that engages users.
Then you have the factors pointing back to the pages on your site. Many people refer to these as backlinks. But they also include various components from social media such as social sharing and bookmarking.
Before your user ever gets to the content, they will run into a page loading experience. This is part of what is called user experience, or UX in the industry.
The factors that are grouped together in this subset are called Page Experience. In the past, this included sections like mobile-friendliness, using HTTPS, and intrusive interstitials (or those pop-ups and overlays on some sites).
Core Web Vitals are now part of that Page Experience Signals group, and once implemented, it will affect your site's ranking performance.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
While there are multiple tools to track your site's web vital metrics, the core web vitals are an essential part and include LCP, CLS, and FID. These are all critical components of what a user will experience as your website loads, and they determine if they will stay or abandon.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
The largest contentful paint is essentially how quickly the content on your website loads. However, it goes beyond the archaic measure of just load speed.
Instead, LCP goes a little further and looks specifically at the user's viewport's largest content section or what would show on their screen.
The content that is measured could be either the largest chunk of text or the largest image. It just depends on the site and what the user will see when it loads.
This is an excellent measure because this contentful paint can dramatically affect your site loads' actual user experiences. The ideal LCP is 2.5 seconds or less.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Have you ever experienced a site on your phone where you are trying to hit a button, something on the page shifts? Then, you end up hitting something wholly different and try to figure out how to get back where you were?
This is a perfect example of cumulative layout shift (CLS). Essentially, CLS is the way a page shifts as it loads. When you have shifting elements as your web page loads, the lower your cumulative layout shift scores drop.
It's measured as a CLS score. And the better the CLS score is, the better experience it provides for the user.
First Input Delay (FID)
Along with CLS being really annoying for visitors, it is equally annoying to try to interact with a website, and it doesn't feel like it responds. You hit a button several times and just wait, but nothing happens.
This is what is measured with the FID. Once the site receives user input, such as a button click, FID measures the delay until something happens. The longer the delay, the higher the abandonment rate climbs.
How Do You Measure Core Web Vitals?
Now you understand what Core Web Vitals are and their importance both for search engine performance and your business. But how do you measure these important core web vitals metrics?
One of the first places to go is Google itself. In the Google Search Console, there are a number of tools to help you measure these metrics. Search Console makes it very easy to understand what is good, what needs improvement, and what is performing poorly.
Google also has the PageSpeed Insights tool that can be very helpful. This particular tool is especially helpful if there is not enough data for Search Console to include Core Web Vitals as part of the user experience report.
Page Speed Insights calculates a score based on a simulated experience. Google Search Console, on the other hand, uses data collected as people visit your site.
There is also the Chrome developer tools extension. This comes natively in the Chrome browser. To access this toolset, you simply right-click on any web page and then select Inspect. This brings up a plethora of reporting data.
One of the extensions within the toolset is Lighthouse. This extension will run a similar test to the Web Core Vitals test, but on-demand, as you work on your page performance. The report will give you information right in the Chrome browser.
Both the Page Insights Tool and the Lighthouse extension are for a single page evaluation. If you want a more comprehensive report, then the Search Console report is your best source.
While the reports make it easy to see the problems, those problems can be very technical in nature. Solving them may require a good deal of technician knowledge.
How do You Optimize Core Web Vitals?
While these core web vitals may seem overwhelming to anyone, not a technical developer, they really are not. Instead, it's like the difference in writing a school paper. The first pass is good, but when it is revised, it becomes great.
This is how website development often works. You get your website up and running. You do some quick coding, allowing you to see how it looks and works. For some developers, this is where the work stops.
However, for SEO developers, this is just the first draft, if you will. Then you go back and tweak everything about the code to make it work.
Overall there are nearly 40 different factors Core Web Vitals tests that need to be considered. Simplified, here are some of the biggest things that slow down your user experience.
A major speed factor regarding modern websites is the media embedded into the site. Yes, sites are now visually heavy, and users have come to expect that.
However, there is no reason to embed a huge image in your home page. Instead, optimization and compression techniques can be used to bring down the file size without sacrificing quality on what the user sees.
Video can also slow things down. Many sites use an auto-play feature on their videos. However, if that feature is not correctly implemented, it loads the video before other parts of the page, dramatically slowing down the entire load speed.
By focusing on just these two issues, you can significantly improve your Largest Contentful Paint score.
Coding & Scripts
Coding almost inevitably leaves behind snippets and lines of code that are not really needed or are not efficient. Inefficient code is when there is more text to execute a function than is needed. Every line of extra code slows down a website.
Imagine reading War and Peace. You could pick up the unabridged version, which boasts an incredible 1,440 pages. On the other hand, you could pick up the Spark Notes version and get all the essential information in 100 pages. Which would you read more quickly?
This is how to think about your website. Yes, you can do some incredible things with more code. However, like a student not having enough patience to read the entire book, most users will not be patient enough to allow all of this code to load.
To cut down on the sheer volume of code, someone needs to review it and remove unneeded parts, much like editing a paper. You need to check the rest of the code and find ways to reduce it so it runs with less code. One key way is looking at your CSS and minifying that particular resource.
What Should You Expect from a Core Web Vitals Report?
When you are looking at the Core Web Vitals report, you see a report for all of your site's web pages.
The information will be grouped by metric subset (LCP, CLS, FID), then the particular issue. It will also give you all of the URLs for that specific issue. This gives you a broad picture of the impact that specific topic has across your entire website.
How We Can Help
At NewStar SEO, we understand the importance of balancing your website's user experience, function, and beauty.
Our team includes full-stack developers, meaning they understand the balance between front-end experience and back-end efficiency. This knowledge allows them to improve both search performance and user experience.
Since website performance is so critical to a company’s success, we offer a complimentary site audit. And to make this audit even more valuable, we have added a Core Web Vitals check as part of this free audit.
Don't wait for Google to release the Page Experience Update later this year. Get started today, so you can get ahead of your competition.
Click below to contact us with questions or receive your free site audit containing a Core Web Vitals check. It’s a great first step in getting ahead of your competition.