Google’s search results algorithm considers many factors to determine website rankings. Google’s new “Core Web Vitals” rollout is all about Page Experience. These Core Web Vitals will be used, in part, to determine a website’s rank. These include loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
Here’s what Google states about the update coming in May 2021:
“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”Google
Typically when optimizing for Google, keyword optimization, metadata, content, and more technical things are considered. Google is increasing the importance of “page experience signals”. These include HTTPS use, mobile-friendliness, use of pop-ups/user interruptions, and presence of malware. These considerations are nothing new. In fact, we’ve been talking about these for years!
At Noble Intent Studio, one of our Core Values is to “advocate for the end-users’ best experience”. Sometimes, this conflicts with ideas to install popups (intrusive interstitials) and other bloated sales or tracking plugins and scripts. These add-ons slow down websites and interrupt the user experience of websites. Tools like these, or designs that provide a poor experience, actually harm both the user and the client. They can have a short-term benefit, but result in a long-term detriment to both customers’ experience and, as we’ll discuss here, the long-term rank of a website and its ability to perform and reach even more customers.
Here’s how Google is combining their Core Web Vitals with existing Search signals for optimal Page Experience:
Beginning in May 2021, Google will use these three Core Web Vitals to determine if certain websites should get a boost in ranking based on Page Experience.
#1. Loading: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
The LCP is all about load time, or how fast or slow your website is. Optimizing for website load time is a passion of our technology lead and co-founder, Cris. His mission is to always be decreasing page load times for our clients.
When we measure a website’s load time, it’s not just about how long it takes for the first elements to load. The LCP actually measures how long it takes to load the most content on the page within the user’s viewport.
This is often a problem with pre-built themes that load weighty, unnecessary, and often unused features. That’s why we approach website builds strategically — only building what is absolutely necessary. Avoiding weighty plugins and scripts that cause high load times is key.
LCP scores can vary from page to page on your website. They also depend on how much traffic your website gets, your server response, and other factors. A good LCP score is less than 2.5 seconds.
Google’s business model is built on serving pages that users will stay on. Because users tend to leave a website if it takes more than two seconds to load, Google uses this LCP metric to serve better performing (i.e. fast) pages. Of course, as a business owner, you want website visitors to stay on your website too!
#2. Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID)
The FID measures how long it takes for a page to be interactive. This means any action that involves receiving feedback, such as clicking a button or submission a form. An FID score of less than 100 milliseconds is considered good.
To a user, this metric is similar in experience to page load time. Even if your page is loaded, but the user can’t click on anything yet, that’s a bad user experience because it seems to be broken.
This is often caused by scripts loading in the background (another pet peeve of Cris’). We always advocate for using as few scripts as possible.
#3. Visual Stability: Cumulative Layout Shifts (CLS)
Onto one of my own biggest pet peeves, and likely yours too! Have you ever been to a website and tried to click on something, only for the entire page to shift as more elements load causing you to click on something you didn’t intent to? That’s called “layout shift”.
CLS measures how long it take for everything to load and the whole page to stop moving. Your CLS score should be less than 100 milliseconds as well, or nearly undetectable to a user.
Here’s one example of the user experience problems layout shifts cause:
Turning Google’s Page Experience Algorithm Insights Into Action
There are a few things that remain unclear about what meeting these criteria will mean for your website. One thing we do know is, if all three of your scores are in the optimal range, your website will get a ranking boost.
Positive Core Web Vitals scores will also be a requirement for getting a special badge in search results pages and for your page results to appear in Google’s “Top Stories” section of search results.
We recommend checking out your website to see where you stand in terms of all three metrics and then make a plan for improvements.
Google’s own tool Lighthouse is a great place to start evaluating your site’s performance.
To begin, open up your website in Google Chrome. Right click anywhere on the page and click Inspect. Click on Lighthouse on the top right toolbar. Then, check Performance, and Generate Report.
Here’s an example of the report on our blog page:
The scores you’ll see as they relate to the three Core Web Vitals are Largest Contentful Pain, Time to Interactive (which is the same as First Input Delay), and Cumulative Layout Shift.
From our own scores, it looks like we should work to shave 1 minute off of our Time to Interactive/FID to bring it from 1.1 seconds to the goal of 0.1 seconds.
Currently, we are hitting the targets for 2 out of 3 on this particular page. Our Largest Contentful Paint is 1.7 seconds, whereas the goal is less than 2.5 seconds. And our Cumulative Layout Shift is 0.002 seconds, whereas the goal is 0.1 seconds.
If you click on the “See calculator” link that displays just below these scores in Lighthouse, you will see how the overall Performance is being both measured and weighted.
It’s interesting that the metrics here differ slightly even in name than what is outlined in the Core Web Vitals. Also, the scored (100 being best) and colored (red, yellow, and green) indicators don’t seem to align with the parameters outlined either.
Lighthouse’s metrics will likely change over time to be in line with Core Vitals scores.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console also shows Core Web Vital metrics within the dashboard, a new feature added in 2020. This is a great tool to use to see improvements or changes over time. It also has the added benefit of showing your scores for your whole website rather than per page as Lighthouse does.
Six years ago Google announced they’d give ranking boosts to sites that were mobile friendly. It wasn’t long before the tables turned and you no longer got a boost if you made your site mobile friendly, but instead got a demotion if you didn’t. We envision Google’s Page Experience algorithm updates and Core Web Vitals going a similar way in the long term. Learn more about Evolving Web Vitals here.
Our full Core Value we mentioned in-part earlier is to “Advocate for the best solution: advocate for design best practices, advocate for clients’ best interests, and advocate for the end-users’ best experience.” All three of these go hand in hand and you can’t have one without the other. They also result in an outcome of building a better and more inclusive internet — our ultimate mission.
When we advocate for a design best practice, we’re not only advocating for optimal user experience, we’re also advocating for our clients’ best interests as well. Our website design/build and SEO strategies have always been centered around the user in service of the client.
Google’s upcoming Core Web Vitals roll out just makes user experience thinking all the more important to a strategic website approach — and ultimately your bottom line.
Is your website ready for Google’s update? Schedule a complimentary consultation with us today.