If you don’t already know, Google has officially declared that Core Web Vitals will be a ranking factor in 2021 which is only a couple of months away. Before we delve into any further details, let’s dive into the fundamentals to develop a basic understanding.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
When Google talks about Core Web Vitals, it is referring to three basic metrics that determine the quality of user experience in the real world. What it means is that, instead of taking only a variety of benchmarks into consideration, Google is now preparing to factor in real world performance and user experience provided by the website to determine its ranking. The three metrics include the following:
Loading Times – The first factor that Google will take into account is loading performance of the website i.e. how quickly the written and visual content shows up on the page (ie. page load speed).
According to a report published by Google, if load time of a page increases from 1 to 3 seconds, bounce rate jumps 32%, while if page load time increases to 6 seconds, the same bounce rate witnesses an overwhelming increase of 106%.
Input Performance – The second and one of the most important factors measures input delay to determine the quality of user experience on the website. It also provides a measure of how the website reacts to the user input.
Visual Stability – This is the third metric where Google measures the ability of a diverse range of visual elements present on the page of the site to move around while it’s loading without causing any experiential interruptions or issues.
In technical terms, the above three metrics will be known as:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Let’s find out what these terms actually mean and what you can do to optimize these metrics so your site has a better chance of securing higher rankings on Google.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
Largest Contentful Paint or LCP assesses the loading time or performance of the elements present on the website. In easier words, it determines the overall duration of the largest web element, whether it’s an image or content, to show up on the screen. To deliver exceptional page experience, according to Google’s Core Web Vitals Status definitions, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) must be kept below 2.5 seconds while a report by Kissmetrics suggests 47% of all visitors expect the loading time to be less than 2 seconds.
You can measure the page loading time for the largest web element on your website to determine the LCP performance.
First Input Delay (FID)
First Input Delay determines the loading performance or responsiveness of the website or its pages. It measures the time from when the visitor interacts with your website, for instance by clicking a CTA button, to the time it takes for the browser to respond to that generated request. To deliver exceptional page experience, First Input Delay must not exceed 100 milliseconds or your website could be penalized.
Once again, you can measure the FID of different web elements on your website to find out whether it needs improvement and are optimized enough for Google.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
This metric measures the amount of visual stability and unexpected shifts in a website’s page layout. The shift is deemed to have occurred when a visible element modifies its initial position between the frames. These are unstable elements that have a negative impact on user experience. In order to deliver a good visitor experience, your web pages must maintain a CLS value of under 0.1.
Keep in mind that this metric only involves the existing elements that change their initial position. If there is a new element being added to the web page or an existing element modifies its size, that’s not considered as a layout shift unless its initial position has changed.
Why Are Core Web Vitals Important?
A post published in Google Webmasters Central Blog stressed on improving the importance of page experience to create a better web. Google has already factored in mobile-friendliness as well as page load times in its experience criteria and its Chrome team has now announced Core Web Vitals to be the next measure of user experience.
As mentioned earlier, these metrics measure the responsiveness, visual stability, and speed of web pages enabling brands and businesses to analyze and optimize their website experiences. It also gives Google’s algorithm new metrics to evaluate visitor experience and rank websites accordingly. Core Web Vitals have become increasingly important because:
- Businesses need to deliver consistent web experience across a multitude of devices
- They help businesses build a better web experience for their visitors and customers
- They provide search engines such as Google with new metrics to evaluate web page performance and overall experience
- They allow both businesses and search engines to drive better user engagement
- Long-term goal of creating pristine web experiences can be encouraged
When Will Core Web Vitals Become a Ranking Factor?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on the business world, Google has pushed back the release of this major algorithm update as they want to give more time to webmasters to prepare for the update. That being said, it is bound to happen sometime in the first half of 2021 around Spring 2021 at the earliest.
Google has promised that they will give at least 6 months of prior notice to webmasters and SEO professionals to prepare for this major update. So far there hasn’t been any notice issued by the search engine giant but it could be around the corner so website owners need to be on their toes in terms of preparing for the update.
Regardless of the fact of when Google is going to implement the algorithm changes, we believe that site owners should already be improving their web page performances since it directly impacts the quality of experience for their customers and visitors.
How Much Will Change with Core Web Vitals?
If you have a website that already takes these factors into account, you are well-positioned to capitalize on your previous work. However, if you haven’t paid much attention towards the performance and speed of your website, you are at a risk of being impacted when it comes to search engine rankings. Here is what you should expect:
Change in Regular Search Results
The Core Web Vitals update is going to create substantial changes in regular search results for both desktop and mobile based on the aforementioned criteria. If your website loads slowly or has issues in terms of responsiveness, it is going to be replaced by a competing website that performs better in those aspects.
Criteria for Google Top Stories
You also have to keep in mind that Core Web Vitals will become a contributing factor for your results to show in Google Top Stories. These involve news results that generally show up at the top of the search engine rankings. As of yet, AMP was a major requirement to display your website in Top Stories but AMP no longer be compulsory as Core Web Vitals takes its place.
Greater Impact on Highly Competitive Industries
If you are competing in a vertical where there are major brands who invest in their website performance, you are more likely to be affected by these changes. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of factors that Google’s algorithm takes into account so you still have some time to implement the required changes and improve overall site experience for your users and visitors.
Wider Influence of Core Web Vitals
Although, on paper, these might not be the biggest algorithm changes you have seen, there are certain signals that have become increasingly influential in terms of ranking because of their importance in determining user experience. For instance, page speed is one of those factors that might seem straightforward but has great influence.
Keeping all the above factors in mind, Google’s own research demonstrates that the websites that meet the criteria of Core Web Vitals are 24% less likely to be abandoned by visitors. This is exactly why businesses, SEO professionals, and webmasters need to start focusing on improving metrics related to page speed, performance, consistency, and stability.
How to Measure Core Web Vitals
There are a multitude of ways to measure Core Web Vitals and Google has continuously expanded the number of tools for the convenience of website owners. Currently, Google offers 6 different ways to analyze and evaluate LCP, FID, and CLS.
- Search Console
- PageSpeed Insights
- Chrome Dev Tools
- Chrome UX Report
- Web Vitals Extension
1. Google Search Console
Search Console now offers a new Core Web Vitals report that allows site owners to analyze their pages across the entire website. In the GSC sidebar, you will find the Core Web Vitals tab.
When you click on this, the Search Console report will display web pages that require your attention grouped by each of the three metrics and based on data accumulated by the Chrome UX report. Ensure that enough data is available for Search Console to provide the insights, otherwise, URLs will be omitted from the report.
Once you believe the issues have been resolved, you can easily validate fixes for the entire group in bulk or by individual page.
2. Page Speed Insights
PageSpeed Insights is now compatible with Lighthouse 6.0 which means that it now has the capability of evaluating Core Web Vitals in both the field and lab report sections. Core Web Vitals are marked with a blue ribbon for better visibility. Site owners can improve page experience by a wide margin using PageSpeed Insights.
As mentioned above, Google Lighthouse saw an upgrade to the latest 6.0 that includes new metrics, extra audits, and a brand new way to calculate the performance score. Two of the metrics included in Lighthouse are Google CLS and LCP metrics. These metrics help in providing diagnostic data to highlight what page needs improvement so you can work on enhancing page experience. There is another new metric called Total Blocking Time or TBT which relates to the Google FID metric.
4. Chrome UX Report
Commonly known as CrUX, Chrome UX Report contains public data of real-world user experience accumulated across millions of websites. CrUX report evaluates all Core Web Vitals metrics and Google has recently included a dedicated landing page for Core Web Vitals for improving page experience.
5. Chrome DevTools
Chrome DevTools has been updated to enable website owners to identify and troubleshoot visual instability problems on a page, which is a factor for calculating CLS. You need to choose a Layout Shift to see its details which can be accessed from the Summary Tab. Just like Lighthouse, Chrome DevTools also measure TBT which can be seen in the footer.
6. Web Vitals Extension
The Web Vitals extension is available to install from Google Chrome Web Store and lets you measure all three Core Web Vitals in real-time. This gives you an overview of the metrics allowing you to identify which area of a page needs improvement and which pages don’t.
All of these tools are easily accessible so you can download them online and start working on improving the page experience of your site.
How to Improve Core Web Vitals Metrics
While improving Core Web Vitals and visitor page experience on your site can be a time-consuming process, as discussed above, it’s one that’s well worth it.
Once you have identified and pinpointed the page speed, performance, and visual stability issues that are plaguing your site, you need to make a plan to implement changes. Before you go about making vitals changes haphazardly, it is better to prioritize them beforehand. For instance, if there are issues on the home page, they need to be fixed on a top priority basis while changes on a policy page could be completed later. Having your priorities in place will allow you to improve what matters the most right now for your customers instead of investing your resources on something less valuable.
When it comes to improving Core Web Vitals, you need to take all three factors into account and have an individual strategy for addressing these metrics. Instead of trying to go for a comprehensive approach and attempting to fix everything in one go, take your time and experiment with how your changes affect your website. This way, you will be able to find balance and move on gradually instead of making all the changes and modifications in one go, which if not executed correctly, can be quite risky for your search engine rankings as well.
You can improve site performance by enhancing LCP through restriction on the amount of content displayed on the site, especially top of the web page. Make sure only critical information is being displayed above the fold. Ask yourself if that information is important for the visitor to solve their problem. If it isn’t, consider moving it down.
Enhancing FID is relatively easy and straight-forward as there are four major areas you need to fix including the following:
- Reducing third-party code – If there are multiple processes running in the background of a page, it will take longer to load. Get rid of non-essential third-party code.
- Small transfers and low request counts – Don’t transfer large-sized files in real-time and ensure the number of requests being generated while a visitor is browsing your site is kept low.
- Minimization of main thread load – Main thread work takes most of the burden so you need to reduce the workload by fixing the site layout and style if you are facing any issues.
To improve CLS, pay close attention to the size of video elements and attributes of all media. If you are giving enough space to an element prior to its loading moment, you won’t have to deal with any layout shift issues. It will also help the page to reduce the number of transform animations as they can trigger layout shifts.
Web vital metrics have become increasingly important to Google search engine rankings over the years and millions of websites and site owners have already put in a lot of work to improve their page performance, responsiveness, and speed. That being said, Google’s latest web vital metrics are far more specific, especially when it comes to quantification. Businesses will soon be required by Google’s search engine algorithm to improve those areas if they wish to maintain and improve their site rankings.
Improving Core Web Vitals isn’t always an easy job due to the amount of time it takes and the complexity of other search engine ranking factors. That’s why it’s recommended to take this time and start improving your site’s user experience according to Google’s guidelines now, since the tools are readily accessible and Google could deliver their promised 6-month notice at any time.