As you may know, Google measures over 200 signals to determine search engine results and rankings. Among those signals (or factors), there are several metrics that focus less on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and more on your website’s overall User Experience (UX). Core Web Vitals fall into the latter category. In 2020, Google announced that it will begin to measure Core Web Vitals for websites to determine whether they will qualify for a ranking signal boost. These vitals include elements such as visual stability scores and page load times, and the update is due to roll out in June 2021. If all that doesn’t make much sense at this point, don’t worry! In this blog, we’ll talk about what Core Web Vitals are, why they’re important, and how Google’s announcement affects you as a site owner. Then we’ll show you how to measure and improve your Core Web Vitals score.
An Introduction to Core Web Vitals (And Why They’re Important)
The upcoming Google update is all about improving the page experience for users. To do that, Google will take into consideration the “page experience signal” – a set of metrics that when taken together translate into a better UX.
Among those metrics, you have factors such as:
- HTTPS use
- How mobile-friendly a website is
- Whether the site uses pop-ups
- If your website has malware or not
Those may not be the type of signals you usually think about when trying to reach the top of search engine rankings. Traditionally, users worry more about keyword optimization, metadata, content, etc. However, it’s not news that Google also takes website performance into account when determining search results.
With the Web Vitals initiative, Google’s goal was to figure out which page experience signals have the most significant impact on UX. The three metrics Google landed on as most important are the Core Web Vitals. Every site can measure these metrics, and if yours fall within a specific threshold, you’ll likely get a ranking boost. Let’s go over what those three Core Web Vitals are.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
When we measure a website’s loading time, we usually talk about one set of numbers. For example, we say a website loads in one second or two. However, that’s not the most accurate way to measure loading times.
As you may know, websites don’t load in one fell swoop. If you visit any site right now, you’ll see that some elements load before others. You might see part of the page appear near-instantly, but the rest of it may take some extra time.
A more accurate way to measure page loading times is by using multiple metrics. Among them, you have the following two factors:
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): How long it takes for the first element on a page to appear in your browser.
- Largest Contentful Paint: This measures how long it takes to load the largest element on a page in your browser. In other words, it tells you how long it takes for a page to finish loading.
Google uses LCP as one of its Core Web Vitals because it gives you a good idea of how fast or slow your website is. In practice, LCP scores can vary from page to page, depending on how much traffic your website receives, your server response, and many other factors. Users tend to leave a website if it takes over two seconds to load. Google understands that, which is why it’s best to keep LCP times under that threshold.
As soon as the Web Content Vitals update rolls out, Google will start to measure these elements for websites it ranks, with different thresholds for each. We’ll show you an overview of what those thresholds are in a minute. For now, let’s talk about the second Core Web Vital.
First Input Delay (FID)
If a website takes too long to load, it will also be delayed before it becomes interactive. The First Input Delay (FID) measures precisely that — how long it takes for a page to be interactive after it loads. By “interactive,” we mean any action that involves receiving feedback from the website, such as clicking on a button, submitting a form, executing mouseover effects, and more. Ideally, FID should be near-instant. As far as UX goes, this metric is important because it can make using your site more enjoyable. If you see that a page finishes loading, but you can’t interact with it, that can be frustrating. It may even lead users to think that the page is broken. Usually, if there’s a significant delay between the time a page takes to render and the time it takes to become interactive, it’s due to scripts loading in the background. If those scripts take too long to load, your FID times will go up.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
There are few experiences as frustrating as loading a website and trying to click on something, only for the entire page to shift as more elements render. That’s called a “layout shift,” and CLS measures how long it takes for a whole page to stop moving around. By Google standards, your layout shift scores or CLS times should be below 100 ms. The closer that number is to zero, the more stable your pages will look as they load.
CLS becomes even more critical for mobile users since elements are more likely to shift around on smaller devices. That’s why it’s important to remember that a good CLS score on desktop might not translate to the same results on mobile.
What Google’s Announcement About Core Web Vitals Means
The concept of Core Web Vitals is simple. You want LCP, FID, and CLS times to be as low as possible. If they are, it means that you’re providing a better UX and that you might get a rankings boost from Google.
However, if you want to get that boost, your metrics need to fall within the recommended thresholds for each vital. Google separates results for each metric into three tiers:
- Needs improvement
Now let’s take a look at what the thresholds are for each tier and Core Web Vital:
|Good||< 2.5 seconds||< 100 ms||< 100 ms|
|Needs Improvement||2.5-4 seconds||100-300ms||100-250 ms|
|Poor||> 4 seconds||> 300 ms||> 250 ms|
Ideally, you want all three metrics to fall within the Good range as dictated by Google. If your Core Web Vitals all look good, then, in theory, you’ll get a ranking boost. However, the specifics of how this process works are still unclear, including:
- What happens if not all of your Vitals are within the optimal range (but some are)
- Whether websites that meet all of the criteria will get a badge of some sort in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
One thing we do know is that positive Core Web Vitals benchmarks will become a requirement if you want your page results to appear in the Google “Top Stories” section.
Aside from the initial ranking boost that Google promises, the inclusion of badges and having your pages featured in Top stories should also significantly impact your Click-Through Rates (CTRs).
It’s equally important to understand that by improving Core Web Vitals, you may be able to significantly reduce your bounce rate and get users to stay on your website longer. However, your mileage may vary.
For now, the recent Google algorithm update is slated to release in May 2021. This means you still have plenty of time to measure and optimize your Core Web Vitals.
We know that Google tracks hundreds of signals and metrics to determine search ranking positions. Every new algorithm update changes the game slightly, and with the Core Web Vitals update, Google is showing us that it’s going to start looking even closer at the quality of each website’s UX.
Measuring positive UX isn’t as simple as tracking SEO metrics, however, which is why Google relies on the three Core Web Vitals to see if you’re doing a good job. Those vitals are:
- LCP: How long it takes for the largest element on each page to load.
- FID: How long it takes for a page to become interactive.
- CLS: How long it takes for elements on your page to stop shifting.
If you need any help or need any of the services we discussed today, visit us at: https://www.anytimedigitalmarketing.com/ to see how we can help you to grow your business.