It seems that in recent years Google has been on a quest to provide a better internet experience for everyone. The search engine company has been lifting the page-ranking bar ever higher and refining factors every year. That means their algorithm updates have been consistently taking webpage owners by surprise, leaving them to deal with the consequences.
Google’s approach, however, appears to be changing, as the upcoming Core Web Vitals (CWV) update has been announced a year in advance.
It is officially set to hit in May 2021 and is expected to be a major one.
Google not only gave an early heads-up but also provided a set of tools for website owners and developers to evaluate and prep-up their pages in time.
Core Web Vitals are page experience signals about the loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability of a page. Together with other factors, they make a set of webpage quality standards Google considers to be the baseline for a satisfactory user experience.
Introducing Web Vitals: https://t.co/4ZTPMxtbL8 – quality signals key to delivering great UX on the web. Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, DevTools & more tools will support many Core Web Vitals soon. pic.twitter.com/yS48gkMbVp
— Addy Osmani (@addyosmani) May 5, 2020
And for a reason. CWV scores will now have a crucial impact on websites. Content quality and relevancy will remain essential for a page to rank higher, but from now on the Core Web Vitals will become a top-ranking factor.
What does that mean? Well, imagine there are several pages from different websites ranking for a particular keyword. They all have relatively similar content that matches the user’s query and intent. The one with a better quality scores will rank higher, and earn a better position in search results.
But it doesn’t end there. Google intends to launch a badge for the CWV status of a page – a visual indicator adjacent to the page’s title in search results. It will serve to make it easier for users to choose the page that will give them the information they need while providing a better overall experience.
This means that these core standards will not only affect ranking but sooner or later will impact the way users perceive and evaluate pages even before they open them.
Meanwhile, Google intends to keep adding new page experience signals that would be regularly updated, in order to make for a really good UX. Hopefully, they will maintain the new approach and keep website owners and developers posted on scheduled changes.
Plus the existing search signals, including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines, are still relevant, and if website owners have not optimized for them yet, it’s about time they do. Otherwise, with updates piling up, website revisions might have to turn into full revamps which in turn will bring massive traffic losses and increased recovery time.
But let’s not slip into end-of-days scenarios and focus on how Google’s Core Web Vitals will affect ranking and websites when they finally become a top-ranking factor.
How Do Core Web Vitals Influence User Experience?
In Google’s words:
Great page experiences enable people to get more done and engage more deeply; in contrast, a bad page experience could stand in the way of a person being able to find the valuable information on a page. By adding page experience to the hundreds of signals that Google considers when ranking search results, we aim to help people more easily access the information and web pages they’re looking for, and support site owners in providing an experience users enjoy.
The value of a page’s CWV is estimated using the field data of real user experience stats derived from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX), and is based on a 30 day period of time.
But in order to better understand the relevancy of CWV for user experience and how that affects ranking, let’s deconstruct each one of the signals’ input:
Largest Contentful Paint (Loading)
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the loading speed of the page and estimates how quickly the largest piece of the main content is available to the user. It should be in less than 2.5 seconds.
Reducing the loading time of a page can bring a tremendous improvement in bounce rates and lead to increased conversions. Research shows that increased loading time from 1 second to 3 seconds can lead to bounce rate growing by 32%. If a page speed slows from 1 to 6 seconds, the bounce rate could jump even higher, reaching 106%.
The correlation between a page’s loading speed and bounce rate should be enough motivation for any website owner to deal with any significant issues and get pages back on track. Waiting around for websites to load is not something users enjoy or are willing to put up with nowadays. Especially when there is a growing competition providing a next to an endless supply of similar pages on almost every topic
First Input Delay (Interactivity)
First Input Delay (FID) takes into account the time it takes for the page to be ready for the user to interact with. It should be less than 100 milliseconds.
As goes by the description, FID is important for pages that you need to interact with. For example, when a user clicks a button, fills in a form, or clicks on a link, they want it to respond the moment they take the action. If they keep on clicking, and nothing happens, the page fails to serve its purpose for them. And when it finally does respond, the user is either frustrated or already gone.
And that’s why failing to fix any issues might cost you website traffic and business clients, as well as a drop in your rating.
Cumulative Layout Shift (Visual Stability)
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) evaluates the visual stability of the components on a page. The results should be less than 0.1.
Nothing frustrates a user more than trying to click on a specific part of the page but not being able to because the page’s content is jumping. The user ends up clicking on something else and opening an unwanted page. And that’s not something you want happening.
CLS misclicks can, without a doubt, lead to a lousy user experience and can be bad for your rating. Moreover, if you’re a publisher running display ads and users unintentionally click on them, it could lead to other unpleasant consequences and can potentially cause a Two-Click Penalty. This issue takes time to detect and can hurt the ad’s performance on your website. And it’s also really hard to fix.
How to Check Your Website’s Status?
Now that you know how each core web value affects user experience, you are probably anxious to find out how is your page doing. Because, well, if it doesn’t check all boxes, you might see a drop in your ranking very soon.
As mentioned, Google has provided a set of tools to help you analyze performance, identify issues, and fix them in time.
- Google Search Console (GSC). If you’re a verified owner, you can monitor the current state of your website in the Core Web Vitals Report of the GSC. From there, you can find out your pages’ performance categorized as “Good”, “Need Improvement”, or “Poor”.
- Page Speed Insights (PSI). Use PSI on the pages that need improvement to diagnose and identify specific issues.
- Lighthouse and Chrome DevTools. These tools can be used to measure your pages’ specs, and identify what needs fixing and what steps to take in order to fix it.
- Web Vitals Chrome Extension. The extension can be used to monitor in real-time the core web vitals of webpages on desktop. It can be used on every page of every website, regardless of whether you are the owner, and it can give you a peek of how other pages similar to yours are doing as well.
- Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). Here you can find information about the CWV performance of your website, based on real-life user data.
Once you identify where your website’s weak points are, focus on working on a strategy to fix them.
How to Fix Core Web Vitals Issues?
The good news is that issues can be fixed and core web vital stats can be improved. Optimizing your website will have a positive effect on your ranking and, what’s more, your traffic might get a boost too, because the UX will be better and your bounce rate will drop.
When fixing issues, Google’s advice is to prioritize all pages labeled as “Poor”. You should start either with the URLs you consider most valuable and important to your website or concentrate on the issues associated with the most pages.
However, although “Need Improvement” pages are considered okay-ish, it would be best if you found time to fix these issues as well. Outside factors such as sudden shifts in traffic and other disruptions can result in your stats dropping on such pages even if you haven’t changed anything else. And this can, in the future, switch your pages’ status from “Need Improvement” to “Poor” without you even knowing.
Here are some suggestions on possible issues to focus on when optimizing your website for core web values:
Fix Largest Contentful Paint (Loading)
Some actions you can take to improve the loading time of your pages and boost your LCP stats are:
- Improve server response time.
- Optimize your server.
- Use a CND.
- Cache assets.
- Optimize CSS.
- Optimize images.
- Compress content.
- Preload important resources.
See more about optimizing Largest Contentful Paint.
Fix First Input Delay (Interactivity)
To improve FID results, you have to make your website interaction-ready. Here are some bases to cover:
- Optimize first-party scripts execution.
- Optimize data-fetching.
Fix Cumulative Layout Shift (Visual Stability)
To avoid content shifts, and improve both user experience and CLS measurements, try the following:
- Always specify images’ dimensions.
- Statically reserve space for ad slots.
- Provide sufficient space for embeds and iframes.
- Reserve sufficient space for dynamic content.
- Optimize for Web fonts causing FOUT/FOIT.
- Avoid adding ATF(above the fold) elements dynamically.
Total Blocking Time
To reduce the blocking time of your website, ensuring that the page is reliably interactive and usable, you can try these tricks:
- Keep the number of requests low.
- Reduce the impact of third-party blocking code.
An unsatisfying user experience on a page can hurt a website’s traffic, and even drive customers away, leading to a business losing profits.
Google instituting core web values as a top-ranking factor might cause disruptions amongst website owners and a lot of work for developers. But it will, hopefully, result in faster-loading pages and a genuinely better experience for all internet users.