By Jorge Vergara, on 19 January 2021
Google is continuously making updates to their algorithm and within a given year there are literally hundreds of changes made. Algorithm changes which influence ranking, however, are less frequent. In May 2021, Google is set to roll out its new ‘Core Web Vitals’ ranking metrics. These new ranking factors will have a significant impact on your SEO and how your website is ranked moving forward. And since the changes were officially announced by Google we’d all better take notice.
Announced in November 2020, Google has given a six months notice allowing webmasters time to prepare and tweak to meet the new Web Core Vitals requirements.
But what are Core Web Vitals? We’ll define this new set of ranking factors, describe why they’re important and finally how you can make sure you’re ready once the changes take place.
What are Google’s Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are user experience (UX) or site performance metrics like page load time, page stability time and interactivity. Basically, how quickly users can begin using your site from when it starts loading. Core Web Vitals fit into Google’s broader concept of ‘Page Experience’ metrics. These include signals like HTTPS, intrusive pop ups, safe browsing and of course the all important mobile friendliness.
This set of metrics has nothing to do with the text of a page. These ranking metrics are essentially all about the usability of your pages and the experience of navigating through them. Google’s aim is to rank and feature pages that are more efficient and effective in delivering the content users are looking for. It’s important to note that these metrics are also crucial for anyone doing business online, as they not only boost ranking but naturally equate to more sales.
Web Core Vitals can be added as a Google extension or combined with other tools such as Google Search Console, where they’re visible under ‘enhancements’. To better understand how these metrics are measured and what Google is looking for, we’ll dissect the three core vitals.
LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
The LCP or "Largest Content Image Processing" metric measures site loading time. This means how much time elapses until all the website content is loaded and visible to users. Google recommends that a user should wait no longer than 2.5 seconds from when loading begins to achieve a ‘good’ ranking. Anything more than 4 seconds is considered ‘poor’.
FID (First Input Delay)
The FID or "First Entry Delay" metric measures the time until interactivity is possible. In other words how long it takes until a user interacts with your page, like clicking a link, filling a form, scrolling, etc. More specifically, it’s the time between a user's attempted interaction and the browser’s response. A ‘good’ score is less than 0.1 seconds while ‘poor’ is anything more than 0.3 seconds.
CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
The CLS or "Cumulative Design Change" metric measures the visual stability of a website.
You know how you sometimes click something accidentally because a page changes when an element finally loads? Yes, very annoying. This is what Google wants to avoid and therefore minimize unwanted layout shifts that lead to a poorer user experience. Layout shift issues are more of an issue on mobile devices, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.
Google measures the frequency of these shifts and adds them up. Like golf, the higher your CLS score, the worse you’re playing. A ‘good’ score is up to 0.1 seconds and ‘poor’ more than 0.25 seconds.
Why Are Core Web Vitals Important
If you want to improve or at least maintain your page rank, and I’m sure you do, then you need to get on board with Google’s Core Web Vitals update. If you’re doing businesses in a highly competitive industry and don’t incorporate these signals into your SEO strategy, you’ll be left in the dust by those that do.
Google is prioritizing UX especially on mobile devices and these new official metrics ensure that users are provided with a pleasant browsing experience. That being said, UX isn’t everything and you still need to produce great content. There are around 200 factors Google measures to rank pages!
Appearing in Google Top Stories will also require you to meet a certain level of Web Core Vitals. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Stories) will no longer be the main relevant requirement in this case.
Improving the three core vitals—LCP, FID and CLS—will also benefit you in improving your overall online success rates. Refining user experience in any area of business is a HUGE plus. By adjusting your site to meet these new requirements you can attract more visitors to your site, reduce your bounce rate and make more sales. There’s nothing worse than losing willing customers because of a poor checkout experience. Boosting your Web Core Vitals is a win/win for both you and your customers.
How to Fix Core Web Vitals
All this sounds very technical, I know. Yet Google has made it relatively easy for you to identify and diagnose issues your site may have in conforming with Web Core Vitals.
Within Google Search Console you can access your Core Web Vitals Report and go from there. These reports will let you know how various components of your site measure up to their requirements. Each report links to Page Speed Insights, a tool which will be of huge use in fixing any problems. Some of these fixes will indeed be quite technical in nature, and likely require the help of a developer.
That being said, here are some tips on improving your vitals broken down by the LCP, FID and CLS measurements:
LCP (site loading time) Issues
- Remove any unnecessary 3rd party scripts
- Minify CSS
- Upgrade your web host for faster load times
- Utilize lazy loading so images only load when users scroll down
- Remove large page elements
FID (interactivity response) Issues
- Make use of a browser cache to load content faster
- Don’t use non-essential 3rd party scripts which are detrimental to FID
CLS (layout shift) Issues
- Ensure advertisements have a designated place and match page aesthetic
- Use fixed size dimensions for media: the browser will know how much space to reserve before loading
- Avoid interstitial pop-ups at all costs
The Google Core Web Vitals update may seem daunting at first but it’s actually quite manageable. Once you understand—and we hope this guide helps—how these new metrics apply, it’s just a matter of using the tools provided and going through the motions. If things do get tough there are plenty of experts out there to help. Begin fixing any issues as soon as possible and come May you’ll be making Google happy, your customers happy and, hopefully, increasing your own success metrics too.