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Core Web Vitals

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Act now: What are Core Web Vitals and why are they important?

SEO is critical. The search page ranking for various different keywords continues to influence the activity of digital teams, covering content, design, coding and everything in between. So, when Google makes a change to their core algorithm that may impact page rankings, digital teams need to act accordingly.

Google’s stated reasoning behind making changes to their search algorithms is to reflect and reward better user experience, so the changes that you make to your website in order to improve SEO are also likely to improve the experience for your visitors. Most changes announced publicly are not just arcane practices that are concocted by Google to keep website managers on their toes, although it may feel a little like that!

The latest changes to the Google ranking algorithm concern what Google call “page experience” - an area defined as “how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page”. These initial changes were announced back in November 2020, and they are currently being gradually rolled out from mid-June through to the end of August 2021.

If you haven’t already, you should act on this now because it may impact your SEO. In this post, we’re going to explore the main parts of the update (the “Core Web Vitals”), and explain what you need to do next.

What are Core Web Vitals?

The page experience update from Google incorporates a bundle of changes, but focuses mainly on “Core Web Vitals”. These are what Google regards as three core measures that map to specific areas of page experience: Loading, Interactivity and Visual Stability. Other existing elements that are already contributing to SEO, such as having HTTPS in place, supporting safe browsing and being mobile-friendly, are still regarded as key.

Let’s explore the three main Core Web Vitals in turn.

Loading: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

This metric relates to how quickly a page loads, specifically by measuring how long it takes for the largest image or text block on a page to render. This will mark the moment that the page’s main content has likely loaded. Google suggests that an LCP score (time) of under 2.5 seconds is good, while anything over this and under 4 seconds “needs improvement” and anything over 4 seconds is considered “poor”. Google has a useful LCP topic page covering everything from definitions, to how to measure effectively, to tips for improvement, along with links to further resources.

Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID)

This metric aims to gauge the “load responsiveness” of a page, measuring how long a page takes to respond when a user first interacts with it, such as by clicking on a link or tapping a button. This metric is important because it can be indicative of a user’s first impression of your site. Google suggests a good user experience is delivered by an FID score of 100 milliseconds or less, with anything over 300 milliseconds being “poor” and anything in between “needs improvement”. Again, Google provides a useful FID topic page which explores potential causes of “input delay”.

Visual Stability: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

CLS measures the visual stability of a page. Unexpected shifts in the layout of a page - perhaps caused by an image loading or a widget dynamically resizing - are extremely frustrating for users, particularly when they are trying to interact with a page. CLS now measures the largest unexpected shift in the layout on a page, having gone through an evolution to make it fair. A CLS score of less than 0.1 is considered good, whereas between that and 0.25 needs improvement. A score of more than 0.25 is classed by Google as “poor”. Again, Google’s CLS topic page has all the details.

What to do next

If this all sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry. There are various tactics you can follow in order to get on top of your Core Web Vitals and make sure your site is optimised to preserve SEO. You’ll also likely need to contact your developers or digital agency for help.

If you haven’t done anything so far, we would advise you to act now and take the following steps:

  • Measure your Core Web Vitals
  • The first step to ensuring your Core Web Vitals are not going to impact your page ranking is to measure the three key metrics and get an understanding of whether you have work to do to improve them. Thankfully, there are a plethora of both free tools and paid options out there that can help you, and Google has provided guidance on some of them, including a Core Web Vitals Chrome extension for developers.

    Once the numbers are in, you can check if you are in the optimal range based on theGoogle guidelines for what is considered good, needing improvement or poor. Even if things look fine, there may be opportunities for optimisation.

  • Have a conversation with your digital agency
  • There is a plethora of reasons for why your Core Web Vitals might not be up to scratch. It could be a content issue, a frontend or CSS issue, a backend issue or even something to do with your infrastructure.

    If the numbers indicate that there is a specific problem, or you are concerned about your Core Web Vitals and suspect you have a problem, then it’s time for a conversation with your digital agency, user experience provider or internal IT team. This can be the starting point for investigating an issue which could be relatively minor and just needs a quick fix, or something more deep-seated. The important thing here is to get in touch to kick-start the right conversations.

  • Make any necessary changes you need to optimise page experience
  • If your agency identifies any potential issues and corresponding fixes, then work to implement these relatively swiftly in order to minimise any impact on page rankings.

  • Keep on following advice and use the resources from Google
  • Google has a good set of free resources covering Web Vitals aimed at the developer community that provide a great starting point and valuable advice on how to optimise the page experience. Continually utilise these resources, as well as keeping an eye on updates and announcements.

  • Keep on measuring the Core Web Vitals
  • It’s good practice to measure what’s important for your visitor experience and your page ranking. Core Web Vitals are now a part of Google’s algorithm, so it’s important to continue measurement in this area to spot any issues that arise where action might need to be taken. You can use the tools already mentioned above to keep an eye on the numbers and fold them into your regular processes around analytics and reporting.

Creating a great page experience

Core Web Vitals are important, and if you haven’t taken any action around them yet, we would urge you to do so as they will impact your page ranking. The changes should be fully implemented by the end of August. Good luck in preserving and even improving your SEO by focusing on the Core Web Vitals.

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