After years of constant evolution, Google is getting where it ought to have been in the first place. Rather than rolling out policies and guidelines that have largely prioritized the search engine over users in the past, Google’s core focus now has rightly fallen on the end user’s convenience more than ever.
As we look back in the past, the days of so-called ‘black hat’ SEO practices seem to have been numbered. Today, it’s hard to believe that it was so easy to cheat the search engines to elbow your site’s way into the top ranks. It was quite undeserved, and of little or no use to the users, so no such practice could fortunately last long.
Today, the online search game is very different. And it’s constantly evolving with Google rolling out changes that are essentially aimed at improving the user experience. One of the more recent steps in this direction include the announcement of Web Vitals, Google’s new set of metrics to measure the speed and user experience of websites.
What it actually meant was that these new metrics would now start to judge and rank websites on the basis of the page experience they offer to the user. According to Google, this new update would be made to its core algorithm and will be rolled out to all Google Tools starting May 2021.
Why Is Page Speed Now More Important for SEO?
Google’s journey to shifting its focus on true user-friendliness is over a decade old. Over 10 years ago, the online search giant announce to start taking site speed into account when determining rankings. After eight years, Google began to apply the same factor, i.e. page speed, in mobile searches too.
Now, the company says that the Web Vitals will be major factors of determining site rankings 2021 onwards. These metrics, combined with other UX factors, will now govern site rankings, which sounds like a solid measure for users.
It’s strange that many users, despite having lightning-fast internet connections, can still experience slow loading web pages. This is not just poor user experience but can also be a source of stress for many. The situation is simply exacerbated when the on-site performance – miss-clicks, unstable content positioning, etc.
What are Web core vitals?
This is the problem that Core Web Vitals aim to achieve. Since site performance metrics are countless and can be confusing, Google had identified three Core Web Vitals, vital metrics that the search rankings will begin to be increasingly based on starting 2021.
Since the process is evolutionary, it is estimated that Google might update or change these metrics in the future based on data and learnings from this rollout. But for now, the site owners are required to focus their energies on turning these Vitals green if they want their sites to be top ranked.
Core Web Vitals are a subset of Web Vitals. These comprise site performance metrics that apply to all pages across the web and must be measured by site owners to attain and retain top search ranks. The Core Web Vitals, according to Google, will be surfaced across all Google tools.
While the Core Web Vitals might continue to evolve over time, it presently comprises three basic aspects of the user experience, namely loading performance, responsiveness, and visual stability. In the SEO jargon, they’re called LCP (Largest Contentful Paint), FID (First Input Delay), and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) respectively.
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
This is a metric to measure how fast the largest content element loads on a web page. For example, if your web page has a block of plain text and a large image, the latter will be counted as the Largest Contentful Paint as it’s the largest piece on the page that the browser will be loading.
Please note that the LCP doesn’t count the time it takes for the web page to fully load all its contents. Rather, the metric takes into consideration the loading time of what looks like the most important part of the page. In our example above, that important part was the large image.
A similar metric used by Google in the past was First Meaningful Content (FMC). It measured the time it took a web page to load what looked like the most ‘meaningful’ content. It proved to be a confusing metric as it failed to figure out what could be the most meaningful content for the user.
To turn this metric green and enhance user experience, the site owners must achieve an LCP of 2.5 seconds or less. This is the time from click to the loading of the target page. A score of over 2.5 seconds means poor LCP performance.
- FID (First Information Delay)
So you’ve achieved an LCP score of 2.5 seconds. But is the page interactive enough for the user? This is where First Information Delay (FID) comes in. the metric measures how fast the web page responds to the first user interaction. It’s no wonder why FID is a Core Web Vital!
The web page’s responsiveness is as vital to the user experience is its loading time. If the site loads fine but that button or tab isn’t responding to a click, it’s bad user experience and will affect your search rankings. This sluggish performance is what site owners need to fix on priority.
A browser is performing a lot of tasks at once when a web page is loading. And with websites getting more complicated as the time passes, browsers need to park certain queries since it can’t do it all at once. This is what FID works to fix for a web page; to make it responsive for enhanced user experience.
Some of the actions that FID measures include taps, clicks, and key presses. (It’s pertinent to note that actions like zooming and scrolling don’t fall in this metric). An FID score of less than 100 milliseconds is considered ideal for good UX. Anything above that means that your site needs improvement.
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
After you have achieved the first two of the Core Web Vitals, next comes CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift). This metric measures visual stability of a web page. In simpler words, it measures how stable the stuff that loads on your screen is.
An example of that would be content that changes position as the page loads. For example, if you see a button that you want to click on a loading web page, and just when you’re about to click, the button moves away as the large content areas loads. It leaves a bad impression on the user and so, according to Google, should affect the site’s search performance too.
This layout shift usually happens when a site has a lot of ads, which, for most businesses, are the lifeline. But it happens in a manner that frustrates the users, and should be fixed by the site owner. Also, more complex websites of today also face such the layout shift problems; as there’s so much to load, it can cause the CTA to move around the screen as remaining contents load.
For blogs and web pages with little or no calls to action, these layout shifts may not be a problem. But for pages like forms, sign up and sign in pages, CLS is a factor that hugely impacts the user experience. For Google, a CLS score of less than 0.1 is considered good and should be maintained.
How Do I Check My Core Web Vitals?
Since Google believes that Core Web Vitals are key to site performance and should impact the site’s search rankings, the search giant will be making these metrics available in all its tools. So, it should be easy to site owners to measure the performance of their site for these key metrics from within the Google tools.
How to Improve Core Web Vitals Scores?
While the reasons for compromised site performance may vary from site to site, developers and site owners can follow some general steps to improve their Core Web Vitals. Following the recommendations given below, which are a mix of old and new ways to enhance your site, you can turn all core metrics green.
- Optimize Site Images
It’s old yet golden advice, and one of the most important things you can do to improve your site performance. Always remember that one big unoptimized image on your web page is enough to hurt your performance and thus your search rankings.
- Stabilize Loading
By specifying room for images and other contents on your web page, you can improve your site performance by folds. This especially helps in CLS, a metric that measures layout shifting in a loading web page. Fixing CLS will make your page feel faster and be more user-friendly.
- Speed-Up Server
By optimizing your server, you can reduce loading times by folds while also improving on all three Core Web Vitals. This may include upgrading your hosting plan, looking at how the server was set up, and upgrading the hardware if need be. You can also consider advanced solutions that allow you to improve how requests are responded by your server.
There are many other ways you can improve your Core Web Vitals and make your website perform better for both improved user-friendliness and search rankings. There’s no rush, says Google, and the metrics will be rolled out gradually throughout the year to make the shift easier for site owners and developers.
But the faster you begin to place your focus on getting green signals for all three metrics, the better it would be for your site visitors and your online presence. Search engines are all about finding the people what they want, a purpose that’s universally shared by businesses. So, by focusing on the Core Web Vitals, site owners and developers can contribute to an online ecosystem that’s a win-win for everyone.