There’s been a lot of talk in marketing and SEO circles over the last six months about Google’s Core Web Vitals. However, if you’ve just been trying to keep afloat during the pandemic, this may have gone over your head. In this blog, we’ll take you through some basics and get you up to speed on what it is, when it will come into effect, what you need to do and why you should care.
What are Core Web Vitals?
For many years Google held their cards to their chest when it came to measurement tools and benchmarks, leaving marketers in a constant state of testing SEO strategies. Recently there’s been a bit of a sea change and Google is becoming a little more transparent. With tools like PageSpeed Insights and Google Search Console, we are able to understand the factors or ‘Web Vitals’ Google deems important for a web page’s user experience.
Core Web Vitals are a specific subset of these Web Vitals and in May 2021 they will become a ranking factor (signals which tell Google Search where to rank your website). The Web Vitals help Google to evaluate the overall Page Experience on your website and they include; loading, interactivity, visual stability, mobile-friendliness, whether browsing is safe, HTTPS and non-intrusive interstitials (like ads and pop-ups).
The specific set included in Core Web Vitals are loading, interactivity and visual stability. These will become important measures to consider in time for the May update.
Loading – Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This measures how fast a web page loads, so how quickly do your images, videos or text initially render (appear). Ideally, the page should load within 2.5 seconds for 75% of your website users in order to hit Google’s recommended target.
Interactivity – First Input Delay (FID)
First Input Delay measures how quickly a user can interact with the website. This means that when a user clicks on a link or menu option how quickly does the browser respond to that request and come back with the required result. To ensure a good user experience and hitting the recommended target, your FID should be less than 100 milliseconds.
Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Visual Stability or Cumulative Layout Shift measures whether your site jumps around. For instance, when a user attempts to click a button, it then suddenly moves. This can be really frustrating for a website user and that’s why Google wants to make sure your website is stable before putting you in a top-ranking position. The recommended target for CLS is 0.1.
Why Core Web Vitals are so Important
Core Web Vitals aren’t just about making Google happy, it’s about providing the best experience for your website users. The developers at Google have been working on this update for a long time. That’s because it’s a tough task trying to emulate an average website user and turn that into an algorithm.
SEO has previously focussed on keywords, backlinks, meta descriptions and content. While this is still really important, Google is now adding a focus on user experience. If you’re competing against similar content or companies for rankings, having a better user experience will win you that higher position.
This means adapting your marketing and SEO strategies, making sure your website is responsive and easy to use should be one of the highest priorities. After all, what’s the point in creating beautifully crafted content if the website doesn’t load quickly enough or the user can’t access it easily.
Listening to Google and implementing their recommendations will also help reduce bounce rate, increase website traffic and encourage users to spend longer on your site. Think about your own experience when online shopping, if the site doesn’t load quickly or the add to cart button jumps, your trust in that website diminishes and you abandon that site.
With 33.9% of the global population in 2021 discovering new brands via search engines (Data Reportal Global Digital Overview), it’s important to make sure your website shines.
Understanding the Reports
Core Web Vitals data that is considered in Search comes from field data. This is data that Google collects and which powers the Chrome User Experience Report. It is based on real user web page visits and interactions, with information collected from users who have agreed to share their data.
The scores you receive are calculated from 75% of the users over a 28 day period. If your web page meets all the recommended metric targets (as mentioned above) for the 75th percentile of users then it will pass the Core Web Vitals assessment.
There are three different reports to view this data that provide useful information to improve user experience on your website; PageSpeed Insights, Search Console and Lighthouse. It’s important to use all three in order to get a holistic view of the data, as they provide different information.
This should be your first port of call and will give you an instant idea of how a web page is performing on both mobile and desktop views. You will see a colour coded score, an overview of Field Data and Origin Summary, a visual representation of the Core Web Vitals score, a lab data score and a list of recommendations to work through.
Whilst this gives you a great starting point, you really need to dig a little deeper to gain a competitive advantage.
The speed score you see on PageSpeed Insights is based on data from Lighthouse. This is lab data which means it measures your web pages as a snapshot of what some users are experiencing at the time you run the report.
Using the Google Chrome Lighthouse extension, you can run a report straight from your browser. It will look similar to the PageSpeed Insights report, but it gives more information and breaks down the recommendations into four categories; performance, accessibility, best practice and SEO.
This report gives you the opportunity to look at overall web page improvements and make adjustments not only to issues affecting your Core Web Vitals score but a wider range of Web Vitals.
The Search Console Core Web Vitals report provides you with field data over time. This means you get a more holistic view of the issues you may have and see how the fixes you make improve your score.
When you view the report you will see a graph where you can view the number of URLs that scored a rating of Poor, Needs Improvement or Good and underneath the details are listed. By clicking on each detail you can get a really specific view of where your website needs attention as it lists each individual page URL.
This breakdown can help you pinpoint pages that need a bit of TLC and, if you analyse the data alongside Google Analytics data, you can make sure the pages that users visit the most are highly optimised.
Actions to Implement in April
Your brain may be aching from all of the technical information above but the actions you need to implement now are easy. Follow these steps and you can be ready for the Core Web Vitals ranking update in May:
- Use PageSpeed Insights to get an idea of your website’s performance
- Try and improve everything that has a red triangle marker
- Check Google Analytics and note down your top 5 most visited pages
- Use Search Console to identify issues with your top 5 pages and fix those
- Regularly check Search Console to keep informed of your website’s performance
Finally, remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Make sure you continue to review and implement recommendations, once you’ve fixed the issues in red, move on to the ones in orange. Every amendment you make and review you do will mean a better experience for your users and place you ahead of your competitors.
If you would like help and advice on SEO or feel you need a website refresh, contact Wombat Creative today. Our digital marketing and UX specialists will be happy to provide recommendations to suit your business needs. You can contact us via our web form or call us on 01900 821628.