How We’re Preparing for Google’s Core Web Vitals Update

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In May of 2020, Google released Web Vitals, a new tool that helps site owners understand the quality of the user experience they’re delivering and identify opportunities to improve. The most crucial set of Web Vitals that Google tracks, called Core Web Vitals, are set to become a ranking factor in May of 2021. 

Many of our clients have questions about how they’ll be impacted by this new Core Web Vitals algorithm update. In this blog, we’ll go over what these changes are, how they’ll affect sites and search results, and what we’re doing to help our clients adapt.

Why is Google updating their algorithm?

The first tenet of Google’s philosophy is to “focus on the user.” That means they prioritize an excellent user experience above all else. They want to provide search results that include relevant and useful pages, and they use a variety of different metrics to determine that.

Over time, the Google engineers add refinements and updates to their search algorithm in an attempt to reward sites that show measurable signs of relevance, expertise, and ease of use. They say that if a site is easy to use, loads quickly, and doesn’t bog users down with spam, it’s probably a good site. This new Core Web Vitals update is just another part of that.

What are the 3 Core Web Vitals?

The Core Web Vitals update will place even more value on page experience. Page experience refers to the way that visitors interact with a web page. These page experience metrics aren’t new, but they’re being given more weight by the Google algorithm when it determines which pages will rank highly and which won’t.

Google is adding in three new signifiers in addition to the page experience signifiers they already value (mobile-friendliness, the use of HTTPS, safe browsing options, and no intrusive pop-ups).

1. Loading Speed (Largest Contentful Paint)

The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric refers to how fast the biggest piece of content on a page takes to load. When checking this metric, Google scans a page to find the largest element and then measures how long it takes to become fully visible.

A good LCP is about 2.5 seconds. It’s possible to lower load times by removing extraneous elements from a page and resizing or re-optimizing essential elements, so they’re not too large.

This has the added benefit of streamlining a user’s experience on a page. Too many elements can be confusing or distracting, so focusing on the core purpose of a page (and making sure it loads right away) can make it easier for users to find what they need.

2. Interactivity (First Input Delay)

First Input Delay (FID) is a metric that measures how long it takes before someone can interact with a page.

Have you ever clicked on a website only to be subject to a long opening animation that doesn’t allow you to scroll or click anywhere else until it’s finished? Or maybe you’ve visited a site and tried to click on a link in their navigation right away—only to find that it won’t let you click because the page isn’t done loading? Those types of sites have a long FID.

A good FID is under 100 milliseconds. You can improve your FID score by optimizing your website’s backend and reducing animations and dynamic elements.

3. Visual Stability (Cumulative Layout Shift)

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) refers to when elements of a page load at different times, making content seem to “jump” around the page.

You’re probably familiar with this when it comes to ad-heavy mobile sites. For example, have you ever clicked on a recipe from a browser on your smartphone, only for the recipe to disappear immediately because it got pushed down by an ad that suddenly loaded? You scroll down the page to find the recipe—and then it disappears again because another ad popped up. That’s CLS in action.

In Google’s eyes, CLS makes for a poor page experience. Ideally, a site should have a CLS score of 0.1 (that’s on a scale from 0 to 1). You can reduce your CLS score by loading ad and video frames first and avoid adding dynamic content before the main page content (so if something does load unevenly, it doesn’t interrupt the content people are trying to view).

How can I tell if I’ll be impacted by the Core Web Vitals update?

The Core Web Vitals update will go into effect in May 2021. Some sites may experience dramatic drops or gains in their web traffic and rankings. However, some websites may not notice any impact at all.

The metrics we discussed will only be a small part of the overall algorithm puzzle, so how you’re affected will depend on how your site performs for each metric AND how your competitors perform.

It’s impossible to determine exactly how and if you’ll be affected, but you can use Google Search Console and many other tools to evaluate your site for these Web Core Vitals.

How can I prepare for the page experience update?

Here at Digital Neighbor, we’re planning on informing our clients in advance if we suspect the Web Core Vitals update will impact their sites. We run regular quality audits of our clients’ sites to identify potential problems and make recommendations accordingly.

We’ve always focused on steady progress over gimmicky tactics that fizzle out quickly—and we’ve emphasized good user experience even before Google announced these updates, so many of our clients are already in good shape!

To learn if your site is ready for the Core Web Vitals algorithm update or to get help making changes, contact us! Our team is always prepared to help our digital neighbors find solutions and make their sites even better.

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