June 07, 2021
Image of a touch screen viewing Google with the text "What Are Core Web Vitals? How to Prepare for Google's Algorithm Update" layered over the image.

Google’s latest response to online market trends is their rollout of a new set of signals called Core Web Vitals.

The keys to maintaining and improving your ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) have evolved over the years. Site owners who want to rank high for relevant searches must stay up-to-date with the demands of Google’s algorithm. With its latest update, Google is further prioritizing user experience.

Good user experience matters now more than ever. COVID-19 and work from home trends have placed an even great emphasis on the digital experience. Users expect more from digital interactions and mobile continues to be a key factor in driving business.

Given this growth in online demand, core web vitals are more critical than ever.

In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of the new Google page experience indicators. Let’s start with the basics.

What Are Google Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a set of metrics Google uses to evaluate a site’s page experience. These metrics yield a score that helps Google’s algorithm determine whether a site should be rewarded with a higher ranking or penalized with a lower one.

Google has placed their focus on three factors that will define a site’s CWVs. These three factors and their corresponding metrics are as follows:

  • Loading – Largest Contentful Paint
  • Interactivity – First Input Delay
  • Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift

The complete list of Google Web Vitals was announced in May 2020. The above CWVs are the components that will apply to all web pages, the “core” signals that site owners should focus on. Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these facets of the user experience.

Largest Contentful Paint

Largest Contentful Paint refers to the loading speed of the largest visual element on your page. This is typically the content you keep “above the fold” or “above the scroll,” which refers to the first content that a user sees when landing on a web page. This content is often the most meaningful.

It’s common for site owners to want to make an impression with flashy videos or intricate graphics at the top of their page. However, problems can arise if that content takes too long to load—users who are left waiting for those large visual elements to load may get frustrated and end up bouncing.

Google has identified this trend as a predictor of user experience. A page’s LCP tells the site owner how these large elements load in relation to other sites on the web. LCP is also a helpful indicator as to whether your visuals need a tune-up.

It’s important to remember there are ways to configure pages with graphic and video elements above the fold that load properly. Your hosting provider will also play a part in determining your LCP, as they’ll cut down on unnecessary scripts and offer fast server response times.

First Input Delay

Out of the three CWVs, First Input Delay (FID) is the metric designed to measure a page’s interactivity. FID measures the amount of time in between a user’s first interaction and the page’s response to that action. In other words, it measures a site’s responsiveness to interaction.

For example, let’s say you’re typing in your email address to subscribe to a site’s newsletter. Once you hit submit, the amount of time it takes the site to act on your click is the page’s FID. A significant delay may hurt the page’s ranking.

Again, Google has chosen FID as a key indicator of user experience. The first interaction is a crucial moment for a user that could define their experience on your page. You got them here. You got them to interact. Don’t lose them now.

Cumulative Layout Shift

The third and final metric of Google CWVs is Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS. CLS is intended to measure the visual stability of your page. Another way to phrase this is: how stable is the layout of your page as it loads?

Let’s take the example of an online recipe. We’ve all had the experience of clicking on an enticing online recipe only to find that we have to navigate through a sea of ads, comments, and videos to get to the actual recipe. And not only that, as these elements are loading, they’re affecting the recipe’s placement on the page, forcing the user to scroll up and down to keep eyes on the recipe.

This example of the cluttered recipe page would not be a very visually stable experience for users. Cumulative Layout Shift will reward pages that are able to load seamlessly without shifting the layout of the page.

Why Are Core Web Vitals Important?

CWVs give you a holistic approach to tracking user experience and understanding your page rankings.

Of course, as savvy site owners, we want to leverage these factors to yield the highest possible ranking for our pages. But it should not be overlooked that these metrics are well intentioned, well thought out, and a genuinely effective measurement of the kind of user experience you’ve built.

In other words, there’s no need to worry. If you’re committed to providing a top-notch digital experience to your users, CWVs should prove to be yet another tool in your toolbox.

When Will Core Web Vitals Take Effect?

Google has announced that Core Web Vitals will be incorporated into their algorithm starting May 2021. CWVs is already live and available on your Google Search Console, so you’re able to prepare ahead of the update taking full effect in May 2021.

How Will This New Algorithm Update Affect My Site?

While your site itself will remain unchanged, your rankings on Google’s SERPs may or may not be affected when the CWV update takes effect. If you already have an optimal user experience, you may very well maintain your ranking or even get a boost. However, if your CWVs prove to be subpar, your page rankings might fall off.

Let’s take a look at the three benchmarks you’ll want to achieve in order to maintain or improve your rankings:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) — Should take place within 2.5 seconds of the page first starting to load. Remember, LCP is the largest visual element(s) at the top of your page.
  • First Input Delay (FID) — Should be less than 100 milliseconds. FID ensures proper levels of interactivity, or responsiveness.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) — Should maintain a score of less than 0.1. CLS measures the visual stability of pages as they load.

As you begin to see how these metrics affect your page rankings, you’ll have a better understanding of why Core Web Vitals are important to your website and its visibility.

How Can I See Google’s CWV Scoring From My Site?

You can easily access your CWV scores on Google Search Console. Click on the “Enhancements” tab, and you’ll be able to see a breakdown of your scores for both Mobile and Desktop.

Remember, the new CWVs aren’t the only metrics you’ll want to keep an eye on. Google still ranks pages based on the following factors that have been a part of its algorithm for years:

  • HTTPS serving
  • Mobile-friendly optimization
  • Lacking intrusive interstitial pop-ups
  • Safe browsing and free of malware

How To Improve Core Web Vitals

Once you’ve determined that your Core Web Vitals need improvement, here are a few steps you may consider that will help your scores:

  • Ensure that images and videos topping your page are fully optimized.
  • Optimize JavaScript so only necessary code is being executed.
  • Reduce simultaneous third-party coding to a minimum.
  • Keep file transfer requests as small as possible.

Maintaining your rankings in the Google SERPs is an ongoing effort. And the recent CWV update only reinforces what site owners have always known: user experience is key to creating successful digital enterprises.

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