Google’s Core Web Vitals Update: What you Need to Know [Updated]

As you might have heard, Google has recently announced that they will be incorporating Core Web Vitals into their ranking signals in 2021. It is unusual for Google to give us this much notice for an update, so it’s likely that this will be a big change in line with what we’ve previously seen for HTTPS in 2014 and Mobile Friendliness in 2015.

In this post we’ll explain what the new factors are and what you can do to ensure your site ranks above your competition once this rolls out.

Page Experience Ranking Factors

Google is adding 3 new factors to their official page experience ranking factors. We’ve known that page load time or “page speed” and user experience impact on rankings for some time but this change gives us 3 metrics to focus on. As with most SEO in 2020 these factors will make your site more appealing to users and well as to Google so are likely to increase how well your site converts as well as how well it ranks.

Current “Page Experience” Ranking Factors

Is the user experience:

  • Secure: Does the site have an SSL certificate?
  • Safe: Is there any malware or deceptive tactics used on the site?
  • Non-Intrusive: Are there any interstitials or pop-ups which might have a negative impact on user experience?
  • Mobile Friendly: Can the site be easily navigated on a mobile?

New: Core Web Vitals

In addition to the above there are three user experience factors that focus on Page Speed:

  • Loading: Make sure the main content on your page loads quickly.
  • Interactivity: When a user interacts with a page (for example clicking on a link), make sure the page is fast to respond.
  • Visual Stability: How content shifts as the page loads while users are interacting with it, potentially causing a frustrating user experience.

                                                                Google’s page experience search signals (ranking factors)

What Impact Will The Core Web Vitals Update Have?

As with any Google update it’s hard for us to predict exactly what the impact of this will be. Broadly speaking sites with a poor page experience are likely to rank less well for competitive terms than those with a better page experience. Why would Google send users to a site which will frustrate them when they could send them to a site which is more pleasurable to use?

The way in which Google have released this announcement makes it clear that this will be a significant update and they want us to prepare for it. Their official announcement positions this as something of benefit to overall web experience:

“We believe that by incorporating these new signals into Search, we’ll help make the web better for everyone. We hope that sharing our roadmap for the page experience updates and launching supporting tools ahead of time will help the diverse ecosystem of web creators, developers, and businesses to improve and deliver more delightful user experiences.”

SEO expert Marie Haynes suggests that, if content quality is similar, page experience could give you the edge:

“Google spokespersons have noted several times that some of signals are often taken as tie-breakers […] However, as outlined in the announcement, having good page experience can help Google make ranking decisions when choosing between high quality content that is largely similar. Our interpretation is that if you have comparable content to your competitors, having good page experience could help you move the needle into higher ranking positions.”

How Are Core Web Vitals Measured?

There are 3 metrics to get familiar with relating to Core Web Vitals:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Official explanation: The render time of the largest content element visible within the viewport.
Simplified version: When most of what you can see on the page has loaded.

First Input Delay (FID)

Official explanation: The time from when a user first interacts with a page (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction.
Simplified version: The delay between when you first click on something and the response.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Official explanation: The sum total of all individual layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of the page.
Simplified version: The page shifting around when you’re trying to click on something.

More info on how these are scored, and what a good score is can be found on the pages linked to above.

How do I View My Core Web Vitals?

You can find your Core Web Vitals matrics via a range of tools including PageSpeed Insights, Search Console and Lighthouse. If you’re not familiar with these tools your easiest option is to enter your site’s URL into the PageSpeed Insights tool and look at the score out of 100 you get for Mobile and Desktop. This is your overall page speed score which is a good snapshot of how your site performs. For Core Web Vitals specific metrics look for the little blue flags.

                                                               Which tools to use to review your Core Web Vitals metrics.


What Do I Need To Do Next?

If you want your site to perform well in Google we would recommend auditing your current page experience performance and that of your competitors. This will help you to see how much time you’ll need to invest in order to stay ahead of this update. From here you can create a plan of what you need to implement this year. You may find that Development changes are required in order to provide a better user experience, particularly if your site is more than a few years old.

The good news is that these metrics are easy to test and you’ll be able to measure any improvement in your Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay and Cumulative Layout Shift ahead of Google’s ranking signals changing.

If you’re an Optix client we’ll be in touch to let you know how we’re incorporating these metrics into our ongoing Marketing activity. If you are not an Optix client but would like an expert analysis of your site’s performance, and how to improve it, then get in touch.

Thomas Haynes

Thomas Haynes is a Digital Marketer with 12 years experience. He specialises in SEO and is the Head of Digital at Optix Solutions

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