On May 28, 2020, Google announced a new organic ranking signal which adds new measurements to page experience factors. With this update, a group of metrics known as Core Web Vitals will be used as ranking signals, focusing on problems with site performance which can negatively impact user experience.
Including technical and performance-related metrics in their ranking algorithm is not a new concept for Google. Factors like mobile-friendly design, the presence of intrusive interstitials, and HTTPS encryption have already been playing a role in Google’s ranking algorithm for some time now, and they will continue to do so as this new update rolls out.
Ultimately, Google wants to provide users with the highest quality experience possible. Not just in terms of helping them find relevant, helpful content, but by directing people to sites that won’t leave them frustrated by technical issues. Nobody wants to get hung up on problems like a site taking too long to load or layout problems that make it difficult for people to do what they want to do. Including these Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal is a way for Google to better deliver on the technical aspects of a high-quality experience of visiting a website.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Google breaks Core Web Vitals down into three main components: Loading (Largest Contentful Paint, or LCP), Interactivity (First Input Delay, or FID), and Visual Stability (Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS).
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is all about how much time it takes for the largest content element visible to render. This can include images, videos, and text elements. Google defines a good LCP score as being 2.5 seconds or less.
LCP differs from metrics like First Content Paint (FCP) or Speed Index (SI). FCP is a measure of how long it takes for the very first part of a site to load, which might be something that isn’t relevant to what the user is looking for, such as a splash page. SI refers to how long it takes for all content on a page to be visibly populated.
First Input Delay (FID)
FID refers to the amount of time between when a user first interacts with a page, such as by clicking a link or button, and when the browser responds to that action. In some cases, browsers are so busy trying to process something else on a site that it isn’t able to immediately respond to that interaction, causing delays for the user. If you ever found yourself tapping or clicking on a link waiting for something to happen, you’ve experienced a long FID. Google considers a good FID score to be less than 100 milliseconds. Of the three Core Web Vitals, we tend to see the fewest issues with FID, but it’s still an important metric to keep an eye on.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
If you’ve ever visited a website and tried clicking on one thing, but accidentally clicked on something else because the page shifted unexpectedly, you know how important visual stability is. Often, this sort of thing happens because of things like dynamically resizing ads or images with unknown dimensions. Making sure all elements have reserved space to load instead of inserting elements in a way that causes layout shifts is one way to avoid CLS issues.
While LCP and FID are measures of time, CLS is the total of layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift. Google considers a good CLS score as being 0.1 or lower.
When Will the Google Page Experience Update Go Into Effect?
Given that so many website owners had their time and energy focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Google initially shared there will be six months notice before the changes to factor in Core Web Vitals go into effect. Google announced that these page experience signals will roll out starting in May 2021.
Once this algorithm update starts going into effect, it’s important to note that quality content will still be a priority. Google has stated that if a site has relevant, quality information, but also has a few technical issues that impact their Core Web Vitals ratings, those technical issues won’t outweigh the value of the content. However, Core Web Vitals may become more of a deciding factor when Google is ranking pages that deal with lots of similar content. Because of this, good Core Web Vitals scores may give an edge to sites that target highly competitive keywords.
After the update is in effect, Google also expects that the components of the Core Web Vitals will continually be updated on a yearly basis to better encompass factors that relate to user experience.
How Can I Check My Core Web Vitals?
In addition to rolling our Core Web Vitals as a report in Google Search Console, these metrics are also reported in other tools Google provides: PageSpeed Insights, Lighthouse, Chrome DevTools, Chrome UX Report, and the Web Vitals Extension, which can be added to Chrome browsers.
Google will be using field data based on real user experiences, rather than crawl simulations, to evaluate Core Web Vitals data. Tools like Search Console and PageSpeed Insights report on data aggregated over the last 28 days. Once improvements are made to a site in order to remediate issues with Core Web Vitals, there might still be a lag between the site updates and when positive data will be seen in testing. However, any updates that improve user experience will be worthwhile regardless of how long it takes to see improvements reflected in testing
Many of the signals included in this update are factors the SEO team at TRAFFIC has already been looking at as part of the work we routinely do on behalf of our clients. For any issues with page experience, we commonly work right alongside our web development team to identify the best solutions to improve page experience. We’ll be closely watching for new information about the Google Page Experience update so that we can ensure our clients are fully prepared once Google decides to move forward.