There are many metrics that look at aspects of the overall user experience. Some of those metrics have much more impact on the experience than others. The goal of web developers and webmasters has always been to make sure the visitor is having the best experience possible on the website. Different sites take different approaches to what their users will most important, looking at things like loading times, messaging, design elements, and navigation.
User experience (UX) has always been considered a fairly subjective measurement.
Google has outlined Web Vitals to help clarify measurements that impact some of the most important elements in the user experience. In May of 2020, Google announced it would be releasing the Core Web Vitals and rolling them into the algorithm for 2021.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Web Vitals are metrics Google uses to measure the page experience signals of your website. These performance metrics help Google rate what your site offers a visitor. These factors will include things like:
- Clean/safe site for safe-browsing (not malware loaded or full of popups)
- Navigation (not being a dead-end page)
- Responsive design (mobile-friendliness)
Core Web Vitals are the most important website factors that Google has outlined. Core Web Vitals are a subset within Web Vitals that Google has given extra weight. They are considered the most important elements of the user experience. There are three aspects that impact user experience that have been highlighted as most important:
- Loading: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID)
- Visual Stability: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Each of these metrics has been given a recommended target range (or threshold) that should be reached for the majority of users. These Core Web Vitals are supposed to boil down some of the most important aspects of your page into an objective formula. In this way, webmasters and developers have a much easier time predicting at least part of what will impact their ranking factor with Google.
Based on Google’s announcement, Core Web Vitals will make up a significant chunk of your site’s overall ranking signals (maybe even the biggest chunk).
Why are Core Web Vitals Important?
There are some things about your page that matter more than others.
For example, the images should be captivating and fit your brand. However, if they don’t load quickly, your visitor is very likely to bounce from your entire site. So, maintaining a fast loading time is more important than how those images appear. While users care about the look, that is secondary to seeing them in the first place.
The fact that Google plans to make page experience an official ranking factor makes them even more important.
Google is the top search engine, and most websites will be adjusting to optimize their placement in the search ranking. So, getting to know these Core Web Vitals and meeting their thresholds will be a pretty big deal for SERP.
To rise through the search engine results and land on the first page, websites have to create valuable content that centers on keywords users are searching with. Now, SEO (search engine optimization) to improve organic listing results will need to include Core Web Vitals.
Of course, meeting these experience expectations and getting a good score isn’t going to push you to the top. Google stated there are around 200 factors used to rank sites in their search results. The company specifically noted in an announcement that, “A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
How to Measure Core Web Vitals
Before Google changes the algorithm to heavily weigh in the Core Web Vitals score, you will want to adjust your site. We are going to go over each of the three Core Web Vitals and look at how each is measured.
Check Your Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) Score
Page loading time is a big deal. Most users are going to bounce if your web page takes even a fraction of a second too long.
Google found that pages that went from one second to five seconds to load increased their bounce rate by 90%.
That is a very significant number. People aren’t going to stick around and see what loads. If your home page or landing page is slow, they will assume the entire experience is going to be slow. And that research was done by Google in 2017. If we know anything about users, it’s that over the past three years, they are more demanding and not less. Google realizes how important this number is, making it one of the three biggest factors in your website score.
This is not a new focus. In fact, Google first announced the “Speed Update” in 2018, pushing companies to improve their page load times. However, the update at that time was focused on penalizing the very slowest pages and most sluggish sites. Google noted, “The ‘Speed Update,’ as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries.”
The newer change with LCP is different and much more intensive for websites. LCP measures the amount of time it takes for the majority of content to appear after the initial click. A better LCP score means that users can see and interact with your page faster.
This is very different from First Contentful Paint (FCP), which measures how long it takes the first element to load. Largest Contentful Paint is looking at the majority of page elements to consider how long your real users have to wait to utilize the page.
You can check your LCP score through Google PageSpeed Insights.
The results will be measured based on performance with Google Chrome and give a score for performance over the past 30 days. A Chrome user experience report will give you a good idea of what a real user experiences when visiting your web page, but it can be a hassle to check each individual page this way.
To check your entire site’s LCP score, use your Google Search Console.
This will look at every page and tell you which ones are good, bad, or need improvement.
- Good LCP is anything under 2.5 seconds
- LCP Needs Improvement is 2.5-4 seconds
- Poor LCP is anything over 4 seconds
From code to high-res images, several factors will impact your loading time. If you need to improve your LCP score, Keep reading, and we will cover that below.
Check Your First Input Delay (FID) Score
The next Core Web Vital measures how users can interact with your page. This score measures responsiveness and how long it takes to be able to do things like:
- Operate the menu
- Click a link to navigate to another page
- Enter an email into a field
- Use the search feature
- Open “accordion text” in responsive design
These all affect how your users are able to operate elements of your website. Like the LCP factor, a sluggish website is going to frustrate users and make them more likely to bounce. Google is trying to give the upper hand to websites that are optimizing the UX.
This is huge for pages that require a login or a landing page with a signup focus. It isn’t as important on pages that are 100% content (like blog posts or press releases).
The FID score is going to affect users when they are trying to interact with the site rather than look at the content.
To check your site’s FID score, use your Google Search Console.
You might notice that the page comes up as “Not Started” under the Validation section if you do not have these interactive elements on the page. However, if there are fields or menus to access, the score is ranked by good, bad, or need improvement.
- Good FID is anything under 100 MS
- FID Needs Improvement is 100-300 MS
- Poor FID is anything over 300 MS
We will talk about improving that score further down if you have pages that are rated poorly.
Check Your Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) Score
Visual stability refers to how your page moves around as it loads. Your page really should not move around because it causes accidental clicks and makes the loading time messy. Have you ever visited a site and went to click on a button or menu, only to have the page suddenly shift to make room for a new image or element. Now, you have clicked on something you did not mean to and have to back up, wait on the page to load fully (so you do not accidentally click something), and find out where the button shifts to before you click again. It is disruptive and inconvenient.
Google measures the total layout shift scores for any unexpected page element shifts that occur during the visit. Those shifts are defined by visible component changes between frames. The layout shift score is determined by measuring the movement through the impact fraction and distance fraction.
Not all layout shifts are bad. If you open a cascading menu, for example, the layout might change. Layout shifts are only bad if the user is not expecting it to happen. Unexpected layout shifts during the loading (verses shifts during as a direct response to user interactions) are usually bad. But, shifts related to actual user interactions (and responses that are clear to the user) are usually fine.
To check your site’s CLS score, use your Google Search Console.
The layout shift score is the impact fraction plus the distance fraction. You want to keep your score as low as possible. Like with the first two Core Web Vitals, the CLS score is ranked by good, bad, or need improvement.
- Good CLS is anything under 0.1
- CLS Needs Improvement is 0.1-0.25
- Poor CLS is anything over 0.25
We will talk about improving that score within the next section if you have pages that are rated poorly.
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How to Improve Core Web Vitals
While it might feel like Google is just constantly changing their demands, the ultimate goal is to provide users with the kind of content they want. This means that your changes should all be made to improve the user’s experience, keeping relevance and value in mind. The better you can target your audience with content, the better your SEO ranking should be.
Google gave brands time to make changes before they roll out the algorithm that weights Core Web Vitals. If your scores are low, you should focus on improving these three Core Web Vitals in the very near future.
Here are some actionable tips for improving your Core Web Vitals.
Improve Your LCP Score
As we discussed, slowly loading pages will often cause users to bounce. Most visitors are not going to wait around for your page to finish loading. This is often caused by large elements on the page or clunky code. Improving your LCP score will help give users a fast and painless navigation experience.
You will probably notice the LCP score is the worst on the pages that have the most images. Here are some ways to improve that score:
- Remove unnecessary scripts from third parties.
- Upgrade your web host to a better (faster) company.
- Set up lazy loading that will only load elements as someone scrolls down the page.
- Remove large LCP elements as Google PageSpeed Insights points them out.
- Always compress images so they are web optimized at 72 dpi.
- Condense your CSS because bulky code will delay LCP times.
Improve Your FID Score
On the applicable pages, it is important to have a good FID score. For pages where you expect fast customer interaction (like a login page), you really want to make sure this score is good. This is not a metric that deals with continuous interaction types, like scrolling or zooming. Instead, this is measuring the delay from when the user clicks to when the action is fully processed.
If your buttons and forms take a long time to respond, the user has a higher chance of bouncing before their action is complete. So, improving this score on the relevant pages is important. Here are a few ways to improve the FID score:
- Remove unnecessary scripts from third parties.
- Establish a browser cache, allowing content to load faster for return visitors.
Improve Your CLS Score
In order to make the visit better for users and meet requirements for Google ranking factors in 2021, you will want to update pages with a poor CLS page rating. This will help your site offer a smoother experience to your visitors so they are more likely to stick around.
To improve that score you will want to make changes that stop the page from shifting as it loads or unexpectedly shifting with user activity. Some of the things you will want to change include:
- Use set size attributes for all media dimensions (images, GIFs, video, etc.) so the browser holds the space as everything on your web page loads.
- Reserve spaces for any ad elements you are including, or they will appear suddenly, pushing the page around and potentially causing an accidental click.
- Add any new user interface elements below the fold so, the initial design isn’t altered if the user clicks on something.
- Be careful with your dynamic content injection for email signup forms, GDPR notices, and similar elements. Avoid responsiveness that will surprise your users or shift content.
- Watch out for custom font loading. Use graphics or preload font files in select cases (do not overuse this, or you can bog down your site).
Improving Your Core Web Vitals for SEO
Google algorithms change constantly. Not only that, but user expectations for optimum experience are also changing fast. So, these new metrics are worth adapting to as soon as possible.
Keeping up with SEO trends for 2021 may require a lot of complex