What are Core Web Vitals: Why This Ranking Signal Matters
Google is known to make changes and updates in their search ranking algorithm every so often, which are more often than not, unannounced. That being said, Google does occasionally release an announcement when changes are made to ranking factors. This works like a heads-up to webmasters, SEO consultants, and website development agencies, saying, “Hey! You might want to check this out and prepare your website.”
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals now serve as one of the hundreds of search ranking factors. On November 11, 2020, Google announced that the launching of page experience ranking signals—an integration of Core Web Vitals and preexisting UX-related signals—was going to happen in May 2021. And here we are.
Basically, Core Web Vitals qualify the real-world metrics of a user’s experience of a website; is it mobile-friendly? Am I browsing securely? Does the page take too long to load? As a ranking factor, one can imagine how this has the potential to affect SEO, as it’s based on how a website performs. It scores a website according to specific metrics influencing page speed and user interaction:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
A good way to look at this is to see how Google wants to perceive your website’s overall UX, which is what matters at the end of the day, providing users the exact results that they need in a helpful and useful way.
So, why are Core Web Vitals Important?
With the growing significance of page experience, here are some of the factors that Google deems impactful towards UX:
- Lack of interstitial pop-ups
These factors do have a hand in a website’s page experience, so optimizing for these is going to be helpful, but Core Web Vitals is likely going to have more weight in achieving a healthy score. That said, how influential page experience can be in search rankings is still going to depend on the website’s overall performance. This essentially means that optimizing solely for page experience won’t get a website on the first page of a SERP if, for example, its content isn’t helpful to the user.
Again, it helps remembering that Google has around 200 ranking factors to consider, and page experience is one of many. However, this doesn’t mean that page experience isn’t worth optimizing—in the case of multiple pages competing with the same content relevancy, page experience increases visibility in search. And here are other practical reasons to improve Core Web Vitals:
- It allows a website to future-proof itself by staying competitive in search, as the qualities of page experience can only expand as an official part of Google’s search ranking algorithm.
- It provides valuable online experiences to users, keeping them happy; and happy users translate to Google rewarding a website with better rankings.
- It enables better conversion rates through a seamless experience for any target audience in the buyer’s journey.
As a digital marketer for a website development company worth their salt, it’s quite crucial to know how Core Web Vitals carry the potential to influence the performance of an SEO campaign. This also gives webmasters and SEO analysts an idea on how to optimize for it, should it affect a website’s ranking results. And for business owners, understanding the buyer’s motivation can help develop on-page experience through UX and UI.
Core Web Vitals: The Three Signals Being Measured
Now that we’re familiarized with Core Web Vitals, let’s talk about the three metrics that define its score: the LCP, FID, and CLS. How are these specifics being measured? How do we determine if there’s an issue and how can we resolve it? The discussion on these can get technical, so I’ll try to make it as straightforward as possible.
Address Loading Times with Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP, in its simplest terms, refers to how fast a web page loads. So, the factors that Google looks at here include: rendering times, the various types of media like videos and images, and all the text in the viewport.
This is what distinguishes LCP from other metrics that determine page speed—it accurately paints the picture of a user’s experience as they open a page. Check for a web page’s LCP on Google PageSpeed Insights. PageSpeed Insights provides data on the different areas of a page that can be improved based on Chrome users.
Google Search Console provides similar data on LCP, but the advantage when using GSC is that it allows webmasters and SEO analysts to review the LCP data of an entire website, instead of having to check every page individually. Google’s LCP guidelines are hinged on a three-point grading system on a scale of: Good, Needs Improvement, and Poor. And to achieve a “Good” LCP score, a page should hit an LCP target of 2.5 seconds or less.
Upon reviewing the data, it’s just a natural reaction to think about removing some features and images, for example, to help address any LCP issues that go past 2.5 seconds. Here are a few more ways to optimize for LCP:
- Go for better hosting to harness the strength of faster loading times
- Filter out unnecessary third-party scripts
- Lazy loading makes performance more efficient
- Minification of CSS offers faster response times and less bandwidth
Build Towards Interactivity through First Input Delay (FID)
FID refers to the speed of a website’s responsiveness when a user interacts with an object on the page, say, a “Call Us Now” button. It is measured by how fast (or slow) it takes for user-engagement or interaction to take place within the page.
Ordering food online, for instance, requires the buyer to tick checkboxes from a menu. This also involves moving across pages through the navigation and filling out text fields to complete an order. An online fast-food chain with excellent FID and UI makes it easier for people to order food online.
If a website is responsive, fast, and generally working fine, then all is well, but what about when it’s not? Typically, most consumers will leave a site not because they prefer another brand, but because of the smallest inconveniences and frustrations.
Successfully placing a PO on an action figure online through a hassle-free order form page can make consumers choose one toy store over another. Be the store they choose, right?
And this is what Google chooses to prioritize with FID—the way real consumers are engaging websites.
Google’s FID guidelines measure FID through responsiveness and it accounts for the time it takes for a user to perform an action on the page. A “Good” FID score hovers 0.1 seconds or less—and for a page that requires clicks from the user, having insightful data on FID opens up opportunities to improve.
Here are a few ways to optimize a website’s FID score:
- For CSS, going into the code and minifying files
- Prioritize loading the most important third-party scripts and remove the unnecessary
- Reduce the bandwidth necessary to render a page by minimizing client-side data
- Use Idle until urgent as a code evaluation strategy
Sustain a Seamless Visual Structure with Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS is defined by the visual stability of a web page. In practice, CLS is an issue when the elements of a page shifts around while it’s loading—which means it’s not stable in the eyes of a user.
Take, for example, how as you browse a web page and hover your cursor above “Blog” in the navigation bar, an element loads, and you end up clicking “Shop” instead. As a user, this totally destroys your page experience of a website, and Google wants to address this through CLS.
Google’s CLS guidelines quantify a “Good” score for less than or equal to 0.1, which is determined by any layout shifting on the website’s pages. The less fragmented the experience is on a page, the better it is for the user. Here are some tips to optimizing CLS:
- Set fixed dimensions for all forms of media like images, GIFs, and various video formats, including embedded widgets
- Allocate space for ad elements and avoid placing ads above the viewport
- Utilize UI elements below the fold
- Preload optional fonts
- Prioritize transform animations over elements that can shift the layout
A user’s experience of a website should be simple, straightforward, and seamless. In real-world practice, optimizing CLS by providing visual stability for users is especially important for e-commerce websites, where repeat customers can be key to growing a business.
Core Web Vitals and Why You Should Care About this Ranking Signal
Going over the three factors of Core Web Vitals emphasizes how on-page experience is pushing websites to make changes that ultimately benefit the user. And for online business owners, digital marketing companies, and webmasters—is this a bad thing or a good thing?
Of course, it’s a good thing—because this is what search has always served since the get-go. To provide users with the most relevant results available online for their every query. And there are hundreds of ranking factors to optimize for, as well. Wrapping this up, it might be too early to tell how impactful Core Web Vitals can be to search engine rankings, but it’s quite telling how Google is pointing us towards page experience.