Google is notoriously secretive about updates made to their algorithm.
So, when they announced their Page Experience, Core Web Vitals update last May, and gave users a full years’ notice, as well as clear website optimization guidelines, it was an indicator that this change was going to be big.
Here’s what you need to know about that update, specifically 1) what sites are most likely to be affected and 2) what you should do to protect yourself, to ensure your SEO value remains strong once the changes are made.
What Is the Google Page Experience Update?
An update that will be pushed out in May, 2021 with the focus on encouraging websites to deliver a positive user experience. Google plans on achieving this goal by improving the ranking of pages that are fast, mobile-friendly, and secure, while making it harder for pages to rank that don’t meet their Core Web Vitals.
Do Other SEO Factors Still Have Value?
Page experience will be a key ranking factor going forward, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be the only major ranking factor, or even that it will be the most important one.
If you want to have a “good page” on an SEO front, there are a lot of different elements that affect whether a page is “good” from an SEO perspective, but the most important areas to focus on are:
- Content: SEO performance is always going to be led by creating relevant, well-written content that addresses the users needs—above all else, you want good content before you focus on any other area for SEO. This is not likely to change anytime soon.
- Backlinks: The fastest and most immediate way to build a site’s authority is to receive backlinks from well-regarded websites in your field. Google rewards sites that have relevance and authority, which means that there are many major pages who do not perform well on the Google Experience side who will still rank for thousands, or even millions, of terms.
- Security: An SSL certificate (the “s” in your https://) is essential to rank on Google.
- Speed, mobile friendliness, and a positive user experience: These are all addressed in the Page Experience update, but have long been a ranking factor. The only difference is that, starting in May, they will have more value (though still, in our estimation, less than content and backlinks).
What Are the Core Web Vitals?
While Page Experience is affected by metrics like speed and mobile-friendliness, Google has created three “Core Web Vitals” to help measure a site’s ability to provide a positive experience.
But what is a “Core Web Vital”? According to Google, “Web Vitals is an initiative by Google to provide unified guidance for quality signals that are essential to delivering a great user experience on the web.”
These Core Web Vitals will be the backbone to the May update. If you can master these and how to optimize them, you may find yourself having a head start against your competition on the digital landscape.
Keep in mind, the Page Experience update factors in more than just these three Core Web Vitals. On top of optimizing in these areas, the update will reward sites for 1) speed 2) security and 3) mobile usability.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
The Largest Contentful Paint, or LCP, tells us how long it takes for the largest piece of content on a page to load. Size can mean a lot of things with a website—in this case, the “largest” piece of content is the image, banner, or block of content that takes up the largest amount of space on your screen.
The purpose of having a fast LCP time is the perceived speed of the page, since when the largest section of the page loads faster, the rest of the page appears to load more quickly. Anything faster than 2.5 seconds is considered “good” but anything slower than 4 seconds is “bad.”
What should you do? When designing, or redesigning a site, the best way to optimize your LCP is to make the largest piece of content on your site as small as possible and have it load as early as possible.
For a deep dive into ways to optimize LCP, Google has provided a useful, in-depth guide.
First Input Delay (FID)
While the LCP speaks to the perceived speed of a page, First Input Delay, or FID, measures how interactive a site is. Essentially, it measures the time it takes between a user interacting with your site and that action taking place. If you click a link, how long does it take for that new page to open?
A fast site has an input speed of under 100 milliseconds, and anything over 300 milliseconds fails the Google Core Value test. This value, also known as “Time Till Interactive” or TTI, tries to quantify what a user might feel dealing with an unresponsive site.
When trying to design an appropriately responsive site, Google’s dev team has provided a guide with best practices.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Ultimately it measures visual stability. Once your page loads, anything that causes your page to move unexpectedly will hurt your CLS score. It also means that some animations and most pop-ups are going to be heavily discouraged in the future once the Page Experience Update is pushed out.
This is meant to improve the user experience. Think about when you’re reading an article, and an image suddenly loads to make you lose your place—it’s a little annoying.
What should you do? This item is the one of the most difficult areas to fix, as any changes to improve this score often have to be done through altering integral design elements to the site. But as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid pop ups, and limit animation that might shift any on-page content.
Once again, Google has an in-depth guide for everything that pertains to CLS.
How Do You Check Your Core Web Vitals Score?
To understand your site’s score, just plug in your URL. You’ll be given your scores on mobile and desktop, as well as suggested fixes to make to improve your site score.
My Site Didn’t Pass the Core Web Vitals. Should I Be Worried?
It’s important to avoid alarmism when it comes to SEO. Pages that pass these Core Web Vitals are more likely to see their rankings boosted, but it seems unlikely that sites who excel in other factors—like content, structure, and backlinks—will be actively penalized. Even Google has urged caution, saying the most relevant sites will still receive the most rank consideration, hinting that websites will not be affected as much as most SEOs fear, using the word “tiny” when describing the benefit given to sites that pass Core Web Vitals.
Our advice? Do what you can to maximize your performance in these metrics, but don’t let it consume your efforts. If you continue to provide valuable content and services that meet your users’ wants and needs, you can overcome any underperforming Web Vitals.
And, if it helps, you wouldn’t be alone: right now, 87% of ecommerce sites fail at least one of the Core Web Vitals.
SEO is a complicated, but essential, process for any digital marketing campaign. And while we’ve discussed the basics of search engine optimization in the past, it’s always important to remember that SEO is constantly changing, and you have to be prepared for anything. That includes paying close attention to major changes, like the Google Page Experience update.