From mid-June 2021, page experience will be an official ranking factor on Google's search engine. Optimising websites for a high quality user experience is now more important than ever for the long-term success of your websites.
Improving page speeds and the overall user experience (UX) have long been a focus of SEO best practices, but until recently there were few concrete guidelines to follow. That changed when Google introduced Core Web Vitals last year.
Core Web Vitals give website owners measurable metrics to take the guesswork out of optimising UX. If your pages are slow to load or have other issues that are affecting their performance, you can now get detailed insights into the key areas you need to improve.
What are the Core Web Vitals?
User experience has become increasingly important for SEO in recent years, but general understanding and advice on the topic has often been vague or not focused on what really matters – how users actually interact with websites.
As their name suggests, Core Web Vitals answer the growing need for specific advice straight from Google about what ranking factors are most important for users (and therefore Google's search algorithm).
Page experience score is influenced by many factors, but the core vitals are likely to make the greatest contributions for years to come. These factors are expected to evolve over time, but as of 2021, Google's three key criteria for page speed and user experience are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – the loading performance of a page
- First Input Delay (FID) – the time it takes for users to interact with a page
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – the visual stability of pages during loading
(Image Source: Search Engine Journal)
These 3 ranking factors can influence everything from web design to the content on the page. Read more about the individual Web Vitals and how to improve your performance below.
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP measures how long it takes a page to load and display its most important content on the screen. This may be a central image, video, text or other elements.
LCP is more relevant to the real user experience than conventional measures of page loading time, as it considers what users want to see when first opening a page.
Google's target for good LCP is within 2.5 seconds of a page starting to load. Pages that take 4.0 seconds or longer are considered to have poor LCP.
2. First Input Delay (FID)
FID measures the responsiveness of a page, or how long it takes for a page to become interactive for users after loading. This includes actions such as:
- clicking a link or navigation button
- opening drop-down menus
- entering text into fields
FID can be especially vital for homepages and login or registration pages. Google recommends FID of less than 100 milliseconds and no more than 300 milliseconds after a page has loaded.
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures how stable the visual elements of a page are during loading from the perspective of the user.
A page with good (low) CLS will remain relatively static, with page elements that don't jump around, so users can move to the right area and won't accidentally click on something they didn't mean to.
Google considers CLS values of less than 0.1 to be good and more than 0.25 to be poor.
Why are Core Web Vitals important?
Page experience is a vital ranking factor for websites in 2021. Slow loading times and unresponsive pages are no longer acceptable and will cost you traffic and conversions. Core Web Vitals makes the mechanics of SEO more transparent by showing you exactly what you need to improve.
Google hasn't disclosed all of the 200+ factors that its complex search algorithm uses to rank web pages, but any new metrics they do announce should be taken seriously by webmasters and developers. Having a new set of ranking signals to think about may be a hassle, but if your site is lagging behind in one or more areas, bringing it up to speed could have huge benefits.
It's important to note that Core Web Vitals don't replace existing user experience metrics, so you still need to make sure your website is mobile responsive, secure (HTTPS, not HTTP) and free from intrusive pop-ups, among other considerations.
How to improve your Core Web Vitals
Google announced its new Web Vitals being rolled out in May 2020, and they're about to come into play as important ranking factors as of mid-June.
If you're ready to review and improve your website's user experience, Google has made it straightforward to analyse your pages through Google Search Console, which features a new section – Core Web Vitals Report.
This report analyses the performance of your website pages according to each metric based on real, anonymous user data gathered by Google's Chrome User Experience Report, so you don't have to set up analytics manually. You can troubleshoot more issues using PageSpeed Insights.
For each of the three Core Web Vitals, your page will be rated 'good,' 'needs improvement' or 'poor,' based on its last analysed performance. To give you a head start on moving up the ranks, fixes for common problems are detailed below.
1. Improve LCP
PageSpeed Insights will tell you if any large page elements are taking too long to load. Fixes can include:
- Removing large page elements
- Removing unnecessary third-party scripts
- Moving to a faster web host
- Setting up 'lazy loading' that only loads images when the user scrolls down
2. Improve FID
To make your pages respond faster, consider:
- Removing unnecessary third-party scripts
- Using a browser cache to load content faster
3. Improve CLS
To minimise the shifting of page elements during loading:
- Use set size attribute dimensions for images, video and other page elements
- Reserve space for ads so they don't move content around
- Move dynamic page elements below the fold so they'll be out of sight during loading
How to find your Web Core Vitals results?
There are a few ways to do so:
- Under Google Search Console as mentioned above
- One of the simplest ways is to download a free Chrome plugin. Click here for one.
- If you're familiar with Chrome's dev tools, in the latest release Chrome has a new feature to show you. This Google article shows you how.
Important: Results can vary from test to test, even within a few seconds apart. It is recommended to test multiple times over a short space of time to get more of an average, rather than only from the first test.
Need help bringing your site up to speed?
If you're worried about Google's latest algorithm updates affecting your website's performance – but you don't have the time or the knowhow to make the changes yourself – Quantum's web developers in Sydney can help out with the technical side, or our designers can work with you to create a new website that checks all the boxes.