Creating a Comprehensive Guide Hub that Users Care About
With the Page Experience update looming, we’ve put together a guide for publishers on everything you need to know about Web Vitals and Core Web Vitals to prepare.
Core Web Vitals are a subset of Web Vitals, an initiative by Google to provide guidance on quality signals essential for a great web user experience. They apply to all pages and should be measured by site owners, each representing a facet of the user’s experience.
The current set for 2021 focuses on three elements: loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
It includes the following metrics:
For each of the above metrics, a good threshold to measure is the 75th percentile of page loads, segmented across mobile and desktop devices. Read more here.
Google plans to update page experience signals on an annual basis, so this will continue to evolve. We will see more Web Vitals added as search ranking signals in the future.
Google is on a mission to improve web standards and set a benchmark for all publishers. There are hundreds of factors that Google takes into account when it comes to web page rankings, many of which are kept away from the public eye to prevent manipulation.
Core Web Vitals will be added to Google’s existing page experience factors, which include:
Currently, the page experience update that will focus on Core Web Vitals is planned for May 2021, though there is no specific date announced just yet.
As with previous pre-announced updates, it may be that Google will announce the release as it is rolling out, so you should expect it any day throughout the month unless otherwise informed.
Update 20/04/2021: Google have now postponed the update and plan to release it in mid-June 2021. They have said that the release will be gradual, to ensure that they’re able to catch and resolve any issues that may occur. We should not expect to see the update play its full role until at least the end of August, which gives publishers a lot more time to prepare.
Google has provided us with several tools to audit and understand our page quality and experience.
You can use some, or all, of the following tools to gain an understanding of what your site needs to change to pass the Core Web Vitals assessment:
Under ‘Enhancements’ in Google Search Console, you’ll find a report on Core Web Vitals – one for desktop and one for mobile. This uses the Chrome User Experience Report, which collects anonymised real user measurement data. Clicking ‘open report’ will provide you with a list of pages that do not pass Core Web Vital assessments and which elements you need to focus on.
You can either use PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse as a standalone (either in Chrome Dev Tools or as a browser extension) to understand how Google scores your site, and what you need to look at improving.
Please note that Google may use Core Web Vitals data from noindexed pages in the update, so do consider these as part of your assessments.
There are multiple tools that you can use to diagnose the specific issues with your site that are impacting LCP, FID & CLS. Some of the ones we frequently use include:
Earlier this year, Google added Web Vitals to DevTools (built into the Chrome browser) to allow developers to easily troubleshoot and pinpoint issues with page experience.
These use the same traffic light system as other tools Google has provided, with red being the lowest-scoring and green being the highest.
As mentioned, PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse are good tools to understand where your site stands and benchmark performance, but they also provide some details on issues impacting page experience, too. Scoring can sometimes fluctuate depending on multiple factors, so we wouldn’t recommend you use your performance scores as absolute benchmarks, but they’re good to use relatively.
LCP measures when the largest content element in the viewport becomes visible, and you can learn more about how to optimise LCP here. The most common causes include:
To optimise First Input Delay, we would recommend reading Google Developer’s guide on how to optimise FID. Typically, the causes of poor FID are:
Google Developers have a good post on debugging layout shifts, listing these as the most common causes of CLS issues:
As mentioned previously in this post, Google uses hundreds of signals to determine web page rankings, and Core Web Vitals will be just three of them. Looking back at a post from January 2017 regarding the ‘Intrusive Interstitials’ update, Google said:
“This new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking and the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.” – Google
Though posted four years ago, this is still relevant today. John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, has echoed this sentiment a few times within the last year:
The thresholds for Core Web Vitals are fixed thresholds. If you’re just thinking of ranking, then keep in mind that we use a lot of factors in ranking, and their importance can & does change over time, by query, by intent, etc.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 12, 2020
On the one hand, you’re just looking at a part of the picture there, you kinda need to compare apples with apples.
However, I would recommend taking a step back from CWV and instead working to *significantly* improve your site’s content first.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) January 21, 2021
If you do not pass all of the requirements when the update is released, you shouldn’t worry too much – it may well be that your site still ranks well due to other factors Google is considering.
However, you should strive to achieve the best performance scores possible ahead of May and look to continuously improve your website as the web evolves for long-term success in SEO.
Update 20/04/2021: Google have postponed the release of the update and have reiterated the following: “As we have said before, while this update is designed to highlight pages that offer great user experiences, page experience remains one of many factors our systems take into account. Given this, sites generally should not expect drastic changes. In addition, because we’re doing this as a gradual rollout, we will be able to monitor for any unexpected or unintended issues.”
Aside from the potential ranking boost that may come over time from meeting Core Web Vital requirements, there’s also the added bonus of enhanced user experience, which may ultimately lead to increased conversion across your site. Google released an impact calculator to estimate the potential revenue impact you could see by improving your mobile website speed – you can test your own site here.
Google will also be releasing a badge in search results to indicate sites that pass the Core Web Vitals thresholds.
This will not hold any ranking benefit, but it may influence click-through rate should it become a standard across all web users.
Clearly, our technical team has quite the handle on this stuff, so if you’re looking for a strategic search agency with a steady finger on the industry’s pulse, get in touch here.
Creating a Comprehensive Guide Hub that Users Care About