How Google's Core Web Vitals Affects SEO
By Dylan Hebb
Optimizing for speed is nothing new – but the new kid on the block is page experience.
What is Page Experience?
Page speed has been a ranking signal since 2010, but page experience metrics are being rolled out in 2021 as Google focuses on broad algorithm updates to quantify the quality of the user experience.
These ranking factors are called “Core Web Vitals,” and are intended to help website owners monitor and improve upon the loading speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of their websites – quality signals that Google deems to be essential for a good user experience.
In this article, we’re identifying what business owners, marketers, and developers need to know before taking those actionable steps.
Let’s get started.
What are the 3 Core Web Vitals?
If this is the first time you’re hearing about web vitals, here’s a quick breakdown.
Core Web Vitals was an initiative taken on by Google; with a purpose to easily quantify page experience through the use of quality signals (in the form of metrics).
The main goal is in simplifying the landscape for development and SEO teams, by providing guided assistance, so websites can focus on prioritized key metrics.
These core vitals focus on page loading, interactivity/responsiveness, and visual stability.
Specifically – LCP, FID, and CLS:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. This metric is directly related to speed. This marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely been loaded.
- First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity and responsiveness. This metric measures the time from when a user interacts with a page (i.e., they click on a call to action), to the time the browser processes the event.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability.This metric measures the layout shift of a page. This can occur any time a visible element changes the position from one rendered frame to another. One example could be when you’re clicking on a form, and the CTAs on that form aren’t consistently located from window to window, and they’re shifting around at each stage.
The benchmarks for these vitals are clearly set by Google. They state you should have an LCP of at least 2.5 seconds, FID of 100 milliseconds, and a CLS of 0.1 to be able to pass.
Anything below these benchmarks has room for improvement.
How do I check my Core Web Vitals with Google?
Google is very upfront in how you can measure these vitals.
In fact, there are a number of helpful tools available to help you monitor, prioritize, and improve website performance.
Tools that measure your Core Web Vitals
The Core Web Vitals report is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of pages. With the use of field data, you will get a summary view of what aspects of the page performance require attention.
In order to come up with a prioritized list – I would recommend starting with the Core Web Vitals report that is powered by Lighthouse.
Below is a sample report:
How to Improve Core Web Vitals
The first step is to think ahead, by making page experience your priority. Don’t wait until organic traffic has already dropped to prioritize it.
According to research from Chromium, when a page hits the core vital thresholds “users are 24% less likely to abandon page loads.” This research was analyzed across millions of page impressions.
Begin by running an audit to identify the most problematic areas of your website. If you’re failing the Core Web Vitals assessment across the board, you will need to come up with a prioritized list of pages or sections.
Wherever your starting point is, I’d recommend prioritizing the quick wins before jumping into the metric with the lowest score.
If you can hit the benchmark of one vital metric with less time and effort, focus on that improvement first.
What Causes Poor Web Vitals?
What is specifically causing poor LCP, FID, and CLS scores? According to Google, the most common causes of a poor LCP include:
- Slow server response times
- Slow resource load times
- Client-side rendering
You want to begin with measuring and debugging poor LCP, utilize Lighthouse through Chrome DevTools.
Below are some resources to optimize your FID score:
- Break up Long Tasks
- Optimize your page for interaction readiness
- Use a web worker
Each website is different. To learn how to improve FID for your site specifically – you will need to run a performance audit and prioritize the opportunities that the Lighthouse tool suggests.
Last but not least, the most common causes of a poor CLS are:
- Images without dimensions
- Ads, embeds, and iframes without dimensions
- Dynamically injected content
- Web Fonts causing FOIT/FOUT
- Actions waiting for a network response before updating DOM
Check out Google’s CLS Optimization guide to learn how to optimize the common causes of layout shifts. All media (including dynamic ads) on websites should have defined width and height to avoid sizing shifts leading to poor experience scoring.
The Future of Core Web Vitals
As it should be no surprise to anyone – Google is prioritizing the user experience when it comes to optimizing for search.
These changes will force businesses to re-think how they deliver digital products.
There are a few concepts and strategies that will set yourself up for success with SEO and page experience scaling long-term:
- Customer-centric mindset: Simply – focus on the customer. Google has taken a clear shift away from flimsy performance metrics and more to user value. What benefits the customer is a responsive, fast experience that provides the end goal with minimal friction along the way. The data is there to back this up.
- Regular audits: Drops in traffic due to algorithm changes shouldn’t come as a surprise. Technical SEO audits need to be done regularly to be able to deliver the development team’s requirements and address issues before they become traffic losses.
- Quality content: Most importantly, don’t sacrifice the quality of your content for Core Web Vitals. “While all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.” – Google Webmaster Central Blog.
There are a number of benefits to be had when you focus on improving your Core Web Vitals.
First, you won’t need to worry about missed traffic opportunities from organic sources, and second, it will improve your overall user experience.
With less than 15% of sites meeting the Core Web Vitals benchmarks, it’s time to invest in this competitive advantage.
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