This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2020.
Google’s new ranking factor, Core Web Vitals, has begun its rollout. Find out what it means, why you should pay attention, and how it can affect your search engine optimization (SEO).
Here, you’ll find:
- What Core Web Vitals are
- How to assess your current Web Vitals
- Tips for improving your Core Web Vitals
- Other ways Google grades your site
Core Web Vitals are a relatively new concept in the SEO world. They’re a set of metrics related to the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of pages on your site. So, why are they a big deal?
For starters, Google announced them ahead of time last year, giving us a several-month heads up about these Vitals becoming a ranking factor at some point this year. In our experience, this means it’s going to be extremely important. Since they’ve already begun rolling out these new metrics, let’s break down what Core Web Vitals are and how you can make sure yours are on the right track.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Google defines Core Web Vitals as a metric that shows how your pages perform based on real-world usage data. Basically, they’re a set of factors that Google refers to when scoring a page experience and overall user experience, from page loading to how quickly it becomes interactive.
Core Web Vitals are made up of three specific page speed and user interaction measurements:
- Largest Contentful Paint or LCP (loading)
- First Input Delay or FID (interactivity)
- Cumulative Layout Shift or CLS (visual stability)
Other Web Vitals, also called Page Experience metrics, include mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, and HTTPS.
Core Web Vitals are an official ranking factor in 2021
In late May 2020, Google announced that these Vitals would become an important ranking signal in 2021. This piqued the interest of digital marketers and SEO pros, since Google doesn’t always announce updates. When they do, it usually means they’re rather significant.
Luckily, this heads-up meant people had more time to prepare and make sure their websites are up to snuff. While Core Web Vitals were slated to take effect in May 2021, they decided to push the date back and give people even more time to prep their sites.
They chose to start a gradual rollout in June 2021 which is set to be complete by the end of August. It appears this was for the best, considering that nearly half of websites still weren’t meeting Google’s Core Web Vitals standards.
As Search Engine Journal reports, the ideal Core Web Vitals are:
- An ideal Largest Contentful Paint measurement of 2.5 seconds or faster
- A First Input Delay of less than 100 ms
- A Cumulative Layout Shift of less than 0.1
How Google currently ranks sites
These new Vitals are another ranking factor to go along with the existing SEO ranking factors Google has in place. Unfortunately, there’s no guidebook or cheat sheet that tells us exactly what Google looks for when ranking sites.
However, things like SEO experiments and Google patents have helped marketers deduce that factors like relevant content, overall page speed, domain history, keywords, and a good sitemap can all help your ranking improve.
Ways Core Web Vitals could impact your ranking
Web Vitals are graded on a scale of pass, needs improvement, or fail. If it takes a while for your page to fully render or respond to clicks, or if your layout shifts around drastically, your score is bound to drop.
Not only will your grade impact your rankings in search results on mobile and desktop, but Moz reports that “Core Web Vitals are going to become a criteria to appear in Google Top Stories” as well. All the more reason to make sure yours are in tip-top shape.
Need help getting your Vitals on track? Let’s chat.
How to assess your Core Web Vitals
There are a few ways you can test your web pages’ Vitals. These include the Chrome User Experience Report, the Core Web Vitals report through Google Search Console, and PageSpeed Insights. There’s even a Chrome extension that will show you the Web Vitals results for a current page.
The tricky part here is that your score can change as you scroll through a page and whether you’re accessing it via mobile or desktop. You also want to determine whether you’re looking at Web Vitals “lab” data or “field” data. The former is collected and approximated through a browser’s API, while the latter is collected from actual user experiences on your site.
Improving your Core Web Vitals
Page experience is just one of hundreds of factors Google reportedly uses to rank sites. However, considering the growing importance of user experience in digital marketing, along with Google co-founder Larry Page’s belief that user experience is the most important thing, it stands to reason that these Vitals will be the most impactful piece of that particular pie. For that reason, you want to do what you can to improve yours before Google officially finishes making it a ranking factor.
As Backlinko explains, the Chrome User Experience Report will show you the LCP data across your entire site. From there, you can address pages with poor scores and work to optimize them through things like upgrading your web host or compressing images.
For poor FID, you may want to implement a browser cache or remove unnecessary third-party scripts. For CLS issues, you can make sure ads aren’t moving around on your pages and set media size attribute dimensions. Search Engine Journal has some great advice on identifying and fixing issues that should help as well.
Pro tip: After making adjustments to your website, it may take time for your Core Web Vitals score to improve. Google is still figuring out exactly how often they’ll be assessed and updated. It likely won’t be immediate. so don’t panic if you don’t see changes reflected right away. It could take as much as 28 days to see measurable improvements.
For better or worse, making sure your site is primed for search engines is a never-ending process. With Google making algorithm updates near-constantly, the measurement of what makes a website optimized is always changing.
But an update rarely, if ever, means having to totally revamp your site. This is especially true if you’ve been following SEO practices, publishing quality content, and keeping user experience in mind. By priming your site for a high Core Web Vitals score, you’ll be ensuring that your site stays in Google’s good graces as they finish implementing their gradual rollout over the next several weeks.