It’s that time again when Google rolls out another algorithm update in an attempt to improve its search functionality and give users the best possible experience.
In fact, user experience is at the heart of the new Google update, which will add Core Web Vitals to their list of signals for page experience, making seven in total – seven signals that anyone attempting to perform SEO must understand.
On this page, we’ll take a close look at the Core Web Vitals, breaking them down and telling you what they mean.
We’ll also take a look at the other four, page experience search signals: mobile friendliness, safety, HTTPS and intrusive interstitials.
Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll be ready for the upcoming update, scheduled for May 2021.
Understanding Core Web Vitals
If you’re going to be ready for the new update, you absolutely have to understand the three Core Web Vitals, which are:
To 99% of those reading, these names will mean nothing, so we’ll do some jargon-busting by explaining each of the three below – something that has been made easier by Google’s increased transparency with regard to search algorithms and updates.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This is all about how quickly Google thinks your page loads, meaning that page load speed is going to be even more important than ever moving forward.
Vitally however, it takes into account the speed in which the user will see the largest content on the screen. The metric only considers everything that appears above the fold, i.e. anything you don’t have to scroll down to see.
Only certain types of content are considered when measuring this metric, and they are:
- Text elements
- Image tags
- Background images with CSS
- Video thumbnails
But what is a good loading time, and what is considered too long?
Well, the sites that best match this metric’s requirements are those with a load time of fewer than 2.5 seconds. Anything over 4.0 seconds is considered poor, while anything between 2.5 seconds and 4.0 seconds is classified as needing improvement.
So, it’s now more essential than ever that your website is optimised to load as quickly as possible. This won’t just satisfy Google, as it will also lead to a much better user experience for anyone visiting your website, which is vitally important.
First Input Delay (FID)
Next up is First Input Delay, which is concerned with how quickly users are able to interact with any content painted onto the screen.
Essentially, it measures the time between a user completing an interaction, such as clicking a link, and the website responding to this action. So, you want to avoid input delay as much as possible, to give your user the best possible user experience.
You should remember that First Input Delay only measures the delay between the action being performed and the site reacting to this. It does not take into account the event processing time, nor does it include the time the browser takes to update the UI.
Those looking to impress Google with their First Input Delay should hit a time of less than 100 ms, while pages with a time of over 300 ms will be considered to be poor. Anything in between is classified as needing improvement.
Perfecting your First Input Delay should now be a priority for website owners, and this is something that a top SEO expert will be able to help you with. As with Largest Contentful Paint, getting this aspect of your site right won’t just benefit you – it will benefit your visitors as well.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
The last of the three Core Web Values is Cumulative Layout Shift. While you might not initially know what this is, you’ll almost certainly have experienced it.
It is when the display suddenly moves up or down, often leading to you clicking the wrong option or missing the button you’re aiming for entirely.
This generally happens when elements are added further up the page, causing the entire page to shift down to accommodate them.
In order to be in Google’s good books, you need to ensure that this problem occurs as little as possible. In order to quantify the Cumulative Layer Shift, Google takes the impact fraction and multiplies it by the distance fraction.
Impact fraction is how much of the screen is taken up when both the original element and the element after the layout shift are added together. The distance fraction is how far the element moves down the page.
Google ideally wants your Cumulative Layout Score to be 0.1 or lower. Anything from 0.1 through to 0.25 needs improvement and anything over 0.25 is classed as poor.
SEO experts will generally measure the 75th percentile of page loads in order to determine whether your Cumulative Layout Shift is acceptable or not.
As with the other two aspects of the Core Web Vitals, getting your Cumulative Layout Shift score as low as possible won’t just make you look good to Google, but will also help to provide your visitors with a better experience.
Rolling Out the Page Experience Update
The Page Experience update from Google will add the Core Web Vitals to four other search signals already used to measure page experience. When they are added, the seven signals will show exactly what Google wants users to experience when navigating to your web page.
But what are the other four signals that are part of the page experience? We’ve given a quick outline of each below.
Quite simply, you can’t afford to ignore mobile users anymore. Google now uses mobile friendliness as a signal for every mobile search, and they have done for years. If you’ve not optimised your website for mobile visitors, it should be a top priority, as a huge percentage of people now prefer to use a mobile device than a desktop one.
In order to check how well your site performs in this area, you should use the Mobile-Friendly Test tool offered by Google. If there are any issues, an SEO professional should be able to help you overcome them and perform better for mobile users.
It goes without saying that every visitor to your site should be safe, and Google puts a large emphasis on this. They regularly run checks on websites to check for two threats to users: phishing and malware.
While instances of malware have dropped by a huge amount over the years, Google’s latest figures showed that websites pretend to be legitimate so that they can trick users into typing in their usernames and passwords or sharing other private information (phishing sites), are increasing in an alarming state.
With numbers like this, it’s clear Google is actively looking, and you don’t want your site to be included in these statistics.
If Google finds that your site has been hacked and infected, they’ll send you a message via the Search Console. You can also check the Security Issues report.
Don’t panic too much at this point, but do get things remedied as quickly as possible – Google will be monitoring the time it takes you to respond. If you have any doubts, you should contact a professional, as you could start facing penalties if you don’t sort any problems quickly.
As already mentioned, security is incredibly important for Google. Over the past few years, Google has pushed hard for websites to use HTTPS, and it is now the case that they prefer featuring sites using HTTPS near the top of their rankings.
There are no tests to run when it comes to HTTPS – you either have it, or you don’t. If you don’t, you should make the change as soon as possible. This is something that any SEO expert will be able to do quickly for you.
No Intrusive Interstitials
Finally, Google doesn’t want to see any intrusive interstitials. This is essentially a way of saying that they really don’t like pop-up ads that much.
This is because they impact on the page experience, getting in the way of people seeing what they actually want to see. They can be particularly annoying for mobile users, as they often cover the entire screen, and this is made even worse when they’re not easy to close.
There are three types of interstitials that Google doesn’t like. The first is a pop-up that shows some information behind it, while the second is a pop-up that covers the whole page. The third type is found above a site’s header, forcing the user to scroll down to see the content they’re looking for.
To improve your site’s rankings, as well as boost your user experience, it’s best to get rid of anything that could fall into one of the three above categories.
How Important is Page Experience?
Everyone with a website should pay attention to the Page Experience update and should attempt to meet all of the requirements associated with it. Many of them are pretty simple, such as changing over to HTTPS, however, some are more technical, meaning that they might require help from a professional.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that page experience is the most important factor in determining where you rank. This is because content is still the king. Google themselves have said:
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.
So, make any changes you need to in order to give Google what it wants in terms of page experience, then revert back to doing what you should have been concentrating on already: providing the best possible content to satisfy the search intent of visitors to your site.