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Everything You Need to Know about Google's Core Web Vitals Algorithm Update
April 02 2021

Google likes to keep us on our toes when it comes to understanding its ranking algorithm. We know it gets tricky, so we’ve geeked out on the topic and here’s everything you need to know for the 2021 update: 

What succeeding looks like to Google in 2021

Every year Google pushes us to enhance the user experience on our websites by updating its search engine rankings algorithm. We recently gave a brief overview of Google’s planned May 2021 “Core Web Vitals” update in our newsletter (sign up here if you missed it!). This update in Google’s algorithm can be considered under the umbrella of “Page Experience”. The ultimate goal is to simplify the landscape, Google has provided a variety of tools for sites to use to measure their performance, but it can be overwhelming. Google wants sites to focus on what matters most. (Something we happen to be really good at.) If you’re wondering what matters most to Google at the end of the day, it’s having great, relevant content. While optimizing for Google Core Web Vitals will indeed help your rankings, if your site doesn’t have the quality content that visitors are looking for, this won’t matter, so make sure you’ve got that covered first. 

Need to know: Core Web Vitals

This change is coming up fast (how is it already almost May?!) The metrics to look out for are defined under Google’s Core Web Vitals standard and focus on three key areas: loading, interactivity and visual stability. We cover each in more detail below, including the “Googlespeak” that Google uses to describe (and measure) them. Google has also included some other metrics to look out for, which we’ll also cover. 

Loading (LCP)

One of the most impactful items your site can optimize for is loading speed, or “Largest Contentful Paint”. Why does it matter? Well, Google notices if your loading speed isn’t “up to speed”. (Google’s benchmark is 2.5 seconds for above-the-fold content.) Slow sites increase bounce rates and frustrate visitors, especially if the top of the page remains a white screen for too long. Pages load in stages, so keep that in mind. For example, if you have a large image file above the fold, it may take longer for the user to see that content, making the user less likely to stick around. When understanding how your site ranks in this category, measuring in the 75th percentile of page loads is ideal. 

Interactivity (FID)

FID stands for “First Input Display.” This measures the responsiveness on a visitor’s first attempt to interact with your site. Let’s break it down. First impressions are important, right? Google agrees. If a visitor is trying to interact with your content and isn’t experiencing a smooth, fast and seamless process, Google will notice, and your website will be punished for it in the search engine rankings. If you want to know how well your website is performing in this category, note that your site’s FID should be 100 milliseconds or less…ideally measuring in the 75th percentile of page loads. 

Visual Stability (CLS)

We’ve all experienced it: You click on a link to an article and all of a sudden your entire screen is dominated by anything BUT the article you were trying to read, or maybe you move to click on a link but the second before you do that area of the web page switches to something else entirely. It’s frustrating and doesn’t encourage you, as a user, to hang around on the site. Google knows this, so it’s cracking down on CLS: “Cumulative Layout Shift”. As you determine whether or not your website is performing well in this category, A CLS score is calculated with an input and distance fraction, the lower the score, the more stable the layout. A good score is below 0.1 and a poor CLS score is anything 0.25 or above. (We’ll show you where you can calculate this later.) 

Other Metrics to Consider

In addition to the Core Web Vitals, websites will need to focus on other metrics to fully prep for this update. Specifically,  Google will be checking your site for mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing compliance, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitials (this last item being something it doesn’t want to see). Let’s break it down:

  1. Mobile friendly: Is your site optimized for mobile devices? Make sure your website is using a responsive design to present a simple, clean, and user-friendly experience on a wide variety of screen sizes. 
  2. Safe browsing: Safe browsing was originally introduced in 2007 as a Google service. It’s used to help detect unsafe or phishing websites. You’re probably good to go, as long as you’re not a phishing or deceptive website and aren’t hosting malware or unwanted software. If you inadvertently are… you probably need a new website anyway. 
  3. HTTPS: HTTPS stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure”. HTTPS prevents websites from having information accessed in unwanted ways by adding encryption to keep the connection between the server and the browser secure. (This is especially important if you have login features or any sort of sensitive information on your site.) 
  4. No intrusive interstitials: You’ve most likely experienced one of these while browsing the web before; it’s essentially a “pop-ad” on the website that tends to block most if not all of the page. Yeah, nobody wants to see those, and that includes Google. 

Oh, and one more thing to consider…

UX: User Experience. Google has also announced that UX will play a large role in it’s new algorithm update. In order to make sure your website is ranking well, UX is a huge factor. So here’s the deal: you can “UX your website” in a variety of ways. The ultimate goal is to create an enjoyable experience for your users. The execution of this will vary depending on the purpose of your website. But there are a few key questions to consider. 

  • How appealing and clear is my home/landing page? 
  • How easy is it for the user to navigate throughout the website? 
  • How does a user reach out to contact your company? Hint: It shouldn’t be that hard. 
  • Double-check any pop-ups you may have: Are they helpful or just annoying? 

Does this really matter to me? 

You might be thinking to yourself, especially if you’re a small business – what’s the point? We understand. It’s a lot, and there are so many different factors to consider and potential changes to make. However, it’s important to note that Google Core Web Vitals will become a tiebreaker between websites in the eyes of Google and its all-important search engine result page rankings. If you are able to set up your site to rank optimally with Core Web Vitals, you’ll increase your chances of beating your competitors. You should especially take note if your site is an e-commerce site, that, a poor user experience is linked to lost sales. Trust us, optimizing for this new change will reward you, your users, and your bottom line. 

Where can I go to see my site’s Google Core Web Vitals performance?

Are you ready to see how well your website is prepared for this update? We’ve made it easy for you: This test allows you to input your site’s URL and check your Core Web Vitals performance. It will give you a good idea of where your website needs improvement and where it’s performing well.

I’m convinced it’s time to improve my Google Core Web Vitals scores. Where should I start? 

If after reading this, you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or just wondering where to start to optimize your site for this update, contact us and we’d be happy to help. 

Culture Foundry is a next-level digital agency that helps you thrive in digital. We build, evolve and support websites and applications for clients who are graduating to the next level of complexity in their digital ventures. Our uncommon strengths are headless CMS architectures, design systems and 24/7 support. If you're not thriving in digital, you can be: Contact us to learn more.

(Psst! We also happen to be a great place to work.)

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