There’s a new Google algorithm update coming up… In mid-June, the page experience update will finally be rolled out.
So from then on (or August at the latest, when it’ll be in full effect), core web vitals will be a ranking factor.
This new update changes the way Google ranks content and could have a big impact on how your site performs in the search results.
So what happens if I don’t update my site before the roll-out?
To put it plainly, if you don’t offer a good enough page experience, you’ll slip down the rankings - meaning lower visibility, less traffic, and less revenue.
Let’s take a look at what core web vitals are, and how you can make sure your site’s in good shape before the algorithm update next month.
What are core web vitals?
Before we get into ‘core web vitals’ and what that all means, we need to understand what the update actually consists of.
The new algorithm combines core web vitals with a range of other UX signals (that are already part of the algorithm), all focusing on page experience.
The other signals included in the update are:
- Safe browsing
- No intrusive interstitials.
So now we’ve got that clear, let’s look at core web vitals themselves.
Core web vitals cover three areas that Google sees as crucial for a good on-page experience. These are:
- Speed: How quickly does a page load? (LCP)
- Responsiveness: How quickly can a user interact with a page? (FID)
- Visual stability: Does the page layout stay consistent during page load? (CLS)
Here’s how each of these is measured:
Speed is measured by ‘Largest Contentful Paint’ - the time it takes for the main content on a page to load.
This could be large content blocks, the biggest image on the page, background images or paragraph tags.
A page’s main content should load in 2.5 seconds or less (ideally less).
This is measured by ‘First Input Delay’ - the amount of time it takes for a page to become interactive.
Basically, it looks at the first time a user interacts with your site (like their first link click) and when the browser responds. The First Input Delay is the time between the two.
Why is this important?
If you’ve ever tried to buy tickets online, but the website takes so long to log you in that they all sell out before you even get a chance to buy yours, you already know how frustrating long response times can be.
The ideal time is 100 milliseconds or less.
Finally, the visual stability of a page is measured by ‘Cumulative Layout Shift.’
In simple terms, this looks at how stable the layout of a page is, and whether something will move when you try to interact with it.
Have you ever gone to buy something and suddenly the ‘add to basket’ button has moved and you end up signing up for a newsletter instead? Yup, that’s what this is to fix!
A good score for Cumulative Layout Shift is 0.1 or less. It’s scored by looking at how much space an unstable element takes up on screen, and how far it moves.
Here’s an example of why fixing this is important!
Why is the page experience update important?
The most important thing when it comes to any website is the user experience.
Websites are built for people, after all, so it’s important that they’re designed in a way that’s easy to use, and gives a good experience.
The page experience update, using core web vitals as measurements, aims to improve things across the board and deliver a great experience for all users.
It’s an important shift in the way Google’s algorithms work.
For years, user experience has mostly been measured via bounce rate (the percentage of users who land on your site, only to bounce back to the search results).
However, this is the first time that Google is directly baking user experience into the algorithm through its page experience score.
Here’s what Google has said about the update:
“Our systems will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override it having great, relevant content. This is similar to changes we’ve had in the past, such as our mobile-friendly update or our speedy update. As with those signals, page experience will be more important in “tie-breaker” types of situations. If there are multiple pages of similar quality and content, those with better page experience might perform better than those without.”
So even though it’s unlikely that sites will suffer masses of ranking drops immediately, you still shouldn’t ignore the update.
As your competitors start improving their websites’ page experience, if yours doesn’t offer an equally good (or better!) experience, you’re likely to be left behind.
How to improve Largest Contentful Paint
You can check your LCP score using Google PageSpeed Insights, and it can also be found in the new core web vitals report in Search Console. Each URL will be rated as ‘Good’, ‘Needs Improvement’ or ‘Poor’.
The best way to improve your LCP score is to pre-load content (which tells the browser to fetch certain elements first).
You may also want to remove any unnecessary third-party scripts from the page.
How to improve First Input Delay
You can also check FID for your site in the new Search Console report, and if your scores are low you’ll need to speak to your developers.
How to improve Cumulative Layout Shift
Your CLS score can also be found in the same core web vitals report (handy, right?).
If your score is above 0.1, you’ll need to review all the elements that move around on the page.
Ways to reduce your score include making sure any images and videos have set attribute dimensions that are set out in the HTML of the page, and ensuring that ads have a dedicated space reserved on the page so they don’t appear out of nowhere, pushing content out of the way.
Is there anything else you need to know?
As mentioned earlier, roll-out of the new ranking signals will begin in mid-June and it’ll be a fairly slow roll-out, with page experience coming into full effect in late August. As explained by Google:
“We’ll begin using page experience as part of our ranking systems beginning in mid-June 2021. However, page experience won’t play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August. You can think of it as if you’re adding flavoring to a food you’re preparing. Rather than add the flavor all at once into the mix, we’ll be slowly adding it all over this time period.”
Google is also looking at adding labels in search results to indicate which sites offer a good user experience.
So earning that label could definitely encourage users to click on your search result (just in case you wanted another reason to make sure your site’s fully up to speed).