Last May, Google announced that in May 2021, it would be updating its algorithm to align with user desire for a “great page experience.” What the new Core Web Vitals update means is that this year, three specific page experience signals will affect a website’s ranking in search results.
How to Navigate Google’s New Great Page Experience Rankings
The principle change is particularly noteworthy, as Google typically (if at all) announces changes to the algorithm retrospectively, not months in advance.
The announcement has given us reason to believe that organic search rankings will be significantly impacted by this update. For brands and marketers, this is big news.
While page speed is by no means a newly-desired performance remit for developers, this change introduces a new way of measuring existing performance that Google feels is more refined and important to users.
How does Google Define Core Web Vitals?
The set of search criteria that Google defines as the Core Web Vitals are the following:
- Loading times — this metric will be measured by Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) in seconds; the render time for the largest block of text or image to be visible within the viewport.
- Interactivity — this metric will be measured by First Input Delay (FID) in milliseconds; the time at which the main thread again becomes idle following the initial user interaction post load.
- Visual stability — this metric can be measured by Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) via impact and distance fraction measurements; the number of times rendered elements change position during the lifespan of the page.
Google search quality has been increasingly measured by user experience and will likely continue to be required in SEO rankings.
It’s of no benefit to Google to serve up organic or paid results that do not adhere well to the benchmarks of these metrics. It’s also likely Core Web Vitals will eventually impact quality score in some way.
*Poor LCP, FID, and CLS scores will result in lower organic rankings and possibly a lower quality score as well.
How can brand marketers manage these changes?
Prepping for this rollout will involve significant developer contact, as well as access to the data you and your team need to make informed decisions regarding. There will need to be deep communication about what to tackle first in terms of poor speed performance.
What is your competition doing? How are they performing in the metrics?
Ultimately, you need to understand which metrics might be performing poorly relative to your online competition. Once you have performance tested across key page templates over time, you can start making decisions about which metrics need optimizing as a matter of priority.
Ascertaining whether existing performance is “good” or “bad” requires testing and benchmarking data.
The testing component should be seen as the first step and data will be derived from two sources.
The First Testing Source: Lab, which tests via a designated server and headless browser. Google Lighthouse tests can be run natively in Google Chrome, and there are also many 3rd party tools that can help automate testing.
The Second Testing Source: Field, which tracks actual user interaction.
Valuable references for Field are the Chrome User Experience Report, Core Web Vitals report, for tracking pages at scale on owned properties, and Google PageSpeed Insights for one-off insights for any website with sufficient field data
Relativity is often important in the remit of search marketing.
You need to know if your organic or your paid competitors are performing relatively better or worse across all corresponding page templates, devices, locations, etc.
If you are performing worse than your competitors, then this update will likely be detrimental to performance come May 2021. If you are performing better, then this will likely be a boost for your brand.
It can be difficult to know where to start.
It’s important to work with experts who have web performance experience and have developed tools specifically to automate the testing process.
Websites and brands need to be constantly reviewing and adapting their online presence.
You have always reviewed and adapted your online website, brand and presence to keep up in the market. If you wish to maintain a stake in the search rankings and preparing for Google’s core web vitals update in May — your preparation will serve you well.
Google holds around 90% of the total search engine market share, so updates such as this shouldn’t be ignored.
What about brands and marketers?
For brands and marketers, looking to experienced developers and agencies to guide them through these changes will ensure that websites are prepped and organic performance isn’t hindered.
Image Credit: joshua woroniecki; pexels
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