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P1WS Internet Marketing Blog

Core Web Vitals: Demystifying Google’s New Ranking Factor

What is the Core Web Vitals Update?

Last year Google announced they would be introducing a new ranking factor in May 2021. They rarely announce algorithm changes ahead of time, but they have been pretty good about communicating when they will introduce new, important factors that would affect the SERPs - like site speed, HTTPS protocols, and mobile-friendliness/responsiveness. This new ranking factor assesses page experience and is based on “Core Web Vitals.” These core vitals are a subset of “Web Vitals” that apply to all web pages. Though the metrics that makeup “Core Web Vitals” will evolve, the current set identifies Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP measures loading performance or how fast a page loads. More specifically, how fast the largest thing in the viewport loads.

How is it measured? LCP is measured by the number of seconds it takes to load the essential part of a page. Anything more than 2.5 seconds is considered to need improvement.

First Input Delay (FID)

FID measures responsiveness, or how fast a page becomes interactive (if a user clicks on a button or element of a page, how long before that action is processed in the browser?).

How is it measured? FID is measured by the number of milliseconds it takes for a page to respond to the user’s input. Anything more than 100 ms is considered to need improvement.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

CLS measures visual stability, or how fast a page becomes visually stable. Essentially, CLS is when a user is on a page, and the elements on it move for no apparent reason. 

How is it measured? CLD is measured by how a browser looks at the unstable elements in a viewport between two rendered frames. This is likely the trickiest measurement to articulate and explain and uses a seemingly complex formula to derive its “layout shift score.” It’s the impact fraction (how unstable elements impact the viewport area between frames) multiplied by distance fraction (the distance the unstable element has moved in the frame). CLS is measured in decimal form, and anything more than 0.1 is considered to need improvement.

Google's Core Web Vitals

How to find out my site’s Core Web Vitals?

Google Search Console (GSC) can give you all the details of how Google itself deems your site’s core vitals. They break out the reports between mobile and desktop, making it helpful to understand where they are noticing issues. From there, they give insight on what is deemed “poor” vs. items that “need improvement.” This allows you to prioritize any updates to your site that may be required. Google’s Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights tools, which are free, are also a great way to track your site’s performance.

Otherwise, we recommend doing your own hands-on review on your website, both on your desktop and on a mobile device. Be aware of how long it takes for the pages to load, how quick the actions you take on the site render, and if you notice any “moving” or shifting elements on the pages.

How much do Core Web Vitals scores factor into my site’s SERP rankings?

Added as a ranking factor this coming May, Core Web Vitals will affect all regular search results and become criteria for sites appearing in Google’s Top Stories. With hundreds of secret ranking signals, we’re unsure how “heavy” Core Web Vitals will be weighted in the algorithm. Keep in mind if you know your site is slow to load, or people have trouble using it, you’ll likely need to improve your site in order not to lose ranking. However, if you’ve focused on your site’s user experience, have been working with a Technical SEO, or have a talented web developer, your site may not see much fluctuation. You may even notice an improved rank with the addition of this new metric in Google’s algorithm.

How to pass Core Web Vitals?

Google is all about giving people the best experience possible. They want to serve up the most relevant results to their users, and they want those results to continue to provide the users with what they need. Here are some tips for ensuring healthy Core Web Vitals on your site.

  • Pay attention to User Experience (UX) on your website, don’t overlook using your website as one of your users does.
  • Use a good site host; we love Pantheon. Believe me, it can make a huge difference.
  • Optimize and/or lazy load your website images. We know those large-scale hero images are beautiful, but they might kill your LCP.
  • Minify your site’s CSS and minimize (or defer) Javascript. Some reliable plugins help with this.

Want to keep learning? Here are some handy resources: