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Monday, April 5, 2021

Google’s May Update Explained: Core Web Vitals and Page Experience

By Mike Hanson — Associate Director, SEO

Maintaining a strong Google ranking for your brand is about to include another variable: In May 2021, Google is launching their Page Experience Update. This algorithm update measures critical page load elements and scores them to quantify the user experience on a page. 

Thought: Google’s May Update Explained: Core Web Vitals and Page Experience
Google’s May Update Explained: Core Web Vitals and Page ExperienceAssociate Director, SEO — Mike Hanson
Thought: Google’s May Update Explained: Core Web Vitals and Page Experience

The new ranking factors are called Core Web Vitals and include the components Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)—all metrics that contribute to how effectively a page will load. 

Brands who aren’t actively updating their sites to align to the new Core Web Vitals will incur more and more technical debt that could inhibit SEO performance over time.

Avoid these pitfalls by developing a better understanding of Core Web Vitals and taking preliminary steps to gain momentum. Here’s more, including how Rightpoint would model its approach.

Core Web Vitals and The Google Page Experience Update

Core Web Vitals is an initiative by Google to provide unified guidance in crafting great user experiences across the web. This falls under the umbrella of “Page Experience,” or a series of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity and visual stability of the page. It also includes existing search signals such as mobile-friendliness, security of browsing and ease of interstitial guidelines: mobile-friendlinesssafe-browsingHTTPS and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

These metrics add quantifiable components to Google's overall evaluation of a "Page Experience" or "User Experience." Before Core Web Vitals, webpages could just abide by recommendations in a "yes or no" sort of manner. Now, with the addition of LCP, FID and CLS, the user experience can be quantified beyond a simple binary.

The Essential Value of Core Web Vitals

Google is dedicated to connecting users to exceptional experiences through search, and their engineers have stated that users expect much more than "keywords on a page" in their search results. To enable excellent experiences, the search engine announced this ranking signal update one year in advance, giving web developers and the SEO community a year to test, measure and optimize websites and code for May’s Page Experience Update.

Not to be ignored is the subtle, passive message the search team at Google repeats every so often: Core Web Vitals, and site speed in general, are small parts of the ranking factor. Making a site blazing fast will not catapult it to the top position in Google search. Core Web Vitals is designed to give all websites guidance on improving their user experience and will be used as a tie-breaking ranking factor.

Consider two webpages that have content about the same topic. The two pages are both optimized with great content and images. In this case, Google will look to Core Web Vitals to determine which of these optimized pages has a better experience. The page with better CWV performance will rank higher, resulting in more clicks. 

Rightpoint's Approach to Optimizing for Core Web Vitals

We examine Core Web Vitals whenever we are making development changes to a website.

  1. Benchmark current metrics for top performing pages

  2. Identify optimization opportunities in benchmark

  3. Align opportunities with future state of CMS, code libraries, JavaScript, style sheets, CDNs and media assets

  4. Ensure basic optimizations are in place;

    • Ensure HTTP/2 is enabled

    • Bundle JavaScript efficiently at the highest level

    • Use lazy loading for images

    • Do not add render-blocking commands to meta data or the robots.txt file

    • Minify and compress resources where possible

After those steps, Core Web Vital improvements are aligned to sprint builds to execute other common enhancements. These are typically:

  • Defer offscreen images

  • Remove unused CSS and JavaScript via code splitting

  • Serve images in next-gen format

  • Reduce initial server response time

  • Implement efficient cache policies

  • Avoid serving legacy JavaScript to modern browsers

  • Avoiding front-end JavaScript libraries with known security vulnerabilities

We measure pages in the development environment and in the production environment. After development updates launch, we have a clear benchmark and current measurement for Core Web Vitals performance. Since these signals are not yet a ranking factor, we cannot formally identify them as causation for SEO improvements. In concept, once the metrics are ranking factors, improving them could show improvements in rankings and conversions.