Google confirmed this week that its Core Web Vitals will become a page experience ranking signal in search alongside other factors, including ‘mobile-friendliness’ and ‘safe browsing’, from May 2021.
The new official date for the launch of user experience (UX) signals in rankings gives webmasters around six months to make the necessary changes to deliver what Google describes as a “great page experience”.
The Core Web Vitals are defined as three separate factors called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which are roughly linked to speed, responsiveness and visual stability, respectively.
Four other signals will also be factored in from next year. These signals are mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
The search giant notes: “These signals measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.”
One interesting aspect of Core Web Vitals is that they are fluid and not static, which means that they will change as user expectations of webpages evolve over time.
Currently, a loading time of two and a half seconds or less is deemed “good”, while longer than four seconds is “poor”, but this could change in the future.
These changes are part of Google’s goal of delivering more relevant search results, as more subjective user experience will be weighted for the first time, rather than just objective traditional signals such as PageRank.
While some of the new terms and the way that they will be measured can seem complex, there are around half a dozen or so areas that you can focus on to get your site ready for the focus on page experience.
These advanced tweaks will improve the usability of your content on mobile, enhance website security and make pages faster for visitors, all of which will feed into your SEO strategies.
Use mobile-friendly page templates
The need to craft mobile-ready pages is not something that has come out of the blue, so you should already have a head start in making your content friendly for smartphone usage. It is important to make sure that everything is optimised though, and Google Search Console has its very own ‘Mobile Usability’ report to help you out.
This report will flag any major issues for any affected URLs. For example, you may have clickable elements that are too close together or content that is wider than the screen. Be sure to address anything that pops up with an error status here.
Moving forward, the key to a great experience on mobile is the layout and usability of pages. Written copy should be clear and accessible, and not require a user to double tap to zoom in and read text.
Preload important resources
Certain elements on your pages can be ‘heavy’ and prevent them from loading as fast as they should. This is an area that is covered by the new Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric. To find out what on-page elements fall under the LCP category, head over to the Performance tab in Chrome DevTools.
From here, you can then profile a page using Screenshots for a visual indicator of how long it takes for each of these elements to load over time. If you see that a key element is taking a while to load, you can use preloading and other methods to request that the browser makes loading this element a top priority.
Minimise long tasks
The next metric to optimise for is First Input Delay (FID). FID assesses how long it takes a page to become interactive, and Google recommends a measurement of 100ms or less as a good ballpark figure to aim for.
There are often issues that can prevent users from being able to click on an element or scroll up or down after loading up a page. These issues usually manifest in something called long tasks, which are activities such as compiling and parsing scripts.
Chrome DevTools can help again here. Under the Main tab, you will be able to see long tasks via the visual cue of a red triangle. Clicking on a long task and selecting the Bottom-Up tab will provide you with a breakdown of what is happening.
Quick fixes are not easy as you will need to find out what is causing the delays, but you may be able to resolve the issue by code splitting and changing how you serve scripts.
Reserve space for visuals
Now, you can move on to optimising for Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures how much a page moves or shifts when it loads. If you are having problems here, you may not be reserving enough space for images and embeds as the page loads.
This is a relatively simple fix as you just need to make sure that every piece of content is presented correctly. If you need further assistance with any of the fixes for LCP, FID and CLS, try to liaise with any on-site IT specialists.
Check for security issues
Another factor that is part of the user experience is website security. Google regularly provides warnings to users about dangerous and deceptive content. This happens when a site contains malware, phishing and harmful programs, or is deemed to be suspicious or unsafe.
You can check whether your site has any of these issues by heading over to Google Search Console and navigating to the Security Issues report. Here, you will be able to see a list of detected issues and a brief description of what it means. All you need to do now is to make the necessary changes.
Use HTTPS and optimise interstitials
The final two tweaks are relatively straightforward, but important nonetheless. First, you need to double check that your site has incorporated the secure HTTPS protocol for forms and embedded resources, rather than HTTP as the latter is not safe for users.
Finally, make sure that your pages do not have any intrusive interstitials that detract from the user experience by obscuring important content. You can check this by manually reviewing pages.
With all of this done, you should finally be ready to deliver the page experiences that users expect when they visit your site. You will benefit from this optimisation in the short term and when Google starts using UX signals in its search algorithm next year.