Posting web copy and content marketing on your website is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to delivering excellent user experience. To make it a little easier for brands and webmasters to back up their content output, Google outlined a few ‘Core Web Vitals’.
Google believes that site owners should focus on these core metrics when attempting to optimise pages for the very best user experience. The importance of optimisation cannot be understated, according to Google – the company believes that it is “key” to the long-term success of a website.
It added: “Whether you’re a business owner, marketer, or developer, Web Vitals can help you quantify the experience of your site and identify opportunities to improve.”
Users have different expectations when visiting a site, depending on what they intend to do. While you are likely to be tracking specific metrics related to your own business goals and objectives already, Google believes that several core metrics are critical to all web experiences.
The three metrics that Google has identified as critical to user experience are:
- Visual stability
In three images accompanying its recommendations, Google offered a visual representation of what is defined as “good” and “poor” for these metrics and where things “need improvement”.
The loading metric is measured using something called ‘Largest Contentful Paint’. Google says that anything below 2.5 seconds here is good, while load speeds of four seconds or longer is poor. The middle ground between 2.5 seconds and four seconds requires attention.
Largest Contentful Paint is defined as the time when a page has been able to load all the primary content that a user needs to start watching or reading. It is a perceived load speed metric.
Google has espoused the need to deliver faster load times in recent years after stating that users will navigate away from a page if they are forced to wait. Its own AMP initiative is designed to provide smartphone users with fast-loading content that is optimised for mobile.
The second metric is ‘First Input Delay’, a measure of interactivity. Google says that anything below 100ms is good here, while 300ms or more is poor. Once again, the middle ground represents the need for improvement.
First Input Delay is a measure of responsiveness. It quantifies what users feel when they navigate to a page and attempt to interact with it for the first time.
The third and final metric is ‘Cumulative Layout Shift’. This measures visual stability. Google says that a score of 0.1 or less is good, 0.1 to 0.25 needs improvement, and higher than 0.25 is poor.
This metric measures how stable the visuals are on a page and quantifies how layouts may have to shift to accommodate images and video.
Google says that all three of these metrics capture outcomes that are vital to user experience. They are also field measurable and are ably supported by lab diagnostic equivalents.
Google adds: “For example, while Largest Contentful Paint is the topline loading metric, it is also highly dependent on First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Time to First Byte (TTFB), which remain critical to monitor and improve.”
How can you measure these metrics?
Google followed up its definition of Core Web Vitals with a pledge to make tracking them easier than it was before.
Webmasters can already make use of the Chrome UX Report to see a simple overview of the important signals. The BigQuery datasets, specifically, offer graphical displays for the Core Web Vitals, which makes it easier to keep tabs on them over time.
Google is also preparing to release a new REST API to improve the quality and accessibility of data moving forward.
Those options require site owners to dig a little deeper to gain access to metrics, so it is good to see that Google is also working on an extension for the Chrome browser that will provide visual indicators for each of the Core Web Vitals.
The extension is currently in developer preview, but an official release is expected in the coming months. Google also plans to add the ability to tap into aggregated real-user insights for the key metrics for URLs so that brands will be able to see in-depth data about how their webpages are performing.
In the meantime, Google wants to deliver relevant information about the new metrics and has started rolling out updates to a range of its tools so that users don’t get left behind in their attempts to optimise.
Google says that a range of popular tools will get the update treatment, starting with Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights and the Speed Report within Google Search Console. It expects the changes to filter through during the remainder of the year.
What does all of this mean?
All of the work by Google is yet more evidence about how seriously it takes page speed and the quality of user experience. This is something to consider when optimising SEO campaigns. Google favours content that loads quickly and webpages that are intuitive and easy to navigate.
Google plans to invest more in tools to measure page speed next year and concluded its blog by revealing potential updates.
It noted: “For example, extending the ability to measure input latency across all interactions, not just the first; new metrics to measure and quantify smoothness; primitives and supporting metrics that will enable delivery of instant and privacy preserving experiences on the web; and more.”
However, Google is eager to stress that the Core Web Vitals are part of a greater whole and that they are not the only means to measure the quality of user experience. They are, however, something to focus on first.
Brands should attempt to attain ‘good’ metrics for each of the three metrics before moving on to other metrics that can support better UX. Google also says the Core Web Vitals are not cast in stone and are likely to be updated each year as it gains more insights about what is best for user experience.
You can expect to see Google providing regular updates for any metrics that will supplant the current trio or are added alongside them, complete with the reasons why they are important and how to go about optimising for them.