Last week, Google revealed that it will soon begin using ‘page experience’ as a ranking signal in search and that its new set of Core Web Vitals would make up a large part of that signal alongside other important factors such as safe browsing and mobile friendliness.
Google announced its intentions to use the signal even though it won’t be ready until the beginning of next year at the earliest. However, this delay is beneficial for brands, site owners and SEOs, who can now get to grips with Core Web Vitals and what they really mean for content and search engine optimisation in general.
While the signal is not ready to launch, the Core Web Vitals are already an important part of SEO and general website management. When introducing them last month, Google said that they were “essential metrics for a healthy site”, adding that the new quality signals would help to provide better user experiences.
Google covers each of the new vitals in detail on its blog, but as a quick recap, the three metrics or factors are called ‘Largest Contentful Paint’ (LCP), ‘First Input Delay’ (FID) and ‘Cumulate Layout Shift’ (CLS), which are related to loading, interactivity and visual stability, respectively.
Google adds: “Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads (so you don’t accidentally tap that button when it shifts under your finger – how annoying!).”
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to start keeping tabs on these all-important vitals. You can do it right now. Google has already updated a range of its existing tools with new measurement capabilities:
- Search Console
Google added a specific report for Core Web Vitals in Search Console last month. The new report, which replaces the outgoing Speed report, will show data for URL performance, which can be filtered by things such as metric type and status.
The Overview tab is very handy here as it allows you to toggle between the three basic indicators for each of the vitals: ‘good’, ‘needs improvement’ and ‘poor’. Clicking on the Open Report button will throw up numbers for both mobile and device. Overall, Search Console should be your first port of call for tracking.
- PageSpeed Insights
PageSpeed Insights has been updated to measure Core Web Vitals. Users can navigate to the field and lab sections of the report to access the data. A useful blue ribbon icon helps to identify the vitals quickly with this tool.
Lighthouse, an automated tool for monitoring webpage performance, offers diagnostic information based on the LCP and CLS metrics. A third metric, Total Blocking Time (TBT), which is closely aligned to FID, also offers useful information. Lighthouse offers a range of audits and an overall performance score.
- Chrome UX Report
The Chrome UX Report makes use of real-world data to show how actual Chrome users are experiencing the web. This is not lab data, so it complements a few of the other reports. Google also added a Core Web Vitals landing page in this report for specific information on FID, LCP and CLS.
- Chrome DevTools
Google updated Chrome DevTools recently to support better diagnosis for CLS, which is when there can be visual instability issues that detract from a user’s page experience. Selecting a Layout Shift in this tool will provide an overview of details in a Summary tab.
- Web Vitals Extension
Finally, Google added a new extension for the Chrome web browser that will keep track of the three main metrics in real time. Simply clicking on the extension will show the results for LCP, FID and CLS for a particular page.
How do I go about fixing issues?
Now you can track Core Web Vitals, but what’s the best way to make changes and improvements? Google recommends starting from ‘poor’ performance readings and working from there. Non-technical users may need to call on a software engineer or developer to address the issues.
While the problems can be wide ranging, Google has identified three quick fixes that should be tested first. You can reduce page size (preferably to 500KB or less), limit page resource numbers to 50, and think about implementing Google’s own AMP initiative if you haven’t already.
The new ranking signal will take the Core Web Vitals and combine them with four other factors for a super-charged page experience signal. These factors are ‘mobile friendliness’ (which is something that can be aided by AMP), ‘safe browsing’, ‘HTTPS’ and ‘no intrusive interstitials’.
You can track all of these. Safe browsing issues can be flagged in the Security Issues section of Search Console. Determining mobile friendliness is easy using Google’s own quick test. HTTPS relates directly to the secure connection of a webpage, while intrusive interstitials are basically annoying pop-up ads.
Google was eager to stress that page experience cannot be used as a substitute for publishing “great, relevant content”. For brands and webmasters, the focus should always be on crafting engaging web copy and content marketing materials, but for those who are already hitting this high bar, page experience comes into play.
In a statement about the use of page experience as a signal, Google noted that it can make webpages more visible when there are a number of pages that offer similar high-quality content. Page experience can give brands an edge over competitors in the hard-fought race for rankings on the first page of SERPs.
One SEO expert likened the use of page experience to a sort of “tie breaker” in that when two pages are offering great content, the one that is able to perform better on the page experience front will be rewarded with a higher position in search results.
Google’s advice here suggests that excellent content is still the most important thing overall, but page experience is gaining ground, so don’t ignore it. It could be the differentiator in your quest for SEO success.