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Core Web Vitals: A Comprehensive Guide

It’s fair to say team UWP have been in the SEO game for a while, possibly longer than some of us would care to admit. So we’ve seen a number of large scale algorithm changes like the introduction of Core Web Vitals. 

And SEO in 2021 is a world away from where it all began. 

Long gone (thankfully) are the days of spammy backlinks and white-on-white keyword stuffed text. Modern SEO is about delivering quality UX and demonstrating authentic credibility.

As Google strives to retain its status as the world’s leading search engine, it continually refines its algorithm in order to ensure it offers users the best possible results. 

Sometimes we see big updates, think the 2018 E-A-T update or BERT, among other large scale algorithmic updates. Most minor updates go largely under the radar – Google’s search algorithm is continually being tweaked (we’re talking multiple times daily).

Our job is to keep track of algorithm updates to ensure our clients’ websites continue to gain organic traffic.

This brings us to what is predicted to be one of the biggest algorithmic updates of 2021.

Meet Core Web Vitals – here’s our 2021 guide to Google’s new ranking factor.

Hold up – what actually are Core Web Vitals?

User experience (UX) has played an integral role in SEO for some time. Google’s crawlers look for a variety of signals that indicate quality UX. 

These include security measures (HTTPS is essential), whether it works smoothly on mobile and avoids obstructive or intrusive interstitials.

Page loading speed is also a big part of UX, and you’ll find Core Web Vitals feeds into this.

Essentially, Core Web Vitals are another way Google can make website owners up their UX game. 

Alongside existing UX factors, Core Web Vitals add another set of criteria needing consideration if you want your site to rank highly.

Want to nail your Google “page experience”? You need your Core Web Vitals to be up to scratch.

There are three metrics that make up Core Web Vitals. We’ll provide them firstly as Google describes them (arguably, developer-speak) and then plain-speak:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
  • First Input Delay (FID)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Say what? 

Let’s put that another way:

  • Loading speed/quality
  • Interactivity 
  • Visual stability

LCP is all about page speed. Yes, you’re right, page speed already is a ranking factor, but LCP takes it further. Google isn’t just assessing how quickly a page loads – but crucially, how quickly a user can interact with it.

FID also relates to page speed, but it goes beyond loading and functionality. Consider your homepage layout – how intuitive is it?

Your website might load quickly, and be almost instantaneously functionable, but if users are left considering what actions to take (whether that be clicking on a menu option or accordion icon on mobile) it may be a less effective user experience than you thought. 

Essentially, Google is looking at how real-life users engage with websites.

When it comes to CLS, we’re talking about visual stability. As your page loads, Google doesn’t want to see elements moving around. Elements moving around makes users unsure where links and images are located once a web page is fully rendered – often resulting in accidental clicks.

In all, this algorithm update is a good thing for internet users. Google is pushing website owners to up their game.

But how do you go about doing this?

Core Web Vitals update

Getting technical: How to prepare for Core Web Vitals?

Without blowing our own trumpet (alright, just briefly), we’re pretty handy when it comes to technical SEO.

And with this update looming, it might be worth touching base with our SEO specialists to ensure you’re doing all you can to protect (and improve) your search rankings.

That said, there are some initial steps you can take to assess your website’s performance regarding Core Web Vitals.

Firstly, head to your Google Search Console (GSC) account – in the “enhancements” section you’ll find an overview of your site’s Core Web Vitals.

One approach to improving your Core Web Vitals is to look at each element in turn.

You can check your LCP score (good, needs improvement, bad) using Google PageSpeed Insights and GSC in tandem. 

Improving your LCP can take some pretty technical legwork which in almost all cases will require web developer support – but if this update has the impact on search we’re expecting, it’ll be worth making the investment.

FID is more variable when it comes to making improvements. Differing functionality between websites (e.g. an informational one-pager versus a more complex data-entry platform) means you might see some really disparate information in GSC regarding FID depending on what your business does online. 

This is going to be an element of Core Web Vitals to watch closely on roll-out of the update. There’s still some debate about how best to boost FID scores, but certainly a case-by-case approach is applicable here.

When it comes to CLS, you might find you have quite different score reports for mobile versus desktop, which is perfectly normal/common. 

Look closely at the issues GSC flags up and don’t seek a one-size-fits-all solution. Mobile and desktop sites should be dealt with independently of each other.

What impact will  this have on search and when will it go live?

While they do grace us with vital SEO insights (such as the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates), Google remains a black box. 

The Core Web Vitals update is one of many hundreds of updates that we’ll see in 2021, and until it rolls out, it’s hard for any SEO specialist to be precise about the shifts we might see on the SERPs. 

However, as an industry, most search experts consider it well worth taking the time to sure up your Core Web Vitals ahead of its roll-out – especially if you’re operating within a competitive search environment. 

 Put simply: if your rivals are improving their Core Web Vitals – there’s a chance your own rankings will drop.

And whether SEO is a key marketing driver for your business, there’s more to improving UX than simply boosting your search rankings. 

A Chromium study shows users who land on a page which scores well in terms of Core Web Vitals are 24% less likely to abandon the page before any content has been painted. 

Sometimes, it’s not just about SEO (the quota of cups of tea for the SEO team has just doubled!).

Timeframe? Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor began being publicly discussed about a year ago, and while we are yet to get an official roll-out date from Google (and we wouldn’t expect one, they like to keep us on our toes), industry heads are tentatively suggesting mid-June.

Core Web Vitals: A Full 2021 Guide to Google’s Ranking Factor

Hopefully, this article will have given you an overview into Core Web Vitals. 

Although some technical legwork is necessary to achieve a “good” score for this ranking factor, we believe the resultant UX benefits will not only support Google search ranking improvements but also make your website more effective and efficient.

Core Web Vitals – it’s a ranking factor that goes beyond search performance.If you’re interested in talking more about this and the technical elements of your website, don’t hesitate to give us a ring for some no-obligation advice.

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