We recently sat down in our respective home offices and recorded a conversation about Google’s upcoming Core Web Vitals ranking update, which we’ve released as the first episode of our new podcast, CogCast. For those of you disinterested in the audio-less version (which we really do recommend, it’s an entertaining listen) this post recaps some of the highlights and must-know takeaways.
Core Web Vitals is a much-delayed but now finally imminent change in how Google determines a website’s rank in organic search results. We now expect the update to go live in May 2021, with the exact date to be announced.
While Google is nearly constantly tweaking its pioneering and dominant search algorithm, this change is different. For the first time, the search engine giant will factor in metrics around the performance of a webpage in how it ranks. This is a logical next step for a company that has become increasingly sophisticated in how it understands and reads the content and the words on your website to determine relevancy and quality.
Core Web Vitals are three interconnected measures of the experience of navigating and using a website. It marks a shift in importance, from simply providing the right, helpful content to someone searching, to presenting that content in the right, seamless way on the website when they get there.
The three metrics are as follows:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – How long it takes for the main content of the website to load. If it’s too slow because of huge images or scripts (read: fancy pop-ups or tracking code), Google will judge your site negatively. And it’s quick, ‘good’ LCP means under 2.5 seconds .
First Input Delay (FID): This is how long it takes for a website to become active and a place where the user can interact. Again this needs to be very fast – with an ideal speed of just a tenth of a second
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures unexpected movements on pages as a result of certain elements on the page loading too slowly and at different speeds; the most common (and frustrating!) impact is the appearance of a slow loading ‘buy it now’ button when a user goes to click on something unrelated
In aggregate these changes mean that the prettiest, most luxurious and easiest to navigate page might still be penalized if it takes too long to load. And beyond search ranking; slow-loading and poor-experience websites hurt result in poor user experience and engagement. And if you aren’t engaging with your userbase – a website isn’t working as hard as it could be.
Google rank remains incredibly important, not just in how people search and find information on topics, but also how they return to information. A significant number of searchers now use the Google search bar – whether in a browser or on a mobile homepage – to return to information, even when they know the site they want to visit. Remembering and typing URLs is being replaced by more and more searches for site and brand names, which means the Core Web Vitals update is important even for those companies not necessarily looking to attract new customers.
Thankfully there are plenty of tools (both Google’s own and other helpful SEO providers!) that can help diagnose whether your site meets these additional requirements. The single best place to start is Google PageSpeed Insights, which allows you to enter a URL and get immediate feedback on performance. It also provides tips on potential issues and can guide the actions you take to improve. Additional performance reporting can be done within Google Search Console (the more technical sibling to Google Analytics), which is free and can be installed on any website.
The benefit of Google’s early warning is plenty of time to diagnose and fix any website issues. But it also means that your competition is almost certainly doing the same. To maintain and potentially improve rankings on important keywords – act now. And if you’re confused on where to start, please get in touch.
James Hannaford and Jade Bestley are digital specialists in Cognito’s London and New York offices, respectively