Google regularly updates its results algorithms to try and show the best, most relevant results to you when you’re searching for a particular term.
One of the recent updates was to include a site’s ‘Core Web Vitals’ when determining how to rank a site in search results. Knowing what core web vitals are, why they matter and how you can improve them can make a huge difference to how well your site performs – so let’s dive in!
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are metrics to measure the user experience of your site loading. The metrics currently used are:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
when the largest bit of content on a page becomes visible
- FID (First Input Delay)
how soon your inputs (like clicking a button) can be processed by the browser.
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
how much elements on a page unexpectedly jumps around when the site is loading that page.
So, the idea here is that web vitals are user-focussed – this is not about how Google’s bots are experiencing your site. You get a better score when the user experience is better. If your site tries to load up massive image files that take up most of the screen on mobile, that’s frustrating for a user – and your site will probably get a poorer web vitals score (specifically for Largest Contentful Paint in this example).
Similarly, ‘cumulative layout shift’ is about how your site loads up, not just how fast. Layout shifts are horrible for users. At best they can cause mild annoyance when trying to click some link, at worst, they can result in serious, unintended actions from users. You can read about all these metrics in depth on the excellent web.dev.
Why does this matter?
Hopefully it should be apparent from the examples above – having good Core Web Vitals is important in itself – it’s a good step towards ensuring your site provides a good experience to users.
Having good Core Web Vitals scores is beneficial for your search results performance too – Google will now consider Core Web Vitals when positioning sites in search results. It’s not the only metric, but it’s another metric you need to bear in mind.
“while this update is designed to highlight pages that offer great user experiences, page experience remains one of many factors our systems take into account. Given this, sites generally should not expect drastic changes”https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2021/04/more-details-page-experience
How do I know what my Core Web Vitals are?
So now you know what Core Web Vitals are the next step is to establish how well your site is performing.
Google Search Console
If you’ve verified your website with Google Search Console, you can review reports on your site’s web vitals right in the search console.
Note that there’s a different report for desktop and mobile – typically issues might present differently (or not at all) for different screen sizes. For example, an image that only takes up a small amount of a desktop sized screen might take up the whole screen on a mobile device.
If you haven’t used Google Search Console for your site yet, you’re missing out! There’s loads of useful data available to inform you of what’s going on with you site in search results – but that’s for another article!
Chrome Dev Tools/PageSpeed Insights
The above reports aren’t always available – this data is gathered from real traffic on your site, so whether you can view these reports depends on how much traffic your site has had recently. You can use PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse in Chrome DevTools to run reports – but these only run one page at a time.
How do I improve web vitals?
On the one hand, improving core web vitals on your site can be a complicated matter and there’s no silver bullet here. However, there are a few simple starting points:
Don’t skimp on your website hosting
Much of the core web vitals metrics can be improved regardless of your web host, but you can certainly get a helping hand by hosting your site with a service that provides things like page-caching, content-delivery network (CDN) integration and other performance related features. Our typical hosting providers of choice, WP Engine and Flywheel have loads of these features – that’s why we host our client’s website with them.
Factor your site performance into all your decisions
This is probably the most important tip I could provide here. Much like with accessibility, if you make site performance (and core web vitals specifically) a key factor in your decision making, rather than an afterthought, you’ll likely make better decisions about your site overall.
So whilst it’s easy to see the benefits of adding a fancy plugin or integrate an external service to your site, you also be asking – how is this going to impact the performance on the site? How will it affect the user experience of the site loading?
Hire a good web developer
Core Web Vitals, and site performance in general, can’t be improved by you alone – you’ll need some help from a web developer who understands how to assess site performance and how to improve it.
If you’re interested in improving your site’s performance, or want to launch a new site with the best possible start, why not get in touch with us?