If you’re an SEO and haven’t heard of Google’s Core Web Vitals yet, you must have been living under a rock – possibly even a boulder.
Search Engine Journal’s Matt Southern broke the news back in May of this year that the world’s #1 search engine is introducing a new ranking signal known as core web vitals.
In most SEO circles, this new signal has been dubbed the “Page Experience” signal — named for how users perceive their experience when visiting a website.
And just in case you’re unaware of the current performance metrics, we have outlined the current Core Web Vital (CWV) signals, what they consist of, and a short description of each.
Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s primary content to load. An ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster.
First Input Delay: The time it takes for a page to become interactive. An ideal measurement is less than 100 ms.
Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1.
As Google puts it:
“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!)”
But the question remains…
Do Core Web Vitals actually matter, and what does the SEO industry have to say about them?
SEOButler checked in with esteemed SEOs worldwide to gain valuable insight into how they’ve responded to this potential new ranking signal, and what tools they recommend for measuring Core Web Vitals metrics.
You’ll be surprised what some of our experts had to say – I know I was!
At IMG (Internet Marketing Gold), we’ve started testing Core Web Vitals in controlled environments. So far, it’s looking like a nothing burger. Right now, I wouldn’t spend any extra time or resources on Core Web Vitals until someone can clearly demonstrate them to be a ranking factor.
Keeping an eye on your page speed and Time to First Byte (TTFB) is always a good idea. At a minimum, you want your pages to load quickly so that visitors can convert.
Webpagetest.org and gtmetrix are useful free tools for measuring performance.
I started working with a client with a blog that sees 15k visits daily.
They relaunched their blog on a new CMS and saw a massive increase in CLS and LCP errors on desktop and mobile.
We also saw a 30% reduction in traffic with the launch of the new CMS and layout. I’m still waiting to see if this resolves the drop.
Also see this excellent post by noted Technical SEO Andy Drinkwater:
“Google evaluates this over a 28-day period, so even after the changes have been made, we could be waiting up to a month to see any corrections.”
So the takeaway — don’t let inferior CWV results sit and if you’re relaunching pages, make sure they fall under the recommended thresholds.
I thought this was a pretty neat tool:
Currently, it’s unknown how Google will implement CWV. However, from past experience with new tech SEO changes, like mobile-first, Google usually fires a warning shot across the bow.
Therefore, SEOs should take notice — Google is moving into UX as a ranking factor.
As SEOs find out more and more about how to rank on Google, Google needs new ways to differentiate sites that are great and loved by users from the ones which just “do great SEO” to rank highly.
Over time, I suspect Google sees evaluating user experience as an area machine learning will help facilitate.
As of right now, I see UX as being one of the top concerns for SEO over the next five years.
The obvious answer for measuring then upgrading your CWV lies with Google Search Console. That’s where to find the data that shows you what you have to improve.
Beyond that, getting into implementation, it’s largely a technical development job…
It may be that some people need to switch themes or hosting — especially if they’ve bought into slow ones.
However, when it comes to site speed, specifically, a significant improvement can typically be achieved using cache plugins and CDNs.
As a conversion rate optimization professional, I feel that Core Web Vitals is a harbinger of the ongoing merger of CRO and SEO.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that certain SEO factors are intrinsically tied to CRO factors. Perhaps the most prominent of all is the overall page load speed. It’s well known that if a page takes too long to load, Google can completely filter it out from the search results.
Likewise, if a page loads too slowly, a user probably won’t wait and simply click the “back” button and go to another website. This example perfectly illustrates how search algorithms and user behavior are in alignment.
Another example of SEO and CRO being one-and-the-same is having a keyword in the H1 tag. Google knows that if somebody is searching for a particular keyword, and the keyword doesn’t appear right away in the page content, the user may find the search result irrelevant and bounce to look for a website that better answers their query.
This continuity from search query to the resulting page is also demonstrated with Google Ads scores. Likewise, with respect to conversions, a web page’s immediate relevance is a key conversion factor.
If a page doesn’t immediately establish relevance to a search query, the user will likely bounce and look elsewhere, severely impacting the page’s conversion rate. This demonstrates that one of the primary SEO factors is also a key CRO factor.
It’s highly likely that as time progresses, SEO will be more closely tied to the user experience and hence, the conversion rate of a page.
Google doesn’t just want to deliver relevant results — it wants to return a search result that also provides a great user experience. So it makes sense that Core Web Vitals have become more crucial and that UX will become a bigger part of SEO.
What we see now with Core Web Vitals is just the beginning. One can only imagine that as AI evolves, indicators like subtle mouse movements, click behavior, scroll behavior, dwell time, and bounce rate will be measured more intelligently. This will have a direct impact on SEO, and rankings will be adjusted accordingly.
It’s also possible that one day, CRO and SEO will more or less merge and user experience will not only be a ranking factor, but the most heavily-weighted SEO factor of all.
My advice for SEO professionals is to learn more about conversion rate optimization. Not only will CRO help SEOs prepare for the inevitable, but it will also aid in delivering much more satisfying results for their users and clients.
CRO is all about the user experience, and it’s just a matter of time before UX will be king.
The #1 tool I recommend for Core Web Vitals is Google’s PageSpeed Insights (GPSI). Of all the testing tools, it’s definitely the toughest to get a high score on.
That said, I never use only one tool. I highly recommend using a good conversion rate measurement tool, like Peachtree Analytics.
Measuring a website’s conversions is perhaps the crucial important user experience metric.
You can also use Google Tag Manager, but I find it clunky, difficult, inaccurate, and lacking in features.
I also recommend using Webpagetest.org and GT Metrix to compare web page measurements with GPSI.
With complete candor, what we’re seeing with Google’s Core Web Vitals is business as usual for the search engine over the past half a decade and will mean little to nothing new at the end of the day.
In my opinion, these metrics have been around for years already, and Google just recently decided to provide SEOs with an easier way to measure them.
All these “new” signals — LCP, FID, and CLS — are evolved metrics for key performance indicators that SEOs have known are crucial for five years or more.
In other words…. website speed and loading times from the moment a DNS call is made to when a user navigates the page is of the utmost importance for the user’s experience.
There’s nothing special going on here, in my opinion…
However, SEOs and webmasters alike should continue to make sure their websites meet the requirements discussed in this on-page technical SEO guide, previously published on SEOButler.
Core Web Vitals (CWV) as a concept is a convenient tool, but let me remind you of the good old saying — “Marketers ruin everything.”
I can only imagine the number of website audits and proposals going out into the world right now, stating that the prospect’s website is trash and citing the CWV scores as a reference.
My team and I have been tempted too!
I’m seeing that website authority and content optimization absolutely trumps many of the factors that CWV tests for.
Don’t believe me? Run a test on BBC.com yourself!
I’m not saying that CWV is bad, by any means…
I’m just saying that, as always, there’s a crucial distinction to be made between correlation and causation.
Will a page perform better if it loads quickly and without errors?
Will it only rank if you have a ‘100’ score on CWV?
Using metrics like CWV, just like any other SEO analysis tool, requires the user to apply common sense, strategy, and a good sense of prioritization before jumping the gun and suggesting that a dev “just fix everything.”
Google is in a unique position. It owns the #1 search engine, #1 website analytics tool, and #1 web browser.
Google has access to data that no other competitor has, and it’s the most innovative big data company in the world.
It would be a major oversight if Google didn’t use all this proprietary data to determine whether one page delivers more value to a user than another.
I think Core Web Vitals (Page Speed, Largest Content Paint & Cumulative Layout Shift) is just the beginning, and we’ll see higher and higher ranking signals assigned to UX metrics.
Google PageSpeed Insights <3
What you can expect to see over the next year is SEOs and website owners running around like their hair’s on fire about the new Core Web Vitals update launching next year.
There will be tons of clickbait articles and videos all over the internet.
In reality, CWV will have a very minor impact on search results, much like Google’s past HTTPS/SSL, Mobilegeddon, and PageSpeed updates had.
In competitive SERPs, CWV is not going to be the difference between ranking #1 and ranking #10. It’s more likely to be the difference between ranking #30 and ranking #29.
A minor boost at best.
You have to remember that Google’s main objective is to provide the best search results it can to its users…
In many popular niches right now, the top-ranking sites fail miserably in terms of the benchmarks that Google has set for ideal Core Web Vitals scores.
If Google were to make this a major ranking signal in the algorithm, we would see the SERPs thrown into chaos. That’s not what Google wants.
Over time, could they potentially turn up the dial on how heavy of a factor it is? Of course. They may nudge it a little bit here and there.
But again, what’s more important? That people find what they’re looking for or that a webpage scores well on these arbitrary metrics?
Now that I’ve said all that, there’s no doubt that building fast loading pages and preventing design elements from jumping all over the screen (Layout Shift) will make your site easier to use and could improve conversions. That should be part of everyone’s goal.
I think the Cumulative Layout Shift is going to be the one that trips up most people. Little things that are sometimes considered best practices — like deferring the loading of some scripts to speed up load time — can also cause shifts in the layout.
To measure that, I would use the Developer Tools in Chrome. Under the Performance tab, you can actually see where layout shifts are occurring on a page.
I think Core Web Vitals are really helpful to SEOs because we can give clients more incentive to improve their landing pages.
SEOs can say, “Hey, look, your product page has this cumulative layout shift, and Google is flagging it.”
It’s also often a challenge for competitors to gain ground on CWV due to outdated technology. So CWV is a great starting point to have this conversation with clients.
Google PageSpeed Insights is a good tool to start with because it uses anonymized data from users and makes valuable suggestions on where to improve.
Based on the recommendations above, it looks like there are divergent ideologies on what SEO should be paying attention to as pertains to Google’s Core Web Vitals.
While some of our industry experts believe Core Web Vitals carry little to no weight for SEO, others are of the mindset that they’re highly beneficial metrics and will improve the understanding of website performance over time.
Whatever your beliefs are specific to Core Web Vitals, there’s one crucial takeaway that the industry can agree on as a whole, and that is:
SEOs should be prioritizing the speed, user experience, and usability of their web properties – but that was already a given, right?
And, as always, colleagues and friends……SEO today with the future in mind!
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