Updated 19/04/21: Google has now pushed back the launch of the Core Web Vitals ranking factor from May to June 2021. We have updated the below article to reflect this. Core Web Vitals will now be added to Google’s algorithm as part of a “page experience update,” currently slated for gradual rollout in mid-June 2021, with the full launch by the end of August. Find out more on Google’s blog.

We like to think we’re a helpful bunch here at Example Marketing. And a big part of what we do is keeping up to date with changes and developments in the world of marketing and SEO. So, in this post we’re going to be covering an upcoming change to the way Google ranks websites: the addition of Core Web Vitals.

While Google often makes updates to its algorithm, it’s quite rare that entire new ranking signals are added – so this is a big deal. It’s definitely worth taking the time to think about how this change could impact your website. To help, here’s some info you’ll need on the new change, as well as some of our top tips on some quick ways to boost your site’s performance in response.

This update is now due to roll out in June 2021. So, there’s still time for you to evaluate what the change could mean for your website or business.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are a new system that Google has created to evaluate page experience. This means measuring how users “perceive the experience of interacting with a web page”. Basically, it’s about site speed and performance – a faster, better performing site is easier to use and lets users get the information they need quicker.

Before this change, the speed and performance of your site would affect your Google ranking, but only indirectly. This is because Google used bounce and clickthrough rate as a ranking signal. So, if your site was slow, people would bounce back to the search results quickly, and Google would use this data. But Google wasn’t actually measuring site speed directly.

That’s all set to change from June 2021. Google will now measure three specific Core Web Vitals and use this data to impact your Google ranking. Each factor broadly corresponds to one specific area of site usability and experience. Here’s the details on each factor:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Largest Contentful Paint is a metric that measures how long the largest content element appears on the screen. It broadly measures site speed – but instead of measuring how long the entire page takes to load, it measures the largest piece of content. This is usually a header image or video.

The reason Google is using LCP to measure rather than simply a measurement of the entire page load is that Google know that modern websites often pull data from a lot of different sources. This is especially true for big publications or websites which offer lots of interactive features. Using LCP means that you can prioritise the loading of the actual content, while deferring things like ads or analytics until later. This results in a better experience for the user, as the content they came to the site for loads quickly. It means that ads may only be loaded later as the user scrolls down the page.

First Input Delay (FID)

First Input Delay measures how long it takes the browser to respond to a user input while loading your website. Think about how frustrating it is when you click on a search result, the page loads, but you can’t scroll for a little while as your browser still has to load things in the background.

To optimise for this metric, Google are encouraging site developers to prioritise allowing the user to interact with the page and ensuring that background loading doesn’t affect the usability of the website.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

This metric is designed to measure how stable your website is to interact with and use. Ever loaded a news website where the article you’re trying to read pings around the page as a video ad pops in? Or accidentally clicked a popover advert that swooped in from the side of the page? Or where the button you tried to click moved down as some more content was loaded? This usually isn’t done on purpose to make you click the ads – it’s just because browsers render things as they load.

Cumulative Layout Shift is designed to encourage site developers to fix poor loading practices like these. There are specific ways of coding sites so that the browser knows where to place the content objects before having to wait for them all to load. This should lead to a better experience for all of us on the web.

How do I prepare for the Core Web Vitals update?

So, how do you prepare for this update? The first thing to do is to get data on how well your website is performing. Without this, you won’t know what to optimise for, or if you even have a problem at all.

Speak to your web design or development company, if you have one. If you’ve built your website yourself, or are using a CMS platform like WordPress, there are various tools available to measure your site performance. For example, Google themselves provide a tool called PageSpeed Insights, which tests your site performance.

The first thing to do is to attempt to fix, or ask your developers to fix, the issues listed in the PageSpeed Insights report. This tool will list out which things are slowing down your site, and you can then investigate whether they can be fixed. For example, if the report suggests removing some JavaScript code, have a look at whether that code is necessary for your site to function.

Not all of the recommendations in PageSpeed can be acted upon, however. Because the tool is designed to speed up performance at any cost, some of its recommendations may involve removing things that your site actually needs to function – like a live chat plugin, or third-party font support. It’s best to investigate each issue separately, and identify which ones are feasible for your website.

As well as using the specific suggestions from PageSpeed Insights, here are a few quick, actionable suggestions from us. We’ve focused specifically on things that are likely to have a big impact on your site speed – there’s often diminishing returns here.

Upgrade your server

If you’ve got control over where your site is hosted, look into the packages on offer. You might have signed up for the base package when your site was much smaller, and now need to look at upgrading to support more traffic, or a larger site with more features.

We’d recommend looking at cloud hosting. It’s scalable, so you can quickly add extra resources if you need to. And, it’s extremely reliable, so there’s less downtime causing interruptions to your business.

Add a CDN

A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is another set of servers which you can use to serve big assets like images. The big advantage here is that the CDN has lots of servers worldwide, so your users will get served these assets from servers near to them, resulting in faster page loads and a faster, more responsive site.

There are lots of CDNs out there to choose from, including Cloudflare, Fastly and Google Cloud. They can be a bit technical to set up, but once they’re running, they should improve the performance of your site significantly.

Compress, compress, compress

Another quick way to boost your site performance is to make sure that all the images on it are compressed. You can do this using Photoshop or other image software, or by using a web service like Tinyjpg. Compression will make the images on your site smaller, without affecting the quality – meaning faster load times without affecting the user experience.  Sounds like a win-win to us.

The other, more technical, thing to bear in mind here is something called “code minification”. There are ways to compress the actual code that makes up your website, speeding it up. It’s worth looking into this if you have the technical know-how – if not, speak to your site developer.

Remove any unnecessary plugins or tools

The last general tip is to look through your site plugins or tools and make sure that they’re all in active use by your site. If you’re not using that livechat plugin, or an analytics tool – remove it. Even if they’re not being used, these plugins will be loaded each time a user visits your site and could be slowing it down significantly.

Final thoughts

Your site performance won’t ever be perfect according to these metrics. Even the BBC doesn’t get a very good score – we’ve just tried it! But, by following as many modern best practices as you can, and paying attention to some general tips like image compression, you’ll make sure your site is in a good place when this update rolls out in June.

If your site is very old, it might be worth looking at getting a new one ahead of the rollout of the Core Web Vitals. Outdated or old-fashioned web technologies can often be penalised by the addition of these new standards.

Here at Example Marketing, we’re experts in all things web development. Check out what we offer over on our website design and development page.