Analytics

Making Sense of Google Core Web Vitals: Our Explanation and Strategy

Written by Tate Freundlich ·

July 2021

Last Year, Google announced that Core Web Vitals will become an official ranking signal in May of 2021 as it joins HTTPS, safe browsing, mobile-friendly pages, and limitations on interstitials in their broader UX-oriented Page Experience signal.

While this is a new development, Core Web Vitals (CWV) have been around for some time. One thing should be clear: A good page experience will only become more and more important for search engine rankings. Taking action to improve your CWV metrics isn’t just smart SEO—it can improve every aspect of your brand’s digital experience and bolster the ROI of your digital marketing efforts.

Core Web Vital metrics explained simply:

LCP, Largest Contentful Paint: Loading performance.

How long it takes to fully display the largest content on the screen. Pay extra attention to images and multimedia. Remember that Google will only look at material that's visible on the screen—even if one element is larger than another in terms of total size, it won't be used for LCP if another element takes up more space in the initial viewport.

Remember that you can use this information to your advantage—if a high-resolution image is hurting your core web vitals metrics, you can simply make it smaller or move a portion of it out of the viewport to use another element for LCP. There are obviously other factors to consider when making these enhancements, but this dynamic makes the largest contentful paint a relatively straightforward search ranking factor to optimize.

Keep it under 2.5 seconds.

FID, First Input Delay: Interactivity

How quickly a user can interact with your webpage in a stable and responsive way. Simply displaying your content is one point, but making it available for interaction is just as important to real users as well as the Google algorithm. This metric focuses on inputs like clicks and keystrokes, so zooming and scrolling won't have the same impact on your FID performance.

Try to keep it under 100 milliseconds.

CLS, Cumulative Layout Shift: Visual Stability.

How much visible content shifts for a user when interacting with or loading a page. Unexpected shifts can hurt the user experience and quietly pull your site down the search rankings. Keep in mind that your CLS score measures the amount of material affected in addition to the length of the shift—the right fix will depend on which one needs improvement, but you can make progress by optimizing either one.

Blank white space isn't great from a visual perspective, but it can be surprisingly helpful when it comes to avoiding unexpected layout shifts. If you leave space on your home page for an ad to load into, for example, the ad won't cause any shifts during the page loading process.

A score of under .1 is good.

What you can do to improve your Core Web Vitals:

Each site requires a unique strategy, but here are a few surefire optimizations any site can benefit from. Think of these as the Tom Hanks of digital experience; they do well in everything they’re in, and are universally liked.

1. Mind the images

We love rich images, but we don’t love their loading weight. For a quick fix, switch to a next-gen image format. There's no reason for a big .jpeg file to hurt your web vitals report by hurting your LCP score. Convert your old .jpeg or .png to .webp for a smaller file size and quicker loading.

Of course, you should also be taking steps to compress images whenever possible. Lossless compression methods ensure that reducing the size of the file won't have any effect on its real-world appearance. Lazy loading is another easy way for site owners to minimize page load times—rather than loading every element on a given page, lazy loading will prioritize elements that show up in the viewport.

2. Do more with less

We like clever tools, forms, pop-ups, and catchy offer boxes as much as the next guy, but they’re like hot sauce: Great on everything in moderation. The fewer executed scripts and connections made to other sites, the better for your Core Web Vitals. Use Tag Manager if you aren’t already, and critically evaluate and optimize the placement and timing of email forms or offer boxes.

This point is doubly important for interstitials that can negatively impact the interactive experience. When a user accesses your site, they should see the content they were looking for rather than a distracting interstitial. Google's Search Central blog notes that "pages, where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results, may not rank as highly."

This isn't to say that interstitials are never effective or worth using—the crux of the issue is that they often do more harm than good when it comes to usability, and by extension, your web vitals report. This is a particularly important point in terms of mobile-friendliness since interstitials tend to be even more intrusive on the smaller screen.

3. Make sure your tech is up to the task

Ensure your web hosting is up to par for your traffic, make sure you're using a CDN, and confirm that your CMS matches the experience you’re trying to deliver. Not all hosting, CDNs, or CMSs are created equal, so make sure you have the right tech stack to meet your needs.

Hosting is a common sticking point for webmasters who want to improve their site's responsiveness without spending a fortune to maintain it. Dedicated hosting arrangements can easily run hundreds of dollars per month, and the drawbacks of shared and VPS hosting plans may not be visible if you've always had the same provider.

If you notice long loading times, downtime, or a significant increase in traffic, you should take a close look at your hosting arrangement to make sure it's not holding back your site. Reliable web hosting is a no-brainer investment for any marketer or webmaster who wants to offer a great page experience.

4. Find a partner to help you navigate

The Google search console and other tools help site owners make progress on their own, but marketing specialists offer expertise and experience with the fine points of webpage optimization.

If you want to improve your web vitals report, let a trusted partner chart your digital strategy. At IMM, our approach begins with research, analytics, and strategy, and it continues throughout the entire project lifecycle. We identify pain points in order to create solutions for user satisfaction and business growth.

Schedule your free SEO Audit today and put your site's best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines and your overall digital experience.

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