For years, Google SEO experts have dreamed of knowing the inner workings of search engine algorithms. Well, today it is possible.
Web Vitals is an ad from Google that allows us to penetrate their top secret ranking algorithm to see how they rate your site for one of their quality metrics: user experience.
With Web Vitals, Google specifies a set of 3 performance measures to constitute its “Core Web Vitals” (essential web signals) that it uses to judge whether or not your website is providing a good user experience.
Google also specifies some leading indicators in the specifications of web vitals that are not classified as “essential”.
Since its inception, Google has emphasized the importance of website speed, which is not surprising. However, this is the first time that it has explicitly identified the specific performance metrics that are used to determine search rankings.
This is a major event because, until now, you had to sift through the mountains of (sometimes conflicting) information on the subject, make your best estimate of the needs for improvement, and tinker around in the hope of satisfy Google’s secret algorithm. While building a website quickly can still be a challenge, at least now you have some guidelines for where to start.
Core Web Vitals primarily focus on three simple UX characteristics of a page:
- Loading speed
- Interactivity (i.e. the responsiveness of the page)
- Visual stability of the page
The math behind measurements can be complicated, but an understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish can help simplify things.
Core Web Vitals metrics are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) → Largest content table
- First Input Delay (FID) → First Input Delay / Total Blocking Time (TBT) → Total Blocking Time
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) → Cumulative Layout Shift
These fundamental web metrics are outcome measures and a combination of other metrics can be used as leading metrics to predict user experience when there is a change.
Note: Core Web Vitals have an impact on SEO. Indeed, the user experience is an increasingly important factor for SEO because the Google Page Experience Update takes into account the Core Web Vitals rating of your website.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the speed of loading pages as perceived by users. The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric shows the render time of the largest piece of content visible in the viewport.
LCP’s goal is to measure how long it takes for the main content of the page to appear in the user’s browser, focusing on the user’s perceived experience rather than a long list of metrics. which measure the different stages of the loading process.
This is important because even very small delays can be very frustrating for users.
Note: For test purposes (without users), Total Blocking Time (TBT) is used as an alternative to FID measurement.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures the stability of the pages. CLS is based on a formula that counts the number of times the page components move or “shift” while the page is loading. The less trips, the better.
We have all had frustrating experiences with sites that move around while the page is loading. While the page may be ready to interact, if anything moves over users, the user experience will be poor.
While the techniques for improving your site’s Vital Indicators can be technically complex, the process is relatively straightforward. Here are some high-level guidelines on how you can take action to impact your site’s core web vital metrics.
- Let your users guide your efforts. Examine your Google Analytics to identify your most important pages. Initial landing pages and user feeds are often the place to start looking.
- Serve smaller content that is closer to the user. Use a CDN, preferably with image management functions, which serves content optimized for each device. Then constantly check that the CDN is operated and configured appropriately.
- Seek professional help. Optimizing performance can be a daunting task. If you need help, Seoptimale agency has been helping to speed up websites for several years and will be happy to help.
Support for tools is still very limited due to the newness of Web Vitals, but Google has added support for essential web signals to some of its tools so that you can view these metrics for testing. For example, in Google Search Console you have a Core Web VItals report that shows the performance of your pages and page groups. Other tools like Page Speed Insight or WebPageTest have also added these metrics and support Web Vitals.
While this is a fantastic user experience indicator, it should be borne in mind that Google created Web Vitals with a primary focus on Google landing pages. There is a vast world of scenarios outside of this use case where measuring digital experience requires different approaches.
Some examples :
- Multistep User Flows – User flows are often critical to the success of a web application (e.g. checkout flows, logins, web application transactions, etc.) Basic feeds like this, you will likely need to track user feeds to test the full picture of user experience.
- Single Page Applications – Web Vitals core metrics are inherently focused on single page loads. When using SPA frameworks, your users interact with a single page instead of uploading new ones.
- Web Services API – Web services are typically not rendered in pages. The benchmarking will therefore focus more on functional availability, TTFB, and resource download speeds. You can find more information about this in this guide on monitoring API performance.
- Mobile apps and other heavy clients – These apps require a completely different setup to measure performance.
There will naturally be limits to any metrics you choose, so consider Web Vitals as a key part of a more holistic monitoring strategy.
Besides the basic Web Vitals, there are other metrics that serve as leading indicators that can be very useful.
Time to First Byte (TTFB) – Measures the responsiveness of web servers. LCP engine.
First Contentful Paint (FCP) – Helps identify if there are rendering blocking resources slowing the page load. LCP pilot. The Google Search Console tool gives you a report on the FCP.
Time to Interactive (TTI) – Measures the time between when the page begins to load and when it is able to respond quickly and reliably to user input. Key factor of FID.
Overall, Google’s announcement of Web Vitals is interesting, and Google’s approach simplifies the nuanced subject of user experience quite a bit. However, Web Vitals will evolve and adapt. For example, Google is currently on version 6 of its Lighthouse score (now based on Web Vitals), and Google is openly declaring that Web Vitals will change in the future.
This article was written by a guest partner