It’s undisputed that search engines are one of the largest driving factors for digital marketing. There are over 3.5 billion Google searches made every day, and the most successful marketers have learned to tap into Google’s Core Algorithm for maximum search engine optimization (SEO) and revenue.
However, Google announced late last year that there would be some significant changes to their ranking systems, called Core Web Vitals (CWV), starting mid-June 2021. These changes could significantly alter the digital marketing strategies of many, if not all, companies. Here’s what you need to know about SEO and how to best adapt your digital marketing content for primal optimization in the face of the CWV changes.
Before the world wide web existed as we know it, the internet was more like a system of bulletin boards, similar to Reddit. People used dial-up modems and keywords to find the specific pages they wanted; search engines were non-existent. If a site didn’t have a keyword or you didn’t know it, you couldn’t get to it.
A few early search engines, like Ask Jeeves and Goto, were also keyword-based. But, they didn’t have algorithms and couldn’t rank pages based on your search or their quality. Then, Google changed the game in 1998 by introducing the feature of ranking. It showed searchers the most relevant pages to their keyword search.
Since then, Google has significantly improved its search engine, now with features like spellcheck, a “people also ask” section, and even the ability to book or buy products or services without ever leaving Google’s page. Its algorithm over the years has changed but mainly has focused on ranking pages based on relevance, and authority: how relevant a page is to your search and the quality of that page’s content based on backlinks and engagement.
Google has an insurmountable amount of information about users’ browsing behavior, which positions them to sell advertising at a hyper-targeted level. Your first result is 99% what you want the first time, but any keyword will have 80% ads and google features in its results. Even if you know the difference between an ad and an actual result, you’ll probably still click on the first result, which from an organic perspective makes a better user experience.
This is because Google’s algorithm for ranking pages on quality has been so good. That is, until the CWV announcement.
It’s important for search engines to continually improve and adapt. However, when Google announced that it would be making changes to its Core Algorithm, the changes were not based on Google’s usual ranking system for relevance and authority.
The Core Web Vitals are three seemingly arbitrary metrics Google has selected to be a part of their Core Algorithm. Each has different impacts and will be measured on different criteria for web performance.
LCP is how long it takes a page to load from the user’s point of view. Think of how long it takes you when you click on a Google search result for most of the page’s content to load. If it buffers for too long, you probably aren’t going to wait around for it. Bad LCP can easily contribute to higher bounce rates.
LCP is better than other page speed measurements because it focuses on what really matters when it comes to page speed, which is allowing your users to see and interact with your page. Google’s guidelines say the LCP of every page on your site needs to load within 2.5 seconds.
FID measures how long it takes for a user to actually interact with your page, usually meaning the functionality of your clickable content. Few things frustrate a user like clicking multiple times on a button or typing your email into a form, only for the site to stall or just not load. If it takes too long, the user may bounce again.
For pages that are heavy on content, FID may not be much of a concern, but most other pages will need to keep their FID under 100ms per Google’s CWV guidelines.
CLS is the measurement of how stable a page is as it loads, especially visually. Do the elements on your site, such as buttons, images, and text stay put in the same place as they load? Or do they move or jump around as the page finishes loading? Too much movement means a high CLS.
You want your elements to stay stable as the page loads, so users won’t have to adjust to shifting buttons as they try to navigate your site and click on the wrong thing by mistake. Google has defined elements that shift less than 0.1 of an inch as good; anything more is going to affect your page’s ranking.
This isn’t the first update Google has made to its algorithm. There’s been plenty of behind-the-scenes changes over the years Google hasn’t publicly announced. The algorithm today is much different than it was a year ago. But this update is much more drastic than the others.
Google said any site that doesn’t meet the CWV metrics will still rank for that keyword, but you will probably be pushed down the list. If you put in a lot of work into the backend of your site, you may have to compete around keyword #2 for keyword #1. Essentially, you won’t lose your ranking, but you will move down. Some of our clients have already lost a lot of rankings, especially smaller businesses.
Google has contractors who create lists of pages that they grade manually to put into the algorithm. But this is good because it means if humans can make this algorithm, we can figure out how to make the best of it. Every business wants to be on the first page of Google, and while you can pay for ads, the organic presence built on quality SEO is by far the number one way to maintain and drive engagement to your pages for almost free.
What Can I Do To Improve My Site’s Core Web Vitals?
As Google is in the process of fully rolling out these new changes, strategies will probably have to change with them. But for now, here are some starting ideas for improving your CWV.
First, check your website’s CWV statuses for Google’s guidelines here. Once you know where your site stands, use some of the tips below to improve your site’s scores.
For Largest Contentful Paint:
- Adapt your full images to load faster.
- Remove any unnecessary third-party scripts.
- Configure Lazy Loading for images and iframes.
- Convert PNG images to JPEG images when possible (but webp is even better).
- Change logos to SVG format.
- Minify CSS (style sheets). Make them smaller so they can load more quickly.
For First Input Delay:
- Remove any non-critical third-party scripts.
- Configure browser caching: why does the site look different on mobile or someone else’s computer? Browsing caching can help tell your browser whether the image can stay or go.
For Cumulative Layout Shift:
This is by far the toughest one. If the sizing of an element is wrong, or it loads and then resizes, there’s a number of things that can make this go wrong. It’s the hardest of the three to fix and diagnose, then replace with improved items. But here are some general tips:
- Use set size attribute dimensions for all media. You can find this setting within WP Rocket.
- Make sure that the header carousel images or hero image has a fixed height (<div>) element around each image.
- Ensure images have properly sized thumbnails. Set a rule for your site that you’ll only use a certain number of set image sizes, and no more. Hard code them into WordPress so they are the same on all devices.
- Avoid using scripts that inject code that could affect the layout of on-page elements. Even browser plugins can do this and affect CWV scores.
Core Web Vitals are difficult metrics to understand and adapt for, but not impossible. If you want help navigating this upcoming change to Google’s SEO, 829 Studios can help you adapt and thrive amidst this marketing shift. We offer services in SEO, paid search, and everything you could need to optimize your marketing strategy. Contact us today to get started!