It’s no secret that Google and the other search engines make a ton of changes to their algorithms on a regular basis. Oftentimes, these changes go unnoticed to most users because they’re just minor tweaks that happen on the other side of the screen, which are intended to help searchers find what they’re looking for more easily. Every now and then, however, Google makes a major update that can significantly impact the way businesses are found on the search engine. One such update is looming in the near future, and this is the time to get your ducks in a row so you can be ready for the major changes coming down the pipeline in the spring of 2021.
If the idea of keeping up with Google’s changes feels overwhelming to you, rest assured that you’re not alone. Fortunately, you’ve found our Surefire Local team, who’s prepared and ready to break down these big changes into bite-sized bits.
What Is Google’s Upcoming Algorithm Change All About, Anyway?
Google will soon roll out its Core Web Vitals update, which will cause the major factors that go into Core Web Vitals to become main ranking factors. This update will also take into effect existing UX-related signals, optimizing the way searchers interact with top search results on Google. Between page experience ranking signals and Core Web Vitals, Google’s new update will help ensure users get the best experience when they’re looking for products, services, and information online.
What are Page Experience Signals?
Great question! Page experience signals are a set of factors that measure how people perceive their experiences with web pages beyond the pure informational value they provide. Page experience signals include Core Web Vitals (more on those in a minute) that help Google understand which sites are providing the most helpful and enjoyable situations to its users.
What are Core Web Vitals?
Okay. Let’s get into the meat of what this update is and what it means for your business. Generally speaking, Core Web Vitals are a subset of Web Vitals, each demonstrating a distinct facet of the user experience. In other words, these metrics are used to help Google understand exactly how user-friendly and valuable your website is to the people who are using its search engine.
There are three main pillars associated with Core Web Vitals:
- Loading response. How fast does your content load on the screen?
- Responsiveness. How quickly do your pages react to input from users?
- Visual stability. Does stuff move around on the screen while the pages are loading?
As a way to measure these essential elements of user experience, Google has outlined three corresponding metrics. These are known as the Core Web Vitals. Here’s a look at what Core Web Vitals are and what they actually mean:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is a measurement of how long it takes for the biggest pieces of content to appear on the page. Sometimes, LCP measures images; other times, it might measure a block of content. A good LCP grade indicates that users feel the site is loading quickly. A slow load time can cause frustration that can give your brand a bad reputation.
What you need to know: Now that you know what LCP is, you can start optimizing for it so your site’s ready to go when Google releases this next big algorithm change. Try to get your LCP to occur within the first 2.5 seconds of the page loading. Basically, if you’re hitting the four-second mark or less, you have room for improvement, but you’re doing okay. If it takes longer than four seconds for your stuff to load, your page is performing poorly, which could cause you to incur penalties from the search engine.
Bear in mind that your LCP is dynamic, meaning the first thing that loads might not necessarily be the largest image. There are a few factors that can affect your LCP, including:
- Slower response times. Optimize your server, use a content delivery network (CDN), and cache assets to ensure your server is running as quickly as possible.
- Render-blocking JavaSript and CSS. Be sure to minify your CSS, as well as defer non-critical CSS and inline critical CSS.
- Slow-loading resources: To avoid presenting slow-loading resources, make sure your images are optimized, preload resources, and compress your text files.
First Input Delay (FID)
FID measures how long it takes for your site to react to a person’s first interaction with it. This is often the tap of a button or some similar interaction. A high grade in this category means the user has a sense that the site is reacting quickly to his or her input and is, therefore, responsive. Once again, if there is a lag time, it can lead to frustration.
What you need to know:
You can’t measure the FID if there’s no interaction between your site and users. In other words, Google can’t simply predict your FID based on data they have hiding on the other side of the screen. This also means the information used for your FID isn’t as controlled as lab data because it’s collected from users who employ all sorts of devices and various environments.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures the visual stability of your site. If stuff moves around on your site’s pages while they’re loading, it can cause a negative experience to the user. The more frequently this happens, the lower your page will be likely to rank when Google reviews your CLS metric. This measurement literally tells Google how stable your website is when stuff is loading onto your site’s pages. It examines how often content jumps around while it’s being loaded (and by how much).
Imagine a page that’s loading, which features a button that’s meant to be clicked on. When the user goes to click on it, it keeps moving around, and that person is ultimately unable to complete his or her desired action until they wait for the page to fully load. By the time the content actually finishes loading, the button has moved to somewhere else on the page, and the user is frustrated and may not want to continue pursuing your brand any longer.
Poor layout shifts happen frequently with ads. They often load so poorly that they cause users frustration, ultimately impacting the brands themselves negatively. Additionally, complex sites often have so much going on that content gets loaded whenever it’s ready, causing a confusing and irritating experience to the end-user.
What you need to know:
The CLS compares frames to figure out when different elements are moving around. It also calculates the severity of those movements. If you’re scoring below 0.1, you’re in good shape with Google. However, anything from 0.1 to 0.25 needs improvement. If your scores are hitting above 0.25, you have a lot of work to do, as the search engine is rating your performance as poor.
How Can You Measure Your Core Web Vitals?
There are several tools available to help you measure your Core Web Vitals. The more you monitor your pages and get to know how these things work, the better position you’ll be in to make friends with Google when this algorithm change rolls out. Here are a few of the most important tools available to you:
PageSpeed Insights offers you a full-service suite of measuring tools, giving you access to both field and lab data. Plus, you can check in with PageSpeed Insights if you need input regarding where your improvements may lie.
Lighthouse is a tool that was built by Google. Its original purpose was to enable web developers to audit progressive web applications (PWAs), but it has since been transformed into a tool that allows anyone to monitor their websites’ performances. In addition to checking out your Core Web Vitals, you can also check in on some of your SEO efforts using Lighthouse.
Search Console Core Web Vitals Report
Now, your Search Console gives you the ability to check in on the performance of your Core Web Vitals right from the place you already go to see how other aspects of your site are performing.
Attend a Surefire Local Marketing Platform DemoWe know this is a lot to take in, understand, and act on. The good news is that you’re not alone. Our team is here to help you navigate these changes so you can maximize your visibility online. Schedule your demo with our Surefire Local today!