When you’re putting a website together, very often what you write is less important than your core web vitals, i.e. how you display it.
Your site needs to be well laid out and simple for users to interact with. No matter how good your content is, if it takes forever to load, ages to interact with — or if the page’s images and paragraphs are jumping around annoyingly — no one’s reading it.
Many CEOs, content creators, and site owners have known this for a while. However, only recently did a Google algorithm update make it official. This update includes a new set of criteria called Core Web Vitals (CWV). These are designed to improve the layout, navigability, and overall user experience (UX) of online content.
Of course, the fact that Google is involved means quite a bit. The extent to which your site meets CWV criteria will have an impact on your rankings.
So what can you do to optimize your site to be more CWV-friendly? What can we learn from the impact CWV has already been having on the world’s websites? And — of course — what are CWV, exactly?
What are Core Web Vitals?
The term Core Web Vitals (CWV) refers to a trio of ranking factors introduced by Google in June 2021.
Released as part of the “Page Experience” ranking signal, CWV — along with existing ranking factors such as mobile-friendliness and site security — are designed to measure how user-centric and accessible your website is. The three CWVs are as follows:
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP looks at how long your page’s “main” content takes to load. This includes the featured image, text, and/or video that Google deems the central focus of your page.
2. First Input Delay (FID)
FID, on the other hand, assesses the amount of time your page takes to become interactive. How quickly is your user able to click on a link or an ad, for instance? How long to play a video, or scroll down the page for more info?
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
We’ve all experienced the frustration of trying to click on something on a page, then ending up somewhere entirely different. This happens when page elements “jump” around on us. Unsurprisingly, this kinesis — “the layout shift” — doesn’t constitute a good UX. Google is definitely not a big fan, either.
This third CWV, then, measures the visual stability of your pages. Google quantifies you on CLS with a score between zero and one. A score of zero is best, and one is the worst, that is, the most disruptive to the user. Aim for a score of 0.1 or less and you’ll be on the right track!
What is the Page Experience Ranking Signal?
Remember, it’s not only CWV that you need to monitor. CWV is just one part of a wider set of criteria pertaining to how Google assesses page experience — and ranks those sites accordingly. The other elements include:
- Mobile-Friendliness. Are your pages easily navigable on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices?
- Security. Are you offering your users a secure experience? Are you encrypting their sensitive information, such as credit card details? Does your site utilize an SSL certificate?
- Intrusive Pop-Ups on Mobile Devices. Bombarding your users with marketing and pop-up ads turns them against you. It’ll irritate Google, too. This means that your content will struggle to rank.
So there’s a whistle-stop tour of what Page Experience and CWV are. But what kind of effect have they already been having on websites at large?
How have Core Web Vitals impacted websites?
Recently, Website Builder Expert tested the performance of over 3,000 sites against Google’s new CWV metrics. The goal was to find out whether some eCommerce platforms — such as Shopify and Wix — perform better than others, and thus represent a better choice when creating your website.
So who came out on top?
Somewhat surprisingly, some of the industry’s biggest names — including Shopify, BigCommerce, and Wix — were outperformed by their less well-known rivals, such as Shift4Shop and Volusion. By and large, this was the case across both desktop and mobile.
The research also indicated that desktop sites outperform mobile ones — without a single exception. In many cases, desktop sites registered an overall performance score of more than double their mobile counterparts. Clearly, there’s a clear gulf here.
In other news, Shopify boasts the fastest server response times — across both desktop and mobile — while Shift4Shop and Squarespace also registered lighting-quick scores here. Less impressively, BigCommerce comes saddled with the slowest response times on desktop. Wix’s snail-like mobile response time constitutes a (quite literal) failure to launch.
How can you test your website for Core Web Vitals?
The easiest way to test how your pages are handling the criteria laid out in the CWV update is to head to PageSpeedInsights. It’s free and super simple to use. This tool will give your page a score of between zero and 100. Here’s a guide to interpreting it:
- 0 to 49: Poor
- 50 to 89: Needs Improvement
- 90 to 100: Good
If you have Google Search Console, you can also get a sense of how your site’s doing by heading to the left-hand sidebar, and selecting Enhancements > Core Web Vitals Report. Handily, the report breaks your site’s performance down by each CWV metric and provides separate graphs for mobile and desktop.
So now you have a broad sense of the impact the Core Web Vitals update has had on sites so far — and you know how to test your site for it.
But what kind of changes will you need to make to guarantee stellar performance in the eyes of Google’s biggest recent algorithm shift? Let’s find out.
How to Optimize Your Website for the New Criteria
Firstly, we should note here that how you optimize your website for CWV success will depend on how you built it. Not all sites are created equal. Some are made with website builders or the eCommerce platforms we discussed above. Some are constructed around content management systems (CMS) while others are built entirely from scratch.
The three tips listed below are aimed mainly at those who’ve created their site with a website builder or a CMS such as WordPress. However, the overarching principles they speak to will be relevant for everyone!
1. Limit your use of apps and plugins.
“Plugins” are third-party applications that you can integrate into your site to provide value-adding features and functionality. While plugins are super handy — they do everything from improving your site’s SEO to helping you build an online store — they should also be approached with a modicum of caution.
These apps add extra “weight” to your site, causing it to load slower and harm your CWV scores. To limit your app and plugin tally, approach it the same way you would a spring cleaning of your wardrobe. Ask yourself which ones you really need and toss (uninstall) everything you don’t.
2. Use simpler templates and be careful with code.
Similarly, templates and code can also load up your website with more weight than it needs.
“Templates,” in this context, are preset design themes around which you can build the look and feel of your new site. This, of course, saves time and effort. But in many ways, you’re also sacrificing substance for style. That’s because the nicest templates also come with the most in-built code attached. Just as too many apps and plugins slow your site down, so too does overindulgence in code stymy your site’s speed.
The solution? Use simpler templates. The more straightforward a template, the less code involved. The less code involved, the faster your site will load.
The same goes for when you’re adding new code to your site. Most website builders create code-heavy sites at the outset. Think twice before adding even more code into the mix.
While website builders don’t give you access to your site’s code, you can reduce the amount of code on the page by choosing a lighter font in the visual editor. More basic fonts — for example, those that don’t need to be pulled from Google Fonts — will help your site load faster and set you in good stead in the eyes of search engines.
3. Optimize your images and lazy load.
It’s a similar story here, too. The bigger and weightier your images on your page are, the longer your site will take to load.
Fortunately, this one’s an easy fix. Simply run your images through an online image compression tool — tiny.png works great — to reduce the sizes of the files. And don’t worry — you won’t have to compromise quality. Image resolution stays the same, and you’ll still benefit from crystal-clear images, just without all the baggage that comes with the unoptimized variety.
We’d also recommend implementing lazy loading. This, essentially, means that images located further down the page won’t load until the user scrolls down to reach them. This preserves page experience without burdening your poor page with the responsibility of having to load everything at once. Your FID score will thank you!
Finally, here’s one more unofficial tip: test, test, and then test again.
After all, the only surefire way of knowing how well your efforts to optimize for Google’s Core Web Vitals are going is to keep testing. Remember, you can do this online via the PageSpeedInsights tool, as well as with the excellent reporting function that Google Search Console provides as standard.
Moreover, both these platforms enable you to split out your desktop and mobile site performance. This allows you to get a more granular, 360-degree view of how your site is doing. You also boost mobile-friendliness scores that are so vital for Google’s “Page Experience” ranking signal.
Ultimately, if you take anything away from this article, it should be this — the Core Web Vitals update is a very good thing. Though algorithm tweaks are frequently a headache to deal with, the whole ethos of CWV is to improve the online experience for the user. This helps to make the internet a more intuitive, navigable, and visually consistent place to be…and that’s something we can all enjoy!