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Google's Core Web Vitals becoming ranking signals in May 2021

Google's Core Web Vitals becoming ranking signals in May 2021 Blog Feature

Christine Austin

Creative Lead, 7+ Years of Web Design and Development Experience

November 17th, 2020 min read

Google recently announced Core Web Vitals will become ranking signals in May 2021, thereby combining existing UX-related signals in its algorithm.

For those of you who find yourselves scratching your head with this announcement, it essentially means this: Google's little spider bots will now have some additional usability metrics on their clipboard when they measure your website.

These metrics, which together are called Core Vitals, were introduced this past May and help to measure “how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page."  Google says that this change will "contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.”

The Core Vitals, which are currently used for ranking scores in Google's PageSpeed Insights and Google Lighthouse, focus on three aspects of the user experience — loading, interactivity, and visual stability. 

For marketing or business leaders who oversee your company's website, these aspects are critical because they define the pain points users have when navigating a website. If you’re able to attain positive metrics in these areas, your users will like your website experience more, and it will rank better, too.

These aspects break down into the following metrics:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1, on a scale devised by Google.

Google's existing ranking signals include:

Core Vitals Integration

Google also mentioned that these Core Web Vitals are subject to change year over year as user's needs continue to change.

Site labels for user experience

In addition to new ranking signals, Google plans to test a visual indicator that highlights pages in search results that have great page experience.

The idea is to identify the quality of a web page’s experience before the user clicks through to the website. Google believes this information, along with snippets, image preview, and meta descriptions, will help users better understand which results are the best for them. 

In an August study from Search Engine Land, less than 15% of sites are optimized well enough to pass a Core Web Vitals assessment. This means the majority of pages on the web would not qualify for this label.

Despite this, Google has seen a median 70% increase in the number of users engaging with Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights over the past several months. 

Top story carousel to now allow non-AMP pages

Back in May, Google announced that websites would eventually no longer require AMP for the mobile version of the top stories section in Google search results. 

Now, Google has stated this update is slated to go live in May 2021.

Mobile News Reel

Previously, Only AMP-enabled pages were eligible to be included, but now, Google is removing that requirement. Instead, they want to prioritize pages that offer a great experience, regardless if they use AMP or any other web technology.

This now opens the door for other non-AMP publishers who are producing well-written news articles on a website that loads fast, is free of popups or interstellars, and makes navigation a breeze. You can discover more about improving your website performance here, or how to create an optimal navigation experience here.

For those looking to rank in this area, you would still need to meet Google News content policies to be eligible for the top story spots.

Google still mentions that AMP is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for publishers looking to achieve great page experience outcomes, and they recommend it as a way to achieve an optimal mobile experience for your users.

Why this matters and what marketers need to do

Google Search’s mission with its platform is to "help users find the most relevant and quality sites on the web." This means you must find ways to make your website a reliable, well-performing extension of your company that’s both keyword and technically optimized. 

For this update, you must start utilizing PageSpeed Insights and Google Search Console Core Vitals Report to understand areas for your website's improvement.

Pagespeed Insights

With PageSpeed Insights, you can look up your pages one by one to see whether or not they pass their field data test for Core Vitals. If you notice you’re in the red for any of them, you can dig deeper into what's needed to improve the metric by clicking into each on the vitals explanation guide.

If you scroll further into the report, Google will also address opportunities for improvement that may help bring up the Core Vital numbers. I recommend marketers address these areas with their internal development team or web agency to discover what needs to be done to mitigate the most important issues in red. 

In Google Search Console, you can use the Core Vitals report (under ‘Enhancements’ in the sidebar) to discover what pages have what type of vitals issue. 

Google Search Console URLs

This comes in handy for bulk error viewing. Rather than entering pages one by one (which can be challenging for larger websites), you can view the most common issue(s) on your site across all pages. This can help you better understand if there's something more globally that hampering your website's performance.

Core Vitals in Search Console

You’ll be able to click through on the report and specifically see which URLs are facing each issue. Once you believe you’ve fixed the issues on the listed URLs, you can click the ‘validate fix' button at the top of the report. Once you do this, Google will re-crawl the pages and reevaluate their vitals status.

LCP Google Search Console

Get ahead of the competition

Remember, Google estimates that only 15% of websites can pass the Core Vital reports, and there are likely many companies that are still in the dark about the importance of optimizing for them.  

For many, this could be a chance to rank ahead of a competitor who you believe might not take the time to optimize for these metrics. This helps increase your chances of ranking ahead of them, increasing the visibility and traffic to your website. 

Since Google’s updates won’t launch until May 2021, there's still time to dig into your site and plan out what needs to happen to make sure you’re coming out on top.

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