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Core Web Vitals - Google’s latest ranking signal focuses on UX

Monday, 1 February 2021
Mike HarrisContensis
Mike HarrisCampaign Manager
Advice and expertise6 mins

To improve your website’s search engine presence, it’s important to optimise your web pages according to Google’s algorithms and their ranking factors. Google’s ranking factors help the search engine decide on the order of search engine results. There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s ranking criteria covering areas such as page load speed, citations, links (inbound and outbound), mobile-friendliness and semantic keyword placement. One of the latest sets of factors, and already tipped to have a big impact on your search rankings in 2021, are Google’s new Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals are a subset of ranking signals which sit within Google's page experience ranking signal. They are designed to reward web pages that provide a more enjoyable user experience. Before we delve into Core Web Vitals, let’s first understand what Google page experience is.

What is Google page experience?

Page experience is a set of signals, known as web vitals, that Google uses to measure a user’s experience with a web page beyond its content. Page experience consists of the following ranking signals (with the new addition of Core Web Vitals):

Mobile-friendly

Measured using Google’s mobile-friendly criteria. Test your mobile-friendly web page score here.

Safe-browsing

Measuring the amount of deceptive or malicious content. You can check for safe browsing issues with the Security issues report within your Google Search Console.

HTTPS

Simply whether the page is served over HTTPS as opposed to HTTP. HTTPS is thought to be favoured by Google. You can check your site’s connection is secure by following the site connection checker instructions.

No intrusive interstitials

The final page experience signal checks to see if the content on a page is easily accessible to the user. You can find out more about how interstitials can affect the accessibility of content here.

Timeline of Google page experience ranking factors

Google’s determination to provide users with a better experience has been evident over the last few years, with their mobile-friendly update (also known in the industry as Mobilegeddon) announced back in 2015. This was followed by their Mobile Page Speed update and now Core Web Vitals. These ranking signals all focus heavily on mobile user experience, which reinforces the mobile-first indexing approach that Google has since rolled out.

  • April 2015 - Google announces their mobile-friendly update (aka Mobilegeddon).
  • July 2018 - Mobile speed update is launched.
  • May 2021 - Core Web Vitals are set to become signals within the Page experience ranking factor.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are the latest addition to Google’s set of page experience signals known as web vitals. They will focus on three areas of a web page – loading, interactivity, and visual stability. Google has confirmed that as of May 2021, Core Web Vitals will become a ranking signal for search results.

Core Web Vitals metrics

It is thought that the current set of Core Web Vitals metrics will evolve. The confirmed set for now focuses on the following:

Google Core Web Vitals metrics

Image source: https://web.dev/vitals/

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – focuses on loading

LCP is a measurement of loading performance. Specifically, it measures the time taken for the largest content element to be downloaded and ready to be interacted with. This can be text or imagery and is only measured within the viewport – anything outside of the screen does not count.

Google’s LCP user experience target: Aim for LCP to occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts to load.

First Input Delay (FID) – focuses on interactivity

FID tracks the time between a user’s first interaction with a web page to the point in which the browser can start to process the interaction. The interaction must be considered measurable. Zooming and scrolling on a page are difficult to measure with this metric so FID is likely to ignore these interactions, but will measure a click on a menu item.

Google’s FID user experience target: Aim for less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – focuses on stability

CLS measures visual stability, focusing on the layout shifts of a web page. Layout shifts occur when a visible element changes its position on a page from one rendered frame to the next. Most of us have been the victim of a layout shift in the past. You know those times when a web page has loaded and displayed a button in a particular position, only for that button to quickly shift its position when you’ve gone to click it? That’s layout shift.

Google’s CLS user experience target: Aim to maintain a CLS of less than 0.1

Google uses the following formula to calculate your CLS score.

Impact fraction x Distance fraction = Layout Shift Score

Google provides more information on CLS and what is impact fraction and distance fraction here.

For each of the above metrics, a good threshold to measure is the 75th percentile of page loads. These can be segmented across mobile and desktop devices.

How to measure Core Web Vitals

The following tools can be used to measure Core Web Vitals. Take note of the handy extension now available in the Google Chrome web store.

Tools to measure Core Web Vitals

Image source: https://web.dev/vitals-tools/

Google has provided a handy workflow to assist you in improving your page experience score using some of the above-mentioned tools.

If you are a website owner (non-developer) you should ask your web developers to look into improving your Core Web Vitals. To assist them you can provide the below workflow.

  1. Open the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. Use this data to identify any groups of pages that require attention.
  2. Once you have identified these pages, open PageSpeed Insights to diagnose lab and field issues on a page.
  3. Next, use Lighthouse and Chrome DevTools to measure Core Web Vitals. The Lighthouse report will give you guidance on exactly what to fix. Additionally, the Web Vitals Chrome extension will provide a real-time view of metrics on desktop.
  4. If you require a custom dashboard of Core Web Vitals you can use the updated CrUX Dashboard or new Chrome UX Report API for field data or PageSpeed Insights API for lab data.
  5. For a prioritised set of guides and Codelabs using PSI data, go to web.dev/measure.
  6. Finally, but vitally important, use Lighthouse CI on pull requests. You will need to do so to ensure there are no regressions in Core Web Vitals before you deploy a change to production.

How to improve Core Web Vitals scores

Once you have identified areas that require improvement, use the following guides to help assist you in the optimisation:

My thoughts on Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are a natural progression in Google’s quest to improve web page user experience. We believe they will become a key ranking signal within the page experience group of ranking signals and expect them to evolve as Google learns more about users’ behavior and their expectations for an enjoyable user experience.

We take user experience very seriously and are always looking for ways to help improve this for our own website and for our clients. With user experience becoming a key element in Google’s algorithm over the past few years it has now become a very important focal point for organisations that want to compete in search.

Expect Core Web Vitals to stick around and become a key focus point for search engine optimisation and improving UX in 2021. If your focus for 2021 is on improving user experience, it could be time to consider upgrading to an Enterprise CMS such as Contensis. Take a look at the full Contensis CMS feature list or book a demonstration today.