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Core Web Vitals as ranking factor

Core Web Vitals will become an official ranking factor in May 2021. So, what does that mean for your website?

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Using its core updates, Google is increasingly putting the user experience first, with the search engine delivering the best-possible content for the respective search queries. While expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, the so-called E-A-T factors, played a central role in 2020, the Core Web Vitals will become an official ranking factor in May 2021. So, what does that mean for your website? We’ve put together an overview of the most important information for you.

What are the Core Web Vitals?

With the Core Web Vitals, Google is attempting to introduce new ranking factors that will be able to measure user experience and make it comparable. As with all ranking factors, these are also collected and analyzed on a URL-basis. For Core Web Vitals, the focus is predominantly on technical factors. The following values are measured and evaluated by the algorithm.

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Previously, the loading time for the first elements to become visible was important. In the meantime, studies undertaken by Google reveal that users only wait longer when they feel that the largest proportion of the page has already loaded and the rest will follow soon. Accordingly, Google will be placing its focus on the loading time of the largest graphic element on the user screen, i.e. the Largest Contentful Paint. Google categorizes the measured values as follows:

  • Good: less than 2.5 seconds
  • Needs improvement: between 2.5 and 4 seconds
  • Poor: longer than 4 seconds

First Input Delay (FID)

This value measures the interactivity of a page. How long does it take the page to react when a user interacts with it, e.g. clicks on an interactive object?

  • Good: less than 100 milliseconds
  • Needs improvement: up to 300 milliseconds
  • Poor: longer than 300 milliseconds

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

The last of the Core Web Vitals measures the visual stability. Complex websites stagger loading sections of content, which shifts the user view. Cumulative Layout Shift therefore refers to the time it takes for all elements, e.g. clickable links or text sections, to move into their final place and no longer move around.

  • Good: less than 100 milliseconds
  • Needs improvement: between 100 and 250 milliseconds
  • Poor: longer than 250 milliseconds

Where and how can you measure the Core Web Vitals?

You can access the Core Web Vitals with the following options:

Google Search Console

PageSpeed Insights

In the PageSpeed Insight report, every URL must be checked manually. Google provides helpful recommendations in the report on how to improve loading time.

Lighthouse Audit in the Chrome Developer Tools

The Lighthouse Report can be accessed via the Chrome Developer Tools and can be adjusted via a number of settings. This Chrome plugin offers other helpful tools, like a network monitor or a video of how a URL is created.

Web Vitals Extension for Chrome

The Chrome extension allows for a quick inspection of the Core Web Vitals. In order to interpret them, one has to take a look at the PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse Audit.

How can you improve the Core Web Vitals?

Now we come to the unpleasant part, namely actually improving the Core Web Vitals accordingly. There is no blanket solution, as every CMS, shop system and every internal development must be optimized differently. We take the first recommendations for improvements from PageSpeed Insights.

Typical levers for optimization are:

  • LCP: server response time, loading time for resources (images, CSS, fonts), client-side rendering
  • FID: code from third parties, JavaScript runtime, number and volume of server requests
  • CLS: specify size of images and videos, preloaded elements should not change size, reserve space for potential advertising 

The official Google documentation offers further technical assistance.

Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor

The Core Web Vitals are a part of the Page Experience Signals and combine performance measurements with other signals. The introduction of these ranking factors is scheduled for the Google Core Update in May 2021. According to Google, other signals that will be taken into account are:

  • Mobile friendly: optimization for mobile devices
  • Safe browsing: security gaps in the form of malware on websites
  • HTTPS: The https protocol stands for a secure connection. The outdated http protocol is now displayed as unsecure by most browsers. Https encryption is displayed as a little padlock next to the URL.
  • No intrusive interstitials: disturbing influences on websites, e.g. advertising or pop-ups that cover content.

Source: Google:

The factor Page Experience Signals is very technical and only one of over 200 ranking factors that are taken into account for measuring website performance. Google aims to offer users an excellent browsing experience by always providing the best and most relevant search results. In addition to good content and the factors from the Quality Rater Guidelines, the Core Web Vitals are an important influence and should certainly be taken into consideration. However, in the overall picture of optimizing websites, they play a subordinate role.

The Page Experience Signals are set to be introduced as a ranking factor with the Core Update in May 2021. So, you have until then to check your websites and get them ready for the update.

Information about the author

Hannes Richter is Head of SEO at the online marketing agency clicks digital GmbH. He is passionate about optimizing content, links and code for search engines. Hannes has also gathered experience in various inbound, PPC & media disciplines, which is why he enjoys lending his support to online marketing consultations and developing strategies to help companies become successful online.