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Google Just Changed the Rules. Again. Is Your Website Ready?

Google changes its search algorithm 500 to 600 times per year. Minor changes, mostly unnoticed. And then there is the knockout punch that will leave your top-ranking website in the dust.

That punch is coming and it’s called Core Web Vitals.

It’s okay though. You’ve got time. On November 10, 2020, Google announced the page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021.

Sure, that’s over six months away, but it’s crucial that you understand these standards now. So here’s what you need to know…


Need help? The good news is, we prepare our clients for changes like this all the time. Learn more.


What Are “Core Web Vitals?”

Core Web Vitals are an on-page experience metric. They’re different from the typical SEO strategies you may already know, like keyword optimization and backlinks. (And, no, those strategies aren’t going away – still important.)

Chart of core web vitals

Users don’t necessarily care about your keywords and backlinks. But they do care about slow load times, poor mobile experiences, misleading content, pop-ups, and other similar experiences. Your website may very well already be in compliance. If so, great. If not, here’s what you need to focus on.


#1 Page Load Speed

Google uses the term Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) to describe the perceived page load speed. (Remember, this algorithm update is about actual user experience – not how fast your page technically loads.) Instead of looking at page load speed as a whole, Google will look at how quickly your website begins displaying essential content elements. 

If your website features an above-the-fold video, for example, that’s likely the most important piece of content for your website visitor. However, that video is probably not the fastest-loading element on your site, in which case you could be penalized per Google’s LCP standard.

Large images, videos, and heavy files could result in penalties. As a general target, you should optimize so that all above-the-fold content loads in 2.5 seconds.


#2 Interactivity: First Input Delay (FID)

First input delay measures the responsiveness of your webpage. FID represents the amount of time between a site visitor’s first interaction and the browser’s response to that interaction. Some examples:

  • The user enters information on a contact form and clicks submit. How long does it take to reach a confirmation page?
  • The user requests to download a free resource. How long does it take to initiate?

The shorter the better. You can think of FID as a measure of user frustration. The faster your website responds to these interactions, the better your site will do under Google’s new Core Web Vitals update.


#3 Visual Stability: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

The third item Google’s algorithm update will focus on is called the cumulative layout shift. Many news websites are guilty of violating this metric. I’m sure you are familiar… you’re scrolling through a news article and as soon as you reach a new paragraph – bam! – the text gets pushed down the screen and a giant ad appears in the middle. So, you keep scrolling. Annoying, right?

The May 2021 Core Web Visuals update will begin penalizing these types of layout shifts, which cause frustrating on-page experiences for users. 


Does this sound overwhelming? We got you. Learn more.


How to Prepare Your Website for Core Web Visuals

Though Core Web Vitals has not yet gone into effect, you can start preparing your website now. To do so, open up your Google Search Console account. On the left-side, you’ll see a category called “Enhancements.” In this section, click on “Core Web Vitals.”

Google Search Console screenshot

You’ll see both a Mobile and Desktop section that shows the number of “Poor,” “Need Improvement,” and “Good” URLs. Click through to “Pagespeed Insights” on URLs that need work. 


Here, you’ll find specific recommendations (“Opportunities”) for reducing page load times and improving performance. In short, Google aims to improve the website experience so that the online experience is closer to the in-person experience you desire to give your customers: quick response, reliable experience, and a prioritization of the most important info your customer needs! I think we can all get behind that direction.

Great news - you don't have to figure this out alone!

We are offering a quick-turn optimization package to take the heavy lifting off your team to keep you ahead of the curve well before the May deadline. 

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