Google makes thousands of small changes to their search algorithm every single year and they are famously tight-lipped about most of them.
So, when they publically announce that they will be making a change, there is an undeniable sense that, “This will be big.”
Earlier this year, Google announced that their upcoming Core Web Vitals update was going to roll out sometime in 2020. They stated that the update would reward websites that provided a great page experience. They added that webmasters will be notified 6 months before the update goes live.
Soon after the update, Chromium, Google’s open-sourced web browser project stated that sites that already meet the thresholds for the new metrics are 24% less likely to see users abandon page loads.
This has left countless webmasters scrambling to learn what the new thresholds are and what they need to do to meet them.
The New Definition of Fast
A site’s load speed has always been important to the user experience and the tacit consensus was always that “the faster the better.” However, Google is now giving some clear outlines of how fast a site should be.
SEO professionals across the world have heard this message loud and clear and have already started to respond. Paul Teitelman of PaulTeitelman.com said that his firm has shifted focus since the announcement. “We’ve been doing speed optimization for many of our clients and only saw positive results after.”
There are now three key metrics that marketers and webmasters need to be very aware of:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long does a given page take to completely load? The target time is 2.5 seconds.
- First Input Delay (FID): When can the user start clicking on links and buttons? The target time is 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): When do all of the images and assets on the page stop shifting around during loading? This is measured by a complex layout shift score, and the target score is 0.1.
These new benchmarks are aimed at helping site owners see exactly where their user experience could be breaking down.
There are a number of tools that provide a deep dive into these new metrics, including:
- The Core Web Vitals Report in Google Search Console
- PageSpeed Insights
Google has also announced that they are working with third-party measurement tools to ensure that they have Core Web Vitals integration.
Removing Other User Experience Barriers
Slow load speeds aren’t the only thing that can cause a user to abandon a website, which is why the update will also focus on other parts of the page experience.
The other key rankings signals will include:
- Intrusive interstitial guidelines
The mobile-friendliness portion is particularly important, as Google also announced that they switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites in September of 2020. They first announced that they would be switching to mobile-first indexing back in 2016, but webmasters have been slow to respond.
In fact, a recent study analyzed 1 million of the web’s top websites and determined that nearly a quarter of them are still not mobile-friendly. Other data reveals that only 30% of small business websites are mobile-friendly.
To be clear, there is a difference between having a mobile site and having a mobile-friendly site. A website can have a responsive design that sends a user to the mobile version of a website, but that mobile site needs to be usable.
The user needs to be able to easily click on and access what they want, without clicking on the wrong link or button because the elements are too close together.
Improving a mobile site’s speed can resolve many of the most common problems, such as the page’s layout shifting at the last second. However, it’s highly recommended that webmasters utilize Google’s mobile-friendliness test to ensure that everything checks out.
If your website is not currently struggling with any of the speed or experience issues we have covered today, you are already probably ranking very well and will continue to do so after the update. However, if you’re struggling in any of these areas, fixing the problem can help your site’s traffic, conversions, and SEO ranking.
There is also no need to wait for Google’s official notice that the update is 6 months away. Addressing these issues as soon as possible will most likely pay immediate dividends.
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