Google Whisperer Guide to Core Web Vitals
Historically, Google utilized signals around page experience as ranking factors for websites. Page experience includes elements like mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, secure settings (https://) and limiting of interstitials (pop-ups). It is critical to remember that these components only represent a small percentage of the 200+ factors that Google uses to determine where and how to rank a website.
In November of 2020, Google announced the addition of 3 new factors they will use to determine page experience: Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift. Known as the “Core Web Vitals” update, Google reported that this would be live, and part of the page experience signals in May 2021.
Confused yet? Don’t worry. This Google Whisperer’s guide will break it all down. First thing we will look at are the three primary components to the update.
What do Core Web Vitals Even Judge?
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) examines how long it takes for the largest chunk of content in the viewable portion of the site (above the fold) to be visible to the user. For example, if the hero is the first thing on the homepage, Google will measure LCP based on how long it takes the hero to load. But if the hero is further down the homepage and not visible until the user scrolls, it will not affect the LCP score.
2. First Input Delay (FID) measures the time it takes the browser to respond after a user clicks a Call-to-Action or CTA button. First Input Delay is the time it takes a page to load so a user can interact with it.
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is how much unexpected movement that a website has when loading. Have you ever been on a website and a pop-up appears blocking the content that you were reading with no way to close the window? It’s annoying right? CLS is meant to combat these kinds of intrusive, annoying tactics which force a user to look at something that they weren’t ready for or didn’t want to see.
What Will it Mean for Your Website Ranking Come May 1st, 2021?
No one yet knows for sure how this update is going to impact rankings for sites. Google has not said anything specific about how scores for these three metrics will impact rankings. Be wary of any vendor or consultant who is telling you they know exactly what will happen come May 2021.
The other thing to remember is that these are just three of the signals Google uses to determine ranking of your website. Google has never said how much of the overall impact an individual signal has on their ranking and is most likely not going to share it now.
How Do I Know if Google Applied This Update to My Website?
You won’t know when or if Google has applied the update to your rankings. Nor will you know how long it takes Google to update the search results for all sites out there. Back in 2019, Google announced they were only using the mobile index for sites. Despite announcing that in 2019, we didn’t see an impact automotive until 9 months later, and Google has said the mobile index will be fully rolled out in March of 2021. As frustrating as it is, Google is massive and rolling out updates will take time.
Where Can I Look to Check My Vitals?
There are several places to check your website and vital numbers. First stop should be the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console.
The important thing to remember with all those tools is that they are looking back at historical website data. So, if you make changes on your site on April 1, the earliest it would reflect in these reports is May 1. Google has said they are using 28 days of “field data” to create scores for each of the Vitals. Changes you make to your site will take up to a month to reflect in any of these reports.
How Do I Know if I Was Penalized in My Ranking For These Vitals?
You should not plan on Google notifying you if you get hit by a penalty and Google has not disclosed if this information will be available in the Search Console dashboard.
Unfortunately, there are multiple penalties that Google assigns to websites without telling the owner. Spammy content, thin content, schema errors, and doorway pages are all penalties that Google applies every day. That doesn’t consider the almost daily algorithm updates, both confirmed and unconfirmed by Google. You can be penalized with a loss in traffic or rankings without notification.
What Happens to the Other Factors for Ranking?
The 200+ ranking factors are still there, and Google is using them all to rank websites. These factors don’t go away, and you should keep paying attention to them. The same rule of thumb we always recommend applies here: A well-structured, fast-loading site with strong content will almost always be a website that ranks well.
Google agrees. In the March 19th Webmaster office hours, they said:
“Tt (CWV) does have an effect in the search results but, I think for many websites, the relevance of the content is still primary topic for ranking so its something where I think it’s useful to make a website faster and make it better for users, that always makes sense, there will be a small ranking bonus attached to that but a lot of times you get a lot more value of just making your website stronger.”
What Should I Be Doing About Google Core Web Vitals Today?
Today, dealers should continue to follow Google’s advice and focus on making your whole website stronger, not just one ranking factor. Talk to your website provider about Core Web Vitals, but only as a sliver of the overall SEO and website strategy. Your website vendor still needs to be focused on page experience and ranking factors. Some questions to think about:
- Is your website provider focused on a fast-loading experience for the user?
- Does all your SEO content meet the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness guidelines Google provides?
- How does your website provider talk about structured data?
- Does your website provider have schema built into the site?
While this is a change you should keep our eyes on in the coming months, it doesn’t change the fact that the key to success with search is a strong holistic SEO strategy, not just a focus on one aspect of rankings.
Understanding all of Google’s ranking factors and the impact to dealers can be challenging, but don’t worry, The Google Whisperer is here to guide you through all of that. If I lost you in the land of rankings, reach out and I am happy to help anytime!