Google’s Core Web Vitals Initiative

In May 2020, Google announced its new Core Web Vitals initiative. The focus of this effort was to provide a single guideline for assessing site performance. Google has launched lots of tools for gathering and measuring website performance reporting over the years. The problem has been that none of them were really designed with the layman in mind. You needed to be an expert to put them to their best use and interpret the results

Google developed Core Web Vitals, in part, to remedy that situation. Core Web Vitals narrows the focus down to the most important metrics and presents them in a much more digestible form. The result has been that everyone from marketers to site owners and developers can more easily assess and monitor the quality of their own sites. Core Web Vitals applies to all web pages that are displayed in Google tools. The focus is broken down into three main factors:

  • LCP (Largest Contentful Paint): Essentially this measures the speed of the site rendering/loading. How long does it take your site to load all the element so the user can see the page as it’s meant to be viewed? Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool can be helpful in trying to isolate problems and improve the LCP results. More advanced users or may also want to consider Google’s Search Console tool for a report on the loading speed of your site.
  • FID (First Input Delay): FID measures the level of interactivity. This answers the question “how long does it take users to interact with your site?”. This is more important for some sites than others, of course. A site that is designed for quick interaction where the visitor is intended to click a call now or chat button for example would prioritize FID. Whereas a page that has a lot of content to consume, like a blog or article for example is different. In that case, a user spending more time on the page is actually desirable. It’s important to consider these contexts when reviewing the FID data.
  • CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): Finally, there is CLS, which measures the visual stability of the site’s layout. If you’ve ever visited a website where visual elements and images appear to ‘jump’ and shift around the page as it’s loading then you’ve seen an example of the type of problems Google is trying to mitigate with the CLS score. This can cause obvious problems with the user experience. Have you clicked on a button, only to have it disappear from under your cursor or finger and appear somewhere else? There are a number of errors that can cause a high CLS score, but the main one is usually that the web designer has not defined the height and width of images and videos in HTML.

The Page Experience Ranking Explained

Google says spend more time on pages when it’s been optimized for the best user experience. Lots of people gather quick snippets of information by scanning search results, but eventually they follow a link to a page. Google is focused on not only providing the best possible search experience by delivering the most relevant search results they can, but on improving web content across the board. Google offers a helpful FAQ for the Web Core Vitals and Page Experience February 2022 update here.

There are several ways in which Google approaches this stewardship role. Core Web Vitals provides relevant metrics for developers. Core Web Vitals is one of four Page Experience Signals that Google uses to give each page what they call a Page Experience Ranking. That’s just what it sounds like. Google’s objective assessment of the quality of the experience visitors will get visiting that site based upon how the site looks and performs. While these signals detailed in the August 2021 focus more on mobile than desktop, they are all potentially relevant for improving the end user experience on either mobile or desktop browsers. Google is expected to complete desktop Page Experience Signals information by the end of March 2022.

The current Google Page Experience Ranking is based upon these 4 Page Experience Signals:

  1. Core Web Vitals. Metrics which detail the loading, interactivity/responsiveness and visual stability of a site. Broken down into three scores: Largest Contentful Pain, First Input Delay and Cumulative Layout Shift.
  2. Mobile-Friendliness. A measure of how well a page loads, displays and performs on mobile devices and their browsers. More than 60% of website visits occur on mobile, yet mobile performance is still too often overlooked or treated as an afterthough, hence Google’s prioritization of mobile scores.
  3. HTTPS. Whether or not a page is served over a secure connection via HTTPS. You’ll find information on checking your site’s connection here. Google’s tips on securing a site with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) are here.
  4. No Intrusive Interstitials. Confirms whether or not a site has interstitial layers which obstruct information or access to links or buttons. A prime example is the typical floating window or pop-up ad or layer that covers an entire page, blocking the user from the content. Google’s tips regarding these can be found here.

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