Understanding core web vitals for SEO with Ben Givon

Understanding core web vitals for SEO with Ben Givon

Everything you need to know regarding Google’s latest cluster of important user experience metrics for Developers and SEOs.

Core web vitals are the latest bunch of performance metrics from Google that help SEOs and web developers monitor and optimize elements of web page development that have a direct impact on user experience such as page loading speeds, interactivity, and visual stability. The world’s largest search engine has plans to make Core Web Vitals key metrics for SERP ranking as a feature of the Page Experience Update that is scheduled to come into action next year.

These Core Web Vitals metrics are based on when certain tasks are executed and completed, which includes tasks that are both interactive and visually impacted when these tasks occur, as well as the time it takes for pages to load until they reach stability concerning user experience. What does this mean? Simply put it means that score values can alter as users engage with your site. You score higher when tasks happen quicker across stop-watch time intervals.

There are three grades that you can get when Google ranks your Core Web Vitals:

  • Good
  • Needs improvement
  • Fail

The three key and current metrics that Google uses to rank Core Web Vitals are as follows:

  1. What is LCP or Largest Contentful Paint? this is the time interval between the beginning of a page-load to when the largest text or image is completely rendered. You may see the Core Web Vitals score changing as your site loads and when content becomes visible but most of the bulk of content remains in the backlog pending. This becomes more apparent when internet connection speeds are slow.
  2. What is CLS or Cumulative Layout Shift? Addy Osmani from web.dev defines CLS as: ‘Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – a Core Web Vitals metric, measures the instability of content by summing shift scores across layout shifts that don’t occur within 500ms of user input. It looks at how much visible content shifted in the viewport as well as the distance the elements impacted were shifted.’  
  3. What is FID or First Input Delay? According to developer.mozilla.org ‘First input delay (FID) measures the time from when a user first interacts with your site (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction. It is the length of time, in milliseconds, between the first user interaction on a web page and the browser’s response to that interaction. Scrolling and zooming are not included in this metric. The time between when content is painted to the page and when all the functionality becomes responsive to human interaction often varies based on the size and complexity of the JavaScript needing to be downloaded, parsed, and executed on the main thread, and on the device speed or lack thereof (think low end mobile devices). The longer the delay, the worse the user experience. Reducing site initialization time and eliminating long tasks can help eliminate first input delays.’

Google has plans to cut back on frequent updates to its Core Web Vitals because it wants to create some stability for SEOs and web developers, however, you can still expect Google to introduce new metrics every now and then. Some web developers have suggested that the most probable addition to Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics will be measuring page animations, but such a metric is still being developed and is highly unlikely to make an introduction in 2020.

Analyzing mobile and desktop Core Web Vitals scores

Core Web Vitals scores are given separately between mobile and desktop devices. Google PageSpeed Insights gives you the ability to choose which device category you want to test. By default, Google’s PageSpeed Insights shows statistics and analysis for mobile devices which means you will have to click on the desktop tab to compare desktop and mobile Core Web Vitals scores.

Google has also introduced Core Web Vitals metrics to Search Console reporting when data from Chrome User Experience is present. If you are using Core Web Vitals scores through the Search Console, the dashboard shows data from both mobile and desktop devices across all the URLs that your indexing covers. You can then analyze the pages that are highlighted as having issues.  

As a feature of the Chrome User Experience Report, Google shows field data from more than 15 million sites that have accumulated enough data to report Core Web Vitals. This data is harbored at Google’s BigQuery service, in which you can compare and contrast statistics from these sites. Updates are continuous and are typically released in the second week of each month.

What tools are available to monitor and optimize my Core Web Vitals?

First and foremost is Google PageSpeed Insights. This is the first on the list because Google provides both lab and field data in a single statistics report. In addition, you also gain access to various other important metrics that if improved can help optimize failing and need for improvement sites, especially finds that impact the actual loading speed of the website.

Chrome Dev Tools. Chrome itself gives a definitive set of tools for finding or dealing with issues using the detailed data in reports and page load accounts in the Performance tab. The broad range of tools and choices are perfect for the most demanding SEO work.

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