Google just announced that Page Experience Ranking on desktop searches
will be rolling out in February of 2022. This means that your website performance as determined by their Core Web Vitals metrics will have an impact on your search rankings. Mobile searches have already been affected starting as early as June and completing in August of 2021.
Lots of big fancy words, but what does it mean for a business owner and their website?
The simple answer is "the experience" a site visitor receives when they go to your website, will determine, at least in part, how well you rank in Google's search results. Now let's define "experience".
Core Web Vitals is broken down into 3 parts, LCP, FID, and CLS. Those acronyms are defined below. The experience also includes whether or not the site uses an SSL certificate to provide HTTPS security, and whether or not you have "intrusive interstitials", read that as annoying pop-ups on the page. Let's take each of these components one by one.
LCP - Largest Contentful Paint
LCP is the point in time that an user sees the main part of the page, at least that which is "above the scroll", is loaded and a site visitor can see what the site looks like and the content is displayed. Site visitors make an opinion at this time of "Am I at the right website?", "Does this site have the information I'm looking for?" or "Does this site answer my question?". The sooner an user can make that determination, the happier they are going to be with the site experience.
Google, at least at this time, ranks a website that achieves LCP within 2.5 seconds as Good, less than 4 seconds as Needing Improvement, and longer than 4 seconds as Poor as the image below shows.
Obviously our goal always needs to be having a page at least look as if it's fully loaded within that 2.5 seconds time frame. A site achieving LCP even quicker is a plus, and achieves "Great Website" status in our book. As an example, this website achieved an LCP score of 1.3 seconds using GTmetrix
tools for measurement. A very useful site for performance testing if you haven't used it before. 1.2 seconds, half the time Google allows for a Good LCP ranking.
FID - First Input Delay
FID measures how long after an user clicks on a link or on mobile, taps a button that the site starts responding to that request. Like LCP, faster is better and rather than measuring FID in seconds, it's measured in milliseconds. A millisecond is 1,000 th of a second so the numbers of 100 ms (milliseconds) below amount to just 1/10th of a second to achieve a score of "Good". Nobody likes to visit a website and click a link or tap on our phone and have nothing happen, or for it to take seemingly "forever" to happen. By the way, forever is defined differently I've found for Generation Z or millennials vs boomers ;-) . Here's Google's FID scoring...
CLS - Cumulative Layout Shift
CLS is best equated to hitting a moving target. If while interacting with a website you want to click on a link or button, or perhaps make a choice on a form, and right before you click the page moves underneath your cursor, it's annoying as hell. That's why Google includes this metric in their page performance and Core Web Vitals metrics. Having a page load and stay put ready for interaction is important. Unlike the other metrics, it's not based on speed, but instead based on the distance objects move and their impact on the display. Again, like the other metrics, smaller is better, i.e. smaller CLS numbers get better scores as the image below shows.
In BANG!'s latest designs we've moved away from slideshow or slider presentations on the homepage because of Google and users concern over shifting layouts. With "heavy" slideshow images it was not uncommon to see content below the slideshow initially appear higher on the page, only to have the slider image push that content lower on the page when the image loads. Consequently we now typically avoid sliders and instead load one strong background image which has led to CLS scores of 0.
Using an SSL certificate and loading all content over HTTPS vs HTTP isn't a new concern. Google really encouraged everyone to go to HTTPS years ago and their Chrome Browser has for years visually warned people if they were visiting a website using HTTP rather than HTTPS as the image below shows.
If you aren't using an SSL certificate and renewing it regularly, it sends a pretty poor message to your site visitors.
Absence of intrusive interstitials / Pop-ups
Who loves pop-ups on your screen... raise your hand? Thought so. Almost as annoying as the old blinking text back in the early days of the web, pop-ups are loved by marketers and pretty much universally hated by website visitors everywhere. They have their place and I've got a few client's who insist we use them but in general we avoid them like the plague. You'll note i have no example for this metric... I really don't think anyone doesn't know what a pop-up is.
Now Google has given us lowly web designers a little more ammunition in our fight with client's about removing those annoying messages that show unexpectedly on your screen.
Wrapping Up Page Experience and Core Web Vitals Discussion
It was interesting as I chose what category to post this in as it honestly affects both the way we design a website and SEO because the design affects the search rankings. So, it's listed in both categories. I hope this has been a helpful article to help you understand the changes Google is making to how they rank a website for a given keyword phrase and what you can do to have a positive impact on it.
Remember, these metrics are already at work on mobile searches. Desktop searches affected by page experience start in February of 2022, giving you time, if you start now, to improve your Core Vital Scores and improve your search rankings.