Core Web Vitals - May 2021 Google Algorithm Update

Is Google changing its ranking algorithm? How is that going to impact my website Doctor Digital?

Doctor Digital Says

Like birth, death and taxes, the change to a Google algorithm is an inevitable part of digital life. This time, Google have got on the front foot to make sure you are across what the changes are, how they impact you and how to make sure you are complying with what it sees as best practice for making websites available and usable. Ready? Let's dive in to Core Web Vitals.

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Core Web Vitals - what you need to know about the Google algorithm.

While Google usually choose stealth to do their algorithm tweaks, this time not only are they going public ahead of time, there is even a name for the changes. Google's algorithm is referred to as if it were a single thing, but in reality, it is a collective of algorithms that go to creating the ranking system for Google that preferences websites that meet Google's standards. Core Web Vitals collectively refers to that set of parameters by which Google measure your websites performance. Core Web Vitals are made up of three core components of website functionality, loading, interactivity and visual stability, each with its own acronym: LCP, FID and CLS.

Loading: LCP

The core web vital measuring how loading impacts a user’s experience is called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). Largest Contentful Paint is essentially the largest element that gets painted onto the browser, marking the point in the page load time when the main content has likely shown up for the user. The LCP of a page should occur within 2.5s which is about the length of time it takes for a user to bounce off a page if it doesn't load fast enough. Bounce rate has been a key factor in measuring dwell time on websites - of course the longer users hang around the better for a brand and a likely transaction so it makes sense this is something that needs attention and compliance to give a solid user experience.

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Interactivity: FID

The core web vital sign for interactivity is called First Input Delay (FID). Input Delay measures responsiveness. Rather than just measuring how quickly content loads onto a page, FID is designed to measure how quickly users can interact with that content. Typically, input delay occurs if the browser’s main thread is busy processing something else, so it can’t yet respond to a user’s interaction. The timeline of dependencies looks something like this:

  • Content is requested by the user
  • The server responds and begins sending data
  • The browser begins painting the code onto the screen (First Contentful Paint)
  • Other network requests run in the background
  • The user clicks on an element
  • The network requests finish and the content is interactive

The delay between when the user first clicks or interacts with something and the page is finally interactive and able to respond is the FID. FID should be less than 100ms which is a pretty slim timeline to meet. This is critically important if you want your users to interact with your website, like fill in a text box, or watch a video. How do you fix a slow FID? As Javascript behind the scenes is often the culprit, this one is for your web designer.

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Visual Stability: CLS

Ever visit a web page and try to click a button or read the text, only to have the button shift places and the text march around the web page? That’s called layout shift, when the web page is unstable and shifting around. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a measurement of how much the web page elements jump around on a web page. The cause of the shifting can be images that don’t have height and width declared in the HTML. When the image downloads it causes the space around it to expand, moving the text and other web page elements around. A user can’t interact with a web page that is moving around. This metric is meant to measure how much a page moves around while it’s downloading or a visitor is scrolling. The ideal result is to have a page that downloads and is stable from the moment the site visitor views it.

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Totally freaking out? Don't be, most of these are easy fixes and of course Google has designed some tools and Chrome extensions to help you. Ultimately, when your website complies with the Core Web Vitals, not only will it rank better in a Google search, it will be easier for your customers and users to access, and make the conversions you are looking for - which is the ultimate goal of any website. Check out some of the fixes below, and if you want to know more about Core Web Vitals you can check out the video Josie from KingThing made for us.

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