In early 2020, Google overhauled its search algorithm to boost pages that offer a strong user experience (or UX). As a result, the core web vitals of a website have become much more important to that site’s Google Search ranking. These Vitals are three metrics that Google uses to measure the user experience for a particular page. Businesses that want to maximize user experience should prioritize their Core Web Vitals. Here’s what all businesses should know about measuring and optimizing these metrics.
What Are the Core Web Vitals?
According to Google, there are three specific factors that make up the Core Web Vitals. Each of these factors is an attempt to measure a key aspect of online user experience — loading (represented by the Web Vital “largest contentful paint”), interactivity (“first input delay”), and visual stability (“cumulative layout shift”).
Together, these factors help Google determine the overall “page experience” score for an individual page or website. This score is an attempt to measure the UX for your site (or specific pages on your site).
Largest contentful paint (LCP) measures loading performance — specifically, how long it takes to load the largest image or text block that will be visible when a user loads a page. A good LCP for a site will be 2.5 seconds or less. An LCP greater than 4.0 seconds is usually a bad sign.
First input delay (FID) measures interactivity — in this case, how long it takes for your site to respond to a user’s first input, like clicking on a link or expanding an image. A good FID should be below 100 milliseconds, and an FID of 300 milliseconds or more is considered poor.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures site visual stability — or how much the elements on your site move around as page loads. A good CLS is 0.1 or less, and a CLS of 0.25 or more suggests low site stability.
These aren’t the only factors that Google considers important to a site’s user experience — HTTPS and mobile-friendliness, for example, are also relevant to Google’s UX score. The Core Web Vitals are, however, some of the most important metrics in calculating a site’s UX score. Improving these Core Web Vitals can help make any site much more user-friendly.
User-friendliness, in turn, can have a major impact on conversion rates, engagement and consumer loyalty. While market research has found that consumer attitudes about the economy can vary significantly, sometimes requiring multiple communication strategies from a company, almost every consumer will appreciate a site that’s responsive and easy to use.
Measuring Your Site’s Core Web Vitals
Google makes it easy to measure Core Web Vitals for all of your sites using the Google Search Console (or GSC) — a web analytics tool that helps you track your site’s Search traffic and performance. To do so, simply navigate to the Search Console and click “Add a property.” Then, choose “Website” from the drop-down menu and enter the URL of your site. Be sure to use the exact URL that appears in the browser bar.
Click “Continue,” then choose a way to verify site ownership — options include domain name provider, HTML tag, and GA tracking code. If your site supports both HTTP and HTTPS, you’ll need to track both versions of your URL for complete site info.
Google will start tracking data for your site the second you add a URL, even before it verifies you as the site owner.
Understanding GSC’s Core Web Vital Data
Once you’ve added your site URL and Google has verified you as the site owner, you can access the Core Web Vitals panel for your site. The link to this panel will be under the “Enhancements” menu section, along with the Mobile Usability report and Enhancements FAQ.
Click on the Core Web Vitals link to view the report for your site. The report will show you the performance of each tracked URL over time, grouped by status, metric type, and URL group.
Each URL will be marked “Poor,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Good,” based on the current overall performance of the URL. You can click on the “Open Report” link to see page performance numbers for both mobile and desktop users.
How to Optimize Your Site’s Core Web Vitals
Using data from the GSC, you can identify pages that need upgrades to improve their Core Web Vitals and usability, as well as the specific upgrades that they may benefit from.
These are some of the most common page fixes that Google recommends:
- “Reduce your page size: best practice is less than 500KB for a page and all its resources.”
- “Limit the number of page resources to 50 for best performance on mobile.”
- “Consider using AMP, which almost guarantees good page loading on both mobile and desktop.“
- “Use an external test to recommend fixes to your page.”
Google recommends three different external testing tools you can use to identify specific potential fixes — the PageSpeed Insights testing tool, the AMP Page Experience Guide and the Chrome Lighthouse tool, an in-browser testing tool for Chrome.
In general, it’s best to start upgrades with pages that have the worst performance — meaning pages that are marked “Poor,” then “Needs Improvement.” A page marked “Good” may need no changes at all. Whenever you fix an issue, you can use the GSC to validate the change. If your fix was successful, you should the performance of the improved URL change. By integrating these fixes, you can steadily improve and track the Core Web Vitals for every URL you have in the GSC.
Businesses Can Boost Site UX By Improving Core Web Vitals
In early 2020, Google overhauled its search algorithm to boost pages that offer a strong user experience (or UX). As a result, the core web vitals of a website have become much more important to that site’s Google Search ranking. These Vitals are three metrics that Google uses to measure the user experience for a particular page.
Businesses that want to maximize user experience should prioritize their Core Web Vitals. Here’s what all businesses should know about measuring and optimizing these metrics.
About the Author
Eleanor is the founder and managing editor of Designerly Magazine. She’s also a web design consultant with a focus on customer experience and user interface. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dogs, Bear and Lucy. Connect with her about marketing, design, and/or tea on LinkedIn or Twitter!