Last week, Google announced a new set of metrics that will play an integral part in the future of Google’s algorithm called, Core Web Vitals. Google is giving a whopping 6+ months head’s up for SEOs and webmasters, and it looks like we’re going to need it.

This update will not take effect until 2021.

From Google, “The ranking changes described… will not happen before next year, and we will provide at least six months notice before they’re rolled out.”

I’ll go into it in detail later on the Core Web Vitals, but they are essentially an organized set of loadability metrics Google believes contribute to positive user experience. These contribute to the encompassing term from Google, page experience, which is core to this upcoming update.

So what is page experience?

At a glance, page experience is a set of signals that measure how users interact with a web page beyond its strictly informative elements. It includes Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. Once this update rolls out, Google will be combining the Core Web Vitals ranking signals with the existing Search signals of mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines in order to create a more complete and measurable picture of the user’s on-page experience.

The focus on page experience seems to be a signal from Google that holistic SEO matters more now than ever. It’s clear that content or links alone don’t determine the ranking of a given webpage, although Google has made it clear that content still plays a vital role in the future of the core algorithm.

A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.

Content still tops the list when optimizing a page or site, but it seems page experience can solve tie-breaker situations.

How are Core Web Vitals different from page experience?

Core Web Vitals are encompassed within Google’s definition of page experience. At this time, it appears that three vitals will be measured when this core update launches:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

Google has made it clear that this list is not set in stone, and there could be new metrics added to this group down the line. 97th Floor will continue to give updates on Core Web Vitals as more information is made known, and we have more time to test.

How can SEOs measure these?

SEOs have long been able to use tools provided by Google like Page Speed Insights, Google Search Console, and Chrome User Experience Report. As of last week, they have each been updated with new elements pertaining to the Core Web Vitals.

Marketing leaders need to ensure that their SEOs and development team members are properly integrated to ensure the testing, and execution of these improvements take place.

97th Floor recommendations

The world has at least 7 months before this rolls out, but that’s no reason to sit until that time comes. Because much of what will go into page experience will require web developers to optimize, it’s critical that SEOs begin having those conversations now to ensure they have the bandwidth for technical fixes in the months to come.

Curious SEOs have already started digging into the tools provided by Google to see how their site’s fare:

Effective immediately 97th Floor is including LCP, FID, and CLS into our site audits for all clients. Of course, Google has mentioned that the effects of these fixes will not directly help sites until the update officially rolls out in 2021, but some sites could see longer runways to rollout than others, and henceforth will require ample time to execute fixes. We recommend SEOs begin utilizing their Google testing tool of choice.

For the next six months double down on content that cuts to the heart of the user’s questions. I suggest SEOs review high traffic pages and ensure that new content conveys clear messaging and gives users a reason to stay on the page.

For example, if your web page has a chart that lists out the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon, turn that into a calculator, provide graphics that illustrate training regimens, and link to your existing articles about the Boston Marathon.

One way that you can identify the pages that could use the most attention would be to hop into Google Analytics and filter down to Google / organic pages that have a session duration that is below the average session duration for your site. This list could then be sorted by the ones that have been getting the most conversions in order to ensure you’re prioritizing the pages that will drive the most return for your site going forward.

I’d also add one last plug for SEOs to continue optimizing sites for the areas Google has called out in previous updates like mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitials so that once the update goes live, you’ll be ahead of the curve on those areas as well.

As a whole, SEOs should take time with each initiative they undertake to ask themselves, “is this creating a better user experience?” Gone are the days when SEO was only concerned with acquiring links, and creating good title tags. SEOs need to appeal to the human algorithm more and more, which means they need to understand their unique audience and create an experience tailored to their needs.