In June this year, Google began the release of a broad core algorithm update that included another set of speed-related ranking signals called Core Web Vitals. This Core Update is the first in a series of core algorithm updates that will focus on page experience.
What is Page Experience?
Page Experience measures what a user’s experience with a web page is like, beyond just the information the page provides. It includes Core Web Vitals, which measure real-world user experience for page loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability. It also includes existing Search signals such as: mobile-friendliness, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
Google Page Experience – Algorithm Updated in August 2021
Google stated that they would begin using Page Experience as part of their ranking systems in mid-June 2021, but that it wouldn’t play its full role as part of those systems till the end of August.
The Page Experience update considers a number of signals that go into creating an optimized browsing experience for users.
Google assesses each of these signals and gives each website an overall Page Experience score. A site’s score can be viewed in the new ‘Page Experience Report’ feature in the Search Console.
Let’s get into each signal, and what’s required for a website to get a ‘Good’ Page Experience score.
- Core Web Vitals: You should have the following on your website:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) under 2.2 seconds
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) less than 0.10
First Input Delay (FID) of 100 ms or less
- Mobile Usability: Your page should have no mobile usability errors
- Security Issues: If your site has any security issues, all pages on your site will be disqualified from ‘Good’ status.
- Ad Experience: Your site should not use advertising techniques that are distract, interrupt, or otherwise take away from the user’s experience
Page Experience Signals – Now Ranking Factors Except HTTPS
Google’s Safe Browsing systems are designed to keep the internet experience a safe one for users. However, sometimes sites are hijacked by third parties, triggering a Safe Browsing Warning. Because these issues aren’t usually within the control of the site owner, Google will no longer be using Safe Browsing as a ranking signal, nor will Safe Browsing contribute to a Page Experience Report. You will still be able to see Safe Browsing flags in the Search Console outside of the Page Experience Report.
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals tests the speed, responsiveness, and stability of the page loading experience for users. Each page will get a rating of either ‘Good’, ‘Needs Improvement’, or ‘Poor’. It goes without saying that your page needs a ‘Good’ rating in order to qualify for ‘Good’ page experience status. Remember that it can take a few days to import Core Web Vitals data to the Page Experience Report, with the result that your Page Experience Report may be slightly behind your site’s Core Web Vitals report. It’s also important to note that URLs that don’t have Core Web Vitals will not appear in your report.
Mobile-friendliness takes into account how easy a website is to use and navigate on mobile devices. This includes readability of content, where elements are located, and whether links are accessible. According to Google, your URL should have no mobile usability errors if you want ‘Good’ status in the Page Experience Report (URLs with no mobile usability data are also considered to be ‘Good’).
Using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test will help you know if your site is mobile-friendly from Google’s perspective, and provide you with feedback and instructions on how you can repair and improve it if need be.
HTTPS is the secure version of the standard HTTP that web browsers use when communicating with websites. Though HTTPS was once included in 200+ factors Google considers when ranking web pages, Google has now officially announced with the release of the Page Experience update, that it is no longer the case. Having said that, we still recommend having HTTPS even though it is no longer a ranking factor, for the simple reason that it builds trust in your site visitors.
No Intrusive Interstitials
Intrusive interstitials are essentially popup ads, or anything that blocks most, or all, of a mobile landing page. Banners and overlays can also count as intrusive interstitials if they lead to a bad user experience. Other examples are:
- An unresponsive interstitial. Interstitials that are difficult to close on a mobile device are considered to be unresponsive
- An interstitial that isn’t triggered by a user action, such as a ‘Click here to subscribe’ button
Some interstitials are allowed by Google (as long as they are used responsibly), such as:
- Cookie policies
- Age verification
- Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and that are easily dismissed
How to Optimize for Core Web Vitals – Search Console Report Explained
In order to pass Google’s Core Web Vitals assessment, you need a score of ‘Good’ for all three CWVs: Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), based on field data.
Let’s get into each one.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is a metric that measures when the largest content element in the viewport becomes visible (this is usually an image or video). It’s used to determine when the main content of the page has finished rendering on the screen.
According to Google, in order to provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds or less from when the page first starts loading. ‘Poor’ values are anything greater than 4 seconds.
Though Google provides a number of suggestions for optimizing page LCP, the most effective technique is to optimize content for the device requesting it.
For example, if a website has an 800kb JPEG image (intended for high-resolution desktops), it can be optimized to less than 100kb – with no discernible decrease in quality – for a smartphone. You can improve LCP by more than 60%, or several seconds, through this single optimization.
First Input Delay (FID)
FID is the time it takes from when a user first interacts with your page (clicking a link, tapping a button, etc) to the time when the browser responds to that interaction. It’s measured from the time that a user first clicks on any interactive element, including:
- Choosing an option from a menu
- Clicking on a link in the site’s navigation
- Entering your email into a field
Ways to improve your site’s FID score are:
- Remove any non-critical third-party scripts
- Use a browser cache
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS refers to how stable a page is as it loads or, in other words, its visual stability. For example, if elements on your page are moving around as the page is loading, bad news – you’ve got high CLS.
You want your page elements to be stable as it loads so that users don’t click on something by mistake, or see links, images, and fields changing location.
Here’s what you can do to decrease, and therefore improve, CLS.
- Use set size attribute dimensions for any media such as video, images, GIFs, infographics, and so on
- Make sure ads elements have a reserved space so that they don’t suddenly appear and push content out of the way
- Add new UI elements below the fold so that content does not rearrange or ‘disappear’, reappearing somewhere else
Tools to Check Page Experience
Fortunately for us all, there are tools that can help with the ‘heavy lifting’ of checking and improving page experience.
Image Speed Test by ImageEngine.io is a tool that provides an analysis of LCP improvement opportunities. Simply paste in the URL of the web page you want to optimize, and the test will show you:
- Image Payload Reduction
- Speed Index
- Largest Contentful Paint
- Page Load Time (Visually Complete)
It also provides a video of the web page loading with and without optimizations and analyzes each image to give you an estimate of payload savings.
Google PageSpeed Insights can be used to measure your site’s FID. Just enter your site’s URL into the text field and click on the ‘Analyze’ button. Once it’s done analyzing your page, it will take you to the results and give your site an overall score. You’ll find the FID metric under the ‘Field Data’ section, and under the ‘Opportunities’ section, you’ll find suggestions for optimizing your page and boosting your score.
Lighthouse 6.0 (or above) provides support for measuring CLS in a lab setting. This release also highlights the nodes that are causing the most layout shifting.
As of Chrome 84, the ‘Performance’ tab in DevTools highlights a page’s layout shifts in the ‘Experience’ section. The Summary view for a layout shift record includes the collective layout shift score as well as an overlay that shows the affected areas.
The details of optimizing your site’s Core Web Vitals can be fairly daunting. If you find it’s a job you’d rather hand over to the experts, give us a call. We’d be happy to get your website in prime ‘Core Web Vitals’ shape.