What exactly is the Page Experience Update and what are Core Web Vitals?
Let’s go into a bit more detail about the Page Experience Update and Core Web Vitals. Google initially announced their intentions back in May 2020. A number of studies demonstrated that Google’s search customers preferred sites with excellent user experience.
This started with incorporating pagespeed and this happened as far back as 2018. Slow websites are incredibly frustrating in a world where every second counts. Google’s aim is to push website developers and owners toward a result where every page loads in under a second.
Then they added mobile friendliness into the mix. This was to eliminate those terrible sites where you have to zoom in and scroll back and forward to read the text. We all know how frustrating that is.
Security was also an issue so Google started warning users if the website they were about to visit had an approved SSL (secure) certificate. This better protected their users against malicious or dangerous websites.
They didn’t stop there.
The next step was to introduce the concept of a new and major algorithm update. This was fairly revolutionary so they allowed 12 months for websites to get up to speed (so to speak) with this update.
The Page Experience Update
This has been billed by Google as a “search ranking change” and that is a strong indication of the importance of it. The user experience metrics they are tracking will be incorporated into ranking criteria which means that websites who meet the mark will be a lot more likely to do well in Google’s search results. How much? We don’t know yet and we are sure that it will be an incremental rollout to avoid damage to some of the biggest sites on the web.
But it is coming and each one of the experience signals will be critical to having a high performance web presence.
There are a few easy ways to measure simple user experience metrics and you can do this with your Google Analytics account. Metrics to look at include average session duration, time on page, bounce rate (other than blogs), pages viewed per session, return visits and conversions. These tend to indicate a satisfactory experience.
Mobile friendliness, fast loading pages, SSL certificates and the elimination of intrusive popups should also be evaluated.
And to help us with the more technical aspects of the Page Experience Update Google has given us Core Web Vitals and these tests are going to be important.
Core Web Vitals
Unfortunately, in our experience, there are very few developers who can bring websites up to a standard where they pass these tests. Our search for the right team led to us critiquing the work of well over a hundred top development companies from around the world. We literally tested over a thousand sites.
And out of all of these, only two were able to show they could do this. Interestingly, they were both speed specialists who had worked with each other.
So, what are Core Web Vitals and how do they work?
This is a simple diagram from Google on where they fit in to the Page Experience Update. Note: this has since been expanded with other metrics and tests which I will explain below.
These are Google’s way of ensuring people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web. It is a shift away from the previously promoted AMP (accelerated mobile pages) which were a prerequisite for inclusion in Top Stories.
Google will be highlighting websites that pass these tests as offering excellent user experience. We are not sure how that will look but expect features in their search results that identify sites that align with their requirements.
Let’s look at the key areas in Core Web Vitals:
Loading – Largest Contentful Paint
Even Google’s own tools like Analytics and Google Fonts are an issue that needs to be managed. Pagespeed Insights will show how you are doing for this test.
Total blocking time
This replaces the section in the graphic for First input delay. It measures the time it takes to take your first action on site you have visited. This could be clicking on a menu item, a call-to-action button, clicking on a link or opening accordion text on a mobile.
Again, this is focused on improving the experience for users as we know it can be frustrating if we have to wait after taking an action.
Cumulative Layout Shift
This is another website use frustration. When we arrive at a site and decide to click on a link or menu item or any other page feature how often is there a slight shift that means you click on the wrong thing. Often this is intentional to make you accidentally click on an ad but most of the time it is just poor loading.
This eliminates those delayed shifts and the frustration that goes with them.
First Contentful Paint
This is when a browser renders the first bit of content from the DOM (Document Object Model) to let a user know that a page is loading.
This could be any text, image or non-white backgrounds. This needs to be fast in order for people to stay and wait for the full page load.
Time to Interactive
This measures the amount of time a page takes before a user can interact with it. This is based on when the last long task is completed allowing the user to click, scroll or take another action.
What does it all mean?
In Google’s quest to encourage website owners and developers as well as theme and plugin builders to do better work they have raised the bar significantly when it comes to technical skill.
Searchmetrics have recently completed a study of 2 million URLs and the results are astonishing. Only 4% of URLs tested passed the Core Web Vitals tests.
So 96% of pages tested are failing these tests.
This presents an enormous opportunity to get ahead of the curve, to position your business as an innovator, to improve performance against your competitors and to offer a greatly improved experience for your website visitors.
And we can help you to achieve this.