Google is constantly updating and improving its algorithm to deliver the best sites to searchers. The latest significant update to Google’s algorithm this summer is called Core Web Vitals.

Google’s Core Web Vitals are part of what are called page experience ranking factors. It might sound intimidating, but Core Web Vitals are really just a quantitative measurement of how easy your site is to use. This is a long-term trend from Google — they’ve been putting more emphasis on page experience for nearly a decade. It started in 2014, with an update to the search algorithm that favoured sites with SSL encryption. Nowadays, of course, having an SSL certificate is pretty much a requirement for any website.

A couple years later, in 2016, mobile sites started gaining traction. Google responded by beginning to favour websites that performed as well on mobile as they did in desktop browsers. In the same year, Google began penalizing websites with excessive ad popups, responding to the boom in intrusive pop-up advertisements.

Core Web Vitals is just the latest push in this trend of rewarding websites that make efforts to be as user-friendly as possible, for as wide a group of people as possible.

What Are the Core Web Vitals?

Google's Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are an example of technical SEO. This is in contrast to on-page SEO, which concerns things like content, keywords, and metadata. If you think of your website as a car, then technical SEO is kind of like the engine, while on-page SEO is the exterior design; the paint job. It’s great if the car looks cool from the outside, but if the engine is falling apart, then it’s not much use to anyone. You have to consider the internal machinery first.

Likewise with technical SEO, you can have the most perfectly written text and the most beautiful images, but if your website takes forever to load or is highly unstable, people aren’t going to stick around long enough to enjoy your content.

Core Web Vitals comprises 3 new ranking factors:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
  2. First Input Delay (FIP)
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Google has a quantitative measurement to divide each of these ranking factors into categories of “good,” “needs improvement,” or “poor”.

Largest Contentful Paint

The “largest contentful paint” we’re talking about here is basically the biggest section of visual content above the fold on your website. For example, a front-page hero image. The LCP is the measure of how long that visual area takes to load.

Website users have short attention spans. They don’t want to wait much more than 2 seconds for a website to load. Therefore, an LCP of:

  • < 2.5 seconds = good
  • 2.5 – 4 seconds = needs improvement
  • > 4 seconds = poor

What Google is doing here is just acknowledging the trends created by users. It knows that the majority of visitors bounce if a web page takes more than 3 seconds to load, so to better serve users, it’s going to show fast-loading sites at the very top of the results page. If your website has a poor LCP time, you might find yourself dropping in the rankings.

First Input Delay

An “input” on a website is anything that a user can interact with, the most common examples being forms or buttons. The “first input” is whatever interactive feature on your site is first available to a user on the home page. So the FIP, then, is the amount of time that passes before that first input has loaded sufficiently to allow a user to interact with it.

First Input Delay is qualified as follows:

  • < 100 milliseconds = good
  • 100 – 300 milliseconds = needs improvement
  • > 300 milliseconds = poor

It’s important to note that just because an input feature is visible on the screen doesn’t necessarily mean that a user can interact with it. The FIP measures how much time elapses before an input is functional, not just visible.

Cumulative Layout Shift

The cumulative layout shift is exactly what it sounds like: how much does your website layout move around? Or in other words, how visually stable is it?

Visual stability is an important metric for both mobile and desktop formats. You’ve undoubtedly visited a website with stability issues. It’s quite an irritating experience to think that a page has finished loading, and begin interacting, only to have the layout shift on you, so your click lands on something that you didn’t intend to interact with (an outbound link or banner ad, for example).

CLS is measured by the percentage of page visits that experience a visual shift. So:

  • < 0.1 = good
  • 0.1 – 0.25 = needs improvement
  • > 0.25 = poor

Websites can experience occasional instability due to factors outside anyone’s control. But if your site is frequently shifting around within users’ device displays, this can majorly impact the usability of your website, and it often indicates a problem or at least an inefficiency with the way your site is set up.

How Can I Check my Core Web Vitals?

It’s fairly simple to determine how well your website is performing by Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics. Google Search Console aggregates data about your website’s performance. Checking this data can give you a picture of how well your website is doing.

There are other, more comprehensive programs like Screaming Frog that can allow you to perform an in-depth audit of your website’s performance. Of course, a comprehensive audit requires a bit more understanding to trace website performance metrics directly to the aspect of Core Web Vitals that they affect. If you’re concerned enough that you want to do a full audit of your site’s performance, then it’s probably time to reach out to a web expert, anyway.

How Do I Fix my Core Web Vitals Issues?

If an audit leads to you discovering that your Core Web Vitals are not as strong as they could be (or your web technician or agency lets you know that they could use some attention), then what?

The ease with which you can improve your Core Web Vitals depends on which “vital” you’re looking at. In some cases, improving your standing is simple. For example, your LCP loading time can be greatly reduced just by swapping out a massive, high-resolution image file for a compressed one. But in other cases there may be technical issues or inefficiencies in the code of your website that require a web expert to fix.

Activities like minifying code, decluttering the back end of your website, reconfiguring your firewall, or even switching to a better hosting provider are all potential ways to improve your Core Web Vitals. What we’re really getting at here is that the Core Web Vitals are an expression of how efficient and well-built your website really is. So if you find that you’re lagging in this department, it might be a sign that your whole site needs an overhaul.

Remember, Core Web Vitals are a measure of your technical SEO, and technical SEO is the framework upon which your website content has to be built. A great digital marketing strategy is only going to be effective if your website functions well.

Our best advice is to keep up to date with Google’s algorithm changes, work with your web developer, and continue to use current best practices for your website content. And if you’re concerned about your website’s “engine” and want someone to take a look under the hood, contact us today.