2021 Google Core Web Vitals for Non-Techies

September 13, 2021

Vector Image of Mobile Loading Screen

What are Core Web Vitals?

A lot of people hear the term “Google Web Vitals” and immediately freeze because they think it’s too complicated and technical to understand. We are going to break it down for you so that any non-technical professional, marketer, or website owner can understand what Web Vitals are and what it means for them.

Google Core Web Vitals is a set of three important metrics that Google uses to determine the overall performance and user experience of a website.

If you’ve ever run Google PageSpeed Insights to get a score for your website’s load time, you would have seen the three main Core Web Vitals components show up on the report page. (Shown circled in pink in the screenshot below)

Example of Fore Web Vitals on a Google PageSpeed Insights Report

Figure 1: Example of Core Web Vitals on a Google PageSpeed Insights Report

The Three Metrics that Make Up Core Web Vitals

  • LCP – Largest Contentful Paint – This measures Loading performance. This is how long it takes the largest content element on a page (usually an image, a video or a large block-level text element) to load and be visible to the visitor. The shorter the time, the better.
  • FID – First Input Delay – This measures Interactivity. FID is the time from when a user first interacts with your page (e.g. clicked a link or a button) to the time when the browser responds to that interaction. The shorter the time, the better.
  • CLS – Cumulative Layout Shift – This measures Visual Stability. The larger the CLS score, the more dramatic is the shifting of the content on a page during loading, which can negatively impact a visitor’s experience. The lower the CLS, the better.
    • Why is this important? Elements on a page that shift while the user tries to interact with it can lead to a negative user experience (such as accidental purchases and frustration).
    • For instance, the video on the official developer page shows the act of choosing the “Back” button instead of the “Purchase” button to abort a checkout but leads to accidentally clicking on the Purchase button when the final page elements eventually all load into place. Watch Page Experience Video »

Video Source: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2020/05/evaluating-page-experience#about-page-experience 

Core Web Vitals Metrics and ParametersFigure 2 Source: https://web.dev/vitals/ 

According to Google, for a good user experience, LCP should be within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading. FID of a page should be 100 milliseconds or less, and a page should have a CLS of 0.1 or less. Google grades these 3 metrics (LCP, FID and CLS) in terms of a score that is either “Good” (represented by green), “Needs improvement” (represented by orange), and “Poor” (represented by red).

Here is another look at the breakdown of the statuses based on performance measurements.Core Web Vitals Metrics and Parameters Table

Figure 3 Source: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9205520 

Google has indicated they plan to use Core Web Vitals in conjunction with other factors, such as mobile friendliness, HTTPS security, and their guidelines for intrusive interstitials (which are things like large popups that block the main content of the website from being easily accessible), in determining search engine ranking.

However, according to Google, 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.

What does this mean? Although your site’s Core Web Vitals score will be an important part of determining a website’s search engine ranking, it will not be the be all end all. The importance of having great content for SEO can never be overstated.

Where Can I Find My Website’s Core Web Vitals Score?

Screenshot of Google Search Console Panel to Find Core Web Vitals Performance

Besides running a Google PageSpeed Insights test to get your Core Web Vitals score, the Core Web Vitals report is also accessible in Google’s Search Console, and the report tells you how your website pages are performing based on real world usage data.

If you don’t have a Google Search Console account, consider setting up one now. It gives invaluable insights about:

  • Search queries people are typing into Google search engine to find and get to your website
  • Your website’s organic traffic performance going back 16 months
  • Which of your website pages Google has indexed
  • Whether there are any crawl or performance issues.

When you open Google Search Console, the Core Web Vitals report can be accessed from the left-hand side menu.

On the right-hand side, a summary is given separately for mobile and for desktop. Clicking on each will give you the breakdown of URLs with issues. Similar URLs on your website are grouped together.

Below is an example of what you might see. For each metric (LCP, FID, CLS), the status (Good, Needs improvement or Poor) that Google displays is a representation of 75% of page requests in the last 28 days, and the worst performing of the three metrics is the status that is assigned for that URL.

Example: if, on mobile, FID is Poor but LCP is Good for a URL, the status on mobile for that URL is going to be Poor.

Example Core Web Vitals Report within Google Search Console

Figure 4 Example Core Web Vitals Report within Google Search Console

Only URLs indexed by Google appear in the report, and if a URL doesn’t have a minimum amount of reporting data for LCP, FID or CLS, then it is omitted from the Core Web Vitals report.

Because the Core Web Vitals score is based on real world field data, the score can change over time. Don’t be alarmed if Google Search Console’s report says you have a “Poor” score - you can check the URL in Google Page Speed Insights to individually test it and trust if that score is “Good”.

Google is not infallible, and a Core Vitals score might have just had a temporary kink, and it can reflect changes and update in a few days.

Why are Core Web Vitals Important?

Core Web Vitals are Google’s way of determining the overall performance and user experience of a website. Optimizing for both of these things will be an important component to doing well in search engine ranking.

NOTE: Having quality relevant content and good on-page SEO is a minimum barrier to entry

Fun Fact: Good content often includes images, videos etc. which can slow page speed time and seem counterintuitive to the principles of Core Web Vitals, however, you CAN strike a balance between having good content for SEO while optimizing how fast the page loads.

A website’s performance is strongly affected by the load time, or how long the website takes to fully load all page content, images, and videos. Load time is important is because longer load times can negatively affect bounce rates, which is the percentage of people who leave immediately upon entering a website rather than staying on the website and continuing to browse around.

Today’s marketers understand that it’s already quite a feat to get a visitor in your target market to find and click through to your website from search engines. The last thing you would want is to waste these precious click-through opportunities to people who are bouncing because the website loaded too slowly for their patience.

User experience is especially crucial on mobile devices as the limited viewing area and “fat fingers” can make navigating a website difficult and frustrating if not designed well. Designing for good user experience means understanding visitor expectations when they come to your website.

  • Are things easy to find?
  • Is the content relevant to what the visitor is searching for, or is it a bait-and-switch?

If a website loads with a lot of main elements jumping around because it hasn’t settled into its final resting place, it can cause a lot of frustration. Good overall user experience interacting with your website can lead to increased engagement, which can bring your business quality leads that convert to sales/customers.

A Closer Look at Google PageSpeed Insights Report

Google Search Console’s Core Web Vitals report is where you can get a site-wide report of how your pages are doing. On the other hand, Google PageSpeed Insights testing allows you to run the performance testing on individual website pages one at a time.

With the Google PageSpeed Insights report, there is a top section with “Field Data” and a bottom section with “Lab Data”. Lab data comes from a simulated environment. Field data is gathered from actual users browsing your website with Chrome and anonymized and archived in the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). The Core Web Vitals scores come from field data of the three metrics – LCP, FID and CLS, archived in CrUX. The field data in PageSpeed Insights is from the previous 28 day cycle.

Screenshot of Google PageSpeed Insights Report

Aim for a PageSpeed Insight score of 60-99 (orange or green). Google can penalize you if you get a “Poor” score, but it will not necessarily give you a boost if you’re “Good”. In short, if you are somewhere in the “Needs improvement” range, there is no need to worry. Industry leader Neil Patel discusses ways to optimize your PageSpeed Insights score here.

The way “Good”, “Needs improvement” or “Poor” are determined for each metric is by reading the field data bar graph and looking at where the 75th percentile of page loads are hitting. Does the 75th percentile fall under the guidelines for Good, Need improvement, or Poor? A green circle next to the metric represents Good, which means more than 75% falls in the Good guidelines. An orange square represents Need improvement, and a red triangle represents Poor.

Most Common Causes of Poor Core Web Vitals

Common Causes of Poor Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

For Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which measures Loading performance, the most common causes of poor performance are:

  • Slower server response times
  • Render-blocking Javascript and CSS
  • Slow resource load times
  • Client-side rendering

Common Fixes for Poor Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

  • Get better web hosting for faster server response time
  • Remove or defer parsing of uncritical Javascript until it is needed
  • Lazy load images
  • Minify Javascript and CSS files to compress file sizes down, which reduces time to download these files
  • Optimize images by compressing them, which helps reduce image download time
  • Serve correctly sized images for the browser
  • Inline Javascript and CSS to remove the extra time to fetch these files OR combine these files into fewer number of files so that the fetch overhead is reduced
  • Remove large size page elements on the page
  • Utilize browser caching so that visitors can save and reuse files included on your website on return visits

Common Causes of Poor First Input Delay (FID)

For First Input Delay (FID), which measures Interactivity, the most common causes of poor performance are:

  • Slower server response times
  • Render-blocking Javascript and CSS
  • Slow resource load times
  • Client-side rendering

Common Fixes for Poor First Input Delay (FID)

The common fixes for poor FID are similar as the fixes for LCP.

  • Get better web hosting for faster server response time
  • Remove or defer parsing of uncritical Javascript until it is needed
  • Lazy load images
  • Minify Javascript and CSS files to compress file sizes down, which reduces time to download these files
  • Optimize images by compressing them, which helps reduce image download time
  • Serve correctly sized images for the browser
  • Inline Javascript and CSS to remove the extra time to fetch these files OR combine these files into fewer number of files so that the fetch overhead is reduced
  • Remove large size page elements on the page
  • Utilize browser caching so that visitors can save and reuse files included on your website on return visits

Common Causes of Poor Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

For Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures Visual Stability, the most common causes of poor performance are:

  • Images without dimensions
  • Ads, embeds, and iframes without dimensions
  • Dynamically injected content

Common Fixes for Poor Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

  • Add dimension attributes to media (images/videos)
  • Make sure ads have reserved space
  • Keep above the fold page elements stable during the load and add new UI elements below the fold

How to Prioritize Fixing Core Web Vitals Issues 

  1. Tackle fixing everything labeled "Poor"
  2. Fix the issues that affect the most URLs on the site
  3. Fix the issues that affect your most important URLs
  4. Once a particular issue is fixed, go to the Google Search Console Core Web Vitals report and click Validate Fix on the issue details page

Best Free Tools for Checking and Fixing Core Web Vitals

What is Blue Sky Doing to Stay on Top of Core Web Vitals?

Performance is not an afterthought for us when we build websites. Our websites are built with speed in mind from the get-go.

  1. Many of Blue Sky websites are developed by our custom programming provider, Silvermoon. All sites launched via Silvermoon are optimized for Core Web Vitals on the front and back end.
  2. In the design and functionality planning phase of a new website project, we are already planning for Core Web vitals in the final product.
  3. We always check Core Web Vitals with Google PageSpeed Insight tests as part of our standard website go-live checklist when launching new websites.
  4. We also constantly monitoring Google Search Console accounts and get notifications when Core Web Vitals are giving a large number of “poor URL”s.
  5. For WordPress websites: Websites made with Wordpress can have some of the Core Web Vitals issues fixed with certain page speed improvement plugins but could require getting a Wordpress developer involved.

Interesting in getting up to speed on all things Core Web Vitals for your website? Let’s talk.

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