Have you ever been browsing a website on your mobile, only to find you’ve clicked on the wrong link because the page has suddenly shifted down as everything loads?
Ever hit the back button because a website has taken sooooo long to load?
Ever clicked on a button… and then clicked again… and then clicked again… because nothing was happening?
These things are pretty annoying as an end user. They make for a frustrating user experience. And given Google’s ethos and aims, it’s not surprising that from May of this year the search giant will be introducing new page experience metrics, named ‘Core Web Vitals’ as part of their overall ranking algorithm.
‘Core Web Vitals’ currently consists of three metrics, based around three aspects of user experience: loading time, interactivity and visual stability. These will form part of a wider set of page experience signals, combined with existing signals for mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
Google plans to add a visual indicator (likely a small icon) next to search results that have met all page experience criteria.
Time to panic?
A study in August 2020 by Screaming Frog (a search marketing agency) concluded that only a small proportion of the 22,500 sites they tested passed the Core Web Vitals criteria (12% on mobile, 13% on desktop). For most of us, there’s evidently plenty of work to be doing.
However, do note that whilst Core Web Vitals is important (and not only for Google, but for your users too), it won’t be the all-important factor. Google has said they will still prioritise pages with the best information overall. But where there are multiple pages with similar content, page experience (including Core Web Vitals) will become much more important.
How should you prepare?
The first step is to audit your website performance against the Core Web Vitals criteria. There are various tools you can use for this:
- Google Lighthouse (if you use Google Chrome, open Developer Tools (Ctrl + Shift + I), and look for the ‘Lighthouse’ option across the top menu bar.
- PageSpeed Insights
- Core Web Vitals report (pulled from the Chrome UX Report) in your Search Console account – note however that for smaller, lower traffic sites, there may not be sufficient data available to display this report.
If this all sounds rather scary, get in touch to request a website performance report from Hexagon, teamed with suggested action points. If you’re part of our Ongoing Website Success Programme, you can request this free of charge.
So how do I improve my website score?
For most websites, there’ll be some work to be done if you want to ensure you meet Google’s Core Web Vitals criteria. Most of the tools listed above are pretty helpful in that they point out things which could help improve your page experience/website performance. It can get rather technical however, so you’ll likely want some input from your web developer. But there are things you may be able to do yourself – here are some of the obvious quick wins:
- 3rd party scripts and embedded content such as Google Maps, icon fonts, and social media feeds can slow a site down significantly. Assess whether you really need these on every page, and if not, remove.
- Images – resize your website image dimensions to be no larger than the maximum area they will take up on a screen (a photo directly from your phone or camera will probably be several thousand pixels wide; these should be resized to something closer to 1000px – or less, depending on your website design). Photoscape X is a great free tool to resize lots of images at once.
- Use a plugin such as Smush to optimize and compress images, reducing their file size.
- Check with your host that you have page caching enabled, and if not, use a caching plugin such as WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache or similar. Websites hosted with my preferred hosting provider, WP Engine, will already have aggressive caching in place, so additional caching plugins shouldn’t be required.
- Use an optimisation plugin such as Autoptimize to minify & combine styles and scripts and implement other performance tweaks.
Get in touch if you need help getting your website ready for Google’s Page Experience ranking change in May 2021.