What to Know Around Google’s Upcoming Ranking Changes and Core Web Vitals

In case you are unaware, Google will be rolling out changes to their ranking algorithm in May of 2021. According to many reports, the change will be noticeable, but not on the level of other major changes they have rolled out previously. In the past, Google has incorporated ranking signals, such as whether your site has https or how mobile friendly it is. But with these new updates, Google will focus on overall user experience to determine whether your site loads quickly, consistently and unobtrusively.

Here are a few tips you should take a look at before May to understand how Google’s new metrics, Core Web Vitals, will impact your site.

What are Core Web Vitals?
If you are unfamiliar with those terms, here’s a little bit of a primer. Google’s new metrics are:

First Input Delay Chart

Source: Google

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures loading performance, or how fast the biggest piece of content on the page gets loaded, such as the largest image or video). According to Google, a good user experience means LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID) measures interactivity, or how quickly a user can start interacting with the page by scrolling or clicking. To provide a good user experience, Google says pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures visual stability. This metric ensures that when the page is loading, it is stable and doesn’t load elements randomly, causing content to move around while the user is interacting. In Google’s view, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

You don’t necessarily need to understand each part of these metrics, just that Google will start looking at them to decide how to rank your website.

How Important Are These Factors?
There is still some debate as to how important these metrics will be. Some say they will not affect much, while others say the change will be significant. Our best guess is that they will definitely play a part in deciding where your site ranks within highly competitive keywords and categories.

We will only know for sure when the algorithm update rolls out and we start to see real impacts in both rankings and traffic. In the meantime, though, it is a smart move to at least consider these factors for yourself.

Google has provided a tool for assessing these factors that’s easy to use, even for the novice. Just visit this site and enter any URL you wish. (For illustration here, we’ve entered Amazon.com.)

Amazon Page Speed Chart

Google will then provide you both with a score and areas to optimize in order to improve your metrics.

Word to the Wise
Before you start removing vital pieces of code from your website, such as optimizing every image or throwing your CMS out entirely, make sure you think through the business impact associated with each change.

For instance, Google will often point to marketing automation platforms or third-party measurement tools (such as Marketo, Eloqua, and Hotjar) as offenders in their scoring system. Before you immediately remove those pieces of code from your site, evaluate how important they are to your overall business performance. Chances are your website will not be able to function without them. In those cases, talk to your third-party partners and your development team, and do some research to see how others have handled this.

In some cases, you will be able to make some updates and optimizations, and in others, you may not be able to do anything and will just have to take it as a “cost of doing business.” Then you’ll need to wait for Google’s updates to see how it impacts your overall Core Web Vitals scores, and eventually your rankings.

So What to Do Now?
If you haven’t already started addressing how these changes might impact your site, the best move is starting a conversation with your development team, agency partner or SEO partner. Here are some prompts for these conversations:

  1. Note your current scores. This will give you a benchmark to work from. These scores are also recorded in Google Search Console if you are a regular user of that tool.
  2. Identify the biggest opportunities available. Some areas that Google highlights are easy to adjust, such as optimizing image sizes, while others are more difficult, such as updating CMS code to improve site performance. Put together a prioritized list of items to address and rank them according to impact on both the website and your business.
  3. Create a plan of action along with realistic timelines. Because of uncertainty around how much these changes will impact your website’s rankings, don’t react drastically until the full impact can be fully understood. It’s best to start addressing low hanging fruit as quickly as possible, and if needed, bring in additional resources to help get these things done in a timely manner.
  4. Roll out the changes and evaluate performance improvements. Even if these changes don’t ultimately have a significant impact on your search rankings, you are improving the overall website experience for everyone by making your site load faster and with the fewest interruptions possible. Even if you don’t see ranking improvements, you should see time spent on site increase, pages per session grow, and ideally overall site actions and transactions improve.

The best course of action is to understand, evaluate and adjust based on your other marketing and business priorities. If you have any further questions, please reach out to us and we can help you understand these changes in relation to other marketing efforts you are currently working on.

About the Author
Jeff Woelker joined OX in November 2020 to lead our digital marketing practice. He is a technology-focused digital marketing leader with over a decade of strategic and tactical experience across industry verticals, including CPG, Travel, B2B, e-commerce, health care, retail, telecom, and automotive. Jeff has extensive experience in converting business challenges into actionable plans and programs with technology as an enabler, and he always keeps his eye on the future.

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