How to Get Ready for Core Web Vitals
Many of us have heard of Core Web Vitals and some have made changes to their site to ensure they are ready for this month – June! However, if you are new to SEO or have been snowed under with other work, you may want help preparing your site for one of the biggest updates in search.
What is Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals is part of the Page Experience Update which relates to how fast the page loads, its responsiveness (how quick does it react to user input) and visual stability (how much the page jumps when loading). As can be seen from the image below, the Page Experience update also includes HTTPS, mobile-first indexing, safe browsing, and no intrusive interstitials:
Source: Google Developers Blog
When will Core Web Vitals happen?
We have had warnings from Google for years about the importance of user experience, but it was not until May last year when Core Web Vitals was first announced. Google said that page experience was going to be included as one of the ranking factors and told us we would have at least 6 months notice to make our sites ready for this update. In November last year, they announced it would be released in May 2021 (6 months later than planned) but then on April 20th there was an announcement from Google that it would be released now in mid-June.
Since the initial blog post on Google Search Central announcing Core Web Vitals, there have been a lot of articles written about the update including Cyrus Shephard’s White Board Friday but there are still many sites that are not ready for Core Web Vitals as we found out in our study.
Will it affect rankings?
Core Web Vitals will affect both mobile and desktop rankings and it will now become the criteria for sites to appear in “Top Stories” as it was for AMP (but this is no longer going to be relevant). Google has told us that this is just one signal in the 100s of ranking signals but it would make a big difference to those industries that are very competitive. For example, if you had a slow loading eCommerce site, this would have a negative impact on your rankings. Users, especially when making a purchase online, want a fast loading site and a great user experience.
We analysed over 6000 eCommerce sites in UK, US, Australia, Germany, France, Austria and we found the majority of the pages were not Core Web Vital ready. We found just 151 sites, so just 3.43% of the eCommerce sites scored over 90 in the Google Page Speed report.
How do you know if your site is ready for Core Web Vitals?
Run the report which shows the performance of your home page (or URL you enter). The report is based on three metrics, LCP, FID and CLS. LCP stands for Largest Contentful Paint and measures how long it takes for the main content of the page to load. FIC means First Input Delay and measures the time it takes for the site to react to the first interaction such as a user tapping on a button. CLS stands for Cumulative Layout Shift and measures how much the page moves when the screen in loading.
What happens if I do not have a score?
There will be times (as we saw in our own GSC) where we do not have a score. We have found this and Google has said that only indexed URLs appear in the report. BUT those URLs are indexed and we will go into this in more detail once we have updated our site.
How can you get ready for one of the most anticipated updates of the year? Read our step by step guide.
At Kaizen, we do what we preach and we decided to share with you how we got our site ready for Core Web Vitals within 2 weeks so you can also do the same. It is not too late. We are a small team with one developer, and we had some external help with the design to give our site a little refresh.
1. Google Search Console
The first place we recommend you check is your Google Search Console (GSC). Within GSC there is a section called Core Web Vitals under “Enhancements”. For now, GSC shows just the main domain of our site but going forwards more URLs should appear.
Use GSC to check what pages are being picked up by Google but do not focus too much on the individual URLs as Google picked up URLs that were not live on our site.
2. Google Page Speed Insights
Next, we recommend running a test of the home page using Google Page Speed Insights. You can do this via GSC or you can simply go to Google Page Speed Insights. It is important to use more than one page speed test. The home page scored poorly on Google Page Speed Insights, yet GTMetrix gave us a B.
GTMetrix shows a score of B and a performance of 82%. There was still some delay with “Total Blocking Time”, therefore looks like there is some speed performance issues we can work on.
3. Address any slow loading elements of the page
When the old site was coded, it was running react 15 and with Gatsby version 1. Now react is at the end of v17 cycle and Gatsby just launched version 3. Those elements alone improved the load time significantly.
4. Plan the new site
The key to having your site ready is to plan the time in. We are all busy and if we had focused solely on the site (without any client work) the site would have been ready within 2 weeks. We realised we needed outside help with a designer and with the design signed off, our developer, Bogdan worked on building the site.
We set the new site live last Friday and ran a few more page speed tests this week. We have already seen an improvement in the site speed on both Page Speed Insights and GTMetrix. We saw our score improve from 42 out of 100 to 53 out of 100. The Largest Contentful Paint still says 6.9 seconds but the Time to Interactive and the Total Blocking Time has reduced.
It is too early to see yet if we have an improvement in rankings but we will be monitoring it closely.
Rerunning the home page on GTMetrix, we can see that our total blocking time has considerably reduced and we now have a Grade A and 90% on Performance.
From our study, we have found that many sites do not appear to be ready for Core Web Vitals. Just under 20% of the sites had a score of 50- 89 with the majority of sites scoring under 50.
It takes time to improve the performance of your site, but as we have shown in this blog post, it needs to be prioritised. Do not obsess about page speed alone from the Google Page Insights tool. Make sure you test your site against other tools as it will give you an overall picture of what you need to do to improve the performance. We saw with our own site that the versions of React and Gatsby were old and updating these had a big impact on our page load time. Therefore you may find “just” updating your theme and your page builder may be enough to improve your page performance. However, you will not know until you start!
Google has already started rolling out the Core Web Vitals so we suggest focus the next two weeks on updating your site to the latest version, removing unnecessary tags and optimising your images. We prioritised this and we will be monitoring our rankings and traffic over the next month. I’ll update the blog post and share our results as they come in.
If this is all too overwhelming and you need help getting your site CWV ready, then contact the Kaizen team and we can support you with your project.
By Jo Juliana Turnbull - 30/06/2021