Think it’s just good content that will land you at the top of Google? Think again.
Google is always looking for ways to improve the results it delivers to searchers. So, to absolutely no one’s surprise, it’s rolling out yet another set of ranking signals that content creators and developers will need to heed.
They’re called Core Web Vitals.
This isn’t even really news. Back in November 2020, Google announced that Core Web Vitals would become ranking signals in May 2021. Since then, we’ve been slowly ticking down to the moment. ⏲️
In other words, if your page loads slowly or doesn’t respond to user actions, it’s now going to negatively affect your SERPs.
That’s a pretty big deal for content creators as well as developers.
Here’s a closer look at what Core Web Vitals are, how the evaluator guidelines are moving steadily toward an emphasis on the page experience, and what content creators can do to improve their Core Web Vitals rankings.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are specific factors Google considers important when determining the quality of the overall user experience your page provides. They consist of three metrics related to loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
You’ll see them respectively referred to with three different acronyms:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). The amount of time it takes to render the largest visible content block. In plain English, that means the time it takes for it to be obvious to your users that the page is loading.
- First Input Delay (FID). The amount of time between when a user interacts with an element on your page – like clicking a link – and when that element actually responds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). The sum total of all layout that which occur unexpectedly over the lifespan of the page. Layout shifts occur when a visual element like an image or heading unexpectedly re-arranges the content around it – such as when you make a browser window larger or smaller.
In other words, Google is now interested in knowing how long your site takes to load, how quickly it responds to a user’s actions, and how well it holds its layout together in the face of different browsers, devices, or screen sizes.
Google then uses numerical measurements to rank each Core Web Vital as “good,” “needs improvement,” or “poor.” The specific thresholds are as follows:
To see how your site is performing, you can now find the metrics tracked in Google Console. Under the Enhancements section, there will be a Web Vitals Report.
The Rise of the Page Experience Ranking Signals
This shift towards page experience represents just one more way in which the internet is pivoting towards an increased emphasis on user experience (UX).
Not that users haven’t been demanding good design and good experiences for ages. In 2021, 75% of all users are basing their opinions on your brand by how easy it is for them to use your site.
Some 80% of them won’t trust you if you deliver a bad one. They’ll run. 🏃♀️
The decision to include Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal is simply a reflection of where things have been headed for a while.
But, I hear you ask, isn’t this an issue for developers? What does this have to do with us? Why do content creators need to care about Core Web Vitals? 🤔
Good questions!What are Google's Core Web Vitals? What do they have to do with UX and page experience? 💻 Most of all... Why should you care as a #contentcreator? Get the lowdown on @ExpWriters ☑ Click To Tweet
What the Core Web Vitals Mean for Content Creators
We’ve known for a while that written content can be optimized for maximum readability. Things like giant blocks of text, illegible fonts, and badly formatted headings can negate even the most eloquently written content.
However, for a long time, those were overlooked elements with ranking. Google focused highly on content quality – i.e. the quality of the writing itself – and it used to be that those things had minimal impacts on your SERPs. You might have experienced:
- Higher bounce rates
- Lower time spent on site
- Slower page load speeds
Google would notice those, and you’d slip down in rank. But, by and large, you could recover if your keyword usage was on point with the search intent, or if you had robust, authoritative citations.
What the Core Web Vitals now mean is that Google is evaluating your site against a set of criteria before it even receives feedback via user behavior. In other words, you now must pay attention to the user experience you’re creating when your content is created. That means things like:
- Paying closer attention to how text flows
- Using headings correctly
- Properly formatting and coding images or embedded videos
- Thoughtfully selecting your font
- Putting more consideration into what your buttons say (and where they’re located!)
- Whether you insert CTAs onto your page
- Whether you use pop-ups to encourage newsletter signups
Core Web Vitals are just one more way that Google is encouraging us to take a holistic view when crafting content for our audience. While they’re quick to point out that good design doesn’t override exceptional content, they do expect that your content and your design complement one another.
In short, content creation is no longer about just the content itself. It’s now about the experience you’re creating with your content. ☝️
How to Improve Your Core Web Vitals (as a Content Creator!)
Google wants us to create exceptional content, but they also want it to be easy to access and use. Bringing the Core Web Vitals online as a ranking signal is expected to shake things up, so make sure you’re ready.
A study in August 2020 suggested less than 15% of all websites out there are capable of passing a Core Web Vitals assessment. 🤯
Whether or not you’re creating your own content (or having experts help you out), here are a few things you can do to improve your Core Web Vitals ahead of the May 2021 update.
1. Get Your Images (and Other Large Elements) Squared Away
It’s been a best practice for a while in content creation to include images or other visual content every 300 words. This helps to break up text and keep your readers engaged.
However, following this advice can also slow down your page load speed if you’re not careful.
So, does that mean that us diligent content creators are out of luck? 🍀
Nah. Google’s got our backs. When reading the LCP definition above, you may have noticed it’s not necessarily the total page loading speed that matters. Instead, it’s the amount of time to load the largest element – which naturally translates to “most” of the page.
A “good” LCP is less than 2.5 seconds. That means your images and other large elements are going to be what slow you down, here. The general best advice around improving both LCP and large element performance include:
- Specify attribute sizes for images, videos, and similar elements. This will also lower your CLS score.
- Use lazy loading for content below the fold. This allows the page to load as users scroll.
- Clean up your CSS. Fewer lines and less redundant formatting will improve load times.
2. Optimize Your Fold
In web design (and content writing), the fold refers to everything that’s visible when the user first loads the page. Once they’ve started scrolling, the content they come across is called “below the fold.”
It’s one of those many terms we’ve borrowed from journalism.
Whether or not the fold is important in content has been a hot debate. Most of it has centered around the rise of long-form web content and the development of infinite scrolling.
Let’s be clear: you don’t need to use the fold on every page. However, effectively using the fold can significantly improve the overall page experience. I recommend you:
- Keep elements light, fast, and consistent. Above the fold is a great place for headlines and statements that pop. It’s also a powerful place for CTAs. However, keep these elements light and fast – don’t put anything slow-loading here. That includes fancy fonts!
- Preload key resources. Preloading critical assets means that the browser loads elements of the page in the background so they can display faster when the user clicks on the link. Chrome does it automatically, but you should still specify elements to preload to be sure.
- Avoid adding new elements here. Make sure new content loads below the fold on all of your pages. This prevents new content from pushing existing content down (dinging your CLS).
3. Optimize Your Fonts
Did you know that there are 884 fonts in Google’s font library? That’s 884 options for you to play with while you get that content onto your site. Hurray! Right?
Google Fonts is a tremendously convenient service — but be careful.
Google Fonts are pretty ubiquitous across the web, but their use can and does slow down site loading speed. That’s because the page can’t load until the code fetches the correct files from the Google Fonts server.
While Google Fonts will likely get faster, this is something you’ll want to take into consideration if you’ve got content-heavy pages. Likewise, make sure to:
- Opt for browser-supported fonts or make them available as fallbacks. Browser-supported or web-safe fonts are fonts that all browsers and devices support. That means they’ll appear the same across all devices, which will lower your CLS score!
- Avoid Google Fonts for content-heavy pages or sites. Even if you’re using lazy loading and leveraging your fold, you’ve still got a lot working against your CLP.
- Consider preload or preconnect. A few tricks exist to help speed up the load time of Google Fonts. If you’re bent on using Google Fonts, consider one of these.
4. Audit Your Plugins
As of January 2021, 40% of the websites online were powered by WordPress. And what does WordPress encourage to add more functionality to a site?
Plugins are microservices that add specific features to your site. These typically include things like contact forms, spam filters, or other widgets that display on your page to enrich the visitor experience. Used correctly, they can tremendously improve the overall user experience.
However, they can also have impacts on your LCP and FID scores. Look for plugins…
- With overlapping features. Providers like to make their plugins useful and will add new features over time. In general, it’s better to use one plugin for multiple things than multiple plugins which may all do similar things. Less code means faster LCP scores.
- That are outdated. Outdated plugins will impact your user’s experience. They may not load correctly, or they may mess up your page (impacting your CLS score). It’s a good idea to do a plugin audit when you do your content audit if you’ve got plugins that are unique to specific pages or content.
An Excellent Experience Needs Expert Content
Google’s Core Web Vitals are writing on the wall… for more than just developers!
Content creators must now focus on the holistic content experience we’re creating and not just the quality of the content itself. For us, that means everything from how we structure our headers to what other rich features we’re introducing into the pages as we configure our content there.
Of course, Google notes that great design won’t cancel out bad content. An excellent user experience still needs excellent content.
If you’ve got your hands full assessing your Core Web Vitals, get an expert writer on your team to take over content creation.