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What to know about Google’s Core Web Vitals update

by | Mar 11, 2021 | Websites

We knew when TV pitch man/inventor Ron Popeil said, “Set it and forget it,” he wasn’t referring to your website. Your site is never “set” and you should never “forget it.” Case in point: are you “set” for Google’s “core web vitals” update coming in May 2021?

What are core web vitals?

There are three elements that define your website’s core web vitals, according to Google. They are:

  • LCP (largest contentful paint): How long it takes the page to render the largest visible element
  • FID (first input delay): How long it takes the page to start responding to user actions
  • CLS (cumulative layout shift): How much the page UI shifts during page loading

Google core web vitals update May 2021

Google introduced page experience as an algorithm signal in May 2020. Now included in Google Search Console, core web vitals help determine organic website ranking. This was just a sneak preview to allow web developers and website maintenance professionals to prepare for the change in Google’s algorithm, scheduled for May 2021. 

The speed in which your site loads – on both desktop and mobile – is already a ranking factor for Google (and other search engines). However, in an effort to consistently improve the user experience, Google will use what it considers the “core web vitals” to determine which sites rank higher.

Because Google currently reigns supreme when it comes to search, web developers use these vitals as a measure of success. The three criteria, LCP, FID and CLS, are how your desktop and mobile experience will be measured by Google. If you have pages that don’t meet the guidelines for how long it should take for those three criteria to occur, then you get penalized in terms of page speed, which will impact your ranking.

For example, LCP shouldn’t take longer than four seconds to render on mobile. If your site takes, let’s say, six seconds you may get penalized.

But there’s a but here

We’re not sure what the impact will be on rankings once the algorithm launches in May. Google is already making updates to the playing field by switching the measurement assessment to include HTTP/2, so some sites are already receiving higher scores. Some developers will wait and see the IRL results before making changes. If the update negatively affects page rankings, then do something about it.

That approach makes sense since Google hasn’t said exactly what the impact will be, and that this will be just one ranking factor out of a bucketful of ranking factors. 

“First of all, it remains one of many things,” Danny Sullivan, public liaison for Google search, said during a Search Central Live Fireside Chat in February 2021. “Secondly, it’s always the case that we’re going to try to return the best content based on this basket or bucket of things. So, maybe you don’t have the best page experience… But if you’re still the most relevant content, that is going to [outweigh] overall on various things we’re looking at. I think it’s not a case of start being all super concerned. And understand that we want to make sure that this is coming in a moderated fashion…

But over time what will happen is, as more and more content is coming up in page experience and if you’re in a situation where things are all relatively equal, the things that are more page experience and oriented are likely to start doing better.

I don’t think freak out but do pay attention to it, do understand that it’s a new thing that you need to keep in mind. That’s why we’re highlighting it.”

What can you do today?

Start with a speed analysis of your site on GTmetrix, which uses Google Lighthouse, considered the primary tool to measure page speed. Enter your URL, click analyze, and it gives you all the elements to address and improve your ranking score, including a measurement of those core web vitals. Results include rankings for both mobile and desktop. You’ll see in red, yellow and green how your site is ranking on different factors. (Green is great; red ain’t.) 

I chose a prominent site that I know was built using WordPress to analyze on GTmetrix, BBC America.

In the screenshot above, you can see that BBC America is ranking pretty well overall, though it is in the red for total blocking time (TBT) measurement. GTmetrix offers suggestions for improvement areas, such as: TBT tells you how much time is blocked by scripts during your page loading process. For a good user experience, aim for a TBT of 150 milliseconds or less.

There are performance metrics not seen in the screenshot that dig deep into the features and functionality of your site. You could go through each one of these, looking for improvement opportunities to implement. You can discuss these opportunities with your in-house web developer. If you don’t have one in-house, or you don’t use a service for website maintenance, please give us a call and we’ll help you work through your results.

If you run a scan through GTMetrix and see multiple areas for concern, save a screenshot and send it our way. We’re happy to take a look and offer some advice.

That said, we’re leaning toward the wait-and-see approach with Google’s May algorithm update for core web vitals. We regularly analyze our clients’ sites and, at the moment, we see no cause for panic.

The only thing we plan to set and forget is a rotisserie chicken.

This post answers the question: what is google core web vitals update may 2021

What is the google core web vitals update may 2021

Core web vitals help determine organic website ranking. This was just a sneak preview to allow web developers and website maintenance professionals to prepare for the change in Google’s algorithm, scheduled for May 2021. In an effort to consistently improve the user experience, Google will use what it considers the “core web vitals” to determine which sites rank higher.

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