Understanding Core Web Vitals: Google's New Search Ranking Factors

In 2021, Google will update its algorithm to include Core Web Vitals as ranking factors. Learn more about Core Web Vitals and what this update means for your web presence.

To deliver the most helpful and relevant search results, Google is continuously looking at data and user behavior and updating its search algorithm. By evaluating user behaviors like which search results drive clicks, how long a user stays on a particular website, and more, Google can set benchmarks for the types of experiences users prefer.

Great page experiences enable people to get more done and engage more deeply; in contrast, a bad page experience could stand in the way of a person being able to find the valuable information on a page.

Google Search Central Blog

Google already uses several experience-focused criteria as ranking factors, including page-load speeds, non-intrusive interstitials (pop-ups), SSL security, and mobile-friendliness. Now to further prioritize websites with great on-site experiences, Google will factor in three new metrics related to website speed, responsiveness, and visual stability.

In addition to existing page experience search signals in gray, Google will add three new Core Web Vitals to its ranking factors.

Here's a look at the three Core Web Vitals metrics in more detail:

  • Largest Contentful Paint: How long it takes for a page’s main content to load. The ideal benchmark for this 2.5 seconds or less. 
  • First Input Delay: This is the amount of time it takes for a page to become interactive. Google pinpoints 100ms or less as an ideal benchmark. 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: This measures any unexpected layout shifts of visual content on the page. An ideal measurement for this is less than 0.1.

To help website owners measure their performance, Google has released a Core Web Vitals report within Google Search Console. This report provides page-level data and recommendations that website owners can share with their development teams or technology providers.

You can read more about Core Web Vitals in the original announcement or on Google's developer blog.

The Core Web Vitals update is just one more reminder of the intersection between experience design, SEO, and content delivery. With this update, Google is underscoring the importance of an excellent user experience in your website's success.

When Is The Algorithm Update Coming?

Core Web Vitals will officially become search ranking factors in May of 2021. We won't know for certain until the update rolls out, but many SEOs speculate that Google will add labels in search results to indicate which websites have a good page experience. When Google introduced its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative a few years ago, AMP-enabled content was indicated in search with a lightning bolt icon. So there may be a similar indicator for websites with excellent page experience. 

An example of the AMP icon in search results. SEOs speculate that a similar icon may be used to indicate websites with excellent page experience.

How do Core Web Vitals impact or overlap with AMP content?

With the introduction of Core Web Vitals, AMP will no longer be a requirement for content to reach the "Top Stories" search results feature on mobile. 

Now any content that meets Core Web Vitals criteria will be eligible to appear in "Top Stories." Content that is AMP-enabled will also (if implemented correctly) meet the Core Web Vitals standards for user experience. 

The "Top Stories" mobile search feature will now include any content meeting AMP or Core Web Vitals standards.

Looking Ahead & How to Prepare

This update is an excellent opportunity to check-in with your website technology partner and ask about Core Web Vitals and user experience. If your website is responsive and follows best practices in UX and SEO, then you should be in a successful position to maintain and improve your search visibility as this algorithm rolls out in Spring 2021.

If you feel that you are working with an outdated platform or considering a website redesign, then be sure to ask potential technology partners about the Core Web Vitals update and how their team optimizes for a positive page experience.

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