Updates to Google Search & Core Web Vitals: What to Know for SEO

Over the past several months there has been a trickle of information about a forthcoming major update to Google’s Core Web Vitals and Google Search. But as we approach the launch date, what are these changes about, and how might they impact your business? Read on to get the full story and learn how to prepare for the imminent update.

In April 2020, Google published a blog post announcing a new initiative called Web Vitals, to help website owners, first, more easily understand what makes a great website and, second, identify ways that they can improve their digital user experience (UX).

The Google team wrote in that post

Site owners should not have to be performance gurus in order to understand the quality of experience they are delivering to their users. The Web Vitals initiative aims to simplify the landscape, and help sites focus on the metrics that matter most, the Core Web Vitals.

While noting that the specific “quality signals” would likely evolve over time, Google defined Core Web Vitals (CWV) as being focused on three facets of the digital user experience: loading, interactivity, and visual stability. Each would be measured by a unique metric. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) assesses the loading performance (speed) of a site. First Input Delay (FID) measures interactivity. And Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) scores visual stability. 

The introduction of CWV last year, along with a number of tools from Google to both measure and improve those elements of the user experience, offered website owners new inroads to maintaining great digital platforms. And, of course, maintaining a better website translates into improvements in that site’s ranking in the most important source of clicks and traffic on Earth: Google Search.

 

The 2021 Update to Core Web Vitals & Google Search

A little more than six months after unveiling Web Vitals, in November 2020 Google announced that CWV would be part of a new set of “page experience signals” that would begin to factor into Google Search rankings starting in May and June 2021. 

Optimizing these page experience signals became an immediate priority for website owners. This new set of UX elements would meaningfully impact a site’s ability to appear on the first page of Google Search results, and for the first time, would include Core Web Vitals—loading, interactivity, and visual stability—alongside the existing search quality signals of mobile friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS security, and a lack of intrusive interstitials.

In announcing this evolution in quality signals for search, Google also noted a significant planned change to how sites would look for users on their results page. Alongside image previews and text snippets, a “visual indicator” would be introduced to identify sites that meet all of Google’s criteria for a great user experience on the page.

Naturally, this new visual element to search results only underscores the importance of improving the facets of UX that Google deems most vital.

 

How to Prepare for the CWV & Google Search Update

Google recommends a number of steps and tools for ensuring that your website maintains or even improves its performance amid the changes to search factors and the increased importance of Core Web Vitals. Check out the full set of measurement options here.

First, the company recommends conducting an audit of pages on your site to identify places where there is room for improvement. There are a few ways to get this process started, including generating a report within Google Search Console. 

If you own or manage an ecommerce sites, our team at Nansen has put together a simple ecommerce SEO checklist to help audit and optimize your digital shopping experience for all users. Additionally, our guide to best practices specifically for B2B ecommerce platforms includes a number of recommendations around user experience and SEO. 

One thing in particular to focus on as you prepare for the Google Search update is the mobile performance of your site. A research study done by SEM Rush in February 2021 indicates that mobile site performance is especially lagging when it comes to the metrics that matter most to Google. 

Among the sites it evaluated in its study, SEM Rush found that 8% of mobile experiences ranked as ‘Poor’ in all categories, compared with 1.3% for desktop. Given that one of the seven elements that make up Google’s new “page experience signals” set is mobile responsiveness, there is no time to delay in the optimization of your mobile site.

Changes to the Google Search algorithm are always major news. This latest change involving Core Web Vitals is sure to cause a bit of consternation among those of us who rely on Google Search for quality traffic. But the good news is that there are plenty of resources to help business owners, developers, and marketers get ready for the update. Plus, once it’s complete, if you have optimized pages that deliver a great user experience, your site will be easier for users to find and select than ever before.