Google Core Web Vitals: What Does The Update Mean for Your Website?

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Just when you think you know what Google wants from your website, they go and change the game. Recently, they announced that a massive ranking algorithm update will take effect in May 2021.

While we must admit these changes make web designers like us groan a little, we also recognize that their constantly rising bar makes for a better internet. 

So what does, “Core web vitals” actually mean? And more importantly, what does it mean for your website? 

Google Search Algorithm 101

It’s helpful to remember that Google’s product is the web search. They want to ensure that people searching the internet get shown the most relevant, user-friendly and efficient websites that exist among the billions of sites in the world… yes, billions. 

Google uses a complex ranking algorithm to assess websites in order to rank them. But that algorithm is never set in stone. In fact, they make hundreds of changes to it every year to reflect current web design standards and to defeat hackers.

We usually don’t hear about these updates. But sometimes a big one comes along and they announce it so that we have time to make improvements before the ranking change takes effect. 

Putting the “You” in UX

Their newest update is all about user experience (UX). Unlike many of the bigger updates in the past, this one doesn’t have much to do with the actual content on your website. It’s more about the performance of the site. 

If you’re wondering what that means, just think about your own experience on a website that’s super slow or has lots of pop-ups that get in the way of doing what you went there to do. 

To say that stuff is annoying would be putting it mildly. So we’re actually pretty psyched that Google has chosen to reward websites that go the extra mile to ensure their visitors have a good experience. 

Google already uses some aspects of UX to rank websites. These include: 

  • Mobile-Friendly - Is the website responsive across devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) or are the functions and appearance of the site impacted on mobile? 
  • Safe Browsing - In 2007, Google’s security team created a service that identifies unsafe websites and warns users before they access a site that could present an information theft or malware risk. Sites deemed to be risky don’t rank well.
  • HTTPS - Not to get too deep into the security weeds, HTTPS (as opposed to HTTP) is included in the URL of websites that are sufficiently encrypted to ensure the privacy of the user’s data. Websites that don’t have HTTPS don’t score as well in Google’s ranking algorithm.
  • No Intrusive Interstitials - In layman’s terms, intrusive interstitials are pop-ups. Not all pop-ups are bad, but Google dings websites that have notifcations or calls-to-action that block most or all of a page, are difficult to close on mobile, or appear unprompted by the visitor. 

What Are Core Web Vitals?

With Core Web Vitals (CWV), Google is taking the UX ranking factor to the next level. Members of the Chrome team and the W3C Web Performance Working Group framed their metrics around four key questions:

Is it happening?
Did the navigation start successfully? Has the server responded?

Is it useful?
Has enough content rendered that users can engage with it?

Is it usable?
Can users interact with the page, or is it busy?

Is it delightful?
Are the interactions smooth and natural, free of lag and jank?

Though they were introduced in 2020, these new standards will become a factor in a website’s search rankings starting in May 2021. They include: 

  • LCP - Largest Contentful Pain

    Loading — Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
    How long (in seconds) it takes the largest image or text block to load. This measures the perceived load speed based on when the page's main content has likely loaded. A fast load speed shows your visitors that the page is useful.

  • First Input Delay

    Interactivity — First Input Delay (FID)
    How long (in milliseconds) it takes between the time a user interacts with a page (clicking a link, tapping a button, etc.) before the site can complete the request. This metric measures interactivity and responsiveness in order to ensure that your visitors find the page usable.

  • CLS: Cumulative Layout Shift

    Visual stability — Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
    Calculates a score (0-1) based on how far unstable elements (any visible element that changes its start position) move on the page as resources are loading and how much they affect the viewport area. Measuring these unexpected layout shifts helps to determine how visually stable your page appears to visitors as it loads. If elements like text and buttons are jumping around the page as visitors start to read or click, the user experience is definitely not delightful.

What Does This Mean For Website Owners?

Before you start panicking that your site doesn’t meet these standards, we should tell you that most websites don’t currently meet these standards. So, you’re not behind… yet. Google told us about this so that you have time to make the necessary changes to boost your Core Web Vital Score. 

If you’re still a bit worried, consider that in August, Screaming Frog tested 20,000 sites and… 

  • Only 12% of mobile and 13% of desktop results passed the CWV assessment (i.e. considered good in all three metrics).
  • First Input Delay (FID) on Desktop is negligible with 99% of URLs considered good. And 89% for mobile.
  • 43% of mobile and 44% of desktop URLs had a good Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
  • 46% of mobile and 47% of desktop URLs had a good Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
  • URLs in Position 1 were 10% more likely to pass the Web Vitals assessment than URLs in Position 9.

What Is EDUCO Doing About Core Web Vitals?

Not to fear, your website UX heroes are here! Ok, we’re not superheroes exactly but we are super nerds about this stuff and we’re fully prepared to help you get your website in fighting shape before the Web Vitals update takes effect in May. Here’s how…

  • EDUCO will provide UX functionality and performance audits for some website support clients depending on their specific support package tier.
  • If your support package does not include these services, contact EDUCO for a custom quote. 

How Will Improvement Be Measured?

Don’t just take our word for it. We love data, so we’ll be fully transparent in sharing your website’s Web Vitals assessment both before and after we make the necessary changes. 

Here are a few of the tools we’ll use to measure and improve Core Web Vitals:

  • Google Search Console: To identify pages that need improvement
  • Page Speed Insights: To diagnose issues on specific pages 
  • Lighthouse: To help us identify specific updates that need to be made to improve Web Vitals scores.

If this is all Greek to you, that’s OK. All you really need to know is that Google is making another big push to improve the internet by raising the bar for websites. In the end, everyone who uses the internet benefits. And savvy businesses that know they need to stay on top of this stuff win. 

The fact is, many companies don’t even have this on their radar and won’t know about it until their site’s ranking has already dropped a great deal. 

By making these changes in advance, you’re already miles ahead of the competition. For more info or to get started on your audit, get in touch now.

Anna Garvey Digital Strategist Chicago

About the Author

Anna Garvey

Anna is Content Strategist at EDUCO. Connect with Anna on LinkedIn or