Google’s Page Experience Ranking Factor: How To Improve Web Vitals For Better SEO & UX

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TL;DR: Google is creating a new ranking factor that combines Core Web Vitals metrics with existing page experience signals. Google will give us a six-month notice before it goes live, and it won’t be launched anytime this year (2020).  

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What is the page experience update?

When given the choice between a great web page experience and a “meh” one, we’re going to choose the great one every time. 

Google knows this, which is why they’ve added experience-related criteria as ranking factors over the years, like page speed and mobile-friendliness

The latest tool Google has given site owners to help them improve page experience is the Core Web Vitals report, which shows metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability.

On Thursday, May 28, Google announced that they’re taking this to the next level. They plan on changing how they rank web pages to include these page experience metrics. 

Google is essentially creating a new ranking signal that’s a combination of Core Web Vitals metrics and existing page experience ranking factors (e.g. page speed). What they’ll end up with is a single ranking signal that captures how good of a user experience each page provides.

page experience ranking factor components
Source: Google

Google has not launched this ranking factor yet. In fact, they said it wouldn’t happen before the end of 2020 and they will also give us at least a six-month warning before it goes live. 

This early notice from Google will help webmasters start getting familiar with Core Web Vitals metrics so that we can prepare.

But that’s not all that’s included with this update. 

Google will use page experience to rank Top Stories; AMP no longer required

With this update, Google will also start using the new page experience metric to rank articles for Top Stories on mobile devices — AMP is no longer required to be eligible here, although Google still supports and will link to AMP articles whenever they’re available. It’s just not required to rank in Top Stories. The Google News content policies still apply.

Since Core Web Vitals are going to be such an integral component of ranking in Top Stories and traditional organic search results, it’s important that we understand what they are and how to optimize for them. 

A carousel of AMP results for a news article.

 

Google’s Core Web Vitals Metrics

Google’s new page experience ranking factor will combine existing page experience signals with Core Web Vitals metrics, but what are Core Web Vitals?

Google introduced Core Web Vitals on May 5, 2020 as a way to unify and streamline all the guidance on user experience signals they’ve added over the years. 

A great user experience comprises many facets, but Google has identified three foundational elements that every site should possess:

  • Loading Experience: Google uses the metric “Largest Contentful Paint” (LCP) to measure the perceived load speed for the user. LCP marks the point at which the page’s main content has fully loaded. Learn more.
  • Interactivity: Google uses the metric “First Input Delay” (FID) to measure how users are able to interact with the page. FID measures things like how responsive the page is, and is the most quantifiable measure of how the user likely feels when trying to navigate and perform actions on the page. Learn more.
  • Visual Stability: Google uses the metric “Cumulative Layout Shift” (CLS) to measure how stable the page’s layout is. In other words, how much does the layout change unexpectedly for the user? Learn more
Core Web Vitals metrics
Source: Google

Google explains that these metrics are a combination of other metrics — again, as a way to streamline page experience metrics. For example, you can’t have a good LCP if you have a poor First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Time to First Byte (TTFB)

Lab Tools vs. Field Tools 

Core Web Vitals metrics are based on real world usage data (AKA “field data”). That field data comes from the CrUX report, which gathers anonymized metrics about performance times from actual people visiting your pages. 

Field data differs from lab data in that lab data provides insight into how a potential user will likely experience your website, not real users.  

Where can I find my Core Web Vitals metrics?

Google says that all of Google’s popular development tools can now be used to measure Core Web Vitals.

where to find Core Web Vitals metrics
Source: Google

Here’s an example of those new metrics in the PageSpeed Insights tool:

pagespeed insights core web vitals

And in the Web.Dev Measure Tool:

web.dev core web vitals metrics

You can find Core Web Vitals information in:

  • Lighthouse: Download the Lighthouse extension for Chrome or using the Audits tab of Chrome DevTools (hit “inspect” on a URL and click on the “audits” tab).  
  • PageSpeed Insights: Visit the PageSpeed Insights tool and run a report as usual. The new Core Web Vitals metrics will be featured prominently at the top of your report. 
  • Web Vitals Chrome Extension: Google has created an entire extension dedicated to helping you measure LCP, FID, and CLS on your web pages. Download the Web Vitals extension for Chrome.  
  • Chrome UX Report API: All the metrics in the Chrome User Experience Report are powered by APIs. Site owners can use those same APIs to gather URL-level analysis of these performance metrics. View Google’s documentation on the Chrome UX Report API here.   
  • Web.dev Measure Tool: Visit https://web.dev/measure/ to see Core Web Vitals data on any URL you run through the tool.  
  • Google Search Console: The “Core Web Vitals” report in GSC groups performance by status, metric type, and URL type. 

Since SEOs will likely be most familiar with GSC and have incorporated it as part of their daily workflow, let’s dive into that report specifically. Visit web.dev/vitals-tools for detailed instructions about how to use the other reports to find Core Web Vitals data.  

The Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console

Navigate to the property you want to audit in Google Search Console and click on “Core Web Vitals” in the left navigation. 

core web vitals in google search console

Once there, you’ll see charts for both mobile and desktop performance.

core web vitals in google search console

Those charts include URLs that fall into one of three categories:

  • Poor: URLs are considered “poor” if their LCP is more than 4 seconds, FID is more than 300ms, and CLS is greater than 0.25.
  • Needs Improvement: URLs are considered as “needs improvement” if their LCP is between 2.5 and 4 seconds, their FID is between 100ms and 300ms, and their CLS is between 0.1 and 0.25.  
  • Good: URLs are labeled “good” if their LCP is less than 2.5s, FID is less than 100ms, and CLS is less than 0.1.
core web vitals good needs improvement poor

Because this report uses field data, if a URL doesn’t have enough real-world data, GSC will omit it from the report. 

GSC’s Core Web Vitals report breaks down issues by URL group, which is helpful because a single issue across a group of URLs is likely caused by a single, sweeping issue. This helps you focus on the underlying issue rather than how that issue is manifesting itself across multiple individual pages. 

Google will provide statuses on groups of URLs to help you keep track of which ones you’ve validated, which ones you haven’t, and the progress of those tests.

core web vitals validation

For more information on your Core Web Vitals report in GSC, visit the Search Console Help Center to read full documentation. 

Existing Google Page Experience Signals

Core Web Vitals metrics aren’t the only factors that’ll go into Google’s new page experience ranking factor. It’ll also incorporate existing page experience signals such as:

mobile usability google search console
  • Safe-browsing: Webmasters should fix security issues found on their site, which they can access in the security issues report in Google Search Console. Security issues include malware, deceptive pages, harmful downloads, and uncommon downloads. 
security issues google search console
  • HTTPS-security: HTTPS / Transport Layer Security is a slight ranking signal that carries less weight than content quality signals, but webmasters should migrate all their URLs to HTTPS not just because it could help with rankings, but because it’s safer for visitors.  
  • Intrusive interstitial guidelines: Webmasters should avoid showing pop-ups that cover the main content of a page, displaying standalone interstitials that the user hsa to dismiss before accessing the main content, or making the above-the-fold portion of the web page look like a standalone interstitial when there’s main content below the fold. 

How important is page experience relative to other ranking factors?

Page experience is less important than having high-quality, relevant content. In Google’s own words, “We prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar.”

What does that mean for you? It means that if your content is of a similar quality and relevance to a competitor’s, but that competitor has better page experience metrics, then the competitor’s page will likely outrank yours. 

Next steps: How do I optimize for page experience?

Although Google isn’t launching its new page experience ranking factor before next year, it’s a good idea to start preparing now.

Google suggests the following workflow for page experience optimization:

  1. Open up your Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console to identify groups of pages that require attention. Focus on URLs in the “poor” category first, then “needs improvement.” 
  2. Share this report with your engineering team (read tips for communicating with your web developers) or continue further diagnostics below. 
  3. Once you have a good grasp of pages that need the most attention, run those pages through PageSpeed Insights to diagnose specific issues contributing to poor Core Web Vitals metrics that you need to address.
  4. Run those pages through a Lighthouse audit or use the Web Vitals Chrome extension for more actionable guidance on what you still need to fix. 

Google also gives us page experience best practices such as:

  • Reducing the size of each page to less than 500KB (page + all resources).
  • Keep the total number of resources per page to less than 50 (ideal for mobile).
  • Consider implementing AMP, which can fix many page loading issues on both mobile and desktop .

As you and/or your web developer begins implementing page experience fixes, Google suggests using their “Start Tracking” button, which will launch a 28-day monitoring session. Why 28 days? Google says that if no instances of the issue reoccur within that 28-day window, you can consider the issue fixed! 

The enhanced page experience ranking factor is another step in the direction of blending SEO and UX. As time goes on, it seems more and more like doing what’s best for humans is also what’s best for Google.

what google wants to rank venn diagram

Here’s to creating the best possible experience for our visitors, and being rewarded for it! 

 

 

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