TL;DR: Google is creating a new ranking factor that combines Core Web Vitals metrics with existing page experience signals, debuting in May 2021.
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When given the choice between a great web page experience and a “meh” one, we’re going to choose the great one every time.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
Google says that all of Google’s popular development tools can now be used to measure Core Web Vitals.
Here’s an example of those new metrics in the PageSpeed Insights tool:
And in the Web.Dev Measure Tool:
You can find Core Web Vitals information in:
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.
Navigate to the property you want to audit in Google Search Console and click on “Core Web Vitals” in the left navigation.
Once there, you’ll see charts for both mobile and desktop performance.
Those charts include URLs that fall into one of three categories:
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.
For more information on your Core Web Vitals report in GSC, visit the Search Console Help Center to read full documentation.
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:
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.
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:
Google also gives us page experience best practices such as:
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.
Here’s to creating the best possible experience for our visitors, and being rewarded for it!