Google Page Experience & Core Web Vitals | 5 Tips for eCommerce Businesses
Google introduced a set of signals that more accurately measure page experience. For now, it’s worth understanding these metrics, and what eCommerce businesses need to be thinking about before the full algorithm drops in 2021.
July 10, 2020
So, what do you need to know about Google’s new algorithm, known as ‘Page Experience’? Firstly, these algorithm updates have not been fully rolled out yet, and will not affect your traffic until its full release, which has been pushed back to 2021.
However, it is worth taking the time to understand the updates, and how you can prepare.
To this point, most of us in SEO are accustomed to focusing on the following elements when it comes to ranking on Google: technical SEO elements, site speed, safe browsing, and mobile experience.
There are various challenges around each of these optimization areas, with businesses struggling to maintain optimization for technical SEO and speed, for instance.
Optimizing for mobile experience is even more challenging. Until now, we’ve struggled a little for clear direction in terms of the relevant metrics and insights to measure and improve mobile page experience, which we know is Google’s most recent focus in terms of ranking factors. Google has begun to address this.
Google Page Experience
As part of Google’s Page Experience, it recently introduced a set of signals that more accurately measure a user’s experience of interacting with a web page. This includes Core Web Vitals (also known as ‘Critical Metrics’), which is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for things like loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. Essentially, these provide a more palatable way to measure page experience.
Firstly – don’t panic. At this point, not a lot has actually changed. Google is constantly collecting and analyzing data and making small changes to its algorithm to determine what to rank for searchers. What’s important to remember is that you still need a good combination of those fundamental elements we know about: technical SEO (or ensuring your site is accessible for users and Google), site speed, safe browsing. Forget experience metrics for a moment – without a solidly performing site, without the correct foundations in place, you won’t rank on Google.
Page Experience doesn’t mean you have to make sweeping, fundamental changes to existing pages or websites. We saw scare-mongering and hype when Google introduced AMP pages, and many suggested AMP was silver bullet to ranking highly. And, yes, AMP pages are a sure way to super-fast page speeds, but you don’t need AMP to rank (as confirmed by Google), you need a high performing site. And it will be the same with Page Experience and Core Web Vitals.
AMP is an interesting topic to bring up, though. We know AMP was created by Google, as a way of standardizing website technology for its own interest and ease of being able to find and understand content.
Google is now moving away from AMP slightly, allowing space for other open source platforms to flourish. Page speed will remain a key ranking factor, but with the advent of more measurable user experience metrics, overall accessibility and usability is becoming a stronger focus. And a good web experience is more than just fast loading.
Core Web Vitals
So, let’s break down some of the metrics that fall under Page Experience and Core Web Vitals.
In Google Search Console you can access your Core Web Vitals report. This report is based on three metrics: LCP, FID, and CLS, and will help identify areas for improvement.
LCP – Largest Contentful Paint. This is the time it takes for the largest above the fold element to load – things like banners, images, videos, or DOM elements such as tables. This is more nuanced than just ‘page speed’, as a full page can take significantly longer to load, and a lot of what is loaded – ads, footers, logos – isn’t necessarily vital to the experience of the page.
FID – First Input Delay. This measures the time from when a user first interacts with your site – click a link, tap on a button, use the menu dropdown – to when the browser responds to that interaction. These interactions often load slower on mobile, so this is another sign that Google is pushing further towards mobile-first indexing.
CLS – Cumulative Layout Shift. This measures visual stability by quantifying how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, which often occur on mobile. For example, if you’re scrolling through a page and press on a link, whilst elements above are still loading, you end up tapping the wrong thing, this is poor UX. This is often due to things like large images, buttons and ads loading at the top of a page.
“By understanding how your pages load and the importance of each element in this sequence, you can begin to manage and optimize your CRP. This will, in turn, improve the experience of your site, your Core Web Vitals, and your ranking.”
It’s also worth being aware of similar ‘paint timing’ metrics to LCP:
FCP – First Contentful Paint. Similar to LCP, this measures the time from when the page starts loading to when any part of the page’s content is rendered on the screen – usually a logo, menu, banner, or first paragraph.
FMP – First Meaningful Paint. Whereas FCP is tracking anything that loads first, FMP is looking for the first useful, or ‘meaningful’ content – featured images, videos, the body of a blog post.
These paint timing metrics are useful for Google and developers to truly understand page speeds, and what is important sequentially in terms of loading, which we call the Critical Rendering Path (CRP).
Remember, you’re not just optimizing your site to please a stopwatch. You’re optimizing your site to please a potential customer – a user – so the experience needs to be curated as such.
This means breaking down the user journey and understanding what is most important to load first. This CRP is what a lot of brands are getting wrong, which will in-turn negatively impact bounce rates and experience metrics.
Therefore, it’s really important for brands to identify what the ‘large’ and ‘meaningful’ content is on their pages and ensure this is the content that loads fast. For example, on YouTube, the video is the meaningful content. On the homepage of an eCommerce site it will be the ‘hero’ content, such as a promotional banner, whereas on product pages it might be the product images.
5 Tips for eCommerce Businesses
For eCommerce businesses, my advice would be:
1. Do the basics right. You still need to make sure your pages are built on a solid foundation of SEO. Quality, secure, original content with solid keyword optimization and optimized images will still serve you well.
2. Understand your CRP. By understanding how your pages load and the importance of each element in this sequence, you can begin to manage and optimize your CRP. This will, in turn, improve the experience of your site, your Core Web Vitals, and your ranking.
3. Ensure a good “information architecture” or a logical flow of information from the home page to any other internal page. The more you understand how users interact with your site, the better a journey you can provide. This may mean you have to re-map your user journey, and provide additional educational, inspirational or experiential content to help users make a buying decision.
4. Test your site. As well as mapping the journey, you need to test the site, and all the different journeys your users might take. Most importantly, you need to test how it performs on mobile. Google has its own page speed testing tool that will show Core Web Vital metrics called “Page Speed Insights”, but using your connected Google Search Console, the Core Web Vital report will show you metrics for every page on your own site.
5. Analyze and improve. Things change, and your site can change too. Your analytics team need to monitor how users are interacting with your site and make this data readily available. Small changes in the CRP, CTAs or recommended products can make a big difference to how users act.
Clearly, there’s a lot to think about here, particularly if your business hasn’t considered these metrics before. For now, can you still rank without super-fast page speeds, or great Core Web Vitals scores? Yes.
But this may change, so it is worth your while taking the time to understand these metrics and consider mapping your CRP to identify which elements can be prioritized and improved.
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