If it weren’t for topics like Covid and lockdown vying for our attention, it’s highly likely that the SEO community’s buzzword of 2020 would have been Core Web Vitals.
As a group, we’re a big fan of buzzwords. E-A-T was probably the buzzword of 2019. BERT the focus the year before that. And while buzzwords do have a tendency to come and go like fashion, the reality of these recent updates to the way that Google works is that they are just that – empirical, embedded, deep changes to the way the world’s largest search engine analyses and therefore showcases every website in the world.
Which means that, like E-A-T and BERT, Core Web Vitals (CWV) deserves our attention. And it deserves it now. This is a great introductory post if you want to learn about the basics of CWV.
Technically, CWV won’t roll out and affect us until 2021. But what we do now is that this new way of assessing a website’s right to rank is based around the central premise of improving user experience. And there are various ways we can do that.
How to improve a website’s resilience to CWV
The best way to improve a website’s resilience to CWV and to mitigate losses when it does roll out is to focus on improving the user experience (UX) metrics of your site.
Specifically, Google is looking at the following (and you should too):
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This metric evaluates loading performance and specifically the speed at which a page loads and how user’s are able to see and interact with a page. Google suggests that in order to provide a ‘good’ user experience that LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.
First Input Delay (FID)
This metric evaluates the ability of the user to effectively interact with a specific page. Google defines a ‘good’ user experience where pages have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
This metric reviews visual stability and the impact of shifting of different elements of a web page when loading such as fonts, images or buttons. In terms of a figure to aim for, Google suggests that a CLS of less than 0.1 provides ‘good’ user experience.
The Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) is a useful tool in assessing how your site is doing now and where you can improve.
Core Web Vitals in the News Sector
The news sector is one in which the pressures to earn visits and clicks through from the SERPs are greater than most. Attracting audiences is what news publishers need to generate advertising or subscriber revenue and without it, the whole business model falls down.
It’s also a sector – much like YMYL (your money, your life) – where we can expect Google to be more strict or to apply its changes more quickly. That’s because global news sites are a source of important information that affects our lives and it’s important that Google is contributing to a positive news landscape as much as it can (and mitigating against the prevalence of fake news or poor quality reporting too).
So in understanding how CWV is going to affect us all, it’s valid to look to the news sector to understand how media publishers are likely to fare when the update rolls out next year.
In a recent CWV experiment, we took the 50 most visited news sites in the world and analysed them according to the CWV factors of LCP, FIP and CLS, applying an average score too to show how the sites compared overall. The results are shown in the chart below:
Only one website of the 50 analysed – Nikkei.com, a Japanese site – achieved an average score greater than 90%. The majority of sites fell below 80%, most commonly being held back by their CLS scores, followed by LCP and then FID.
Well known UK based news sites included in the analysis and their corresponding scores are shown below and the full analysis can be found here.
- FT.com – 85%
- Independent.co.uk – 75%
- Standard.co.uk – 73%
- Telegraph.co.uk – 71%
- TheTimes.co.uk – 70%
- TheSun.co.uk – 69%
- DailyMail.co.uk – 65%
- Express.co.uk – 64%
- Mirror.co.uk – 61%
While these scores might not seem especially low, what we can assume here is that, for sites operating in such a competitive niche, “not especially low” simply won’t cut it. These news publishers – and all webmasters – need to be focused on how to improve the experience they’re serving up to their users and aiming no lower than 100% if they want to gain the competitive advantage.
Specifically, news publishers will need to answer questions around:
- Paywalls and banners; publications like The Guardian are trying to increase revenue through the use of paywalls and have banners announcing subscription options, both of which can serve to increase loading times and interrupt the user journey
- Pop ups and videos; for many news publications, advertising revenue is only ‘unlocked’ when an interaction occurs, such as watching a video for a specified duration – which means in some cases, these videos purposefully interrupt the user journey and thus impact the experience
- Quality of content; while the first mover advantage will likely remain, the launching of thin content to later be added to could be a less beneficial move than being slightly later to launch but having deeper, more developed content
What does CWV mean for webmasters in general?
All of this is about so much more than meeting targets and addressing a few metrics. The reality of CWV is that it’s not new – it’s simply an evolution of Google’s ongoing aim to understand the web as a human being does and to reward those websites which do best for their human users.
By taking this step to push CWV, Google is effectively telling us that poor user experiences just won’t cut it anymore. And whether it’s a measurable metric or just a general ethos, we should all be pushing to make the web a better place for those who use it.
This experiment was conducted by Edd Wilson, SEO Consultant, and James Watkins, Digital PR Specialist, and the team at digital marketing agency Impression. Read the experiment in full here.