Google is clearly focused on superior User Experience (UX) now.
In the opening line of one of their announcements about Core Web Vitals, Google said this:
“Optimizing for quality of user experience is key to the long-term success of any site on the web.”
Discover what Core Web Vitals are, where to test for them, and why your focus needs to be squarely on User Experience now too.
It’s All About User Experience (UX)
If you visit a restaurant and the food is bad or the service is poor, are you likely to visit that eatery again?
Of course not!!!
And it’s the same with websites.
A bad user experience, or UX as it’s often referred to, makes folks visit once and never return.
Google doesn’t want to recommend bad experiences, so those sites and/or their individual posts and pages don’t usually rank very well.
Google’s March Toward Better UX
The new Core Web Vitals initiative is simply an extension of Google’s efforts over the past few years to make the web a better place for surfers.
And Google is not the only one involved in this effort.
Google is part of an internet consortium whose focus is to make the internet safer and faster.
They use Google as the strong arm muscle to get site owners to make these improvements.
And Google has two ways to do it:
- Search ranking perks and penalties
- Chrome warnings
Every year or so Google adds another metric, or criteria for site owners to meet to satisfy both the consortium’s focus and to deliver better search results.
At present, Google is focusing on user experience.
To date, Google has been basing user experience on these 4 factors, in the order they appeared:
- Mobile friendly
- Intrusive interstitial – like pop ups
Introducing Core Web Vitals
To the list above, Google will now be including 3 new factors in UX assessment.
They are called Core Web Vitals.
And they are based on Google’s research of what constitutes a bad user experience – enough to make a visitor leave a website quickly or never return.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are a subset of a larger group of quality metrics that Google measures to help determine the health and user experience of a site.
(Google has been rather vague about what all is included in the full Web Vitals measurements.)
As of May 2020, only 3 factors are included in the subset known as Core Web Vitals, and they are listed below.
However, Google promises that these factors will evolve over time and become more content-specific.
Right now Google wants to address overall site/page/post user experience.
Most Important Web Vitals
Google will be starting with a subset of 3 metrics they believe are the most important for site owners to address for better UX (user experience).
The 3 new UX factors include:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures when the biggest thing a visitor can see on the post/page, above the fold, first starts loading. It must be less than 2.5 seconds. This will usually be the logo image, hero image, and/or bulk of the first text if no hero image is at the top.
- First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity, meaning when a visitor can scroll or click. It must be less than 100 milliseconds after LCP.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability, meaning when the page stops jumping around due to what’s loading. It must be less than 0.1 second after LCP. Poor CLS leads to bad scrolling or missed/incorrect clicking experience.
New Uniform Testing
Along with releasing the new metrics, Google also announced that they will be included them in all testing tools.
This will make the reports equitable, which is great – and about time too!!!
UX Testing Tools
There are multiple tools for testing the speed and UX factors on your site.
The testing tools fall into 2 categories:
- Lab test – simulated visitor experience
- Field test – actual visitor experience data
Here’s how Google describes them:
“Lab tools provide insight into how a potential user will likely experience your website and offer reproducible results for debugging. Field tools provide insight into how your real users are experiencing your website; this type of measurement is often called Real User Monitoring (RUM).
Below are a few examples of each type of tester.
This category of tester simulates what a real-word user might experience.
Sometimes they offer multiple testing conditions, like mobile and desktop, and different speed connection types, and different locations.
Lighthouse – open source on GitHub
Lighthouse is an open source tester, meaning that anyone can access the code that runs it.
There is no direct way to run Lighthouse, but you can find it powering several online testers, some of which are listed below.
Lighthouse includes way more info than just speed and UX.
It also analyzes SEO and Accessibility for meeting ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) criteria.
Lighthouse is a lab tester, meaning that it will simulate what a real visitor might experience.
There are no settings for location, device, or speed, though. That means that if you repeatedly test the same post/page, the tester will likely cache some of the site and subsequent tests may be inaccurate, as they will appear better than they are.
And most of the testers based on Lighthouse do not analyze, nor display, all Lighthouse tests, chiefly leaving out SEO and Accessibility results.
In other words, the testers based on Lighthouse cherry-pick the results they show you.
This is my workhorse tester as it allows for multiple concurrent tests and gives you a median result. That’s statistically significant, as all of the other testers are one-off, and any single test could be wildly inaccurate, especially if the cache has not been warmed up yet.
WPT now includes Core Web Vitals in its results.
But, it has always included more details on the real speed drags on a site than any other tester.
FYI, the developer who created WPT went to work for Google a few years ago. I believe he still owns WPT outright, but I have very often seen new tests show up there prior to being released by Google or any other testers.
This one is a little different than the regular WPT above.
It includes all Lighthouse test data.
But, it is far more limited in testing setup, as it only gives you a location choice.
So, good for getting Lighthouse type results, but not for deep speed testing.
And most of the actionable speed results are the same as Google PageSpeed Insights.
This tester is based entirely on Lighthouse. It gives analysis on performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO. But, I think it’s more a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, as it doesn’t give enough detail to take all the actions you might need to take in each of those areas.
Measure also has a setting that allows you to measure the performance of your page over time. It is powered by Google PageSpeed Insights.
There are several free testers, and one paid tester that will give you the actual data that Google is recording about your site from Chrome browser users who have opted-in to give that feedback.
FYI – all Chrome users are opted-in by default, and I doubt many users even realize it, or know that they can turn this type of data collection off. And if most of them did opt out, these field testers would suffer greatly in accuracy, as the sample size would be too statistically small.
GPSI is real world test results based on real user input from Chrome UX Report.
It is based on the Lighthouse tester, but the results are culled down to only the ones Google feels are most important for UX.
This tester is built into the Chrome browser and is very literally your own experience of a page/post load.
The results are based on your internet speed and screen size or device.
You can run in desktop or mobile modes.
The Chrome DevTools Performance panel has a new Experience section that can help you detect unexpected layout shifts for your CLS Web Vitals score.
This tester also includes data for Total Blocking Time (TBT). It measures the time between First Contentful Paint (your FCP score) and Time to Interactive, which is when folks can scroll or click.
Making improvements to TBT will also raise your FID score.
The TBT metric can be found in the footer of the tester when you are checking performance.
This is a bit of a hybrid. It’s just like Chrome Dev Tools, which is based on your internet speed, but it also delivers the extra analysis on SEO and Accessibility. Plus it offers hints for Best Practices.
Chrome UX Report (CrUX)
This is a public dataset of real user experience data on millions of websites. It measures field versions of all the Core Web Vitals. Users are able to analyze not only their real-world visitor’s user experiences, they can even see that data for a competitors’ website.
There is a free tier that may cover running a site query for one, maybe two sites, depending on size. After that, there are associated costs. Pricing for running a report can be found here.
This is pretty deep data mining and not appropriate for most non-techie folks.
Search Console Web Vitals Report
Google has now included a new Web Vitals tab in Search Console.
It is based on real-world (field) data from the CrUX report.
While not a tester, it will provide an overview of groups of pages that need attention.
If you don’t see anything in that tab yet, it may be that there is not enough real-world user data from Chrome browser users to analyze to justify a report.
If you have low traffic, and/or most of your visitors don’t use Chrome, that will negate having enough data for a report.
FYI – this is something we cover in the DIY SEO course.
What Makes a High Ranking Site Now?
Below are the criteria that Google will be using to determine the rank of your site.
Sites that have high authority on topic and quality content that matches the intent of the searcher’s query will be ranked higher than sites that get a perfect Core Web Vitals score.
Content is king.
Good content that satisfies the reader’s need will always trump every other metric.
Lack of Distraction
Searchers on Google are looking for information.
If they can land on a site with good content, they will stay and read it, and maybe look at even more content on that site.
But, if the site is overloaded with clutter from ads, pop-ups, videos, floating elements, and such, then those may distract the reader so much that they can’t enjoy the content.
And they leave.
Google understands that sites need to monetize.
But when you go overboard with it, to the point that it drowns out the content, Google is going to consider it a bad user experience. And it could drastically reduce your ranking.
In September 2020 Google will complete switch all sites to mobile-first indexing.
That means the mobile version of your site will be used for crawling, assessing, and ultimately, ranking.
That also means that speed plays an important role in ranking now more than ever.
Searchers who click on a post in Google, and then jump right back to search tell Google that either it was the wrong content, had too many distracting elements, or that the site loaded too slowly for them to wait around to see if it had good content or not.
The fact is, on one page of search results in Google, searchers have 10-20 options. And any one of them will do just as well as the other for finding the answer or info the searcher needs.
Searchers have very little incentive to stick around to see content that takes forever to load on mobile.
If enough searchers click back to Google, and Google uses the info from their Chrome browser to see that the most likely cause is slow load, it will begin to drop the ranking on that site due to poor user experience.
Need speed help?
A site audit gets to the bottom of what’s causing the speed drags. We don’t just try to throw plugins at the problems, we actually fix them.
You wouldn’t believe how much a lack of proper security affects your speed. And you’d be amazed at how bloated your database is with orphans of plugins you tried and deleted.
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Instability and Interstitials
When your site loads, does the content jump around as more elements appear?
That can cause a visitor to click on the wrong thing.
And that might irritate them enough to leave your site.
Or, do visitors see something right away only to have to wait and wait and wait to scroll?
They are not going to wait. They are going to get frustrated and just leave.
Or, do visitors start reading your content only to be interrupted by a pop up with an optin for your newsletter?
In that case, they never even get the chance to see if you’re worth following anywhere, much less worthy enough to give you their email address just to get more stuff they don’t know if they even want to see.
See ya!!!!! That’s when too many folks just leave.
And Google considers all of this a bad user experience now.
HTTPS and Security
You’ve got a little padlock up in the URL bar of one of your site pages.
Good for you!!!
But there’s a whale of a lot more to HTTPS than most site owners realize.
There are 5 HTTPS security headers you need.
They travel with the data for the browser to read.
And don’t think for a minute that Chrome is not recording your missing headers!!!!!
You should be getting a minimum score of A and have a minimum of 4 headers in green.
A 5th one is about to be required by Google by 2021.
If you used an SSL or HTTPS plugin, or some other cheater/free way of doing HTTPS, then you’re missing WAY more than those HTTPS headers!!!
When Core Web Vitals Ranking Factors Go Into Effect
These new ranking factors have been released by Google nearly a year ahead of when they will be mixed into the algorithm, which will be some time in mid 2021.
That should hopefully be enough time for word to spread and for site owners to make the changes.
Google has also promised to give us 6 months of advance warning of when these new metrics will be included in the algorithm.
Now is the time to jump on this.
The last time Google gave out warnings for things like HTTPS, there was a mad rush in the month prior to the warnings being shown in Chrome.
All site techs, including me, and hosts, were overwhelmed with requests and had months-long waiting lists.
Making a site faster and delivering a better user experience takes a LOT more time than doing an HTTPS conversion.
Get a site audit now and start the process of changes you will need to make to get your Core Web Vitals scores where they need to be so that your content outranks your competition.
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