Core Web Vitals: What They Are and How They Impact Your SEO

If you’re actively looking for ways to improve your website’s rankings, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about core web vitals. But if SEO is not your strong point, you may be wondering exactly what they are and why they matter.

Core web vitals are a set of three specific metrics that have recently been added to Google’s set of search signals, which are used to determine your “page experience” score. While these are not the most important factor when it comes to SEO, they do play a part, especially when you’re trying to rank in a competitive space.

So, to help you better understand core web vitals and how they impact your SEO, we’ve gathered the key information in this article.

What are core web vitals?

Where you rank on Google is determined not only by the quality and relevance of your content, but also by the hundreds of search signals that provide the engine with other information about your user’s experience of your webpage.

Instead of just looking at how good your content is, the page experience score focuses on the other key factors necessary for a great user experience, such as speed, safe browsing and mobile-friendliness to name a few. 

A recent change that is currently rolling out with regards to page experience is “core web vitals”. The three metrics in core web vitals measure your page’s:

  1. loading speed (LCP, discussed below)
  2. ease of interaction (FID)
  3. stability of visual elements (CLS).

Each of these vital elements contributes to your page experience score. 

What are the three core web vital metrics?

The three metrics that make up core web vitals are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Each measure a specific aspect of a webpage’s overall user experience as follows:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is perhaps the simplest of the three to understand as it measures loading times from the user’s perspective. Specifically, LCP measures the time it takes from the start of a page load request to when the largest item on the page (which could be an image or text) is fully visible. A point of difference from past metrics is that the purpose is to measure the time it takes for the user to see the visual in their browser, rather than the many metrics of the load process that are happening behind the scenes.

First Input Delay (FID) measures the responsiveness of a page from the user’s point of view, specifically, how long it takes to respond to clicks and scrolls from users who interact with the site. I’m sure we can all agree, an unresponsive page is very frustrating, especially if the content has loaded and nothing is happening.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a unique metric that focuses on the visual stability of a page as new content is loaded. This could relate to visual disruptions when images or text from advertisements are loaded, or if dimensions for images are undefined and replace text when loaded, causing a shift. This visual disturbance is another common cause of frustration for users.

How do core web vitals affect SEO?

When it comes to rankings, page experience is a consideration, however, Google will always look to rank the pages with the best information higher as a rule. So, even if you have a low page experience score, you can still rank well if your content is top quality. But, if there are lots of pages on the same topic, and the content is a similar quality for all, page experience and core web vitals can then be more of a defining SEO factor.

Checking the core web vital scores on your pages

Each website page is graded based on the core web values and other performance metrics—so how can you check the scores on your pages? A fast and easy way to do a basic check on an individual page is to enter the URL into PageSpeed Insights. This will give you a basic overview of some of the key metrics, including LCP and CLS, an overall score and a list of opportunities for improvements. 

If you’d like to see the complete picture of how your whole website is performing, accessing Google Search Console can provide you with plenty of insight. To gain access you will need a Google account and to verify ownership of your website, and once you are in you can generate a summary of how your site is performing in terms of the core web vitals over the last 90 days.

How can you improve your core web vital scores?

When you view the results in Google Search Console, they’ll be shown in red, amber or green. While amber means you are close to passing and may seem acceptable, the ideal is definitely to have everything showing up in green. Clicking on the reports will show you where your pages are failing, so you can work through the individual URLs that need improvement, then check them once you’ve addressed the issues to make sure they are now running optimally. 

Core web vitals matter … but they’re not everything

It’s clear that core web vitals are important, however they are only one small piece of the SEO puzzle. As Google continues to roll out their updated search signals, it’s important to check your website pages are scoring well, and if not make changes to bump them into the green zone. But even as these new metrics are introduced, having the right information on your website must remain front of mind in any SEO strategy. Like to find out how SEO and content marketing can come together to sustainably grow your business? Take the first step and apply for a free strategy session today!

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