Google’s Next Big Search Ranking Update: Core Web Vitals

If you’re in the ecommerce space, you know it’s a big deal when Google adds new search ranking criteria. Who could forget mobilegeddon? It’s no surprise these changes garner so much attention, after all, search is usually the top driver of traffic in ecommerce. 

Well it’s that time again. Google recently announced a new set of metrics, coined Core Web Vitals, that will be part of an upcoming search ranking update. The purpose of this update is to ensure that a good user experience positively influences your search ranking result.

Defining Core Web Vitals

Google’s Core Web Vitals include three metrics that help measure the health of a site and the quality of the user experience. 

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): “Measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded.”
  2. First Input Delay (FID): “Measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.”
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): “Measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.”

If you’re familiar with performance testing tools such as Lighthouse, Page Speed Insights, and the Chrome User Experience Report, you’ll notice these metrics have been added to these tools to help measure the overall quality of a site.

Google rarely identifies specific metrics that will be used as future signals, instead they usually share related best practices – such as when they rolled out mobile-first indexing. So we should take note, as their transparency with these metrics is a strong signal that Google is changing their tactics to make site owners take more responsibility for improving the end user experience.

The next SEO project for retailers

Organic traffic plays a key role in customer acquisition, usually driving over 40% of traffic and over 30% of revenue online. This is why ecommerce teams spend extensive time and money on SEO measurement and optimization projects, as part of fine tuning the black box that is search ranking. 

Anytime a new search signal is added, teams embark on new projects, such as improving mobile experiences in response to mobile-first indexing, adding HTTPs everywhere for security, and adding in structured data to pages. All these projects help maintain high-ranked pages, while also creating a great end-user experience. 

Improving your Core Web Vital metrics is the next big SEO project to tackle, and adds another area to keep focused on over time to ensure these metrics don’t degrade and negatively impact page rank after any initial improvements are launched.

How to prepare for the Core Web Vitals search update

Google has committed to give site owners a 6-month heads up before Web Vitals will be activated as a search ranking signal, so expect this to show up in the 2021 timeframe. But now is a good time to assess where you are, and where you want to be. 

We recommend a 3 step plan.

1. Raise visibility by establishing a baseline

Start monitoring and measuring Core Web Vitals for your key pages. You can start doing this with synthetic measurements by running Lighthouse on every single deployment to production by integrating it into your build pipeline. 

You can also start using tools like Chrome User Experience Report to measure real user metrics. Keep in mind for CRUX that if you are running a Single Page App site, the results may be skewed as only initial loads are measured.

2. Start setting and tracking goals

Start setting goals as an organization, across business and IT, on where these metrics should move towards. Build dashboards and reports early to keep goals and the baseline visible for all stakeholders. 

Don’t expect IT to tackle performance on their own. They’re swamped with projects and priorities, and they need alignment and transparency on how metrics relate back to organic traffic and revenue.

3. Experimenting to identify small wins

Let teams start investigating easy wins and identify big risks on key landing pages. With performance-related metrics, experimentation and iteration is key, and momentum builds quickly with many small wins adding up.

At some point though, small wins will dry up and you’ll have to evaluate larger, more strategic projects to move the needle – which is why we’re advocating to start experimenting now. At that point, you’ll need to check with your current front-end framework or vendor on what their plans are to focus on these metrics. For example, the AMP team has published their view for anyone who uses AMP. Work with these teams to plan out larger changes on your roadmap.

Hard-fought wins are also easily negated when focus shifts, and one new image, 3rd party script, or tag manager can negate weeks of work. Process and constant monitoring need to be in place to make sure gains aren’t lost over time. Cheer performance metrics and related revenue wins at every opportunity, and correct course quickly when surprises show up. 

The intersection between SEO and UX

The end user experience and SEO ultimately go hand in hand, and Google will make that connection even more tangible with these new search ranking signals. 

The 6-month+ heads up and the transparency around the metrics gives retailers and brands the opportunity to adapt current UX and SEO programs to optimize for Core Web Vitals and ensure that organic search continues to be a strong customer acquisition channel.

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