Google has begun to rollout its Core Web Vitals and Page Experience signals update, which started on June 17th and is due to complete at the end of August. During a very volatile period, these changes have been sandwiched between two parts of a confirmed core algorithm update and in very close proximity with other confirmed and unconfirmed updates. As an SEO agency, we are committed to monitoring changes to search engines and calculating an appropriate response across the websites we manage.
Google confirmed further details regarding page experience and highlighted that the full effects of this update wouldn’t be felt until after the slow rollout completes at the end of August. While page experience is vital for many reasons, other aspects such as content and links will remain at the forefront of our SEO strategies to improve rankings.
For those that aren’t yet up to speed (pun intended) on Core Web Vitals, these are performance metrics created by Google to analyse user experience. Google aims to encourage a faster, more stable experience across the web. These new metrics are in flux, and we’ve already had the goalposts moved a few times previously, but the core objective remains the same. Core Web Vitals will be measured using “field data” collected by real users through Google’s Chrome User Experience Reports – data for this is now available in Google Search Console. If at this point you’re thinking, “most of my visitors use Safari”, well, tough. Google will be using the data collected as a ranking signal as part of the page experience update mentioned above.
We’re very interested in Google’s latest round of changes to Core Web Vitals and the impact these will have on scores. Shortly before introducing page experience signals as part of their algorithm, Google made further adjustments to Core Web Vitals metrics. We expect there will be more changes throughout the rollout and likely afterwards, too.
With as few as 4% of websites passing Core Web Vitals tests, it’s no surprise that Google is relaxing some of the thresholds. We’ve included a list of the latest changes:
- The threshold for a “good” First Contentful Paint (FCP) has been eased from 1 second to 1.8 seconds
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) will now look at offscreen elements and those that are removed from the page
- LCP will ignore background images
- Cumulative Layout Shift will be relaxed by breaking down user sessions and scoring against the worst 5 seconds of layout shift – Google confirmed: “no page will have a worse score as a result of this change.”
The changes indicate Google attempting to plug holes in some of the significant gaps in their thinking around user experience – particularly for sites that include dynamic visuals, animation and other story-telling devices (ironically, aspects that create engaging experiences). The changes to Cumulative Layout Shift very much appear to be an attempt to tackle this issue and a very positive change. Google will not be using outdated scores to calculate any rankings signals.
As above, Core Web Vitals and page experience scores will be calculated using field data – as opposed to what is described as “lab data”. Tools such as Page Speed Insights and Lighthouse are great for testing and troubleshooting. However, ultimately, the measure will be collected from real users and visible in Search Console. In doing so, Google has created some interesting challenges concerning devices, connections and browser preferences of different audiences – the source of the data being used to make page experience calculations is Google-centric (Google makes Chrome) and limited. While Chrome is a popular web browser, it still leaves a sizeable gap in their data collection. How Google will address these limitations for sites with niche audiences remains a mystery for now.
Core Web Vitals provide practical measures for developers to gauge user experience, which is essential for many reasons. However, the predicted impact of these scores on SEO as a ranking factor is becoming more and more muted. The fluctuations in scores, the limited data set, slow rollout and misguided calculations all point to a relatively low effect on rankings – with it more likely to be used as a tie-breaker. Of course, this outlook could change as we learn more. Still, right now, Google has stated, “While this update is designed to highlight pages that offer great user experiences, page experience remains one of many factors our systems take into account. Given this, sites generally should not expect drastic changes”.
If you’re looking at SEO strategies, content and links remain at the top of the priorities list. Website performance is important, but it’s not even in the same league as these other ranking factors. If you’re concerned about your rankings or would like more information about page experience signals, please get in touch.