In November 2020, Google announced their Core Web Vitals update which is due to launch in May this year. Since the announcement, the industry has been rife with conversation about what the impact on websites could be.
But what are Core Web Vitals, why does this update matter and what do you need to do to prepare?
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics used to measure a website’s loading speed, responsiveness and visual stability.
Subject to evolve as user expectations develop, this is an initiative formed by Google to provide guidance to brands on ranking signals that are essential to delivering a positive user experience. The Core Web Vitals update will be combined with previous UX-related signals to provide a ranking for page experience.
Usually when Google releases an update, the search engine is not very forthcoming about specifics. However, in this case, we’ve been given the exact metrics that will be measured, providing an opportunity to improve them before the update comes into effect.
Why is Google implementing this update?
Google’s mission is to deliver the very best and most relevant search results to the user.
Building on this, the Core Web Vitals update will see site performance also considered as a key ranking factor as, ultimately, this means the user will be satisfied and will return to Google again and again for their search requirements.
What impact will Core Web Vitals have?
We don’t yet know for sure how big an impact this will be. But what we do know is that currently only 15 percent of sites meet Core Web Vital standards. While Google has reinforced that page experience is important, it’s also crucial to note that this ranking signal will complement the hundreds of other signals they use.
Google has confirmed that the threshold for all Core Web Vitals must be met for a website to benefit from the associated ranking signal. There is also talk of search results being marked with an experience score or badge to highlight that the website meets all three of the requirements.
However, this has been tried in the past with page speed and didn’t last long. While Google’s aim is to direct users to the best site for their search, what happens if a site ranks higher than another without the badge indicating page speed approval. Would that undermine the results Google has delivered?
The search community is also divided over the impact of the update. Some are taking it seriously while others are minimising the ranking factor aspect believing it won’t have much impact at all.
The challenge of meeting Core Web Vitals
As with any major Google update, there are new challenges to overcome in trying to meet their guidelines.
Core Web Vitals blurs the responsibilities between an SEO agency and a web agency. In order to meet the Core Web Vitals metrics, a website could require substantial changes to how it is built making it a potentially developer reliant update. And this is the reason why so many will fail to meet the standards set.
Is Google anticipating that businesses will set out to invest significant money to improve their websites to keep those rankings? To a business, SEO is one channel and it may not be deemed their most important. Making fundamental or niche changes to a website to protect and improve rankings will take time and resource and this makes it important to consider what the value is to a business of doing this. For example, is it the difference between position 18 and position two or position seven and six, and if so, what does this mean to your business?
With this in mind, the update could create a conflict between investment in your site and your digital marketing. If brands are pushed to invest more in their website to rank, it could see budget drawn away from other areas such as media spend.
Time will tell
Will this simply be another Google experiment? Will Core Web Vitals stick, or will it be phased out similar to what we’re seeing occur with AMP pages? Only time will tell but there are varying opinions across the search community with some claiming it has been “over-hyped”:
Regardless of the reasoning behind the Core Web Vitals update, Google’s Danny Sullivan shared that we shouldn’t expect a dramatic change in rankings overnight. The common consensus is to be aware but don’t panic.
As a specialist technical SEO agency, we can help websites thrive through the opportunities presented in updates like these. If you do want to get your business and your website prepared for the update, take a read of this blog featuring a step-by-step process for identifying problems and prioritising fixes in line with Core Web Vitals. Or for more information and further guidance on what to do next, contact our search specialists.