Search engines change their algorithms pretty often: every month, every week, sometimes every day. These changes may be minor, but some can send (metaphorical) shockwaves through the Internet, changing the way that websites and businesses operate. Developers usually get a bit of notice before one of these changes takes effect, but sometimes developers and SEO experts get a lot of advance notice.
In May of 2020, we were told that Google would change the way that it ranked websites base on page experience signals. Meaning, page speed and performance would play a much bigger role in how Google ranks websites in search results, in addition to keywords and other ranking factors. In November 2020, Google made it official and announced that these changes would be rolled out in May 2021. Of course, we all know what happened in 2020, so Google took a step back to evaluate that timeline and in April 2021, Google changed their stance stating that the first page experience updates will start gradually rolling out in mid-June 2021, and will be complete by the end of August 2021. Giving everyone a little more time to address their performance issues.
What Exactly Is Page Performance?
What a question! Performance is a term packed with meaning. We’ve written on performance before and what’s most important for you to look for when doing a performance audit. Here’s a quick recap:
How well is your site built? How well is it maintained? Most of all, how much bloated code is waiting to get trimmed down? All of this can affect how fast your site loads and responds.
UX and Usability:
If a user can’t navigate your site, it doesn’t matter how fast it is. They’ll never convert, they’ll never learn about your product or service. How a user interacts with your site should be design concern #1.
You could have the fastest, most user-friendly site in the world, but if it’s not converting, it’s not performing. You should be testing, gathering data, and changing your site often to ensure it’s performing the way you want.
Just like conversions, if your site isn’t doing a good job holding onto the customers you’ve already got, you’re losing opportunities, and money. Keep your current customers happy, and they’ll attract new ones for you.
So, you’re asking, if there are so many different ways to talk about performance, how exactly is Google going to measure my site? Great question! For this coming update, Google’s got a need…a need for speed…and good UX.
How Does Google Measure Page Performance?
In 2020, Google introduced Core Web Vitals, their measurements for page speed and performance (which are based on a significant amount of testing and research). While there are a number of different factors that affect a page’s overall score, there are three that have the biggest impact on your page ranking.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
Your LCP score represents the amount of time it takes for a page’s main content to load. While some metrics like Speed Index and First Meaningful Paint are more about the bigger picture, LCP helps analysts understand (roughly) when a user can see the biggest part of content when a page loads.
How Is LCP Score Determined?
PageSpeed Insights determines a page’s LCP score by looking at when in a page’s load cycle certain elements are loaded, including:
- Background images loaded using the function
url()instead of CSS gradient,
- Text nodes or inline text elements inside block-level elements,
- And much more.
First Input Delay (FID)
In a push to create a more ‘user-centric’ Internet, Google has introduced an FID score to core web vitals. What is FID? If a user clicks on a link or button, they expect an almost instantaneous reaction. FID measures how long it takes for a site to respond to that action.
While FID isn’t the end all be all of page speed and performance indicators, it is a good indicator of how well your site functions in real conditions. A user’s device, browser, processor, and memory availability can all affect FID, so in addition to the Total Blocking Time & Time to Interactive which can be lab-measured and are part of the Lighthouse scoring, your Google Search Console will show the real experience your visitors are getting..
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
Chances are, you’ve been on a website, ready to start scrolling or reading an article, when all of a sudden all of the content shoots down the screen to make way for a gigantic ad. No? Then you’re lucky. The amount of space content moves in a given window to make way for other elements is called CLS, and it confuses (and irritates) users like nothing else.
It’s a serious problem when it comes to website development and user-centric design. While it’s preventable, it requires a significant amount of effort and reviewing what your users are experiencing as Real User Metrics (RUM) data is analyzed. CLS is a major part of the friction that users experience online, which can drive them away from your site.
What Does It Mean for Me?
As these changes take effect, site owners are going to have to include page speed and performance in their overall SEO and marketing strategies. But what sits at the heart of performance is the user and their experience on your site. Of course you want to have a fast load time. Of course you want to have as little layout shifts as possible by providing both a stable layout and by minimizing the effect third party elements can have on adding unwanted instability to it. These are all things that good website developers and engineers should be thinking about already when creating a new site or page.
Marketing departments and developer teams rarely work as closely as they should, but now, cooperation will become paramount. In order to succeed as an organization, every part of a site, from copy to the engineering behind the scenes, will need to think about page speed and performance when working on something new. Soon enough, Google’s vision for a ‘user-centric’ Internet will become second nature to us all.
Since 2018, our team has been working to build a more performant web, one site at a time. Through years of experience, we’ve developed a unique approach to pinpointing performance improvements that can have a meaningful impact on Core Web Vitals scores. Are you ready to reap the potential SEO benefits that our team of performance experts can provide? Contact XWP today for a performance review to see how we can help.