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Something you may not have heard of, or even understand, is now possibly, going to impact your website pages rankings in Google results, in May!  We’re doomed I tell you.

What Are Core Web Vitals?

Google introduced its “Core Web Vitals Report” earlier last year, and later confirmed that they will become ranking signals for search results in May 2021.

“What are Core Web Vitals?” is a question many online businesses may be asking, or “Isn’t it too late to do anything now?”.

The answers are:

  • They are part of Googles’ User Experience metrics that use real-world user data (from Chrome and other sources) to measure if a site provides a good user experience in terms of
    • Page Load Time – How long does it take to load the largest element?
    • Page Visual Stability – Is the page stable as it loads or does it shift/jump around?
    • Page Interactivity – How long does it take before a user can interact with a page (scroll, click, fill forms etc.)

While Google gives reports on both mobile and desktop, your focus should be on mobile-first.

Does Core Web Vitals Impact Your Website?

The first thing you need to do is check if your site is impacted by these metrics by having a look in the Google Search Console account for your website (You don’t know what Google Search Console is? Ok maybe you need to get reading before you address Core Web Vitals).

The Core Web Vitals report was introduced into Search Console in May 2020 and there is no getting away from the fact that to resolve many of the issues brought up by this report, you will need technical knowledge or access to a developer, since most Content Management Systems will enable you to address some, but most of these issues require developer support.

The only other option is to go down the route of paying for one of the many new plug-ins that are appearing for systems like WordPress and Magento, however, using these without some background knowledge or researching that the Plugin does the job it says it does, could cause problems.

So first off log into your website Google Search Console Account and have a look at the Core Web Vitals Report.

Follow the Google recommendations for non-technical and technical users below, but be aware that for non-technical users Google still adds a step about passing on the report to “the development team”, so some level of technical knowledge is still needed.

Steps To Address and Fix Core Web Vitals Issues

Non-technical users steps to address Core Web Vitals Issues Report:

1. Focus on everything labelled as “Poor” first, then look at the issues that impact the largest set of URLs first or by your most important URLs. Those pages assessed as poor by the report are the ones Google will impact after May.

2. Once sorted by priority, pass the report over to your web(developer) team.

3. Common page fixes:

      a. Reduce page size – best practice is under 500Kb for a page and all its resources (images, JavaScript, CSS etc), but as we know ‘best practice’ and the real world are two different things so just look to reduce image size without impacting visual quality, getting rid of large JS or CSS files that are not used on a page and order the way a page is loaded by focusing on ‘above the fold’ elements – the part of the page that shows in a browser without the need to scroll down.

      b. Limit the amount of resources to no more than 50 for best mobile performance.

4. Test your fixes using PageSpeed Insights Testing Tool (or the Chrome Lighthouse tool, if you want to use an in-browser tool).

5. When you consider a page issue fixed then you should click “Start Tracking” on the issue details page in the Google Search Console Core Web Vitals report.

6. Track your validation process, you will likely have to go through the process a few times before getting a passed state.

Website Developers' steps to address Core Web Vitals Issues Report

1. Prioritise issues/pages labelled as “poor” first and focus on “Mobile” since fixing for mobile will likely resolve most of the issues on desktop and Google has been mobile-first focused for years now. If you manage to clear the “poor” URLs by all means start working on those URLs labelled “Needs Improvement”, but it is the “Poor” pages that will be impacted most when these metrics go live in May.

2. Page load speed will resolve many of the flagged issues, so have a look at dev fast loading guidelines for theory and guidelines t improve page load speed. (The site is a go-to resource for improving performance resources and tips as well as all things Web development.

3. Test your fixes using the PageSpeed Insights testing tool (or the Chrome Lighthouse tool, if you want to use an in-browser tool).

4. When you consider a page issue fixed then you should click “Start Tracking” on the issue details page in the Google Search Console Core Web Vitals report.

5. Track your validation process, you will likely have to go through the process a few times before getting a passed state, the validation states are:

      a. Not Started: There are URLs with an instance of these issues that have never had a validation request.

      b. Started: You have begun a validation attempt, and no remaining instances of the issue have been found as yet.

      c. Looking good: You have started a validation attempt, and all issues checked so far have been fixed.

      d. Passed: All URLs are in a passed state. You must have clicks “Validate Fix” to get to this state, if issues disappear without your having requested validation, the state would have changed to N/A.

      e. N/A: Google found the issue was fixed on all URLs, even though no Validation attempt was started.

      f. Failed: One or more URLs are in a failed state after a validation attempt.

The reality for many eCommerce sites who use systems, such as Shopify, is that you are restricted in how many changes you can make, but even here developers can optimise images, add Lazy loading, Preloading, setting width and height attributes for containers, checking 3rd party code and so on.

So keep calm, access your Search Console Account to see what issues exist, and work through the poor rated pages one step at a time, the more you manage to fix, the smaller the potential impact is going to be in May, and remember, the more you do and the less your competitors do on this issue, the better placed your website will be.

Later this month we will look at some developer actions your team could try that have already worked for large eCommerce sites who have put the time and effort in to address this issue.

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18 March 2021