Improving Onsite Experiences Through Google’s Core Web Vitals Update

When Google releases an update to their service, the online marketing - specifically SEO - the world goes into its ritual deep-dive analysis of how the changes will affect websites and their rankings. Research and experiments are conducted, articles and reports are written, and SEO specialists all over the world begin optimizing accordingly.


After all, Google is by far the most popular search engine, and number one rankings for relevant search terms can be the difference in ecommerce businesses flying or falling. The number one search engine results page ranking gains 42% of the traffic for a query.


The latest Google update - Core Web Vitals - began rolling out in June and finished in August. Many websites across the web were impacted by them with some reports indicating that as few as 4% of websites passed all three.


While they may seem complicated, Core Web Vitals are actually relatively straightforward to understand and will help websites give a better experience to their users. Some of the principles they cover have been used as rankings factors by Google before, such as page load speed. CWV now makes them an official part of Google’s ranking criteria, especially as they’re integral to a good mobile-browsing experience, which Google has stated is a priority when assessing a website.


But what exactly are the three Core Web Vitals and what do they aim to achieve? Here’s what they are, what they cover, and ideal results for them:


  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) - this CWV focuses on how long it takes for a page’s main content to load up. This is an important one as one in four users clicks off a page that takes more than 4 seconds to load. Google recommends that it should take 2.5 seconds or less for a page to completely load.
  • First Input Delay (FID) - Page interactivity is an important factor when browsing a web page - it tells you whether a website is functional. FID assesses how long it takes for a page to be interactive. The official Google recommendation is that it should take less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) - This CWV judges a webpage on whether there is any unexpected movement of the on-page elements - text, images, tables not being where they should be - especially when adapted to a mobile screen. Within Google’s own scoring on the Core Web Vitals report (more on that later), less than 0.1 is recommended.


Core Web Vitals operate with Google’s Page Experience update, which looks at and measures the mobile-friendliness, security, and any intrusive pop-ups of a website.


Together, the Core Web Vitals and Page Experience updates are helping to create smoother and better online shopping experiences for customers using any type of device. This matters hugely as 58% of website traffic now comes through mobile devices, and nearly half of users would not return to a website where they’ve had a poor experience.


According to new research from Website Builder Expert, who tested popular ecommerce website builders against CWV, they found two conclusions:


1. Desktop and mobile perform very differently (mobile was worse)

The testing showed mobile performances were worse than desktop. Many online stores haven’t properly optimized their site for mobile, which is problematic considering Google focuses on mobile first.


The main takeaway recommendation is to build a site in mobile view when able, to ensure it’s mobile friendly. That way, on-page elements that may move around (negatively impacting the CLS Core Web Vital) can be properly analysed and updated if needed.


2. Websites with more assets and plugins perform worse against CWV

This conclusion shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Websites that use more asset-heavy designs and plugins spend more time processing these than websites that don’t have them. Many plugins will continue to operate in the background even if they are not needed. Both of these factors can hamper loading time, the LCP Core Web Vital.


It’s worth testing with both more basic design ideas such as colours for pages that struggle, as well as compressing any large image or video files that impede a smooth load. Minimizing the amount of plugins to only the essentials is also a good idea.

To adapt to these conclusions, Google has provided reports and tools to help test and highlight any problematic areas:


  • Google Search Console: Core Web Vitals Report - within Google Search Console is a Core Web Vitals report (on the left sidebar) that is based on the three Core Web Vitals. Choose between them to look at how your site is performing against them, for both mobile and desktop traffic. By clicking ‘Open Report’, a detailed breakdown will appear.
  • Google Search Console: Page Experience report - this provides a recap of the user experience your users have on your website highlighting any HTTPS security, safe browsing, and mobile-usage issues.
  • PageSpeed Insights: another Google tool, enter a URL to see which pages across the site are slow and in need of optimization.

Here are a few more tips to help optimize for Core Web Vitals:


1. Try and Test Simpler Website Templates

As mentioned above, more complex website design can have a negative impact on the Core Web Vital criteria. By trying and using simpler templates, that have less code to process, this can help speed up your website.


2. Check Your Website Hosting Package

Website hosting is a big factor in how quickly websites load. If your site is too large for your plan or if you receive enough traffic that goes over your limit, this can seriously hinder your website speed. Prepare by upgrading your hosting package to include more bandwidth and storage.


3. Be Careful To Add Too Much Code

More code means more processing time, which means more loading time. While you may think you need to add more code to areas of your website, consider if it’s really needed. If you can find a simpler way to achieve the same desired effect without extra code, test it to see if it works as well as adding more code.


4. Optimize Images and Other Large Files

Images are hugely important for website design and performance, but if an incorrect or overly large file is used in favour of an optimized, smaller version, it can really impact page speed and interactivity. Be sure to run your large image files through an Image Compressor such as TinyPNG or Kraken before uploading.


The same goes for video files. Check the file size, optimize down as much as possible, and test it on multiple devices to be sure it’s working as you’d like it to.


5. Consider Your Website Layout

Dynamic content such as pop-ups or adverts that jump around a page unexpectedly will impact your CLS score. To mitigate this, try using less dynamic content or a more fixed layout instead. Leave blank space around any problematic content so that it won't be a hindrance if it does move.


6. Stay On Top Of Your SEO

While Core Web Vitals are important to keep optimized for, so is the rest of your website SEO! Remember to:

  • Create precise meta titles and descriptions
  • Include alt text for your images
  • Implement HTTPS with a SSL certificate
  • Write content that is keyword focused and optimized for
  • Gain external backlinks, and ensure internal ones are properly used


Overall, optimizing for Core Web Vitals is a great way to prepare your website for the future. Not only will it elevate your search rankings, but also your user’s experience on your website - meaning they’re more likely to return. Additionally, as web traffic increasingly comes through mobile devices, ensuring the mobile journey is as smooth and functional as possible will only help achieve your website's goals.