When you visit a physician, the first thing they will do is take your vitals like your blood pressure, temperature, and respiration rate. 

Well, whenever Google looks at your website to determine if it’s relevant for a search query – it does the same thing by checking your core web vitals.

Instead of checking blood pressure and temperature, Google checks your largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS). These vitals serve as the metrics for grading the overall user experience of your website. 

As of May 2020, Google announced that the core web vitals would become a significant ranking factor for SEO. In other words, if you aren’t passing the Core Web Vitals Report with flying colors, you may feel its effects on the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

As such, you’ll want to have a clear understanding of each vital so you can provide a flawless page experience. Luckily, we’ve put together this guide breaking down each vital, what they mean, and how they will affect your SEO. 

Read on to discover how to optimize your website for Google’s core web vitals test. 

What are the Core Web Vitals?

Each core web vital represents an element of a website that Google feels is crucial for providing a high-quality page experience. 

In particular, the vitals have to do with load time (LCP), interactivity (FID), and visual stability (CLS). 

Google wants to make sure that it provides each user with the most relevant, highest quality results for their query. That’s why the Google algorithm will now take a look at page experience in addition to the other many ranking factors. 

The ideal site for Google is one that loads in less than 2.5 seconds, has ample interactive features, and has smooth and stable visuals. 

It’s important to note that Googlebot DOES NOT take a look at the core web vitals during the crawling and indexing process. Instead, it takes place during the Chrome CRuX field data report. 

In other words, Google uses Chrome usage data to look at core web vital metrics for web pages. While Googlebot brings in a majority of the ranking signals for websites, the web vitals are unique in that they come from an outside source. 

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How to view the core web vitals for your website

By now, you’re probably curious to know how your website scores for each of the metrics. The good news is that you can easily find out by using Google Search Console (GSC). 

Assuming that you already have an account with verified ownership of your website, you’ll want to log in and view the Enhancements page from the dashboard. That’s where you’ll find the web vitals data for your website. You’ll get the chance to view each vital as a graph – as well as receive notifications on URLs that need a few performance tweaks. 

Image of Ownership verification page on Managing properties and users on Search Console

In particular, GSC will let you know if any of the URLs on your website are poor, need improvement, or are good

You’ll see two graphs, one for your vitals on desktop and another for how you perform on mobile devices. 

Are core web vitals important for SEO?

There are plenty of ranking signals out there (over 200), so why bother with core web vitals?

Well, not only are these vitals crucial for technical SEO, but they’re also invaluable for improving your page experience. 

So by meeting the standards for each vital, you’ll effectively be giving your user experience a boost, which is a win-win

One of the core vitals (LCP) has to do with page load times, which is a huge deal for your bounce rate. If you have a page that’s loading slow, don’t expect many users to stick around for it. Instead, they’ll meet their needs elsewhere online, which isn’t good news for you. 

That’s why you have a lot of incentive to improve your core web vitals. It’s not only for SEO but also for every user that interacts with your website. A tight user experience will translate to better bounce rates and conversions. 

While the core web vitals make up the majority of your page experience score to Google, there are a few other factors, including:

  • Mobile-friendliness 
  • No interstitial popups 

At first, it was thought that safe browsing was another ranking signal included in page experience. Yet, as of August 2021, Google clarified that it’s not and won’t contribute to your SEO. Yet, safe browsing is still a good practice as it keeps Google users protected. 

You’ll want to make sure that your website is responsive and works flawlessly on both mobile and desktop. Also, it’s a good idea to transition to HTTPS if you haven’t already – especially if you have an eCommerce website. 

Lastly, it’s best to avoid interstitial popups in today’s age, as users typically view them as an annoyance, and they negatively affect your UX. 

Understanding the 3 Core Web Vitals 

Now let’s take a look at each of the 3 core web vitals and learn how you can improve them if they’re lacking. 

Infographic on How to improve your core web vitals

The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Load Time

First, let’s look at the largest contentful paint or LCP. In a nutshell, the LCP is the amount of time it takes for a web page to load from the point of view of the user. 

The LCP is a unique page speed measurement because it considers the POV of the user above all else. This metric considers what it’s like for a user to open your web page. If you want to view how fast your load speed is, check out our free page speed checker tool from The HOTH. 

To view the specific LCP for your web pages, head over to Google Search Console. Under the Enhancements tab, you can view the exact number for your LCP. Here are the standards Google has for the LCP of a web page:

  • The LCP must be no longer than 4 seconds on desktop. 
  • The LCP must not exceed 2.5 seconds on mobile devices

An LCP of 2 seconds or less is considered good. If you’re right at the 4-second cut-off, Google will suggest that your URL needs improvement. If the LCP exceeds 4 seconds, it’s considered poor, and you should consider a page experience update. 

Ideally, you want every web page on your site to hit a 2.5-second LCP or less. That can become very challenging for larger pages that have lots of high-resolution images and videos. 

If your LCPs are floundering, the good news is there are ways to improve that. 

How to improve your LCP for better SEO

If you have a web page with an LCP of 5.1 – you’ve got some work to do, and it won’t always be easy. If you have a boatload of high-resolution images, you may need to consider getting rid of some of them. 

While that can prove difficult, it’s worth it to improve your site speed. Cleaning up the JavaScript and CSS for the web page is another way to speed things up. If there are lines of messy code, they could be contributing to your slow load time. Other tips for improving your LCP include:

  • Upgrade your web-hosting service.
  • Remove any third-party scripts that you don’t need.
  • Use lazy loading – where the page doesn’t fully load until the user scrolls down. 
  • Get rid of large page elements (Google PageSpeed Insights will let you know if an element is slowing you down).

Image of Page Speed Insights Checker

These are all reliable ways to speed things up for your users. 

The First Input Delay (FID): Interactivity 

When your page reaches the first contentful paint or FCP – users can now see the content on your web page. Yet, the big question remains, when can they interact with it?

That’s what the FID measures, the time it takes before a user can begin interacting with your page. 

For example, if a hyperlink loads but a user can’t click on it, the first input delay hasn’t taken place yet. Your FID also greatly affects your bounce rate. If it takes too long for users to begin interacting with your website, they’ll likely go elsewhere. 

Just like the LCP, Google has a strict set of standards for the FID of a web page. Here are the thresholds:

  • An FID of 100 milliseconds or less is good.
  • An FID of 300 milliseconds needs improvement.
  • An FID of 500 milliseconds is poor.

While it may seem like the FID is a page speed score, it’s slightly different in that it doesn’t kick in until a user attempts to interact with your content

Not only that, but the FID for some web pages is irrelevant. If your page doesn’t contain forms, menus, and links – this won’t matter as much.

Which pages need a strong FID for SEO purposes?

Namely, sign-up and log-in pages need rock-solid FIDs. That’s because the first thing users want to do is start typing in their credentials – meaning the interactivity needs to come quick. 

Improving FID scores for your website

If you’re having trouble meeting Google’s standards for the first input delay, here are some tips for improvement:

  • Minimize JavaScript as users can’t interact with a site when JS is loading.
  • Use a browser cache. 
  • Get rid of any third-party scripts that you aren’t using. 

That should help you tighten up your performance metrics for your FIDs. 

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Visual Stability 

Lastly, the cumulative layout shift refers to how stable a page is while it loads. If page elements jump all over the place during load times – you’ve got a high CLS, which isn’t good. 

Ideally, you want all your page elements to stay as stable as possible while it loads. That way, your users don’t have to relearn the layout of your website, which can be a turn-off for some. 

After all, would you return to a page if its links were in different places each time it loaded? 

That’s why you’ll want to lower your CLS if it’s too high. A poor CLS can also cause users to click on something by mistake. For example, if the page elements are changing place while it loads – a user may click on the location of the ‘Services’ link only to hit the ‘About Us’ link by mistake. 

Here are Google’s standards for CLS and how they’ll show up in GSC:

  • A CLS of 0.1 or less is good.
  • A CLS of 0.2 needs improvement. 
  • A CLS of 0.3 or higher is poor.

If you notice a poor CLS on a few of your pages, you should strive to lower it. 

Tips for lowering your CLS

Should you notice high CLS on a few of your pages, here’s what you can do:

  • If you add new UI elements, add them ‘below the fold’ so they don’t push content down. 
  • Ensure each ad element has a reserved space so they won’t jump around. 
  • Use set size attributes for all media types, so they don’t randomly change sizes during the loading process. 

These three tips should help you reduce your CLS for a more stable experience. 

Don’t Ignore Core Web Vitals

You should now have a better understanding of Google’s core web vitals and how they will affect your SEO and page experience. Each vital plays a crucial role in the user experience of your website, so it’s worth improving them all for that reason alone. 

When you combine that with the fact that the vitals are now important SEO ranking factors – site owners can no longer ignore their importance. 

If you don’t have time to focus on improving your core web vitals, don’t wait to schedule a call with our experts today. If you’re after managed SEO services so you can focus on your business instead, check out HOTH X.