How to improve site ranking with Google’s user experience metrics

September 23, 2021
Bob Prohaska Director of Digital Experience

Why you should care about Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics and what you can do to take advantage of them for your site.

Site user experience (UX) has always been important. To this point if your website isn’t high performance, clear, organized, and usable you could be losing customers without you even knowing it. But with its latest algorithm update, Google has shown additional support for the value of positive user experience by boosting the organic ranking of sites who meet certain performance thresholds. Going forward your site’s search ranking will be affected by how the user experience you create is measured through Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics. This is a series of performance metrics Google deems important to creating a quality user experience.

Now is the time to look critically at the UX of your site and how making improvements can boost your page ranking, before you start losing traffic and are left wondering why. Google’s focus on experience is a positive step forward in helping users, your customers, as they look for relevant content and a great online experience. Focusing on the user by providing a better experience (not just more content) should be your competitive advantage, allowing you to rise above the competition. 

What contributes to a good website UX?

You have likely experienced sites that just “feel great”. This feeling is likely a combination of: 

  • Great design, 
  • Intuitive site architecture, 
  • Relevant content, and 
  • High performance (speed, page loading and stability). 

Remember, your site is for your users more than it is for you. 

When designing or redesigning a website, we address each of these elements through the eyes of the user to create a well-rounded experience – one that plays by the rules being set by Google, the avenue by which many of your customers will come to you. 

  • Content Strategists identify and elevate your brand’s story to make emotional connections and prioritize key differentiators based on the needs of the user. 
  • Information architects organize and prioritize site content to match user expectations and create an intuitive experience.
  • Copywriters create content that serves and answers key questions, helping users feel compelled and fulfilled. 
  • Designers use key design principles to create interfaces that assist navigation and browsing, delivering creativity and organization that helps you stand out in your crowded marketplace. 
  • Developers optimize the site to be high performance and quick to respond. 

Each one of these items contribute to the “feel great” experience. Together, these disciplines comprise key elements of a plan to get your website to perform to the standards required by today’s users and by key measurement systems like Google’s. 

Core Web Vitals

Because “good user experience” has become such an expectation of the modern internet, with information, choice and bad, outdated websites in abundance, Google has attempted to quantify good UX with its Core Web Vitals metrics. Focusing on how you can address and improve these metrics is a great place to start not only improving the experience for your site’s users but also contributing to a longer term boost in organic ranking, which can have an immediate impact on your business results.

What metrics do Core Web Vitals measure?

Google’s Core Web Vitals measurements identify some of the most important performance areas to a user – loading, interactivity and visual stability. Each of these areas have their own metric. Here are the details and, for those of you who don’t need the nitty gritty, here’s what you need to know and make sure your partner is giving you.

Loading

This performance area is important because websites have very little time to hook a user. Making sure your content is visible quickly helps reassure users that they are in the right place and that they will find the content they are looking for.

The metric used to evaluate loading performance is “Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)”. LCP reports the render time on the largest image or text block visible within the viewport after the page first starts loading. It is recommended that a site should strive for a LCP of 2.5 seconds or less.

To improve this metric, identify pages with slow LCP times then investigate ways to decrease server response time, quicken resource loads and defer the render-blocking scripts.

A more comprehensive overview of LCP and how to optimize your page can be found here.

What you need to know: Load speeds are important to user experience and Google. Load times will vary from page to page so it is important to check pages across the site. When was the last time you or your development partner checked your site’s page load times and how confident are you that you are meeting the 2.5 second load time threshold set by Google?

Interactivity

This performance area is important because slow pages and delayed interactivity can be frustrating to users. Minimizing the delay from when someone reaches the page to when they can interact with it helps a page feel responsive and quick.

The metric used to evaluate interactivity performance is “First Input Delay (FID)”. FID measures the time from when the user first interacts with the page to the time when the browser can actually begin processing event handlers for that interaction. Sites should strive to have an FID of 100 milliseconds or less. Work on improving FID by keeping request counts low and by limiting the amount of 3rd party scripts being loaded.

A more comprehensive overview of FID and how to optimize your page can be found here.

What you need to know: A user should be able to interact with the page as quickly as possible. Do some of your pages take longer than others to allow interactivity? These pages could be hurting your organic rankings. Your development partner can scan pages across the site to ensure they meet Google’s 100 millisecond threshold to get the maximum organic benefit.

Visual Stability

If not properly set up, an interface can jump around as elements are being loaded on a page. This can cause a user to lose their place while reading or click an unintended element. While this may seem like a minor annoyance it can contribute to an overall unfavorable experience. The metric used to evaluate visual stability is “Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)”. CLS measures visible element position changes as the page loads. Sites should strive to have a CLS score of 0.1 or less.

Work on improving CLS by using size attributes on your images and videos so that the space these elements will eventually take up exists on page load. You should also avoid automatically loading new content above existing content.

A more comprehensive overview of CLS and how to optimize your page can be found here.

What you need to know: A moving interface is frustrating to a user and can now affect how your site ranks. Are you noticing movement of buttons, links, or content as your pages load? If so, this could be affecting your organic ranking. Your development partner can perform scans to help identify which pages meet Google’s visual element position change threshold and which require optimization.

Where do I start with Core Web Vitals optimization?

Website optimization with Google’s Core Web Vitals requires technical expertise. Since code and server changes will likely need to happen, the first and best thing you can do is to work with your development team or partner to scan your site for Google’s Core Web Vital metrics. 

Next, you will need assistance in assessing and prioritizing optimizations. Since some updates will be easier than others, you should work with your development partner to work on an action plan to address lagging metrics. Work to address the highest value, lowest effort initiatives first. Your development partner should be able to guide this conversation.

Google has integrated their Core Web Vitals metrics into many of their popular tools such as Google Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights and Search Console. Our development team regularly uses these tools to measure how websites are performing with LCP, FID and CLS. They also help with our suggestions for optimization. We identify each metric that is rated with “needs improvement” or “poor” and work on an action plan for improvements. 

By taking these steps, sites with LCP, FID and CLS rating of “good” should see improved search rankings in addition to a better user experience overall. If you should ever need help with the details of your website’s performance, Core’s development team is available to recommend an approach.

Just like any search engine optimization efforts, improved page rank from UX optimization can take some time. So there is no time like the present to get started. It can be the difference between adding or losing a customer.

Do you need help with a website project? Contact us to learn more about our digital marketing services.

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