Core Web Vitals and the User Experience Game Plan

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We recently published a blog post on improving your website’s user experience. In that blog post, we covered…

1: Why user experience is important

2: A brief game plan and search engine optimization (SEO) ranking factors for user experience

3: What areas of your website to focus on when evaluating your user experience

The primary focus of every website should be to service clients. That is the core element of website user experience. In the previous blog post, our focus was to offer tips and help you improve areas of your website that had poor user experience. In this blog post, I will provide you with Google’s blueprint for user experience success. I will take that blueprint and show you how you can improve your website’s user experience performance.

Why is user experience so important to Google, and why should it be important to your agency?

Let’s start with Google.

To be frank, making user experience a ranking factor for websites is long overdue. The consumer’s experience on a website should be a ranking consideration by search engines like Google.

Why? Search results are Google's products.

If a person has a negative experience on a website that Google ranked high, that person loses trust in Google's results. Therefore, Google is inclined to seek out websites and rank them higher if they provide helpful information and a positive experience to consumers. If your website isn’t performing well, Google is less inclined to suggest it as a resource to users.

This is why providing a great user experience for website visitors will soon be a ranking factor for Google.

To accomplish this fairly, Google needed to establish a way to measure successful user experiences on websites. They’ve found their solution.


Core Web Vitals

As we’ve said many times before, it’s not enough anymore to just have a website in today's digital marketplace. Over time, your website requires maintenance, optimization, and upgrades.

If you would like to read more information about maintaining your website, check out some of these free resources to get started.

In this case, you’ll be auditing your website’s user experience so you can rank well on search engines. The good news is Google has provided a blueprint to evaluate user experience with their Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centered metrics that measure key aspects of the user experience.

The three main search signals for page experience are…

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This metric measures the load speed of your page's main content. Your page should load within 2.5 seconds of when it first started loading.
  2. First Input Delay (FID): This measures the responsiveness and quantifies the experience of interacting with the page. To provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CSL): Measures the visual stability of the page.

Let’s break down each of the three primary core web vitals of user experience. I’ll also discuss how your agency can use this information to be ready for Google’s SEO ranking factor.


Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

This word sounds like gibberish.

Upon closer examination, it’s really a measurement of web page load speed. This metric simply reports to the search engine the load time of the largest image or text block within the first viewport of the visitor. Viewport is a fancy word for the area of the screen that is currently being viewed. That viewport can change based on screen size, device, etc.

The example below reflects the viewport of ITC’s website homepage on desktop.

In essence, this metric measures how fast the largest content loads on your website.

So how fast is fast enough?

Largest contentful paint has three tiers with respect to load time.

1: Good Largest Contentful Paint Time: 0 - 2.5 seconds

2: Largest Contentful Paint Time Needs Improvement: 2.6 – 4.0 seconds

3: Poor Largest Contentful Paint Time: 4.1 – infinity seconds

Why does your insurance agency website need a good Largest contentful paint load time? Fast load times influence website visitors to trust your website.


First Input Delay (FID)

Nobody likes delays.

On websites, interaction delays can provide a poor user experience. What do we mean when we say input or interaction delays?

Let’s say a website visitor clicks on a link to learn more about a particular coverage on your website. After clicking, nothing happens. A second or two later, the page begins to load. This lag in load time of links or buttons on your website is called First Input Delay (FID).

A delay is not a big deal when it happens once. This is because a slow internet connection can contribute to a first delay. However, it is a bigger deal when these delays happen consistently. That is because your visitors will start to lose trust in their ability to interact with your website.

Now, if you thought the optimal LCP load times were fast, take a look at the FID rendering times.

1: Good First Input Delay Time: 0 - 100 milliseconds

2: First Input Delay Time Needs Improvement: 101 milliseconds – 300 milliseconds

3: Poor First Input Delay Time: 301 milliseconds - infinity

Now, an important misconception about first input delay load time is that it measures the time it takes for the event - or the clicked -link to load. That is incorrect. This metric only measures the time it takes after the click for the event or page to begin to load.


Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

In my opinion, from a user perspective, this element of core web vitals represents the most annoying misstep that websites make.

Yes, I commonly run into slow websites while browsing the internet. However, it is uncommon for me to visit a website and have a page that takes longer than a few seconds to load. If I do, I assume my internet is weak, and often that is the case.

Before we begin dive too deep into what cumulative layout shift is, let’s look at a real-world example of layout shift.

Every time I publish a blog post like this one you’re reading today, I follow a simple four-step process to add the image at the top.

1: Source the image I would like to use for my blog.

2: Download it to my local computer.

3: Upload the image into the image gallery.

4: Select it from the image gallery and place it in my blog post.

Upon initially opening the gallery to select my image, the page layout will shift. If I click too early, before the layout shifts, I can select the wrong image by mistake. I will have to delete the image selected and redo the process. This can be a particularly pesky experience on a mobile device.

Hence, the name layout shift. Every time an established, visible element on a page – like an image or a button – shifts to a new visible location within the user’s screen, this is reported to Google. These cumulative reports sent to Google equal your Layout Shift Score. Cumulative Layout Shift measures the sum total of all individual website layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of the page.


How to Obtain Your Core Web Vital Scores

Don’t worry. You won’t need to measure these scores on your own. The developers at Google thought ahead and provided a free tool to measure your core web vitals.

This tool will provide you with an assessment of all the core web vitals on your website. However, if you have any poor scores, addressing them will be your responsibility.


How to Improve Low Core Web Vital Scores

Addressing poor core web vital scores is, unfortunately, a technical process.

Often, issues like these can be rooted in your website’s code. For example, an oversized image or video file, or missing CSS tags. If you or your website visitors are experiencing any of these issues, we recommend working with your website consultant to help you resolve low core web vital scores. They will know how to help you.

The good news is Google understands that fixing issues like these take time. This is why they have released the ranking factors for user experience early and even postponed the update due to COVID-19.

However, now is the time to prepare for this upcoming release. User experience has never been more important, and if done properly, can be an important differentiator for your website.

Contact us today for a free consultation about your website’s user experience.

About the Author

Zach Weeks

As Content Marketing Specialist, Zach Weeks manages and implements ITC's marketing efforts, spanning customer communications, social media, content, and email marketing. He has a bachelor's degree in editing, writing, and media from Florida State University. Zach enjoys sports writing, competitive gaming, and spending time with his family and pets.

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