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Page Speed: Google Algorithm Update 2021

Page Speed & SEO

Page speed is nothing new and has long been a Google ranking factor. But in 2021, Google will be doubling down with the introduction of Core Web Vitals in this upcoming Core Algorithm Update. The new Core Web Vitals are a list of metrics created to help business owners, marketers, and developers improve user experience. Among this list, are three new ways to think about and measure page speed. 

In this article you’ll learn: 

  • What page speed looks like as a ranking factor in 2020
  • How the page speed ranking factor will change in 2021
  • What are the 2021 Core Web Vitals
  • How to measure Core Web Vitals & page speed
    • Largest contentful paint (LCP)
    • First input delay (FID)
    • Cumulative layout shift
  • What the algorithm update means for SEO
  • What the update means for conversions and revenue
  • Solutions: How to improve Core Web Vitals scores

The page speed ranking factor in 2020

“We’re obsessed with speed

Google

Operation “speed up the internet” has been underway since 2010 when Google first announced site speed (and by extension page speed) would be a ranking factor in search results. In 2018 they doubled-down, announcing mobile page speed would also be a ranking factor.

Since these announcements, page speed has only become more important. Users increasingly expect faster pages and the internet continues to expand and become more complex.

In 2020, page speed is directly related to both how your website ranks in Google and how well your website converts visitors into customers. If you’re not ranking right now or your website has a low conversion rate, you should check your page speed score.

How the page speed ranking factor will change in 2021

In May 2020, Google announced a new algorithm update that will be focused on measuring real-world user experience on the web, set to deploy in 2021.

They explained that they wanted to give webmasters plenty of time to update their websites before it would be made an official Google ranking factor, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

With that said, the release almost here — with only 2 months left in 2020 — and if you haven’t considered what these new core web vitals will mean for your business, consider this your official call-to-action.

Take action on the page experience + page speed of your website.

Do it today.

What are the Core Web Vitals

As I mentioned, in May of 2020 Google announced their new Page Experience Update and the addition of Core Web Vitals.

The Core Web Vitals will be added to a list of ranking factors which Google calls “page experience metrics”:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • Https
  • No intrusive interstitials
  • Largest contentful paint (under 2.5 for 75% of page loads)
  • First input delay (under 100 milliseconds for 75% of page loads)
  • Cumulative layout shift ( less than 0.1 for 75% of page loads)

Google’s existing user experience metrics (mobile-friendlinesssafe-browsingHTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines) are still applicable ranking factors.

The new page experience metrics are called Core Web Vitals (largest contentful paint, first input delay, cumulative layout shift).

Core Web Vitals measure different aspects of real-world user experience that go into determining your overall Page Speed Score (along with other metrics).

How to Measure Core Web Vitals & Page Speed

Page Speed can be measured using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Here’s How It Works:

PageSpeed Insights is a Google tool that helps you gain an understanding of how your web page is performing using both lab data and field data and is powered by Google Lighthouse and Chrome UX Report.

Field Data:

  • This is the information you get from looking at real-world user experiences.
  • It answers the question: How is this page loading for real people, on different computers, that are trying to load and interact with a webpage?

Lab Data:

  • This is the information you get from testing in a controlled environment and looking at the results.
  • This method is beneficial for identifying and fixing bugs.

The field and lab data that is gathered and then reported back to you via Page Speed Insights is measuring four metrics.

1.) First Contentful Paint (FCP)

2.) First Input Delay (FID)

3.) Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

4.) Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

FCP simply measures when the browser renders the first bit of content, providing the first feedback to the user that tells them the page is actually loading. This is what the average user likely associates with the beginning of the page loading process. This metric can be meaningful to user experience because a user is able to see that the page is loading, and so they know something is happening — but if you’re waiting for a page to load, that’s still a bad user experience.

Does FCP still matter? Yes. You want this number to be as low as possible. But for the best user experience, you don’t want a user to be consciously waiting for a page to load at all. That’s why FCP is not included in the new Core Web Vitals.

The new Core Web Vitals include the last three metrics on the above list: FID, LCP, and CLS.

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

As opposed to FCP, the LCP metric measures when page-to-page navigation appears complete to a user. More technically, LCP measures the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport. Google recommends sites aim to keep LCP under 2.5 seconds for 75% of their page loads.

High LCP (over 4.0 sec) = Bad

Low LCP (under 2.5) = Good

First Input Delay (FID)

First Input Delay measures the reaction time of a page to the first user input (whether they click, tap, or press any keys).

In other words, if it appears that a webpage is done loading, but nothing is responsive when you click on it, it means that the page has a high first input delay time.

You want to keep FID under 100 milliseconds for 75% of pages.

High FID (over 300ms) = Bad

Low FID (under 100 ms) = Good

Cumulative Layout Shift

The best way to understand the cumulative layout shift is to think of it as the metric that measures visual stability.

Aim for a score of less than 0.1 for 75% of page loads.

High CLS (over 0.25) = Bad

Low FID (under 0.1) = Good

How CLS works

CLS is a little harder to understand right off the bat.

When a webpage is loading, sometimes it will appear that the page is finished loading to a user, but when the user goes to click a button — or some other content on the page — the page shifts and the button moves due to an error in the loading process (slow CLS)

This can be a pretty significant problem for users. For example, if are trying to cancel out of a purchase, and right above “Cancel Purchase” there’s another button that says “Buy Now.” Image going to click “Cancel Purchase” and the page suddenly shifts and you end up clicking “Buy Now.” At the very least it’s annoying and in the worst-case scenario, you’ve just made a non-refundable purchase.

What the algorithm update means for SEO 

We know that Core Web Vitals are going to be a ranking factor, measuring user experience and page performance. BUT we still don’t exactly know how much this is going to influence rankings.

YES Core Web Vitals WILL influence rankings.

They WILL be an SEO ranking factor.

But according to Martin Splitt, from Google, that doesn’t mean you want to simply abandon your content creation efforts.

Here’s how he put it in a LinkedIn comment when he was asked if we should be religiously following Core Web Vitals:

Martin Splitt Comment

“Is it ‘the’ ranking factor (whatever that’s supposed to mean)? No. A fast website with terrible content is likely not what searchers seek… But if you have two good pieces of content and one is going to be frustratingly slow, we might wanna give the faster one a better position, no?”

Martin Splitt

Simply put, you still need to provide valuable content to your users that answer their questions, and you still need to consider the other ranking factors. However, if you aren’t thinking about user experience in terms of page performance then you simply are not providing the highest value to your audience, and your Google Search rankings will reflect that.

What the Google Page Experience Update Means for Conversions and Revenue

If you’re not currently meeting the previously mentioned criteria for a good page experience, then it’s already hurting your website conversions and your revenue. There are lots of studies on this from Google and industry research from elsewhere that indicate the correlation between positive user experience and conversions.

  • Pages that loaded in 2.4 seconds had a 1.9% conversion rate
    • At 3.3 seconds, conversion rate was 1.5%
    • At 4.2 seconds, conversion rate was less than 1%
    • At 5.7+ seconds, conversion rate was 0.6%
  • Longer page load times have a severe effect on bounce rates. For example:
    • If page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, bounce rate increases 32%
    • If page load time increases from 1 second to 6 seconds, bounce rate increases by 106%
  • For the relationship between first contentful paint and revenue: 
    • On mobile, per session, users who experienced fast rendering times bring 75% more revenue than average and 327% more revenue than slow.
    • On desktop, per session, users who experienced fast rendering times bring 212% more revenue than average and 572% more revenue than slow (ALDO Case Study).

Again, this is already hurting your business.

Here’s a comment from Google on the reason for the page experience update:

“Providing a smooth journey for users is one of the most effective ways to grow online traffic and web-based businesses. We hope the Web Vitals metrics and thresholds will provide publishers, developers and business owners with clear and actionable ways to make their sites part of fast, interruption-free journeys for more users.”

Google

What’s about to change with this new page experience update, is that if you don’t meet the minimum criteria for these new page experience metrics, you’re going to have an even tougher time ranking your website and getting traffic (thus, getting conversions will become even more difficult).

Solutions: How to Improve Core Web Vitals Scores

Here’s the thing, these new page experience metrics are technical, and even for those familiar with this territory, they are rather complicated.

So what do you do about it?

The first thing you need to do is understand the problem specific to your website.

If you don’t know what’s wrong with your website, you can’t fix anything.

Google’s tools for webmasters now support the measurement of Core Web Vitals, along with other things like overall page speed.

Try this:

  • Use Search Console‘s new Core Web Vitals report to identify groups of pages that require your attention (based on the field data).
  • Once you’ve identified pages that need work, use PageSpeed Insights to diagnose lab and field issues on a page. You can find PageSpeed Insights (PSI) via this link or through Search Console.

If your Core Web Vitals scores are in the green, you should be good to go.

If not, you need to address the problem.

This can be done in 1 of 2 ways:

1.) Use Huckabuy PageSpeed software to technically optimize different aspects of your site automatically.

The more efficient way to start seeing an increase in page performance, and to see results fast, is to simply install a PageSpeed software solution. This is a great option because it eliminates much of the work for site owners and development teams and they won’t need to revisit the issue after solving it — the automated software solution will take care of it.

2.) Allocate Dev. resources to fix the issues one by one.

Allocate development resources on this issue to fix the problems one by one. The Google web developers’ tools provide guidance on how to approach finding a solution.