Staying ahead of the curve on Google’s Core Web Vitals

One year.

That’s how long Google gave developers to start implementing required changes to improve user experience. In early May 2020, Google published a modest post on one of its developer blogs introducing Core Web Vitals — a set of metrics that will result in major changes to the way websites are ranked by the search engine. In May 2021, Google will officially add those Core Web Vitals to the various other “page experience” signals it analyzes when deciding how to rank websites.

The quest to improve a website’s position in search results has spawned hundreds (if not thousands) of how-to articles over the years. Businesses that are scared about taking a hit to SEO from Google’s new metrics have been pushing developers to optimize company websites. At the same time, developers have been frustrated because there’s a lot that goes into user experience that isn’t reflected in the Core Web Vitals. A lot of details have to be juggled.

Aside from improved SEO, small business websites optimizing for the new metrics will reap the rewards of an improved user experience for their site visitors.

But what about the startups, tech companies and small business owners who handle their own websites in-house? What about the agencies and enterprise platforms that manage or host hundreds or even thousands of websites for clients? While many are looking at the Core Web Vitals as a big hoop to jump through to please the search powers that be, others are seeing — and seizing — the opportunities that come along with this change.

Improving user experience will be rewarded

Small businesses wondering “What’s in it for me?” should recognize that if all other things are equal, optimizing for the Core Web Vitals is going to be a significant tiebreaker between websites. If a company’s site is ranking really well with these rigorous metrics, it will have an edge against competitors in searches when content and ranking are otherwise comparable.

Aside from improved SEO, small business websites optimizing for the new metrics will reap the rewards of an improved user experience for their site visitors. Internet users frequently complain about long wait times as pages are loading, or problems with an entire page shifting just as the user goes to click a specific button — which results in them clicking the wrong button and causing further delays. For online retail websites, a poor user experience leads to lost revenue as users abandon shopping carts and never return to a site. Once the Core Web Vitals go into effect, companies that have made the efforts to provide smooth and speedy performance for visitors will win out against competitors that retain sluggish designs.

Sparking overdue conversations

Companies often have a website designed and then never update it. Forward-thinking companies have been taking action since the new changes were announced in 2020. This has given them a good head start.

The forthcoming implementation of the Core Web Vitals in Google’s ranking algorithm is an opportunity to ignite important conversations around the purpose of a website, what is needed from it, and how to make sure the site’s design doesn’t hurt its Google search ranking. If a company hasn’t communicated with its external web designer in a while, this is the perfect time for the web designer or agency to reach out and reconnect.

Businesses that use marketing or design agencies should make sure that evolving best practices for websites are adhered to by those agencies. Websites need to be aligned with the Core Web Vitals, and any reputable agency will welcome questions about how it’s working to ensure that client websites are compliant.

Core improvements beat end-point fixes

Imagine website developers are mechanics and each website is a race car. If the team is trying to win a Formula 1 race, but the folks who designed the car’s core technologies — like the engine and the steering system — haven’t been paying attention to the best practices, and the infrastructure is not designed to meet the needs of a high-speed race, there’s only so much the mechanic can do.

Companies that develop website builder platforms or content management systems have a responsibility to stay on top of best practices so that users don’t have to modify and rework one website at a time. It will be far better in the long run to take this opportunity to improve the core infrastructure of the platform to push these optimizations out to thousands of websites at once.

Web design platforms can’t ignore the Core Web Vitals and hope they’ll go away. It’s most likely that other search engines will follow Google’s lead and incorporate experience metrics into their own determinations for ranking results. The real winners in this game will be the development platforms that work hard to make sure these best practices are built into the core of their technology. If these platforms can please the designers whose job it is to improve business results for clients and end users, then the whole situation becomes a win for everyone involved.

An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure

What it all boils down to is when in the website development process the attention to Core Web Vitals comes into play. The earlier in the process, the better for everyone farther down the line. For example, a SaaS company can make the consideration of Core Web Vitals a central part of the decision-making process of determining which website-building platform to integrate into its technology stack. Having a platform that pushes optimizations out to thousands of websites at once prevents having to update innumerable customer websites one at a time at the other end of the process. This is a crucial point to consider.

Companies faced with making decisions about which website developer, which agency or which platform to use should take this opportunity to find out which companies have been paying attention and which will require the most effort to optimize for the new metrics. Ultimately, it’s the client websites that will pay the price of inaction — with lower search rankings against competitors who did optimize. Smart companies have already been taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the forthcoming changes.

There’s a well-known quote from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”: “You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” It’s a similar situation here. If web designers want to build a website that optimizes for Core Web Vitals, they need to first make sure the platform they use is optimized for these metrics. Then, all they need to do is build.