By Andrew MillerGoogle is notoriously tight-lipped about its ranking algorithms. So when Google talks about new website characteristics that impact search rankings, marketers should listen. The most recent algorithm announcement introduces a heavier emphasis on providing a great user experience with the introduction of Core Web Vitals, or CWV, as a new set of ranking signals.
Originally announced in 2019, the new CWV metrics were scheduled to become part of Google’s ranking algorithm in May 2021. The SEO community has been scrambling to create awareness and upgrade their sites before the algorithm changes go live.
In April, Google announced a short reprieve for marketers. CWV will now be phased in beginning in June and not fully rolled out until August. Once they are fully rolled out, we expect to see slightly improved organic search rankings for faster websites.
We already know that top-ranking bank websites tend to perform better for CWV metrics—even before they are treated as a ranking factor. To demonstrate this, we analyzed Core Web Vitals metrics from more than 6,600 bank websites across the US from 300-plus markets to look for correlations to search rankings.
The primary metric we evaluated, performance score, is an aggregation of CWV metrics. Our analysis showed that sites with higher performance scores are more likely to rank in the top five Google search results. This is true for desktop and mobile devices.
There are other established components of great user experiences that we take for granted today and are already factored into Google’s algorithms: providing high quality mobile experiences, securing sites with HTTPs and removing annoying interstitial ads or pop-ups that distract a search engine visitor from his or her objective. Core Web Vitals are just the next set of “best practices” to learn and adopt for your bank’s website.
But don’t wait! There’s not much time remaining to learn about CWV, measure your site, and take action.
CWV is all about page speed and a smooth loading experience. As with most things technical, it’s a bit of alphabet soup but some useful tools below will help you understand your website better.
Marketers, designers and developers now have a shared responsibility for measuring and improving CWV metrics in these three areas:
- Loading—how quickly web page elements load.
- Interactivity—how long a user must wait before a page becomes interactive.
- Visual Stability—how much the layout shifts as page elements load.
Further, each metric is measured against a scale and compared to other websites to determine a site’s relative performance. Generally speaking, sites that rank in the 75th percentile or better compared to their peers will “pass” the Core Web Vitals tests and have a shot at improved search rankings.
Loading: largest contentful paint (LCP)
The LCP metric measures the time it takes a browser to render the largest image or text block on the visible page, relative to when the page first started loading. In other words, raw speed is your friend. Faster is better and anything under 2.5 seconds is considered “good.”
Interactivity: first input delay (FID)
The FID metric measures how long it takes your web page to become interactive for a user. Loading elements quickly is one thing, but users will notice if inefficient code slows down the interactivity of your site. The sooner they can click, type, or engage with your content, the better your FID score. An FID of under 100 milliseconds is considered “good.”
Visual stability: cumulative layout shift (CLS)
CLS measures how much a page “jumps around” as it loads. You know when you’re about to click on a web page before it finishes loading and it jumps to a different spot? That’s an indicator of low visual stability and would have a higher (worse) CLS score. The solutions for improving CLS are largely technical and can be fixed with a thorough review of the elements on each page, the order in which they load, and how well the code instructs a browser to reserve space for each element. A CLS score of 0.1 or lower is considered “good.”
Important steps to take include:
Audit your website performance. You can easily analyze your bank website’s Core Web Vitals with some free tools published by Google. Here are some of our favorites:
- Google’s Pagespeed Insights Report: Enter any URL to get an overview of the CWV scores and suggestions for improving results. This is a rough approximation and may not replicate real world use cases. It’s best to compare this tool to others to get a sense of where to prioritize your efforts.
- Google Search Console Core Web Vitals Report: CWV data from Google Search Console comes from real users as they visit your site. This report provides site-level metrics and allows you to drill down to specific pages to find opportunities to improve performance.
- Google Lighthouse: Runs in the Chrome browser developer tools section and can audit pages as you browse a site.
You may also compare your website to your competitors’ sites to find new opportunities to capture a larger share of prospective customers.
Take action to improve your user experience. With the ranking algorithm updates beginning in June, now is the time to audit your website and make a plan to improve performance. Even if the impact on search rankings is minimal at first, taking steps to speed up your website and improve the user experience will result in happier, more engaged visitors.
The two biggest hurdles that we encounter are getting buy-in from website stakeholders and securing enough developer time to diagnose and fix the more technical components that could be holding your site back.
Armed with data from your site audit, industry benchmarks and Google’s acknowledgement of Core Web Vitals’ importance in search rankings, you can begin to build a business case for devoting the resources needed to tackle even the most complex CWV issues. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so keep beating the drum internally at your bank. Soon, you’ll be able to show the positive impact on website and business metrics to rally your stakeholders to improve user experience for all of your visitors.
Andrew Miller is co-founder and VP for strategy at Workshop Digital, a digital marketing agency in Richmond, Virginia.