30 second summary:
- The mobile experience is vital for all categories when you look at Core Web Vitals (CWV).
- Image compression appears to be a leading challenge for leading brands
- Pages that do well for CWV are usually informative in nature
- In the retail sector in particular, there could be significant disruptions if second-tier retailers receive a boost
- There is opportunity and time for improvement and preparation in all sectors while issues are treated as a business priority
- Enterprise search and digital marketers need to dictate the right course of action to meet key benchmarks
- You also need to convince the rest of the organization that the efforts are worth the results
The long-awaited implementation of mobile-first indexing is just around the corner, so that content that is only visible on the desktop will be ignored by the world’s largest search engine from this point on. Mobile-first has been a priority for Google for years as the beat of the user experience drum has become a crescendo.
The entire Page Experience update will be released in a few months. Page experience “measures aspects of how users interact with a webpage,” according to Google, and consists of five key search signals.
Hopefully you know at least four of these since they have been in the game for a while. Mobile friendliness, safe surfing, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines have all been introduced and updated as Google has tried to keep up with changing customer expectations.
In May, signals from a new metric called Core Web Vitals (CWV) will be combined with these existing four signals for a mega-metric called Page Experience. BrightEdge (my company) conducted a CWV readiness and mobile-first compliance study to determine the potential impact on locations in four main industries. But first, it’s important to understand the CWV opportunity and the relationship between this new set of metrics and the mobile-first index.
Demystifying key web vitals
Before we go any further, note that CWVs are not a guideline that could trigger a penalty if not followed. Cloaking is an example of a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. If you are clear about this, you run the risk of being penalized by Google.
Core Web Vitals, on the other hand, are an opportunity. If you fail to meet the thresholds for each of the three main priorities that make up the CWV signal, you will not receive any penalty. But you will miss the ranking boost available to those who meet the standards.
And what are these standards?
Achieving either of two of these goals will not be enough. Google has confirmed that all three must be met in order for the ranking boost available through CWV to be displayed. You can find more information about these important metrics here.
Core Web Vitals and Mobile-First go hand in hand in the search for UX
Safe browsing, HTTPS security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines are pretty straightforward – you either agree to the guidelines or you don’t.
Mobile first and core web vitals are more complex and consist of a larger volume of moving parts. So with the upcoming rollout in May, they’ll get the lion’s share of the webmaster’s attention. Hosting, site structure, image optimization, and more can all affect how your site loads on mobile devices. James Parsons recently released a 28-point checklist of tweaks to work through as you prepare for CWVs that every webmaster and SEO should review.
Mobile-first also has an oversized impact due to its impact on the local search experience. Given that 60 percent of mobile searches are local in intent, the vast majority of organizations cannot afford to ignore Google’s emphasis on the mobile index. When local consumers in their neighborhood are looking for nearby businesses to meet their needs, it is imperative that the website load at lightning speed.
How are companies preparing for the Page Experience update? BrightEdge (my company) recently conducted research comparing top websites in different industries to determine how vulnerable each website is to the May update. We currently have no way of assessing how effective the introduction of CWVs into the ranking algorithm will be, so we wanted to both examine readiness and establish a baseline.
Here’s what we found.
Which websites can benefit from the Core Web Vitals Boost?
For this study, we analyzed over 1,500 URLs in four industries:
- Education (253 URLs)
- Finance (328 URLs)
- B2B (302 URLs)
- Retail (689 URLs)
Instead of using the homepage, we chose the URLs that are responsible for the organic traffic for each site. For each website, we measured the language percentage for the 500 most important keywords in each industry, analyzed the speed of mobile page speed using the Crux database and rated compliance with the Core Web Vitals using the following parameters:
- Most satisfactory paint: Less than 2.5 seconds
- First entry delay: Less than 0.1 seconds
- Cumulative layout shift: Less than 0.01
As it turns out, some industries are better prepared for the Page Experience update than others. This is reflected in these results, what percentage of URLs would receive the Core Web Vitals Ranking Boost if they were launched today:
- 24 percent of finance urls
- 13 percent of B2B URLs
- Five percent of educational URLs
- Less than one percent of retail URLs
As you can see, there is huge seating at the table for brands trading now to keep up with this upcoming update. First movers will enjoy the benefits of this ranking boost when it hits. You can find the full results here.
- LCP affects user bounce rates. By shortening the time to the first content-related time, conversions can be improved by up to 15 percent
- CLS affects conversion because layout shifts disturb users and disrupt their experience
- FID is key to your site’s ability to respond to the action a user tries to take. helps a website react faster to the actions of your target audience
- Enterprise pages built on apps that require lots of scripting to run create complexity and potentially significant investments to bring them in line with CWVs
Here are some of our industry findings.
- More than 50 percent of the pages met all three CWV criteria on the desktop
- Job posting sites like Indeed.com were the most likely to meet the CWV thresholds
- More than 60 percent of the pages met all three CWV criteria on the desktop
- Bank and broker sites struggled while information resources like Investopedia were outstanding
- Nearly 70 percent of the pages met all three CWV criteria on the desktop
- Information and definition pages performed best, while transactional content struggled
- More than 50 percent of the pages met all three CWV criteria on the desktop
- Again, information resources such as Tech Radar and Consumer Reports performed best
It’s worth noting that in retail, multiple product lists from the same domains dominated the voice portion, resulting in a higher percentage of retail URLs tested. We haven’t seen a single example of large online retailers (Amazon, Target and the others) gaining part of the vote with their homepages – rather, their organic traffic is fueled by product and category pages.
We assume that page attributes such as hero images of products and advertising popups lead to violations of the largest content-related color and layout shift.
The central theses
The top Web Vitals signals and the larger set of Page Experience metrics certainly matter, but they are among the many signals that indicate to Google that your website is providing a safe, positive, and useful experience for the searcher. This is the heart and soul of every update that Google makes, so it should be the driving force in your SEO strategy.
Keep these results in mind as you prepare for the Page Experience update and implementation of Core Web Vitals as a Google ranking signal:
- The mobile experience is effective and crucial for optimization in all industries.
- Image compression and optimization is a challenge for many brands, which is an opportunity for those who can get it right.
- More information pages meet Core Web Vitals’ metrics than transaction pages.
- Retail brands will have a lot of volatility in search results, especially if second tier retailers are able to take advantage of Page Experience and get a ranking boost.
Enterprise digital marketers and SEOs now need to work on the right course of action to meet key benchmarks so they don’t lag behind. The key is how you communicate the potential impact of this impending relocation to decision makers in order to win the buy-in.