How Google’s New Core Web Vitals Will Impact Rankings in 2021

Surprise! Google is changing up the algorithm…again. 

This time, the super search engine is adding new page experience ranking signals to determine who will land on the ever-so-important first page of search results.

In addition to the existing ranking signals (HTTPs, mobile-friendly design, safe browsing and no intrusive interstitials), Google is adding three new ranking signals into the mix: largest contentful paint, first input delay and cumulative layout shift. 

Sound familiar? That’s because these new signals are already part of the core vitals of a site. The only difference is, their significance is now bigger than ever when it comes to your site’s SEO.

In this blog, we’re breaking down all of the Google ranking signals–old and new–and providing you with the best ways to optimize for them. 

Let’s get started.

Top Core Web Vitals That Are Currently Used As Ranking Signals

1. HTTPS 

Years ago, having an SSL was only necessary for sites with user logins as a way to ensure user data protection. As we know, it’s now vital that all sites be encrypted with an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. You know the drill–the safer the site, the higher the chance that Google will deam it reputable.  And while an SSL certificate has been a must-have for several years, it remains high on the totem pole of ranking signals.

2. Mobile-Friendly Design 

We’re all aware of the importance of optimizing for mobile. Just last year Google announced mobile-first indexing and the best practices that go along with it. With the growing use of mobile phones for searching, it’s no surprise that this core vital remains at the top of ranking signals into 2021 and beyond.  

3. Safe Browsing

Even the most legitimate websites risk being compromised by hackers. Google wants to be sure that users can access a site without treading into unsafe waters. 

Unsafe websites fall into two categories: phishing and malware. 

Phishing is a tool used by hackers to trick users into entering their information to hack passwords or collect other private user information. This is typically done through compromised form fills or user logins. 

Malware is malicious code on a site that downloads malicious software to a user’s device. Hackers use this software to hack into private user information such as passwords and data stored on the device. 

To ensure your site is safe to use, it’s important to keep an eye on your Google Search Console coverage report and to stay up to date with the latest software updates and safety measures within your site’s CMS.

4. No Intrusive Interstitials 

An intrusive interstitial is just a fancy word for large pop-ups that block the user from seeing the main content of a page. Because non-intrusive interstitials can be helpful to your users (and in some cases, necessary), it’s important to know the best practices for implementing pop ups on your site. 

What’s Changing? 3 Core Web Vitals That Will Now Impact Ranking Signals in 2021

1. Largest Contentful Paint 

Largest contentful paint (LCP) is the first of the three new ranking signals to gain importance this Spring. LCP is a metric that measures the time it takes the largest content or element in your viewport to load. For example, if your page speed averages at 2 seconds but your largest content on the page takes 6 seconds to load, Google is now taking into account that 6 seconds, rather than the overall 2 second average of the page. 

How To Optimize For It:

The best way to optimize your LCP is to take a look at your server. Improve how your server handles your content by measuring server response times and optimizing from there. Caching assets and serving cached HTML pages are just a few of the ways that you can lower your LCP time.

2. First Input Delay 

First input delay (or FID) measures the amount of time between the user’s first interaction with your site to the time it takes for the browser to respond to the interaction. In other words, this feature measures the interactivity of your site and browser. If your user comes to your site and clicks to a product page, how long does it take for the browser to then respond and load that new page? While this measurement isn’t new, it is becoming even more important with the new algorithm change. 

How To Optimize For It: 

If you’re using a CMS such as WordPress, Wix or Shopify, now’s the time to get with your developers about optimizing the site’s JavaScript. You can reduce the amount of JavaScript on your pages by breaking down long code into smaller tasks.

3. Cumulative Layout Shift 

Cumulative layout sift (CLS) measures the visual stability (or instability) of your site. In other words, it measures how much your content shifts within the viewport and how far those elements move when impacted by the shift. 

How To Optimize For It: 

While modern browsers set their own ratios for content within the viewport, it’s important to make sure that you’re setting specific ratios for your content within the code. This includes setting height and width for each of your site’s images.

What Does Google’s New Ranking Signals Mean For Your Site?

As with every Google update, there’s no true way to know how these new rankings signals will affect your site visibility until the update goes live. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve taken a hard look at the core vitals of your site, now is the time to do so! Luckily, Google Search Console now offers a core vitals report that provides better insight into the health and user-friendliness of your site.

While we know that user experience has been an important factor for years now, these new ranking signals only up the game. Great content, quality backlinks and safe and secure sites have long been the way to get to those top search results. And, if you’ve really been checking all of the boxes, perhaps you’ve earned yourself a spot in Google’s carousels and/or featured snippets. However, industry experts predict that if your page isn’t up to par with these new ranking signals come May 2021, your page might just drop off the top. 

So is it time to panic? The answer is, maybe not! As with everything Google rolls out, we’ll only know the true impact once the update goes live. Industry experts themselves have mixed feelings about the update. Based on a Twitter poll done by Elizabeth Lefelstein (Search Engine Journal writer and SEO guru), 28.7% of SEOs think that impact will be based on the industry, 28.4% think that only time will tell, 26.7% think that all sites will feel a moderate impact and 16.2% the update may be the next “mobilegeddon”. 

While these results are varied, it can’t hurt to take a deeper look at your site’s core vitals and begin any optimizations before the update rolls out. 

For questions on how to optimize your site for Google’s new ranking signals, get in touch with our SEO team today

Happy optimizing!