As a Creative Agency, Are We Concerned About Google Core Web Vitals?

In May, 2021, we are expecting a major google algorithm update that focuses (as the last few have) on real-world user experience (UX). The ranking factor that will matter most is Google Core Web Vitals. Essentially, what will matter most is how quickly your site can load so that the end user can interact with it easily. If you previously focused on AMP to improve page speed, you’re already on the right track. Page speed and user experience monitoring have long been important signals for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so this idea isn’t new.

Below, I discuss whether you should be worried about this update, how it is similar to and different from PageSpeed Insights, how to check your scores on core web vitals using Lighthouse and I give you a few suggestions based on changes we made to MediaSmack’s website.

Should I Be Worried About How the Google Core Web Vitals Update Affects My Website?

When comparing this to previous google ranking algorithm updates, this is interesting because Google gave us (at least) a six month’s heads up that this was coming. So, if Google is willing to warn us, then this is worth noting.

However, while we are all anxiously awaiting how it will roll out, it is important to keep in mind that this is just one of hundreds of signals that Google uses to determine relevance to a search query and, thus, a website’s google rank for organic searches. But, yes, I would say you should start checking on necessary changes to your website now to focus on UX experience if you have not already done so. SEO experts are divided on whether websites will be drastically affected or not, so time will tell.

The thing that concerns me most is the code bloat that comes with using WordPress. At MediaSmack, all our sites are built using WordPress – just like 40% of all other website developed. This makes the websites very user friendly, which is awesome! But it always comes with a lot of code that we just don’t need and cannot delete. This can slow the sites down before you even try to tweak anything. For now, we’re sticking it out with WordPress. But, I hope that WordPress notices that many publishers are scrambling and we need their help.

Is This Algorithm Update Using Different Signals Than PageSpeed Insights?

Yes, since it is going beyond the previous limitations of PageSpeed Insights. We previously used Google’s PageSpeed Insights as a checker to figure out how to speed up our website. But, one of the problems is that the scores are based on (and I am simplifying here) a general score as though your website is the same for everyone (it’s assuming a static constant). This prevents a score that shows how each individual person accesses your site – which is based on the user’s internet connection (WiFi is usually slower than Ethernet), individual devices (older devices usually run more slowly than newer ones), etc.

So, for example, let’s say I run PageSpeed Insights on my website and someone else runs it from his office. Our scores will be similar on PageSpeed Insights (because it assumes a constant) but not on Lighthouse. That is because, in reality, our sites loaded at slightly different speeds because we’re in different locations with different connections and different devices. Lighthouse takes that into account.

So, now we focus on Lighthouse in addition to PageSpeed Insights. PageSpeed Insights already used Lighthouse information, but now we’re getting much, much more detailed. So, this algorithm update seems to be taking everything we learned in PageSpeed Insights and taking it a step further.

How Do I Check How My Website Looks on Google Core Web Vitals?

At MediaSmack, we run Lighthouse using Google Chrome. So, I am going to walk you through how to check your site by using Chrome as your search browser.

  1. Open up your website. Anywhere on the page, right click your mouse and click on “Inspect”.How to inspect the source code on your webpage
  2. Click on Lighthouse.
    How to find the Lighthouse tab on Google Chrome
  3. On the right, decide if you want desktop or mobile. Then, click on Generate Report.How to generate a Lighthouse report to help with Google Core Web Vitals

Once you have a report, Lighthouse will make suggestions to you that you can fix on your website. Keep in mind that these are only suggestions; you have to choose whether you can or even want to make a change. For example, jquery slows down sites. But, we have some useful things on our site that use jquery and I am not willing to give up those things.

How Do I Fix Issues On My Website?

Really, to make these kinds of changes, you need a website developer to help you. Fortunately for me, I have a website design team that works on our projects, so they can understand the nuances much better than I can. But, in working with my Website Planner Greg Sanders, he did a lot of testing and here are a few things that we changed/tweaked on our sites:

  1. I am going to assume you already have a responsive website design. A responsive web design does differ from a mobile-dedicated website.
  2. YouTube drastically slows down websites. Greg found that self-hosted videos were much faster. So, we decreased the number of YouTube videos we featured on a particular page of our website. But, frankly, I am not willing to drop YouTube completely. Thus, I am willing to sacrifice our scores a little to keep the videos when they are relevant. (Interestingly, Google also owns YouTube, so you’d think they’d figure this out, too, and create a workaround… maybe?)
  3. Images are a big drag on speed. The bigger they are, the slower they are. We are using a paid plugin to use a more modern image format (WebP) to cut the size by (roughly) 25%. That’s a relatively easy fix.
  4. Recaptcha is slowing down on our site, particularly on mobile. We’re having to weigh that against getting a ton of spam via the forms on our site. I can’t get rid of spam prevention methods completely. However, we are testing newer options.
  5. jQuery slows your site down, period. But, there are many website tools that use it. You have to check each one to see if there are any necessary dependencies. You may trade off a higher score to have better functionality.
  6. We use a lot of Analytics tracking programs via our Google Tag Manager (GTM) containers. These include Google Analytics, HotJar, Facebook Pixel, etc. Again, on this one, I need these. So, I am willing to make a score sacrifice to keep them. But, we are auditing our GTM containers to see if there’s anything that is extraneous. And, we do recommend using GTM containers to pull this, rather than hard coding each code onto your site individually.

Google Algorithm Update 2021: Core Web Vitals Coming Soon to Websites Near You

My website development team regularly makes changes to our client websites to accommodate google algorithm updates. We audit our sites using various tools, including PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse. Internally, my SEO team uses Agency Analytics as our Google page rank tracker. (Side note: But, really, any SEO keyword rank tracker can work for you.) We will continue to track Google rank closely in May, as well as watching Google Analytics and Google Search Console traffic. So, I think we’re ready for the rollout. Are you? If you need help, please give me a call at (888) 530-2935 and let’s see what we can do to help you.

Amanda Snowden Avatar
Author Amanda Snowden
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