SEO Mythbusting - Page Speed (Core Web Vitals) is Not A Big Ranking Factor

SEO Mythbusting - Page Speed (Core Web Vitals) is Not A Big Ranking Factor

August 13, 2021
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In today’s hyper connected world everyone wants relevant, accurate information instantly – the moment that they search for it.

 

Millions of people searching on Google every minute are no longer willing to wait three or even four seconds for their results to load. This is a big part of why Google shows how quickly your search was executed at the top of the results (almost always calculated in milliseconds, no less).

 

At the same time, a lot of website owners have not been focused on how to improve the loading speed of their pages.

 

This is a huge problem. Especially if you want to rank highly competitive keywords when doing search engine optimisation (SEO).

In recent SEO Mythbusting Series from Google Webmaster, Martin Splitt (Developer Advocate, Google) and Eric Enge (General Manager of Digital, Perficient) broke down some critical factors for page speed. 

What's page speed (Page experience)

"We, as a search engine, do not want to have users frustrated when they see the content. So it makes sense that a fast website is a little more helpful for a slow website."

For a long time, even professional SEO consultants have tried to minimise the importance of page speed when it comes to ranking highly in Google results.

 

Recently,though , Martin Splitt (a Developer Advocate at Google) as well as Eric Enge (General Manager of Digital at Perficient) put an end to this SEO myth once and for all during a Google Webmaster series.

 

Announcing to the attendees that Google “…as a search engine does not want to have users frustrated when they see content”, these two professionals then went on to say“…it makes sense that a fast website is a little more helpful than a slow website”.

 

On top of that, the Chrome team at Google also announced a handful of Core Web Vitals metrics in July 2020 focused on the importance of speed, responsiveness, and stability.

 

A Core Web Vitals called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) specifically measures page loading speeds, and the only way to get an “EXCELLENT” rating from Google is to have your pages load inside of 2.5 seconds after a link has been clicked.


Google Page Experience and Core Web Vitals  - 2020
Google Core Web Vitals Performance Cap
Google Core Web Vitals Performance Cap

Myth Busted – Page Speed is Critical for SEO, but not a big factor

"Content is still the king. There's no question about that" -- Martin Splitt

Site speed is important, but it’s just one ranking factor among many.

Like most ranking factors, page load time alone won’t earn you a top spot on the SERPs, but a slow speed will hold you back from ranking higher. So what should you do? Try to improve your site speed, but keep optimising your other search factors as well.

Reorienting Our Approach to Optimising Page Speed

The number one challenge that savvy web developers, marketers, and business owners have when it comes to page speed these days is this:

 

Far too many websites are still being built based on outdated information, tools, and tactics that used to help improve speed but no longer make that much of an impact.

 

Too many web designers are still working on compressing images, resizing images, streamlining CSS and HTML, and other “on page” optimisation tactics. These tactics are still important (make no mistake about that) but they aren’t the biggest levers you can pull on to speed your site up.

 

It’s important that you reorient ASAP if you’re going to increase your page speed across your web platform. If your site continues to lag behind (loading in four or five seconds compared to 2.5 seconds or less) it’s not unreasonable to expect a significant drop in search engine rankings.

Prioritise above-the-fold content

First, you need to heavily prioritise optimising EVERYTHING that will load “above the fold” when someone first arrives at your website.

This is often overlooked by SEO professionals (especially because responsive design guarantees there will be different “above the fold” sections of content for most every user) but it’s something that you really have to focus on: Using Native image lazy-loading aka "lazy" image attribute helps in this optimisation.

Example

<img src="image.png" loading="lazy" alt="…" width="200" height="200">


Leverage your CDN setting

Secondly, you need to optimise your CDN settings ASAP. The way your host or set the CDN can be a blocker for seeing the content. Check your server specs and host memory to see if they are compatible for your website content. 

This involves digging deeper into the administrative panel of your host. You’ll want to check out the specifications of your server, dive into your host memory options, and confirm that everything is compatible for the type of content you are displaying on your web pages.

 

Bigger hosts offer all kinds of CDN optimisation applications or plug-ins. Leverage these resources whenever possible to boost the speed of your site on the host side.You’ll be in a much better position to see tangible improvements as far as SEO is concerned.

Javascript can be one of the render-blocking element. Often, you have to attach a line of script in order to use third-party applications like Hotjar, Live Chats etc. Host your applications or script on your CDN server might be a good idea to avoid those scripts steal away your page speed. Cloudflare, for example, offers tons of app for free and you can host it on their CDN server. By installing the app in the Cloudflare, you are freeing your website for many unnecessary HTTP requests.


Lighthouse report is just a reference

The recommendation from the lighthouse report does not represent all your user experience, hence the metrics. With that in mind, a 6 seconds loading reduction from the image resizing recommendation is not a guarantee to all your users. Lighthouse is just a lab test using your own device specs.  

  • The scores from the lighthouse report are just for references instead of ranking factors. Google does not use any speed scores to be a ranking factor.
  • The best way to test your speed in different devices is buying a device the test the speed with it
  • With that in mind, using Google Analytics to break down your speed performance in devices, locations and other dimensions is a great start to address the issue, 
  • Use Chrome User Experience Report hosted on Google BigQuery  to get the real user data.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is not a ranking factor

AMP is just a tool to help your site to achieve the better page speed goal, hence a better search ranking result. It's not a ranking factor. Progressive Web Apps (PWA) is also a good tool. 


What should I look into in terms of Page speed

First of all, Core Web Vitals should be the parimary focus on improving your website experience.

Mobile Page Speed New Industry Benchmarks 01 21

And then we can break down to the following metrics:

  • Average Speed Index: How quickly the mobile page displays content to users. Best Practice: 3 secs
  • Average Time to First Byte (First Paint): How fast and responsive a mobile web server is in a specific category. Best Practice: Uner 1.3 secs
  • Average Request Count (HTTP Requests): The number of individual pieces of content needed to display the entire mobile page. Best Practice: Fewer Than 50
  • Average Page Weight Bytes: The total size of a mobile webpage, measured in bytes. Best Practice: Less than 500kb

Core Web Vitals & Page Experience FAQs:

FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
Where does the Core Web Vitals data that Search considers come from?
The data comes from the Chrome User Experience Report , which is based on actual user visits and interactions with web pages (also known as field data). To be clear, the data is not computed based on lab simulations of loading pages or based on the visits of a non-human visitor like Googlebot.
FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
How are scores for individual URLs calculated? In other words, how is it determined if a page passes or fails the web vitals assessment?
Metrics are calculated at the 75th percentile over a 28 day window. By using 75th percentile, we know that most visits to the site (3 of 4) experienced the target level of performance or better. If a page hits the recommended targets for all three metrics, it passes the web vitals assessment.
FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
A 3rd Party service I utilize (such as client-side A/B Testing, Social Embed, Personalization Engines, Comment Systems etc.) is slowing down my site.
Sites may choose to utilize a variety of third-party code and services. Core Web Vitals metrics don’t make a distinction in these choices but only look at the total observed experience of the page as seen by the end-user. Like all other features on a page, it may help to regularly assess the impact of third-party components of the experience on the Core Web Vitals. There may be an improved form of integration or configuration that improves the user experience and will be reflected with improved Core Web Vitals metrics. Check out these resGoogle'sces from web.dev on how to optimize third-party JavaScript on yGoogle's pages.
FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
What is the page experience update and how important is it compared to other ranking signals?

relevance is still by far much more important. The page experience update introduces a new signal that Google's search algorithms will use alongside hundreds of other signals to determine the best content to show in response to a query. Google's systems will continue to prioritize pages with the best information overall, even if some aspects of page experience are subpar. A good page experience doesn’t override having great, relevant content.

This is similar to changes we’ve had in the past, such as Google's mobile-friendly update or Google's speed update. As with those signals, page experience will be more important in “tie-breaker” types of situations. If there are multiple pages of similar quality and content, those with better page experience might perform better than those without. In short, publishers shouldn’t worry that when we begin using page experience, that they may suffer some immediate significant drop, if they’re still working on making improvements. But publishers should be focused on making those improvements a relative priority over time. This is because as more and more sites continue to improve their page experience, it will be the norm that publishers will want to match.

FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
Are Core Web Vitals a ranking factor when using Google Search on non-Chrome browsers?
Yes. Page experience ranking signals, based on Core Web Vitals, are applied globally on all browsers on mobile devices.
FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
How do I improve my LCP/CLS/FID score?

You can find recommendations on how to improve Google's Core Web Vitals metrics on web.dev/fast/ .  Improving metrics for yGoogle's site will require web development knowledge. If you are a non-technical user, we have some suggestions in Google's Search Console Help Center , but you should consider contacting a professional.

FAQs Seperate Line | DEANLONG.io
Can sessions that don't report FID be considered "bounced" sessions?

No, FID excludes scrolls, and there are legitimate sessions with no non-scroll input . Bounce Rate and Abandonment Rate may be defined as part of yGoogle's analytics suite of choice and are not considered in the design of CWV metrics.

Related Article:

Google Release Important News About One of Their Ranking Factors - Page Experience

Source (1, 2)

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Dean Long | Expert in Growth MarketingDean Long

Dean Long is a Sydney-based creative marketing and communication professional with expertise in paid search, paid social, affiliate and e-commerce advertising. He's also a distinct MBA Graduate from Western Sydney University.

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