Google’s New Ranking Factors: It’s Time for a Web Rebuild
Written by Chip LaFleur
Google is obsessed with directing search results to websites that deliver a positive user experience to the end-user. They’ve been telling website owners that they prefer well-written, researched, informative, and well-sourced content for years. They have also hinted that site owners should care about user experience but have been less forthright about the technical details of what that entails.
However, Google has dramatically stepped up their transparency and guidance for web developers, designers, and content marketers looking to improve site performance. Google has recently introduced a new metric, called Core Web Vitals, which they call “essential metrics for a healthy site.”
These new metrics and the next Google algorithm update will change the way we build and update websites in the future. In this blog, we’ll outline why and what you can do to take advantage of the changes.
Not All Websites Are Created Equal
Most of the hundreds of millions of websites in existence are built on platforms like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace. WordPress accounts for over 29 million websites; Wix and Squarespace together account for almost six million.
What makes these platforms so popular is that they are accessible technologies that almost anyone with some technical expertise can build and maintain.
“Even after you choose a handful of features, the rest of the unused options stay on your site’s server, like off-season Christmas decorations in the attic.”
Users (organizations, individuals, and companies) who build websites on these platforms might have some level of technical experience but aren’t proficient web developers. So, most people need a tool that will help them lay out a page so that it looks good without having to write any markup or code. Software called “visual composers” offering ready-built options has become the convenient solution.
However, this convenience can come at a cost. When you use a visual composer to build a site, it includes a full library of features for you to choose from. Even after you choose a handful of features, the rest of the unused options stay on your site’s server, like off-season Christmas decorations in the attic. Any time a browser loads a page of your website, those unused features can slow the load time down.
Google’s Core Web Vitals Offer Insight Into Site Performance
This is where Google’s new direction and tools come into play. In the past, we didn’t have enough information from Google to say precisely how these factors affected rank or how websites could improve performance by using custom builds. However, the search engine giant has now expressed its interested in user experience, and it will reward websites that deliver a positive user experience with more visibility in search.
Websites that are built with visual composers tend to deliver pages that load a little bit slower, and they usually show your website’s elements moving around a little bit as they load. Google doesn’t like this. However, it’s difficult to modify because visual composers are designed to give people the tools to make their website look nice, not get under the hood and make fine-tuned adjustments.
Fortunately, Google is now delivering users data about these issues and offering more clarity about the data points they use to determine ranking factor. Through Google’s Search Console, we now have access to tools that help measure those features: the Core Web Vitals.
Google’s Core Web Vitals, and What They Mean for Your Site
Google’s Core Web Vitals are broken down into three metrics. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Here’s what they measure on your site:
Largest Contentful Paint
Largest Contentful Paint marks the point in time that the main content on a page has loaded. Google measures the LCP on each page of your site, and they are now telling website owners and operators that they are factoring LCP data into account as they determine where your website should show up in search.
Google considers a page with an LCP value under 2.5 seconds to be good, between 2.5 and 4.0 to “need improvement,” and over 4.0 seconds to be poor. When we have that information, we have an incredible metric for understanding user experience.
Fast websites are ideal. We have ample data demonstrating that fast-loading sites retain and convert users better than slow ones.
Page abandonment increases to nearly 25% at four seconds, and as the page load time grows, so does the abandonment rate. Nearly 80% of users who are dissatisfied with a website’s performance say they are less likely to buy from that site again. Unfortunately, this spells trouble for anyone using a slow-loading visual composer to style their site.
First Input Delay
The First Input Delay (FID) is a measurement that defines when a user visiting a website can interact with the page in a meaningful way.
Where LCP measures the time it takes to view meaningful media, FID measures the time it takes for the page to respond from the time a user takes an action—clicking a button, tapping a link, or some other interaction.
When a user experiences this delay in action, it results in a website that feels clunky and non-responsive—the opposite of what users want. Now, Google is explicitly telling website owners that this delay is going to negatively impact their visibility in search as well. Websites need to respond quickly if they want to rank well in search.
So how fast is fast enough? Google considers a page with their FID value under 100 milliseconds to be good, between 100 and 300 milliseconds to “need improvement,” and over 300 milliseconds to be poor.
It takes a skilled developer to positively affect this metric on your site. Developers have several tools to positively affect this metric, including loading animations, delayed loading of images and animations, and other tactics.
Cumulative Layout Shift
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) happens when elements on a web page suddenly change position. You’ve probably experienced CLS yourself—you were browsing a website tried to click on a button, only to find that the button is no longer there, or another button or link has taken its place, and you are now on a page that you did not mean to land on.
This element can be more harmful than the previous two because it can cause users to click on something unintentionally. A problematic example is accidentally clicking on a purchase button; the user could have been aiming for a “cancel order” or “back to cart” link but instead end up clicking on a finalize order button because it moved to where they were just about to click.
A few different things can cause CLS; using a visual composer is one of the big ones. Even though visual composers offer ready-made options, you can still access and change the source code and CSS to customize the design even further. However, this tinkering creates an issue when the browser tries to load the page.
When it loads a page, the browser loads all of the CSS files one at a time. If there is something in a CSS file that is customized and that loads later than the main CSS file, that can cause a shift in the page, negatively impacting the CLS score. It’s possible to change the CSS so that everything loads together, but it takes the skill of an experienced developer to do so.
Google pays attention to which elements move and by how much and gives it a score on a scale of zero to one. The lower the CLS score, the better. A CLS score of zero to 0.1 is good, a score of 0.1 to 0.25 needs improvement, and scores above 0.25 is considered poor.
To Perform Well in Search, You Need the Right Tools
At LaFleur, we’re excited about these new updates and metrics because it means we can use that data to build exceptional websites and improve existing ones.
Even though visual composers can cause serious problems for your website, it does not mean that there is no place for them or that they are strictly problematic. Visual composers can make a beautiful site more affordable, so businesses with small budgets can publish a website without breaking the bank. They can perform well in search, and they can, to an extent, deliver a positive user experience. However, a lot of this success depends on other elements, like images being the appropriate size, avoiding third-party tools that deliver a heavy overhead, and other optimizations. Working with a great developer can also help solve many of the problems visual composers bring to the table.
However, we are starting to see a greater shift toward more custom developed sites free from any unnecessary elements that will negatively impact the core web vitals. This is especially true in the most competitive industries, like the legal marketing space.
When you work with an experienced developer, they can build and style sites from scratch. The advantage is that the page is likely to have less overhead, and a skilled developer can make the finished site more efficient. When a well-designed web page loads in a browser, it’s only pulling in the resources it needs, so the page is likely to load faster and more smoothly.
Why Google’s New Ranking Factors Mean You Need a New Website (or at Least an Update)
As Google’s algorithms get more advanced, having a fast, functional, and beautiful site is more important than ever, especially if you’re in a competitive industry like law. Consumers are turning to the internet more than ever before—over 90% of people do internet research before making a purchase. If you are hoping to capture leads from Google searches, your website needs good Core Web Vitals.
“If you are hoping to capture leads from Google searches, your website needs good Core Web Vitals.”
Unfortunately, it can be extremely challenging to retrofit a website that relies on visual composers to perform well according to these metrics. Even old sites built from scratch can struggle to keep up. A good rule of thumb is to undergo a site re-design every two to three years. If your site is approaching or has passed that milestone, it’s time to consider an overhaul. Otherwise, you risk simply going undiscovered in search and losing out on valuable traffic, leads, and potential high-value clients.
LaFleur: Building Successful Websites With Long-Term Health in Mind
At LaFleur, we’re proud to equip law firms, companies, and organizations like yours with the tools they need to be competitive and successful online. We have our thumb on the pulse of Google’s updates and pride ourselves on developing websites that not only look great but meet and exceed industry standards when it comes to speed, accessibility, and design.
If you are interested in learning more about improving your website’s Core Web Vitals, how a robust content marketing plan can improve your performance in search, or even more about our new book, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Simply give our office a call at (888) 222-1512 or complete this brief online form.
We look forward to hearing from you!
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PYMNTS. (2018, January 9). Consumers Are Increasingly Researching Purchases Online. Retrieved from https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2018/omichannel-ecommerce-consumer-habits/
Work, S. How Load Time Affects You Bottom Line. NeilPatel. Retrieved from https://neilpatel.com/blog/loading-time/