SEO Hasn’t Put User Experience (UX) First

SEO has gone through lots of changes over the years — from link farms to keyword stuffing. The customer has not always been at the heart of the SEO process.

I’ve told you before about how my high school computer teacher gamed Google’s search algorithm years ago. Even recently, I heard from a client that said their SEO strategy is focused on two types of personas: searchers and Google’s algorithm. Palm, meet face. This is exactly why Google is increasingly concerned about user experience.

What Is Core Web Vitals About?

We have fielded a bunch of questions from clients over the past several weeks about Google’s Core Web Vitals update. The rollout is coming in May of this year, and marketers are getting more focused on UX because of it. The update will make page experience a significant determinant in how your site appears and ranks within search results. But what exactly are Core Web Vitals? It’s Google’s simplified view of UX metrics that matter and that marketers need to be aware of and tracking, such as:

  1. Page load performance. Google calls this “largest contentful paint (LCP),” which looks at how quickly a page loads. Specifically, this metric only measures how quickly the largest piece of content (image, video, text, etc.) in view on the screen — on desktop or mobile — loads once a user clicks through from the search result. The load time of the largest piece of content in the viewport can be highly influenced by several factors like client-side rendering, server time, or if the content is coded in JavaScript. Google has stated that the benchmark for LCP is that the largest content in view should load in less than 2.5 seconds.
  2. Visual stability of a page. Google calls this “cumulative layout shift (CLS),” and it tracks how quickly the page becomes stable. Specifically, Google wants to eliminate the all-too-common experience where a mobile device user will go to click on a call-to-action, but then the button shifts at the last second. The most common reason for this is that an image or video’s dimensions are unknown. That means that the dimensions of the image or video need to be defined within the site’s HTML to stop the content from shifting around. Google has stated that the benchmark for CLS is less than .1 second (CLS is a calculation of taking the impact fraction and multiplying by the distance fraction).
  3. Interactivity of a page. The final metric within Core Web Vitals is what Google calls “first input delay (FID).” Specifically, this evaluates how quickly after a user clicks on a button or other feature that the browser processes the click and begins to load a result. There are many factors that can influence FID, but especially site tags, third-party code on a page, or JavaScript. Google has stated that the benchmark for FID is that a page should become interactive in less than 100 milliseconds.

What Does Core Web Vitals Mean?

Marketers should be excited about the Core Web Vitals update. It will rightfully reward sites that have been considering the user experience for a long time, and it will incentivize other website owners to make their experiences better. Specifically, the Core Web Vitals update means:

  • Marketers and UX/design pros will need to be closer partners. UX and design pros should always be part of your SEO process, but for many firms, that is not the case. Take this opportunity to foster new relationships with colleagues that manage the user experience testing of your website and those that undertake decision-making when it comes to the design of the site. And even more importantly, seek out UX pros that have been working with web development colleagues on page and load time performance. Inform them of the coming changes. Solicit their feedback on what can be made better. And bring them into the SEO process fold for good.
  • Onsite conversion rates should improve. There is no doubt that an improved UX leads to a better customer experience and more conversions. In fact, 40% of marketers who adopted or optimized a cross-functional SEO process observed improvements in their conversion rates on their website. Make sure you’re measuring conversions from SEO today so that you will be able to track changes over time as your SEO process better incorporates UX best practices.

If you have any questions about how Core Web Vitals or anything SEO-related impacts your business, please schedule an inquiry with me.