If you're in marketing or SEO, you've undoubtedly heard about Google's "new" search ranking metric set called the Core Web Vitals. CWVs aren't new, however: They indicate the latest trend in performance marketing—a user-centric view that considers how site speed and user experience affect your online metrics.
In this article, we'll dive deep into Google's CWVs, discuss how performance marketing is driving online B2B experiences, and analyze opportunities to help accelerate your online presence and increase your marketing efficiency.
What are Google's Core Web Vitals?
Google's Web Vitals program breaks down what makes an excellent user experience. The new benchmarks outline three common metrics that summarize how your website is performing for customers.
The Core Web Vitals effort is the latest in a series of performance-based recommendations that Google has driven via its Chrome browser and search engine.
The relationship between a site's load time and conversion rate is well known. A famous example is a 2008 Amazon study that found that every tenth of a second of additional load time resulted in revenue's being decreased by 1%. Since then, engineers have developed metrics to help customers measure website load time—and figure out what's slowing it down.
"How fast is my website?" is a complicated question. Mobile devices load pages differently than desktops. Is "seeing" the page the same as fully "loading" the page?
By late 2019, there were 27 performance metrics that engineers focused on, ranging from server response time to DOM Content Loaded (a fully loaded page) and everything in between.
To simplify the landscape, Google created the Core Web Vitals, consisting of three "core" metrics:
- Largest Contentful Paint
- First Input Delay
- Cumulative Layout Shift
Those three metrics will be vital for marketing teams. Google uses only real user metrics (data gathered in the field from actual site visitors) to determine your site speed. Real user metrics ensure an accurate picture of how your website loads across many devices, rather than synthetic or lab data, which is more useful for auditing purposes.
As we say in Web performance land: if you're not looking at real user metrics, you are, by definition, looking at fake user metrics.
Largest Contentful Paint (Can I see it?)
A user's journey begins with a page that goes from blank to not blank. When the website is blank, customers don't know whether the site is actually working. Those first few milliseconds (and sometimes seconds) can drive page abandonment—a costly mistake, because online advertising is often based on cost per click, not cost per view.
To help define that early performance event, the Paint API lets you measure the Largest Contentful Paint, which denotes when the main image, often the hero image, is rendered. Because the browser can recognize the largest image, the LCP metric is reliably gathered in field data.
Improving LCP times depends on improving your server response times and stripping away the page's "blocking" resources. Focus on delivering less data through image optimization (i.e., smaller, more efficient images).
The biggest win for B2B marketers? You can use your tag manager to delay as many tags as possible. Say you have multiple retargeting trackers enabled for the site (LinkedIn, AdWords, etc.). That code is critical to advertising, but there is no need to run it until after the page has loaded. Simply delay tags to fire after the content has loaded. In Google Tag Manager, it's noted as the "Window Loaded" event versus the traditional "Page View" event.
That small change can shave precious seconds off page loads. Why try to track a customer who gets frustrated and leaves? When Vodafone (Italy) implemented optimizations for Largest Contentful Paint, it increased sales 8%.
First Input Delay (Can I use it?)
Post-pageload, the customer will ideally interact with the page. But modern pages often have lots of "event watchers" ready to fire.
For example, if the user scrolls down, there might be a tracker that sends data signaling the scroll depth. Perhaps there's another tracker recording the page's heatmap for customer interaction analysis later.
The same event triggers those trackers, and each has code that awakens and runs. As a result, the scroll might be delayed, because the browser is too busy firing trackers to respond to the customer input.
Enter: First Input Delay. It measures how long the page takes to respond to user input. How long does the page take to finish responding to users when they click a button?
When you evaluate tools with deep analytics, ask whether sampling is a core feature. Why decrease your conversion rate just to see how customers interact with your site?
Cumulative Layout Shift (Is it enjoyable?)
The Cumulative Layout Shift is a major source of customer frustration. Have you ever been reading an online article and suddenly, the text shifts? It moves down, or an ad appears, interrupting your process. In a worst-case scenario, you click on a link or a button, and the layout simultaneously shifts and you accidentally click something else?
That is a layout shift, and the CLS metric denotes how much it occurs as your page renders. Unlike the other Core Web Vitals, which are measured in time, CLS is a percentage of the page's content. So, a CLS score of 0.25 would mean that 25% of the page's content moved during the pageload—which would likely drive even the most loyal customer insane.
If your site has a high (more than .1) CLS score, dynamic content—an ad, for example—has likely been injected with undefined dimensions. To combat the page's shift, dedicate a specific section of the site—with explicit dimensions—to dynamic content.
* * *
So, to recap, Google's Core Web Vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (can I see it?)
- First Input Delay (can I use it?)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (is it enjoyable?)
Performance marketing drives online B2B experiences, so you may be losing users (whom you lured in with ads) if your site is slow.
Accelerate your online presence and increase your marketing efficiency by using the Core Web Vitals to evaluate your site.
More Resources on Google's Core Web Vitals
The Ultimate Website Checklist for Better UX and Search Rankings: A MarketingProfs Guide
Google's Page Experience Update: What Every B2B Marketer Should Know
Four Ways SEO Marketing Changed in 2020—And Where It's Going in 2021
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