In search of the truth about Core Web Vitals.
Since Google implemented Core Web Vitals in June 2021, many brands have contacted us with concerns about improving the technical performance of their corporate website, particularly in relation to these metrics.
And most are surprised by what we explain.So we have decided to address this topic in a non-technical, but rather strategic article, with the aim of shedding light and helping marketers make informed decisions, especially in companies that are looking for or already have a strong digital presence.
We will address the most common frustrations that marketing leaders experience with Core Web Vitals and provide a clearer, more detailed perspective to help them address their concerns.
In addition, we will analyze to what extent these metrics affect positioning in Google. We will highlight how many companies often fail to adequately address this issue, missing its fundamental essence or the real core of the problem.
To better illustrate, we will present case studies where the focus on Core Web Vitals has had a positive impact on the business metrics of different companies.
Finally, we will detail how we can successfully develop a strategy for the improvement and optimization of our website.
Frustration of marketing managers and directors
A few months ago, we received an email from a brand that contacted us by direct recommendation. Their request was clear: "we have our page on Webflow and we need to improve Core Web Vitals". That same day, their marketing manager explained to us via videoconference that they had a technical SEO audit performed by an external agency and that they needed to implement an extensive list of changes to their website.
- Well, could you tell me what is the strategic objective behind working on the Core Web Vitals?
Don't get me wrong; we found the audit to be professional and well-founded. The proposed actions were legitimate and well formulated. However, after reviewing the client's website, we identified areas for improvement in the site architecture. Furthermore, although the performance metrics were not unfavorable, we detected certain elements that, with minimal interventions, could significantly influence the LCP - a metric closely linked to load speed and, within the Core Web Vitals, the one that most correlates with positioning and user experience, as we will discuss later.
Among other aspects, we noticed that the content of the transactional pages was not optimized for SEO or conversion (in this case, lead generation). The content was convoluted, full of internal jargon and overly focused on the brand, leaving in the background what potential customers could obtain by contracting their services.
- It is to improve our positioning in Google. Honestly, I don't have all the details, as this is not my area of expertise. What we did was to commission an audit from an agency that we have heard very good feedback from.
Our duty and responsibility is to advise the client whenever we feel we can bring something positive to their decision making. So we put on our consulting hat and explained that we would budget for those changes, but that we didn't think that would be what would get you ranked in Google. And we explained the reasons why.
Finally our suggestion was to make a report where, on the one hand, we would estimate the hours of execution of the list of tasks as we had been asked and on the other hand, after an analysis, we would present a detailed plan with a prioritized selection of the complete list of changes and other elements of the web that could be worked on to have a greater impact on business metrics.
The result of the report was as follows:
To execute the complete list of technical tasks of the audit we estimated that it would take us about 170 hours of work on the website. An estimate with a margin of error, since some tasks presented a level of complexity and uncertainty difficult to estimate, since, among other things, the development of the website was not done by us and it carried a considerable technical debt.
Additionally, we presented a prioritized plan that included, in addition to the technical execution of some priority technical tasks, an adjustment of the web architecture with a simpler, more intuitive and orderly logic for the user and for Google, a modification of the narrative and a proposed UX redesign of the main transactional pages, as well as an optimization of the copy for SEO focused on the queries that really belonged to their target audience. With a total estimate of 90-120 hours.
In other words, a cheaper and faster plan aimed at having the greatest impact on an effort/result basis.
The client appreciated the suggestion and decided to go that way. What happened is that in just a few months the executed changes had a direct impact not only on Google rankings (for old and new relevant keywords), but also on user retention (session time and page views per session) and conversion rate of transactional pages (leads generated per 100 visits).
In other words, they began to generate a greater economic and tangible return on their SEO and Paid efforts.
In our experience, companies (or marketing directors) get frustrated primarily in two situations related to Core Web Vitals:
They have contracted an SEO audit that reveals a myriad of elements to be corrected and many actions related to the Core Web Vitals without prioritizing them, i.e. all in the same hierarchy of importance. Executing these actions inevitably derives in a large investment, not only in money, but mainly in time and resource allocation.
In many of these cases, due to misinformation or bad advice, they think that their SEO strategy is not working because they do not have high scores in these metrics.
They have trouble convincing, with arguments, management or stakeholders to make an investment in this section of the web. They have heard or read different types of opinions from professionals about the importance of Core Web Vital and do not know how to approach it. In the end, most of the time, everything is reduced to "we must do it because it is important for SEO".
In the following points of the article we will try to give you a hand in both situations.
How much Core Web Vital really affects Google rankings
I am convinced that what I am about to say will generate more than one grimace of disagreement, but I will say it clearly: in most cases, they do not affect too much.
But let's develop it a little more, because they really do play an important role in our website and also have an impact on Google ranking potential.
The truth is that, for a few years now, Google has incorporated CWVs as part of its ranking factors, which means that they directly influence the performance of a page in the results of a query.
Let's see what Google has to say:
"We recommend website owners to have good Core Web Vital to achieve good Search results and, in general, to achieve an optimal user experience. However, having good Core Web Vital is not enough to ensure an optimal on-page experience. Having good statistics in Search Console's "Core Web Vital" report or in third party Core Web Metrics reports does not guarantee a good ranking.
How important is on-page experience for SEO?
Google Search always tries to display the most relevant content, even if the on-page experience is poor. However, for many queries there is a lot of useful content. In these cases, having a good on-page experience can contribute to success in Search."
And this discourse, which we will interpret, is the same that they have maintained in recent years.
John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, confirmed that although web vitals affect ranking, relevance also plays an important role. If website A is faster than website B but B is more relevant to the user's search query, website B would still have a better ranking than A.
Mueller also noted that websites that move from "needs improvement" to "good" may see improvements in their rankings. But websites that are already good and improve their speed by a millisecond or two may see no change in their ranking.
Well, then we can draw two clear conclusions:
- Google's main intention is to show the most valuable or relevant content for the searches that its users make. Therefore, it makes sense that if one piece of content is superior to another, Google will not stop showing it just because it has worse performance metrics.
- Core Web Vital penalizes rather than rewards. That is to say, considerably bad metrics will damage the positioning potential of a website, however, very good metrics will not necessarily have consequences in Google results.
These conclusions coincide with the results that Google itself published a month after including Core Web Vital in its algorithm.
But let's review the findings of this independent study of 3 million pages that are ranked in the top 20 in Google results.
This is what we can extract from the study:
- There is a correlation between a better position in the results and a better LCP metric result.
- Only 39% of the pages analyzed passed the Core Web Vitals test
- Results vary greatly depending on the sector and the competition.
Percentage of pages exceeding Core Web Vitals on Desktop (by industry)
There are other studies that reflect slightly different results, but the conclusions are the same and it is what we already know: Core Web Vital will not make you rank per se in the top positions of Google.
The reality is that they are of fairly relative importance, if we stick strictly to the Google ranking capacity of a web page for its technical aspects.
But the important thing is that the optimization of a website is usually assessed from the wrong approach.
The key is not in Google, but in the user.
Google's main intention is to show the most valuable or relevant content for the searches made by its users and also the best possible experience.
If we want to rank organically in Google, then we must focus on understanding our users, what their search intent is, where they are when they arrive at our website and how we can provide them with the most useful content in their circumstances.
But not only that, we must also think about how we can offer them the best possible browsing experience. This implies a good loading and response speed, intuitive layout of information and elements, as well as a logical and efficient navigation proposal.
If we consider these two aspects, content and experience, and see them from the eyes of our users, then we will know how to make the right decisions to substantially improve the results of our work in the online channel.
Let's look at it in a more graphic way.
Imagine you are walking through an unfamiliar city to get to an important appointment. You walk along different streets, squares and avenues. But at certain points, the sidewalk ends and you need to turn around to take another path. The signs are hidden and confusing. There are traffic lights for pedestrians that are too long and you encounter unexpected detours due to construction work, which also disorient you.
All these inconveniences interrupt your progress towards your destination, increase your stress and generate an unpleasant experience.
People surfing the web are also on a journey, where every action is a step in what would ideally be a continuous flow. And, just as in real life, they can be interrupted by delays, confused by information and driven to make mistakes. These events can lead to resignation and abandonment of a site.
In both scenarios, the best decision is to identify and eliminate interruptions and obstacles to enable a pleasant journey and, consequently, satisfied users.
Business Metrics Success Stories
From a user-centric perspective, by working on their Core Web Vital many companies have had and have had magnificent results on their online business metrics. Let's take a look at some examples:
Vodafone (Italy) Improved LPC by 31% and increased sales by 8%.
iCook improved CLS by 15% and increased advertising revenues by 10%.
Tokopedia improved PCL by 55% and increased average session duration by 23%.
CWV corrections contributed to mobile conversion rates (mCVR) of 80-100% and a significant increase in domain ranking across all Redbus global market properties.
CWV's corrections increased the website's advertising revenue by 18%.
Optimizing FCP boosted web conversions by 15%.
As we can see, the results of improving the user experience do not necessarily materialize in Google rankings, but in the business performance of our website.
How to address Core Web Vitals from a strategic perspective
We must keep in mind that it is always advisable to include this work from the design and development process of the web and make sure that we have a product that meets these requirements. But if it is already late and we find a page that does not give the performance we expect, there are several points that will help to address it:
1.- View it from a strategic context
The most important thing is to consider the performance of a website in the context of a broader strategy. Resources are limited, your technical professionals (SEOs / Designers / Programmers / Webflow Technicians) are finite and have certain hours at their disposal to work.
Therefore, we must keep in mind over what other areas this resource allocation could compete. Areas such as:
- Web architecture
- UX/UI Design
- Narrative and copywriting
- Content plan
- Product development (front-end development)
All of them can have an impact on the business, so the rest of the valuations should be done from a relative or opportunity cost point of view, i.e., how much resources should be devoted to performance rather than to another area.
2.- Assess the impact of the actions in Core Web Vitals.
The next step is to assess what impact CWBs are really having on the performance of our online channel. We must understand this optimization work as a long-term investment in our website that will drive any subsequent action or strategy we plan. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask ourselves if a web renovation is on the horizon, in which case the most interesting thing to do is to take it into account for that new product.
If not, we should always look at the metrics that are really bad and do so from a user-centric perspective. Which ones may be affecting your experience the most?
As we have seen before, in the case where the performance of the metrics is positive, even if it can be improved, working on their optimization will not have too much impact on our results.
3.- Prioritize with a business vision
Google essentially evaluates the performance of pages independently, although it may take into consideration some global aspect.
Therefore, it is always advisable to focus on and prioritize those pages with the greatest value for the ROI of the website. Those that are more sensitive or more relevant to the user's buying cycle.
In a more graphic way, we could use the example of prioritizing a landing page, or a transactional SEO page, over the corporate 'About Us' page or even the home page.
Each case is different, but it is advisable to practice this evaluation exercise in decision making.
4.- To take into consideration the technical debt
If a web site does not meet performance standards, it is likely to drag bad practices from its design and especially in development.
This is considered a technical debt, since not being precise or strict in the application of quality standards in the development of a product will make subsequent work on that product more costly, and the team in charge of doing so will be forced to redo much of everything that is not visible on the web, such as its structure, class system or code efficiency.
Sometimes we have seen jobs where it is more profitable to start a website from scratch than to fix a product.
Turn to a team with experience and strategic vision
If you need advice to address the performance or technical optimization of a website, our recommendation is that you go to a consulting team with a strategic vision that provides perspective and not just a technical analysis of the scenario.
If you are a Middle Market company, with the desire to get more out of the online channel, our team can help you design the digital strategy to achieve it.