Google will tell you that User Experience (often seen as UX) is the most important ranking factor. This basically means that they have the user in mind for all of their algorithm tweaks, but is also quite vague and encompasses everything. UX includes good content, fast loading pages, easy to navigate websites, and trusted sources. Basically, it includes pretty much every ranking factor we talk about all of the time in the SEO world. That being said, one of the hot items we will all be hearing about in the coming months is “Core Web Vitals”, which Google announced will become a ranking signal in May of 2021. Many companies will use it as a selling point to scare you into needing their services. I just want to touch a bit on how it may have a bearing on you as a small business.
Do Small Businesses Have to Worry About Their Core Web Vitals?
So this is a bit of a nuanced question. I have been saying for years that the ABC’s of SEO haven’t changed since I started my company back in 2006. It is the DEF’s that change constantly. This is a DEF situation for sure. Google is always getting better at measuring specifically what their core needs are. Their core needs as a search engine are to provide the best result to a user’s query. As mentioned above, user experience has always been the most important thing to measure. Google just gets better at measuring specific pieces of that puzzle. Core Web Vitals is just a combination of metrics that Google can measure a bit better about a web page when considering whether it should rank or not. It is a way to measure a piece of the user experience. In short, all of this has always been there but Google gets better at measuring it, and in the coming months, tools will get better at narrowing down how to improve pieces of it. So you should have always been worrying about site speed, mobile-friendliness, and general user experience of your site. If you have been staying on top of this, Core Web Vitals should actually help you, because they will reward you more for what you have already been doing. As time goes on, we will have plugins and updates that can help us improve user experience by addressing weaknesses in pieces of the Core Web Vitals puzzle.
Everything is Relative
Keep in mind that with all of search, everything is relative. You simply need to be better in the ranking signals than others you are competing on for your searches. Part of the art of being good at SEO is making the best use of limited resources. If your Core Web Vitals score is average and your competitors are poor, your average may be fine and allow you to invest in improvements in other areas. If you are poor and your competitors are good, you have some work to do. In the end, good SEO is about knowing where to focus your resources to best move you forward. You should always want your users to have a good user experience though, and speed and site structure are a big part of that. It should always be something you are aware of, even if not focused on SEO. Everyone that visits your site for any reason should get a good impression of your company.
Tools to Measure Core Web Vitals
For small businesses, the free tools available are seriously lacking right now. Many of the tools I have looked at only have data for very high traffic sites, so it is difficult to get good and easy comparisons. Of course, you can see your Core Web Vitals for your site in Search Console, which you should have set up. However, you can’t see your competitor’s info in there. I have yet to see a great tool for lower traffic, small business type sites, as most just don’t have the data yet. Here are some tools to keep in mind going forward. Perhaps they will get more data and be more useful in 2021
Some Tools that Aren’t Quite Useful Yet
- Web Vitals Chrome Extension: This would be ideal if it had data. Returns CWV data for each page in the search results. Unfortunately, when trying to apply to some small business competition searches, most sites don’t have the data available.
- Web Vitals Leaderboard: Found this doing some research and it looks like a great tool if you can copy and paste your site and some competitors in there to compare, but again, most small business sites don’t have data to show.
Those could be some great tools down the road. I will keep my eyes open for others. In the meantime, you can use some of the old classics to individually paste in URL’s and get speed data. Some are a little technical and harder to necessarily equate to the specific CWV measurements, but the info is in there.
Some of the old classics
Many of these will give you scores and point out what is the main cause of your issues. Even if you aren’t overly technical, you can often find a plugin for WordPress that may resolve or help with some of your issues. Google “(issue)” and “WordPress plugin” and see what is out there to help fix your issue.
- GT Metrix: They have done a good job of evolving with technology and you can find a lot of the important metrics here, and how to work on improving them.
- Page Speed Insights: I look at this as the Google version of GT Metrix and usually look at both for speed issues. They sometimes have different suggestions. This is straight from Google though. I often find GT Metrix info more actionable.
- Lighthouse: A bit more technical and probably more for your developer.
- WebPageTest and others: There are lots of tools out there. You can look around. I would say these are the biggest and to me the most reliable. I’m sure these will update a bit and more will show up in the coming months.
In the end, you need to always be thinking about the user, but just because Google announces something is a ranking signal, doesn’t mean it wasn’t always a ranking signal. In this case, it is just getting better at measuring things and giving you insights on what pieces are most important to improve. However, whether you need to invest a lot or a little into improving your Core Web Vitals always depends on your specific situation. That is why we have always had the most success with custom plans for our clients. Some will need to focus on tidying up their CWV this spring, while others are in great shape and will focus on other signals. We can help you make the right decisions. Give us a call.