In May of 2020, Google introduced a new program, Web Vitals, which is an initiative that provides guidance for quality signals. Google believes these metrics are essential to delivering a great user experience on the web.

Google has provided us with several tools over the years (Google Analytics, Search Console, and PageSpeed Insights are a few of the popular ones), and these can often be a challenge to keep up with as they evolve.

You shouldn’t have to be a performance wizard, however, to understand the quality of user experience your website is offering. Web Vitals aims to simplify this, helping us focus on the metrics that matter most — the Core Web Vitals.

What Are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are the subset of Web Vitals that apply to all web pages. Each of the Core Web Vitals reflects a real-world experience and represents a distinct facet of the user experience. Google recommends these metrics be measured by all site owners.

The metrics that make up Core Web Vitals will evolve over time, but as of this writing, the set of metrics focuses on three main aspects of the user experience:

  • Loading
  • Interactivity
  • Visual stability

What Is Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)?

Largest Contentful Paint, or LCP, measures loading performance, the first aspect of the user experience. It marks the point in the load timeline when your page's main content has likely finished loading. The faster your Largest Contentful Paint, the more reassuring to Google that users will find the page useful.

For your webpage to provide a good user experience, the LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading. 

To emphasize the importance of meeting Largest Contentful Paint guidelines, users will spend more time on a website when pages load faster. In fact, users visit 8.9 pages when load time is two seconds (which meets LCP’s 2.5-second recommendation), versus just 3.3 pages when load time is eight seconds.

What Is First Input Delay (FID)?

First Input Delay, or FID, measures interactivity, the second aspect of the user experience. It quantifies the experience users feel when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. 

FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with your page (such as clicking on a link or tapping on a button) to the time when the browser starts processing event handlers in response to the user’s action.

To provide a good user experience, the First Input Delay of your pages should be 100 milliseconds or less. A low FID helps ensure that your page is usable.

What Is Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)?

Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS, measures visual stability, the third aspect of the user experience. It helps quantify how often a user experiences an unexpected layout shift. A low CLS helps ensure that the page isn’t clunky.

To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a Cumulative Layout Shift of 0.1 or less. It’s a score rather than a measurement of time like LCP and FID.

The LCS score is calculated by having the browser look at the viewport size and the movement of unstable elements in the viewport between two rendered frames.

How to Improve Core Web Vitals

Optimizing for a quality user experience is key to the success of your website, and Google believes that the Core Web Vitals are critical to all web experiences. As such, it’s important to identify opportunities to improve the user experience on as many pages as possible.

To ensure you're hitting the recommended target for users on your website, a good threshold to measure the LCP, FID, and CLS metrics is the 75th percentile of page loads. To deem your website compliant with Core Web Vitals, consider a page passing if it meets the recommended targets at the 75th percentile for these metrics.

Here are a few ways to improve your core web vitals metrics and ensure your website offers a great user experience.

Improve Page Load Speed

At this point, it goes without saying that when a webpage loads quickly, it makes for a better user experience. Between two and three seconds is the turning point where bounce rates skyrocket. 40 percent of consumers will wait no more than three seconds before they decide to leave your site.

Use PageSpeed Insights to get a score for any webpage you input and leverage the tool’s suggestions to work toward making your pages load faster. Chances are, there will be instances where load times don’t meet Core Web Vitals guidelines, and this is where you may need to look at videos, images, or other issues potentially causing slow loading. 

Optimize Largest Contentful Paint

Being that Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) carries significant weight in the Core Web Vitals overall score, it’s wise to optimize for this metric. With resource load times being a common offender for poor LCP scores, here are a few things Google recommends:

  • Optimize and compress images
  • Preload important resources
  • Compress text files
  • Use adaptive serving
  • Cache assets using a service worker

Lower Your Bounce Rates 

Bounce rates illustrate the rate at which users are abandoning your website, and you want this percentage to be as low as possible. 

Google Analytics, for instance, shows you the bounce rate for any page of your website that’s been visited. This can help you identify issues, like if a page isn’t responsive or isn’t loading properly on mobile devices.

A high bounce rate can also indicate that users aren’t finding what they need, which may signal to Google that the page isn’t relevant to the query it appears for in search results. High bounce rates can also indicate a bad user experience from interstitials, pop-ups, and other obtrusive elements.

Eliminate Unexpected Layout Shifts

When the text or a button suddenly moves to another position on the page (often due to loading issues), this is known as an unexpected layout shift. It can be frustrating for users, causing them to become disoriented or click on the wrong thing.

To avoid or eliminate unexpected layout shifts, do the following:

  • Avoid inserting content above existing content
  • Ensure transitions are animated for context and continuity
  • Include size attributes on images and videos
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