Although websites don’t have a heartbeat and lungs for a doctor to check out, they do actually have important vital signs that many people look over. This is a code blue mistake and puts websites on life support. Without stretching the medical references too far, a business’s website has the ability to make or break the organization when it comes to engagement, user experience, digital marketing, search engine optimization, marketing, and so on.
As technology progresses over time and patience grows thinner, website visitors demand more. Things have to work better, faster, more intuitively and solve problems without asking. However, this (somewhat understandable) lack of patience means that if a website isn’t on the first page of search results, chances are it will never see any real use by people casually searching on Google. That’s why search engine optimization is so important.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization, commonly known as SEO, is the process of improving a website to increase its visibility when people search for products and services using keywords via search engines such as Google or Bing. This helps increase the likelihood of visitors finding the SEO-friendly site when they search for products, services, or keywords related to the business.
Google, the benevolent overlord of the digital world, and other search engines use bots to crawl a website’s pages to collect an overview of the information. The bots then put this data into an index that functions as a huge library where users simply type in the phrase of what they’re looking for and it magically appears in the results. The search engine then ranks the results that match the user’s input based on these indexes and how well the results match the inquiry.
Many factors go into how search engines decide how to rank a list of websites. As the bots crawl the web pages to decide on an index ranking, they look for a variety of things such as:
- Keywords incorporated into pages and content in a natural, non-keyword stuffing way
- High-quality, regularly updated content
- Meta tags
- Meta descriptions
- Appropriate page titles
- First input delay
- Page load time (also known as Largest Contentful Paint)
- Mobile speed
- Cumulative layout shift
While this may seem like a rather cumbersome list for mere search result rankings, without optimizing a website’s vitals to please the search engine bots, the website could possibly never see the light of a screen by an organic user.
However, these factors aren’t just to help websites rank better. They also help users ultimately have a better experience and improve conversions to help businesses grow.
A Website’s Core Vitals and How to Improve Them
Of the factors listed above, there are 3 main “core” aspects that make or break a site’s ranking in search engine results.
- Largest Contentful Paint – While it’s definitely a lot easier to just refer to it as “load time,” Google uses this as one of the main metrics in its index. As its name implies, Largest Contentful Paint measures the amount of time it takes for the largest content of a website’s content to load from the moment someone lands on the web page. Generally, if a website takes more than approximately 5 seconds to load, users start to leave and find another resource.
This is also important because it could be the first impression a potential customer gets of a business. Slow load speeds don’t make good first impressions. There are many factors that go into a site’s loading time, including plugins, hosting, unoptimized images, and so on. Google won’t release a magic number for optimal Largest Contentful Paint but the general rule of thumb is 2.5 seconds or less.
- First Input Delay – It’s not uncommon to visit a website and click on something only to see that nothing happens. This then requires another click to try to get the site to work. Google pays attention to these sorts of minor mishaps and takes note in a measurement called the First Input Delay. This measurement tracks the time it takes for the actual completion of an action on a website.
A good example of this is the time between when a user clicks on “add to cart” in an online shop and how long it takes to appear in their cart. Should they think the button isn’t working, chances are that they’re going to click it multiple times, have duplicate items added to their carts mistakenly, and ultimately decide that the website doesn’t work, thus abandoning their car.
- Cumulative Layout Shift – The visual sustainability of a website is the Cumulative Layout Shift. In layman’s terms, a website experiences a Cumulative Layout Shift when scrolling through a page and stopping on something, followed by a page shift to catch up with where the scroll is. This is an all-too-common problem and one of the most frustrating things for site visitors, especially when many people only experience some sites on their phones.
When Google quantifies this in the indexes, it measures the impact that the shift made on the user as well as the distance of the shift. Typically, different parts of a page or even advertisements loading at different times move everything around as a user scrolls the page.
These 3 core website vitals may seem like tiny issues to resolve later during development but are actually quite serious as they could end up costing companies lower search engine results. In the “real world,” this equates to customer and revenue losses as customers continue clicking on the competition’s links instead.