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Your guide to improving crucial SEO signals

You’re hearing about Core Web Vitals’ introduction to the search landscape. Then there’s some other Google Page Experience Update coming sometime in 2021.

It all sounds very confusing to those who don’t speak SEO, and is being presented as somewhat apocalyptic by marketing agencies.

What is a well-intentioned site owner to do in this season of uncertainty?

A site managed by professional search and marketing folks has nothing to worry about. The team is already on it, and probably where you got wind of the coming changes. Even so, I would encourage you to know what your team is doing for you.

But, to those reasonably new to the game—well, you may feel behind the ball. You may think everything on the site needs to change each time Google makes an announcement.

If that is you, stop. Breathe.

Your site’s appearance on the first page in a Google search can be the tipping point between a thriving business and a struggling business. That means the ranking position of your site in Google is essential.

“If you need to hide a dead body, put it on the second page of Google’s search results.”
— The running joke amongst SEO specialists

The Core Web Vitals initiative intends to help site owners focus on the metrics that matter most — performance metrics like page load speed and relevant search results that aren’t webspam. The tools to pre-evaluate your site are available now, allowing you time to make any necessary changes well in advance of the rollout.

That’s good news!

Your SEO To-do List for Core Web Vitals

Before we break down the new metric signals, let’s cover what is already in place.

(It might surprise you how many sites are not even doing these rudimentary things yet!)


The world is becoming more mobile-centric every day, so mobile-friendliness is high on the priority list.

“Mobile shoppers put ease of use foremost when it comes to mobile shopping sites, with 48% of respondents citing it as the most important quality of a mobile site they visit.”

Yet confusion still abounds as to what that actually means.

Some believe that if the desktop view of a site shrinks to fit on a mobile device’s screen, it’s mobile-friendly!

Well—no. No, it isn’t.

For a site to be truly mobile friendly, the site should change format according to the screen size displaying it.

The user should not have to zoom to read anything.

It should be easy to navigate with clumsy fingertips, meaning elements and buttons should be sized and spaced properly.

Great care goes into what a mobile device can and cannot do; your website should do the same in regards to various devices.

TO-DO: Look at your site using your browser’s dev tools and note any points of frustration in navigating or breakage. (Find your dev tools: Chrome | Firefox | Safari)

You could also use a service like BrowserStack to test how your website displays on different devices and browsers.

At the very least, look at it on your own phone to spot obvious problems.

Safe Browsing

Every day, Safe Browsing discovers thousands of unsafe sites. Many of these are legitimate websites compromised by hackers. Once identified for potential harm, Safe Browsing triggers a warning to users. These warnings detour users from visiting harmful sites.

To-Do: Make yourself familiar with Google Search Console.

(Get in touch with us if you’re not sure how to set up Google Search Console. It’s a quick fix.)

Should there be an issue, the Search Console can help you identify and resolve errors. After any fixes, you will need to request a review. This process may take a couple of weeks, which can lead to costly downtime for your site.

Secure Browsing

The HTTPS requirement is not to be confused with Safe Browsing. HTTPS provides encrypted web connections to protect against eavesdroppers, man-in-the-middle attacks, and hijackers who attempt to spoof a trusted website. Encrypted information traveling across the web may be intercepted, but it will be indecipherable.

To-Do: To enable HTTPS for your site, you will need to obtain a security certificate (commonly referred to as an SSL certificate). These certificates are typically available from your hosting service provider for an annual fee. Be advised that setting up an SSL certificate outside of the plug-and-play type a hosting provider offers will require a developer’s assistance.

No Intrusive Interstitials

The term “intrusive interstitials” means the page content is present and available to be indexed by search engines; however, some information is visually obscured, preventing access to the user. This will frustrate and chase away users.

To-Do: Follow these dos and don’ts to keep your pages ranking their best.

Don’t use interstitials to…

  • cover a page’s content.
  • require the user to dismiss a pop-up before accessing content.
  • delay showing search result content the user came to access.

Do use interstitials to…

  • present legal obligations like cookie usage, age verification, or required notices.
  • display required login gates for unindexable, non-public content.
  • include banners that use a reasonable amount of screen real estate and are easily dismissed.

The New Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals
Diagram from Google Webmaster Central Blog illustrating the components of Search’s signal for page experience.

The new metric signals are considered critical to the user’s web experience and are the foundation of the 2020 Core Web Vitals initiative. Let’s unpack them.

Perceived Load Speed

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures how long it takes from initiating a page to load to when the largest image or text block is viewable on the screen. To rank well, the perceived page load needs to happen in under 2.5 seconds.

Ready For Interaction

First Input Delay (FID) measures the time it takes the browser to respond to a user’s first interaction with the page. Delays are usually due to the browser being busy doing something else, and therefore unable to process the user’s request at that time. Sites should aim for an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Visual Stability

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) measures the unexpected movement of a page’s content. Abrupt changes can cause a user to click something unintentionally or frustrate them by moving the content of interest out of view. Aim for a CLS score of less than 0.1.

A screencast illustrating how layout instability can negatively affect users.

To-Do: There are plenty of tools available to get a look at how your pages score for Core Web Vitals. LighthouseChrome DevToolsPageSpeed InsightsSearch Console’s Speed Report, among other tools, provide actionable guidance for improvements.

Is That All?

Core Web Vitals is the functional portion of user experience. It focuses on the mechanics and performance of a site. Search engine optimization also requires keeping site content fresh, relevant, and of value to your users. This is a bit trickier, but here are a few pointers.

  • Find keywords that your specific audience is using to search.
  • Choose a primary keyword for each page and keep its content relevant to that keyword. 
  • Use a page’s keyword in the title tag, in a headling, and the first 100 words of the copy.

For more on optimizing your content for SEO, visit NerdBrand’s SEO Services to see how we can help you rank higher in the results for your key words. Or read more about Google rankings signals here.

Lora Byrnside

Author Lora Byrnside

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