When you own real estate online, you are basically at the mercy of search engines. While you may have a position today, you can never take it for granted, even if you feel you’re doing everything right. Google performs multiple updates every year to consistently give users the most authoritative and relevant content possible. As such, sites that were doing great one day could see a dip, and others might see a sudden rise. That means that new criteria will need to be met for you to compete in 2021. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the next algorithm updates and how you can prepare.
Core Web Vitals
Google just announced that core web vitals, or CWVs, would become ranking signals in 2021. Core web vitals were introduced earlier this year and were created to help webmasters and website owners offer a better user experience to their users, which has been a theme with Google over the last few years.
Core web vitals comprise 3 main components:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FIP)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
As you will notice, a lot of these have to do with speed, and if your website isn’t fast enough or if this isn’t something you pay attention to, you will need to start looking at solutions right now.
Largest Contentful Paint is the time it takes for a page to appear on a screen when visited. This includes desktops, mobiles, and tablets. First Input Delay, on the other hand, calculates the time it takes for the web browser to respond to an action on a site, like when clicking on a navigation element, for instance.
Cumulative Layout Shift measures the visual stability of a site. This metric will measure whether there are elements in the page that are shifting in ways that are unexpected or negatively affect interactions with the site.
Other Vital Elements
Note that core web vitals will be combined with user experience signals that were already being used by Google. These factors include:
- HTTPS Security
- Intrusive Interstitial Guidelines
- Safe Browsing
The introduction of core web vitals in the algorithm means that websites will need to do well in all of these areas to even get a chance at ranking well in 2021. This should be a wake-up call for those who haven’t made simple changes like moving to HTTPS. This also means that you may want to invest in a complete site audit if you haven’t already, to see in which areas you could improve.
In case you’re competing with another page for the same query, the page that does the best in these areas will have a better chance at ranking. While other factors like page authority and links will still make a difference, the user experience is ultimately what will separate the two.
Now, let’s take a look at what you can do to be competitive in 2021.
How to Improve Your CWSs
Google made sure to make this update announcement well in advance to allow website owners to prepare themselves. They announced that the update will be rolled out in May 2021, which is more than enough for you to start making some corrections.
Since this is a user-oriented update, the very first thing before going for an audit would be to try the website yourself. You can also ask other people to browse and report their experiences. Try everything on the website and interact with every navigation element. Check how long it takes for pages to load. Try sending a contact form. Monitor any frustration you may have.
Another thing you can do is ask your customers what they think of your site. Hopefully, you’ve found a way to capture their contact information. You can ask them to fill a survey in exchange for a gift or a reward. Make sure that the survey is as complete as possible and allow them to make recommendations.
Switch to AMP
According to one study, only a small fraction of pages would pass a core web vitals assessment, 15% to be exact. But there’s one exception, and that’s AMP pages.
If you don’t know what these are, AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Page. These were rolled out around the same time Google introduced mobile-first indexing, which made the mobile version of the site the most important when it came to rankings. AMP pages use stripped-down HTML to increase performance on mobile devices. These are characterized by a lightning bolt symbol in search results.
According to Google, AMP pages respond much better and are much better optimized for CWVs. This means that you will have no choice but to implement those if you want to do well in 2021 and beyond.
Optimize Images and Site Speed
Images are also one of the biggest elements that affect user experience and site speed. These will have a major effect on the Largest Contentful Paint element of core web vitals.
You first have to make sure that you use the most efficient and smallest format possible without affecting quality. If you’re looking for the best format for images, we suggest you give WebP a try. It’s a format that was made specifically to speed up loading times and is well supported by most browsers, even on Mac and iOS. Compressing images is another great option if you want to instantly improve loading times.
You also have to make sure that you switch to a dedicated server option if you haven’t already. You don’t have to buy your own server but go for something like a virtual private server as the perfect compromise. These only cost a bit more and your site’s performance won’t be bogged down by other sites on your shared server.
The Google core algorithm is set to make big waves in 2021, and if you didn’t know about it, chances are your site is not prepared for these changes. This is why we suggest you have it thoroughly inspected and make the changes necessary as soon as possible.