Episode Overview: Although keyword optimization and creating engaging content are core tenets in SEO, search engines like Google are influencing the core principles of SEO with “Web vitals.” Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene about what a web vital is and how optimizing for them is becoming an essential element in SEO optimization.
- Web vitals are metrics that measure the overall health of your site and provide performance indicators that indicate how well your site is performing in a way users would expect.
- They help webmasters better understand, from a metric basis, how users engage with the various elements of a page.
- Three web vital KPIs that are constantly monitored are LCP, FID and CLS – Largest contentful paint, first input delay and cumulative layout shift. These KPIs evaluate the user experience of your page.
- Web vitals indicate a greater importance being placed on the technical, functional elements of your website in SEO optimization efforts.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
- Jordan Koene: Website // LinkedIn
- The Voices of Search Podcast: Email // LinkedIn // Twitter
- Benjamin Shapiro: Website // LinkedIn // Twitter
Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today, we’ll be doing an SEO case study, looking at web vitals. Joining us is Jordan Koene, who is an SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey Ben, how are you doing?
Ben: I’m tired, man. I’ve got young kids and I’m ready to fall asleep at the wheel here. We were joking around before the episode started, about what can we do to make a useful episode when I’ve got half a brain? And my first idea was, let’s just read off some SEO jokes and call it quits. So let’s start off. Why did Tiger Woods start studying SEO?
Jordan: I have no idea Ben.
Ben: To get his ranking back to number one.
Jordan: This is going to be brutal.
Ben: Why did the girl stop dating the SEO nerd?
Jordan: Tell me, tell me. What is it?
Ben: He loaded too fast. Oh, that’s awful.
Jordan: That’s terrible.
Ben: Oh my God. That’s bad. Okay, let’s change this up. All right, one more, one more. Why did the SEO expert cross the road?
Jordan: Tell me Ben, why?
Ben: To get hit with traffic.
Jordan: Oh, there we go. There we go. That’s what we all want.
Ben: I can’t take anymore.
Jordan: That’s what we all want.
Ben: We got to talk about some tips or optimization and you’ve got to promise me you’re going to talk slowly. I can hardly keep it together right now. And I’m looking through search console and I’m realizing, my website performance for my other podcasts stinks. I don’t understand. I have an average position ranking of 52. What on Earth could be possibly stopping me from having the best podcast website in the world?
Jordan: Well, there’s a variety of reasons that could be the case, but obviously, and we’ve spoken about this before, there’s key aspects around user experience and the optimization and the quality of your user experience that really can drive your success of your website.
Ben: So talk to me about how I find the problems.
Jordan: Sure. So recently, about a month ago, Google released a set of updates around web vitals. So many of you probably read about this, but essentially, these are metrics that measure the health of your site and can tell you if you’re really performing in a way that your users would expect, in both mobile and desktop experiences. And so this is a set of data that’s available in Search Console, and it is monitoring the performance of your pages across a variety of different KPIs.
Ben: Jordan, I asked you to speak slowly.
Jordan: I know. I knew this was coming.
Ben: And maybe I should ask you to speak English. What the heck is a web vital?
Jordan: Yes. A web vital. So a web vital is really nothing more than a KPI. It’s a metric. It’s a metric to understand the quality of the user experience of your page, and it has certain subsets to it. Web vitals is a collection of data points, and it really is about helping webmasters better understand, on a metric basis, how users are engaging with their page. And that I think is a really important understanding for our listeners is that, “Hey, look, Google’s gotten to the point where they’re scientific about user experience. They’re not being subjective about user experience anymore. There are certain metrics that they want you to abide by and ensure users can experience on your pages.”
Ben: Isn’t this just a fancy way to say which pages have bad site speed or aren’t mobile compatible?
Jordan: That’s a great comment Ben, and this goes beyond site speed. Site speed is a very binary metric. It’s like measuring a race. Think of this. If you’re an athlete, it’s more of how a coach critiques a runner in the style of running that they have. Are they swinging their arms appropriately? Are they coming out of the blocks the right way? Are they crossing the finish line with the right thrust? So these are the types of metrics that are critiquing the way you run, not just how fast you run.
Ben: This is how fast you run with pads on using a football metaphor, not just how fast you can run doing the 40 yard dash.
Jordan: Right, exactly.
Ben: For anybody who’s not a football fan, sorry about that one. All right. So look, I’m clicking around in Search Console and I find core web vitals, and it’s broken up into mobile and desktop for the website I’m looking at, martechpod.com. And I noticed a couple of things. First off, I had 120 good URLs for mobile web vitals. Yippee! That sounds like a lot. And then all of a sudden on, looks like the 22nd of May, I have zero. They all went away. Did something bad happen? Did I change something in my website? Why is it possible that my good, mobile, core web vitals went down?
Jordan: Yeah. So there’s a variety of different reasons that your web vitals can go down. Google is monitoring these through the Chrome experience, and it can be a factor of changes that you’ve made to your layout, changes that you’ve made to your templates, changes that you’ve implemented in terms of the stack that you’re using, like the technology or the platform that you’re using. So there’s a variety of different levers that you could look at, as a webmaster, to understand how to improve it.
Jordan: Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that, “Hey, there’s a lot of different ways to make it better or understand the root cause for why you have this drop.” Google is specifically looking at certain KPIs, though, to measure you against, and then it’s kind of, you have to now still be the detective and figure out which one of these things is impacting you the most.
Ben: Okay. So I have to go back to April 22nd and figure out what I’ve changed on my site and think about how that has impacted my mobile web experience. Does Google give you any data on what KPIs they’re looking at? Or it’s just, go look at something that happened in mobile, in my case, on the 22nd, that’s why there was a dip?
Jordan: Yes. So they’ve got three different KPIs that they look at that they consistently are monitoring to make up the web vitals. They are LCP, FID, and CLS.
Ben: ABC. What?
Jordan: Yeah, right? More acronyms in the SEO world for all of us to-
Ben: Speak slower.
Jordan: Yeah. Speak a lot slower, right? So we’ve got largest contentful paint, first input delay, and cumulative layout shift.
Ben: Wait. What do those things mean?
Jordan: All right. Yes, that’s a great question, Ben. So the largest contentful paint basically measures the loading performance to provide users a good experience. So basically, your page should be loading within a certain amount of time. This is probably the closest metric of the three to a lot of the performant metrics that we used to talk about in Google’s speed measurements.
Ben: This is another way to say site speed.
Jordan: It is. It’s one of the KPIs within a Sitespeed portfolio of KPIs, yes, absolutely.
Ben: Okay. And then what was the next one?
Jordan: First input delay. So this is measuring interactivity. So when is it that a user can start to engage with your page? Right? How quickly can they start to do something your page? And really, this should be less than a hundred milliseconds. If you are not able to click on that buy button or check out that hamburger menu or do a lot of these core functionality things that you want to be able to do, users are going to leave. And so that’s how they’re measuring, that first input delay.
Ben: Okay. So the LCP is basically how quick it is for someone to be able to view your page. FID is basically how long it takes for users to be able to interact with your page. What’s the third acronym stand for?
Jordan: Cumulative layout shift. So this is looking at the stability of your page and how good the experience is on the page itself. So this is probably the trickiest of the three, and is really measuring, fundamentally, more aspects around how well maintained your page is in terms of its ability to be interactive.
Ben: So this is where Google dings me for having white text on a white background to keyword stuff?
Jordan: So I wouldn’t necessarily call this a text based update, Ben. I would more look at this as how different elements are loading and the dynamic nature of your page. And can users engage with these elements that are on the page? So can a user easily engage with an image? Can they simultaneously click on the play button on a video? Are there too many elements within the page that are crowding the experience?
Ben: It’s a UX, right? User experience evaluation.
Jordan: Right. It absolutely is. So like, is your text in a center type format? Can a user actually read the text or is the text hovering really close to the frame of the viewport on your mobile device? I know I’m throwing out a lot of little things. There’s various metrics that Google is looking at. Actually, there’s kind of a formula for this. There’s not various, but there’s, basically, they’re looking at the distance between various experiences on the page, and then what kind of input function is required on that page to see if the page actually is kind of usable, right? Is it really something that a user can engage with and get to their ultimate outcome?
Ben: So, one thing that I noticed, I had this big drop off in my core web vitals for mobile, and I went from 142 URLs to zero that were ranked as good. I didn’t have any poor rated URLs. I didn’t have URLs that needed improvement. So basically, everything just fell off the map, which was a little confusing. And then when I look at the desktop, I just have 147 poor URLs. Clearly I’m doing something wrong here with this website. Talk to me about why I’m having so many URLs, and why is there a difference between how Google would evaluate the same website from mobile to desktop?
Jordan: So to answer a couple of your questions, Ben, the first one is that, fundamentally, the experiences on mobile are totally different from desktop. So Google is definitely looking at these two experiences separately, and using different calculations for them separately, because obviously you just have a lot more space on a desktop experience than you do on a mobile experience.
Jordan: In terms of your loss, when we look at the report that Google’s providing here, what we end up seeing is that the biggest drivers for your performance drop are in CLS and LCP, which are … Really, the CLS one is driven largely from the elements that are on your page. So I’d probably go and look at how you’re using images, how you’re using graphics on the page, to possibly reconsider how you might want to build the experience on your site, and the template on your site. And then, what is probably a good conclusion from this is that LCP, so the largest contentful paint, is probably driven from slow load times from many of the elements that exist on your website.
Jordan: And so without doing a ton of analysis, that’s where I would start doing your first basic triage, is looking at how certain elements like images, graphics, headers that you’ve put onto your site, may be driving down the user experience in the CLS, and then also the load time in your largest contentful paint, LCP.
Ben: So you’re telling me the big, heavy image that I have at the top of every page on this website, that pushes all of the content down the page, is not something that Google is looking at very favorably?
Jordan: I mean, I’m not going to tell you that your baby’s ugly, but I would definitely change it.
Ben: Jordan, where the hell were you when we were designing the website?
Jordan: Right? Like most SEOs, I was hiding in a dark corner.
Ben: I’m going back to SEO jokes.
Jordan: Right? Well, here’s the thing. I think that a lot of webmasters, they start with a certain design and experience in mind. And now that we’re really moving into this world where Google’s measuring some of these factors, we have to start to tweak our notions of simplicity and expectation for all users on all devices. And so the reality is, design is a very subjective thing. So I could sit here and tell you that, “Hey Ben, your design is very pretty,” but from a core functionality, which is what the core web vitals is all about, it’s just not meeting those standards. So there’s ways for us to tweak this and improve it.
Ben: So the takeaway here is that, as SEOs, we need to start thinking about more than just keyword optimization? More about our queries? We’re looking now at the website functionality, the sort of technical part, but we also have to start thinking about the design of the website and how that manifests itself, its utility towards the users.
Jordan: There’s no doubt. Absolutely. And this is going to become a new frontier for many SEOs, because this has been one of the more challenging parts of SEO work, which is, how do you influence the design team? And we’ve spent the last decade figuring out how to influence the content team, and now we’re shifting over to, how do you influence the design team? But at its core, this is really what SEO is all about. It is about how do you build a great web experience that meets user’s expectations? And Google has been saying that since the beginning, and this is just another way for them to measure those expectations.
Ben: Sure. And I have one last question for you. What do you call the man who invents page rank?
Jordan: I don’t know. Ben, tell me.
Ben: Larry Page. I got you on that one.
Jordan: Well said. You did. You got me on that one. I love these SEO jokes.
Ben: All right. Well, Jordan, I appreciate you giving me the tips on how to optimize my website. Always good to hear from you. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist, and advisor to Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is JTKoene, that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E on Twitter. Or you could visit his personal website, which is jordankoene.com.
Ben: Just one more link on our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or SEO questions, or apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is BenJShap. B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back on your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.