Core Web Vitals

Posted by simon on Tue, Mar 02 2021 14:28:24

Some time ago, Google announced that it would be looking at the overall performance of websites, especially when delivered on mobile devices. Thus was born: Core Web Vitals, and in May of 2021 it’s going to be included as one of Googles core algorithm attributes to ranking websites.

If you have not heard of this yet, you better start taking a look at what it is and how it is going to affect your website.

Google have provided a wealth of information on this subject and has certainly given people enough notice and warnings, so no-one can really complain about being surprised.

In a nutshell, core web vitals tackles the following three components of your site:

  1. LCP (largest contentful paint)
    The amount of time not takes to render the largest content element visible in the viewport. This is often a large image, video or some form of graphic that has not been optimised before upload.
  2. FID (first input delay)
    The time it takes for your website to respond to a user interaction on a page. So, when a user first clicks on a link, how long does your site take to respond to that request.
  3. CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
    How much the layout of your website page shifts and moves as it is loading content.

These three statistics will, from May onwards, play a big part in how your site is ranked in Google.

What does this mean to you as a website owner? Well, you better get your site, images, graphics, videos and code optimised as much as possible. Why? I think, like the rest of us, Google has reached the point where it no longer wants to promote websites that are run by lazy people, who don’t care about optimising content for users.

We have all tried to visit websites that take way too long to load, and I’m not talking about goldfish attention span level, but those that take several seconds to even start to show content. Here at OvalTwo, we have been analysing some of the top websites around, and many more than you would expect have big, serious issues with performance (the BBC News website only scores 19). And to be honest, it’s about time this came in.

It has become far too easy for website owners to rely on code to make a best effort attempt to optimise websites, but this has fallen far short of what is needed. It’s also going to hit millions of websites where the site has been built on a platform such as SquareSpace or Shopify which is not up to speed. Not to mention the millions of Wordpress users out there that have purchased a ‘premium theme’ only to find out it bloats out their website to the point of being unusable. Over the last few months, we have seen websites with performance scores as low as 8 or 9 out of 100, across multiple platforms. If nothing is done, these sites will lose their top place ranking and possible disappear completely.

Overall, this focus of attention, prompted by Google, to improve the performance of websites will have a massive impact and should result in a better user experience for all us surfers. However, there is a possible drawback that I don’t think people are yet starting to consider.

In our humble opinion, this latest move by Google may have one big downside, the web is possibly about to become extremely boring and simple? Why?
For years we at OvalTwo have built websites with the idea in mind that animation should be at an absolute minimum, images should be optimised as much as possible before upload, and only add in things that will add to the user experience. Much to the annoyance of our designers and clients, we have resisted the temptation to make sites with content that floats in, moves around the screen and all those other fancy things you see websites doing. Not everyone has had this approach, and we have seen some pretty fantastic website that look beautiful and provide a rich interactive experience for the user.

But, in testing out some of these websites against their current situation and scoring against Googles page speed insights, many of these top websites fail miserably, with scores so low out of 100 that the owners are genuinely panicking. And rightly so.

However, here is where we think there might be a bit of a problem. In our own testing of new designs and ideas as part of our preparations for this update we have noticed a couple of things that are going to be long term issues:

  1. Fonts
    Everyone has their own idea about web fonts, how and when they should be used and don’t get me started on the number of conversations about serif or sans-serif. It’s a big area. As lots of computers and devices don’t always have a certain font installed, it has become customary to import or dynamically load a font from a hosted service such as Google Fonts. And here lies part of the problem. We have seen a website score drop from 95+ out of 100, to under 80 just by including a hosted Google Webfont. Now, that’s a big difference. Whats the impact of this? We are going to see websites become some similar and vanilla as owners try to squeeze out every last ounce of optimisation that removing these beautiful fonts and just using default ‘web-safe’ fonts.
  2. Images
    If a picture says a thousands words, this has never been more true that on a website. As many artists, photographers, bloggers/vloggers and journalists will tell you, images are vital to a website. As we try to again, squeeze out every last drop of optimisation, images are going to take a hit. They will be smaller, quality will be reduced, and possibly there will be less on a page than normal. Yes, Google has been promoting a new image format of WEBP, and it is pretty impressive - reductions in size of up to two thirds smaller, with barely any visible loss in quality. But, where people lack the skills to really build a fully code-optimised site, they will turn to the heavier elements on the site to try and reach a suitable score.
  3. Interaction and movement
    Whilst we are not big fans of stuff floating around on a website page, or drifting in from the left or right of the screen, we will admit that there are times where a little bit of animation can do a lot of good. You can expect to see all these things start to disappear. Possibly a good thing, but probably a bad thing.

Whilst we do welcome this type of change to the internet, it may well have a more far reaching negative impact that Google might realise. We have all become so used to seeing big, beautiful images, fancy websites with moving content and animations (we happily saw the disappearance of Flash Animated sites years ago), that as website owners try desperately to reach a good score, without proper technical knowledge, we can expect to see stripped back versions of websites.

As they say, watch this space……