All right, dealers…
Since November, we’ve covered ‘How to set up and optimize your Google Business Profile’, the ‘Top things you can do to help your dealership’s SEO’, and ‘How to tell if your content sucks, and how to fix it’. I’m Josh, and today we’re going to talk about “Core Web Vitals” and update your understanding of them for 2022.
Body temperature. Pulse. Respiration rate. Blood pressure. These are just a few of the metrics used to assess your physical health and – guess what – right now Google is assessing your website’s health as well. In fact, your site’s core web vitals are among the key factors that Google uses to determine whether or not they’ll serve up your site to a prospective car-buyer or service customer when they perform a local search. Site health was one of the key motivators behind Google’s page experience update for mobile users back in 2021, with the desktop version of that update being rolled out across the next 60 days. So, with all this attention being given to it, let’s talk about why site health is so important?
THE IMPORTANCE OF PAGE EXPERIENCE
What is “Page Experience”? According to Google themselves, “Page experience is a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.” In other words, it’s not just about “did the user find the information they were looking for” but “at what level was the experience a positive one”? This is also referred to as “User Experience” or “UX”.
And how does Google gauge UX? With Core Web Vitals which measure such important factors as loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page among others. So, let’s define…
CORE WEB VITALS
As of Q1 2022, Core Web Vitals consist of three key metrics…each of which have to fall within a specific tolerance to increase your site’s chances of being favored by Google.
- First, Largest Contentful Paint (or LCP) which measures how long it takes for the main content on a page to load. Measured in terms of seconds, the main content of a page needs to load in 2.5 seconds or less to score “Good”. At the 4-second mark, its rating falls from “Needs Improvement” to “Poor”. LCP scores are largely based on the servers responsible for sending your website to visitors – so if you’re seeing poor scores it’s time to call your site provider to get this addressed.
- First Input Delay (or FID) measures how long it takes for a page to become interactive. In other words “how quickly can the user start to navigate it”. If your page is interactive within 100 milliseconds or less, you’re “Good”. More than 300 milliseconds, and I’ve got some bad news for you. If you’re seeing poor FID scores it’s time to call your website provider because the predominant issue is the site’s ability to quickly load and render script. And finally…
- Cumulative Layout Shift (or CLS) measures any unexpected layout shift pertaining to a page’s visual content. Shifting content can be really distracting to the user and there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to click a button on a smartphone only to have that button move out from under your finger. Poor experience means people are more motivated to go elsewhere and that increases your bounce-rate. CLS is measured on a specific scale in which you need to earn a rating of .1 or less to rank as “Good”. Once you hit the .25 mark, you have some serious work to do. In our experience third party tools like chat boxes, footer tools and image carousels cause the most issues with CLS. These tools are developed to generate leads, and how the tool loads is clearly not top of mind.
To assess the overall user experience of a page, Google then combines those Core Web Vitals with four additional UX signals, beginning with:
Mobile-Friendliness. This is the big one. The growing prevalence of mobile use (versus desktop) speaks to user convenience, and it’s why Google prioritized the mobile version of the experience update, nearly a full year ahead of this month’s desktop update.
In addition, Google assesses whether or not a site offers Safe Browsing, its overall HTTPS Security, and the Absence of Intrusive Interstitials (or extraneous content like pop-ups which create a substandard user experience).
So, now that you understand Core Web Vitals and the scale by which each is assessed, let’s talk about some of the common issues we see in the automotive space that can drive those scores down.
COMMON ISSUES WITH DEALER SITES
Now, we’re only going to glaze over this section because the issues discussed may, or may not, apply to your dealership’s site. That said, you need to keep in mind that the majority of dealers out there work with the same vendors, employing the same tools and processes. This means that, more likely than not, they’re going to experience similar problems like poorly optimized java script, image compression, render blocking scripts and…(suspense music) third party code. If it sounds like we’re speaking a foreign language here, don’t worry…the commonality and complexity of these issues, and what’s involved in repairing them, are a big part of why it’s important to have a trusted partner who has your best interests in mind (points at Wikimotive logo) shameless plug.
But…what if you want to handle these issues yourself?
GOOGLE’S NEW REPORT
Last month, Google announced that, “To support the upcoming rollout of page experience ranking to desktop, Search Console now has a dedicated desktop section in its Page Experience report to help site owners understand Google’s ‘good page experience’ criteria.”
That’s right, you can access it by logging onto Search Console, and clicking on the Page Experience link under the Experience tab. Or, you can just click (https://search.google.com/search-console/page-experience)
But what if you’re intimidated by this reporting because you’re not particularly well-versed in the Search Console Platform? The good news is, you don’t need to be. There’s a simple way to flag potential problem areas on your site.
Fair warning, this process is far easier to do on a desktop or laptop. Start by visiting any page on your website using the Google Chrome browser. Then, simply right-click if you’re using a PC, or control-click if you’re on a Mac. From the dropdown menu select “Inspect” and a new window will load on the right side of the screen.
Now I know this looks intimidating, but you don’t have to worry about most of it. At the top you’ll want to select “Performance” and make sure you have the “Web Vitals” box checked. You won’t need any of the other boxes checked.
Once you’ve done that, hit the button in the upper left-hand corner of the inspection tool – the one looks like a reload button – and then sit back and relax as the machine loads your page and records its findings. It shouldn’t take more than a minute. The data it produces can look intimidating, but again, you only need to focus on a couple places.
Under “Interactions” you’ll see the timing of your LCP and FID, which can be a good way to gut-check the scores you’ve seen in your report. Just under those you’ll see the “Experience” section, which is where CLS issues get reported. Each one of those red blocks or bars represents a CLS infraction. If you have a lot of them, well…that’s a problem but, even if you only have a few, you’ll want to get them cleaned up.
Start by hovering over one of the bars. This will highlight what it was that moved on the page and will also provide the snippet of code that references the asset. We’ve chosen this website at random, but you can see there are multiple problems. First, the main content shifts, then the coupon tool lower on the page shifts, and then the chat tool shifts three times before the page finishes loading!
If something like a chat tool is causing multiple CLS infractions every time it loads, and that tool is on every page of your site, well you’ve found a smoking gun for poor overall CLS issues. Bottom-line, it’s a great way of identifying problem areas with your site’s Core Web Vitals. If you can find the problem, you can fix it, and if you can fix it, you can improve your site’s chances of ranking higher in local search. Turn a blind eye to it, and you’re sabotaging your own success.
- The user experience offered by pages on your site influence Google’s decision to serve your content up in local search results. Remember, prospective car buyers and service customers are searching for your dealership, but they won’t find you if you don’t meet Google’s standards for site health.
- Site health is measured by the strength of its Core Web Vitals. Familiarize yourself with each of the seven metrics, and you can assess how well your pages perform.
- There are common issues that plague the automotive space. Familiarize yourself with those as well, identify any problem areas on your site, fix them, and you’re more likely to outperform local competitors that turn a blind eye.
- Google Search Console offers reporting to help in this process, but you can also perform manual inspections.
So, how do the Core Web Vitals of your site measure up? Now that you know how to check them out for yourself, why don’t you tell us?