Every year Google ups the bar for website owners and store owners begin to worry about whether or not their stores will continue to enjoy good search rankings. Come this May, Google’s Page Experience is going to rely on more than just speed and will consider the Google Core Web Vitals which is more comprehensive. First, it was page speed, then it was schema. This is just 2021’s reason to jump to step up your game.
These changes are really good for SEO people as it drives the number of people seeking our help way up. These metrics can also easily separate the higher-quality store developers from the lazy and low-priced firms. Following up on what has been a rough year for business in general, it makes sense that store owners are worried. Should you be?
What is Google’s End Game?
Google’s goal is quite simple and I’ll repeat the same statement I’ve made elsewhere on this blog and for several years. Google’s goal is to deliver the best results for any query. So when you want to know how to get your page to the top rankings, THIS should be YOUR end goal. Your page should absolutely be the best, or one of the best, answers to that query.
While there absolutely are things you can do that improve your odds of getting there, and thus a purpose for SEO experts, ensuring you have a great answer to that question (query = question) is the foundation for search success. I have more than a few clients who rank very well and get a lot of organic search traffic that never had a strategy other than an understanding that producing great content works.
These snips are from four sites that are killing it with SEO without any explicit effort:
These represent the past 12 months and while all write with the intent of driving more buyers, none were even doing keyword research. What they all did was write great articles. Note that without a strategy, the high-ranking pages are not all spot-on for buyer intent so the amount of revenue raised by each varied but in all four cases organic search is their largest revenue-driving resource.
What are the Google Core Vitals?
Here is Google’s own description.
Let’s define the key terms.
- Viewport – A viewport is the currently open screen and can be either your desktop browser or your phone. You’re looking at a viewport now.
- LCP or Largest Contentful Paint – This is important because it lets the viewer know that a page is actually loading. In a nutshell, it boils down to how fast the largest content element is visible within the viewport. On an ecommerce site, this is often your main banner.
- FID or First Input Delay – This is how long it takes the browser to react to the first interaction a user has with your page. It’s taken from whatever button a user first clicks.
- CLS or Cumulative Layout Shift – This measures how much the elements on your page move as it loads. You’ve seen this when you reach a site, think you have something you want to read or click and it changes position. This could be closing a popup, or an element that pushes other content down as it loads. This is frustrating to users.
You can see your scores by running the Google Page Speed Insights report or one of many other and more comprehensive speed testing tools.
So while you’ve been told for years to make your page faster, you now have to consider these three factors as well.
Let’s put this into a better perspective.
You may be focusing your concern incorrectly
Just as with page speed, core vitals is a broad measure based on all types of websites, not just ecommerce. A simple, five-page service business page doesn’t require the same user experience that an online store does. It doesn’t need a product catalog, checkout process, image zoom, product reviews, live chat, etc. that are pretty much standard requirements for an online store. A comparison of speed between the two is therefore a poor comparison. Google is aware of this but doesn’t create different tools to measure your site against comparable sites.
Another factor that must be considered is your technology. These days most online stores, even large expensive stores, are being built on SAAS (Software as a Service) shopping carts such as Shopify, BigCommerce, SalesForce, Commerce Cloud, etc. All use powerful technology and advanced CDNs to deliver a fast and reliable experience. The negative to SAAS is that many of the additional features and functions that you may need to tailor your store require 3rd party applications that are hosted on different servers. This added complexity can add load time.
Open Source is different but you’ll have a different set of problems. The main advantage of open source is that you can create or host many of the applications that require a third party on SAAS so that they remain on the same server. However, this would mean greater development and maintenance costs and adds additional complexity including PCI compliance, security, and server management.
A singular choice to use WordPress and add WooCommerce or another open-source cart isn’t necessarily going to be faster without significant custom development. WordPress built with a theme and a dozen or so plug-ins on the typical host is likely to not be faster and is likely to be less reliable. There is a reason even large businesses are moving away from open-source and towards SAAS.
In other words, commonly used technology may make it impossible or nearly impossible to hit these goals.
These metrics are goals, not minimum requirements
If you strive too hard to hit these numbers, your user experience may suffer or you may sacrifice tools that do help you convert more shoppers into customers. AMP is a great example of something that sounded like a good idea, and still can be for news and content pages, but really doesn’t work well for ecommerce. Remember the statement above – Google’s goal matches yours – the goal is to deliver the best user experience. A great user experience delivers more sales.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore your site’s load time, LCP, etc. It means that you should not sacrifice the UX and functional needs of your website to hit a vanity number. An online store should regularly seek ways to improve.
If not on Core Web Vitals, where should I focus?
Your Bounce rate is a big one. Bounce is what you get when someone arrives on a page and then leaves without any further interaction. A high bounce rate tells Google that a page might not be all that engaging. This is one reason that video within an article can be helpful as a click to view is an interaction. So is engaging with your email subscription popup, or viewing a second page.
Your product descriptions. Ranking for product pages is very hard. Usually, the brand and large sites like Amazon dominate that space. Your odds improve dramatically with a great page that answers all the questions someone may have before they buy.
If you’re writing either evergreen or blog content focus again on excellence. Look at the pages that rank high for your desired keyword and outdo them. Short, fluffy articles rarely rank well. Include links to articles on the same topic and products or categories that support the topic of the article.
What about product or article schema?
Schema are simple code snippets that define specific items on the page. It includes things like the product name, brand, price, availability, aggregated product reviews, and a few more items. We have seen good success with the inclusion of proper product schema. You can check out your product page schema here. Here’s an example of what you might see:
Did something just catch your eye? Oh yeah! The warnings. Let’s see what that is. So when I open that panel, I see that this item is missing “review.” That’s a bit odd since the page has reviews and the more important snippet – aggregate reviews is present. The second item warns that the price doesn’t list a “valid until.” That would only be present if this is a temporary sale. The third is “offers” which would not be used unless you had multiple offers for the product. This is very rare on a product page. All of these are considered optional which is why they are in yellow. None are worthy of concern.
If you see these issues, you need to carefully assess what is important to your page and what is not. Fix only that which matters.
There are different types of schema for different types of content. Recipes, FAQs, blog articles all have different schema, and having the correct schema on the page can help your rankings and also help fit a knowledge panel.
What if I ignore all this?
That’s a good question. Compliance doesn’t guarantee your site will outrank and it most certainly doesn’t mean you’ll sell more products which IS the end goal. While I can safely say that a great user experience improves the odds your store will sell well, I can also find a lot of sites that defy Google’s recommendations and still rank in the top 5 pages for many queries.
One of the best examples of this are recipe sites. When I search for recipes I find that many of the same sites have top ranks for most of my searches. While they appear fine on a desktop computer, I actually reference the recipes on my ipad. 98% of the time that user experience is horrendous. Page loads are slow, videos try to load that I don’t wish to watch, and overlay the content I want to see. Ads are loading both as overlays and within the content. After a few minutes, the entire page often crashes and I must reload. I don’t consider this a great user experience by any stretch. However, the recipes are the bomb so I do hang around and come back. That’s why they rank well.
What’s especially confusing though is the Google Page Speed Insights report for this site (which is on WordPress). This is the mobile score! How does it get a 92 when it is so bad and even Google’s metrics show a 3 out of 4 fail?
The objectionable popups appear to be deferred just long enough for Google to see the page as fast despite the actual user experience. However, Google still recognizes this page is a leader for the queries I enter. I will say that their recipes are actually excellent. Perhaps content really is king?
Should I worry and change my site immediately or not?
Take out your phone, or better yet, use a phone that hasn’t already been to your website. Enter your URL and go to your site. What is your experience? Does the page load nicely? Is there a lot of popups in the way? Do they obstruct my view or buttons I may want to press? If the answers to these questions are not good, then yes, you have a problem you should address sooner rather than later.
Check out your competition. How does your shopper experience compare? Are there things on my site that are not adding value and can be deleted? Should I delay my email popup or wait until the second page to improve the landing page experience?
The answers to these questions determine whether or not you have an urgent problem. Truthfully, you may not.
I’m not suggesting that you should not strive for perpetual improvement. You absolutely should. What I am suggesting is that there is no reason to panic.