THE METRICS EVERY WEBMASTER NEEDS TO MONITOR AND OPTIMIZE
For better or worse, Google is the most important arbiter of what makes a good website today. No matter how fresh your content, how polished your brand, or how much time and money you invest in your business website, if Google’s closely guarded algorithm doesn’t think you rate, you’ll end up buried in their SERPS (search engine results pages).
Frankly, it’s not even enough to rank decently anymore, you have to build a site that is optimized to at least hit the first page because only a scant 5-percent of users ever bother looking past it — or as a common internet meme puts it: “The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”
Naturally, every business has expectations for its website that go beyond attracting new visitors — such as creating a brand touchpoint for existing users, employees, and customers — but when most customers search for help online and most people under the age of 30 have never even heard of a phonebook, SEO (search engine optimization) failures are incredibly costly.
Yet, given that Google keeps the current details of its ranking methodologies under lock and key for fear of everyone gaming the system with websites that don’t offer real value but match their criteria, how exactly do brand managers, web designers, and business owners tune websites and ensure they are performing well, both for SEO purposes and to meet their own internal needs?
Check Your Core Web Vitals
Thankfully, Google provides regular, if somewhat hazy guidance. Back in 2019 it announced its most recent ranking signals: Core Web Vitals (CWV) “to provide unified guidance for quality signals that are essential to delivering a great user experience on the web.” Google has long encouraged webmasters to not just build sites to some arbitrary standard but rather to truly attempt to create incredible user experiences (UX).
What exactly defined a great UX, however, was pretty subjective. CWV is an attempt to provide some clarity and tools for quantifying what has been a fairly qualitative metric. Starting in June of 2021, CWV was phased in and began playing a role in Google’s ranking algo, and by August, it is scheduled to be fully integrated.
“The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”
The most immediate change is that fast-loading websites should see improved organic search rankings. Google looks at many things when determining the performance and quality of website, including:
- Mobile responsiveness
- Security features like HTTPS
All of which are positive metrics. Others like pop-ups and interstitial ads that distract from the core content of the site have the reverse effect, pushing down your rank.
CWV is all about speed and ease of use, however. Websites that load quickly and efficiently and operate just as smoothly will be rewarded. The three main metrics within CWV are:
1. LARGEST CONTENTFUL PAINT (LCP)
This is a measure of how quickly a website loads all its major elements and specifically looks at the time required for a browser to render the largest image or block of text on a page.
We live in an on-demand marketplace and audiences are impatient. Google’s own research has shown that mobile users will abandon a website that doesn’t load within three seconds. A “good” LCP score, accordingly, is 2.5 seconds or less.
2. FIRST INPUT DELAY (FID)
Just because a website loads quickly doesn’t always mean it’s fully up and running and ready to use. FID is a measure of how quickly a website’s interactive elements become available, i.e. how long before you can click something, fill in a form, or open a piece of content.
Anything less than 100 milliseconds is considered “good.”
3. CUMULATIVE LAYOUT SHIFT (CLS)
Have you ever opened a webpage that seemed finished loading but when you went to click a button it flew away from your cursor at the last second? Everyone has, and no one enjoys that little game of keep away. When websites are poorly coded and optimized, visual stability suffers, elements jump around as they load, and space isn’t reserved for each element.
Google offers a tool specifically for CWV that measures CLS (Google Search Console Core Web Vitals Report) and anything below 0.1 is considered “good.”
In addition to the Console, Google also provides a Pagespeed Insights Report that offers advice for troubleshooting slow websites and Google Lighthouse, an automated system that runs in the Chrome browser’s developer tools that audits pages as you browse.
Older (But Still Important!) Metrics
CWV might be the new kid in town and getting a lot of buzz but it’s not the only analytics helpful for optimizing the UX on a website. Here are others deserving of attention:
TIME TO TITLE
The amount of time it takes for your website’s title to render in the browser tab. Long delays can result in users questioning the authenticity of your site or wondering if their request has somehow been hijacked by hackers or scammers.
TIME TO START RENDER
Though Google looks closely at how long it takes for a page to fully load, it also judges overall speed based on how long it takes for the loading process to start. Web users are prone to abandon sites that remain blank for too long.
DNS LOOKUP SPEED
Domain Name Services convert your website’s host name (the unique name you’ve given it) into an IP address (the unique string of digits that help other computers find it on the internet). Not all DNS providers are of equal quality and choosing a cut-rate option with slow DNA lookup speeds impacts negatively on your site’s ranking.
It’s referred to as a ‘bounce’ when a user visits your site for just a brief moment and then leaves before clicking anything. Sometimes it just means they stumbled upon you accidentally but it can also be a sign of a poor UX, lack of compelling calls to action, unappealing design, slow performance, or other issues, which is why a high or rising bounce rate should be investigated to determine why users aren’t staying longer.
REQUESTS PER SECOND (RPS)
Also known as throughput or average load, RPS is a measure of how many requests (attempts by a user for the page to load or interact) receives over time. A couple hundred per second is manageable with fairly standard resources. A couple thousand or more per second implies you may need to make some hardware and backend coding upgrades to maintain stable performance.
Every business website has objectives. Some want to build brand awareness, some are directly engaged in ecommerce, others are portals for educating their stakeholders. Whatever their current goal, it’s referred to as conversion when it convinces a user to take the action they intend them to (e.g. making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, registering for an account, etc.). Low conversion rates (like high bounce rates) signal a UX failure on the site.
The standards for a high performing website are changing all the time. Businesses rely on their websites as vital tool for both core operations and for marketing purposes — they can’t afford to let their SEO become outdated and fall into the dreaded second page of Google or to live with a substandard UX that tarnishes their brand image and fails to build lasting relationships with their audience.
So, keep up with best practices and the newest performance metrics, like CWV, and track them closely!
Need help getting your business website up to speed? Hanlon has the brand and technical expertise to build, overhaul, or refresh your site and make it fly. Contact us today for a Free Website Audit.