If you’ve recently tried to read up on Core Web Vitals, your head might have been left spinning. You want to know how this new search ranking metric set will affect your higher ed marketing webpages, and most of the articles out there sound like they’ve been written for someone with a Master’s degree in Web Engineering. The good news is that it’s a lot less complicated than it appears.
The even better news is that if you have a web developer who keeps your site up to date on technical best practices, there’s probably not much that needs to change. However, it would help if you understood the basics of Core Web Vitals to help make decisions that improve your education website’s search ranking on Google.
What are Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are part of the Google Page Experience update that finished rollout at the end of August 2021. The Google algorithm is now using three Core Web Vitals to decide where your page ranks on SERP – Search Engine Results Pages.
Like many of Google’s updates to search metrics, this one focuses on improving the user experience. After all, if visitors to your site are happy with the user experience, they’re more likely to feel like Google has delivered what they’re looking for.
The three Core Web Vitals are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Perceived load speed
- First Input Delay (FID) – lag between the first click and processing that click
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – visual page stability
Google has narrowed it down to these three based on how heavily they impact the user experience. They’re not relying on a testing platform or controlled environment to assess your page. The core web vitals calculation is based on accumulated data about actual user experiences on your site. This data can be located under the Experience tab on the Google Search Console.
We’ll cover each of Core Web Vital in detail, including why marketers need to know about them, in the sections below.
Why Largest Contentful Paint matters
Website visitors are used to instant gratification, and they don’t expect to wait for pages to load. If your website takes too long, they might assume it’s broken or compromised in some way. Since another school or program is just a Google search away, they may abandon your page in search of one that works. For this reason, you should aim to load your website as quickly as possible.
But page speed is more complicated than it might seem. Since elements on a page generally load in a sequence (even if that sequence is completed in milliseconds), how exactly do you measure load speed? LCP is the answer that Google has come up with. It tracks how quickly the most prominent image, usually the hero or banner image, loads on the page.
How to Improve LCP
Web developers and site managers have several server-side tricks and coding tools they can use to improve LCP. These include things like activating a content delivery network, caching HTML, and eliminating render-blocking resources. As a marketer, you can take some actions, especially if you’re in charge of posting content to your site.
First, consider the size of your images. Large images and videos slow download times and keep them as small as possible. While you’re at it, avoid on-page image resizing, and uploading your image pre-sized removes one more task that the page has to do.
Fancy custom fonts can also slow down LCP, and the same goes for too many plug-ins. The general rule to keep in mind is, don’t add anything to your site that isn’t essential.
Why First Input Delay Matters
You don’t want potential students just to read your content. You want them to be so inspired that they take action. This is where First Input Delay comes into play as it measures whether they can take this action quickly. It’s a gauge of how long the page takes to respond.
When it comes to page responsiveness, milliseconds matter, users don’t expect a delay between their input and the page response. If they find one, they may choose to reload the page or leave and come back later (or never).
How to Improve FID
As marketers, we want minute details about what every potential student is doing on our pages. But sometimes, that comes at a cost. If your user tracking tools delay the page response to the first input, it might be time to make some tough choices. The best thing you can do is listen to web developers when they tell you that a function might be slowing down your site. Get used to asking, how will this impact responsiveness?
Why Cumulative Layout Shift Matters
It’s happened to all of us, and it is never any less off-putting. You go to a web page, start reading, and suddenly all the content moves around on the page. You lose your place and get frustrated. This is called a layout shift, and it happens because some aspects of your page are loading slower than others.
How to improve CLS
Fixing cumulative layout shifts is a job for your web developer. You can help by making intelligent requests about dynamic content on the page. Choose your dynamic content wisely and double-check that it’s not causing a perceptible shift on the page. Embedding videos from YouTube or Tweets from Twitter can sometimes cause this issue as well. So can web-based fonts. So, once again, make sure the fonts you’re using won’t cause problems with your site. It’s better to compromise on an aesthetic than to build a page that frustrates users. If you spot anything concerning, notify your web developer.
Make Thoughtful Decisions to Improve Core Web Vitals
Ultimately, maximizing your core web vitals takes collaboration between marketing and web development teams. Understanding these essential metrics will help you make thoughtful decisions about what goes on your page and how it appears. But remember, quality content is the core of any compelling web page. At EducationDynamics, our data-guided approach not only helps you enroll more students with a full-funnel marketing strategy that delivers results but partnering with an expert higher education marketing agency can be an all-around game-changer for your content. Contact us today to get started.