Google is Changing in 2021 – Are You Ready?

The start of a new year is always a good time to review your digital marketing strategy but for small businesses 2021 may be even more important than ever when it comes to technical SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). That’s because Google is changing how it decides where to rank websites in May 2021.

Now you might think Google is always changing its algorithm and you’d be right. It changes it so often it can sometimes seem like it’s updating in real-time. But this year is different.

The latest major update was in December 2020 and like most major updates from Google we never know quite when they are coming (keeps us SEO professionals on our toes). What’s different about the May 2021 update, known as “Core Web Vitals”, is that Google announced it way back in May 2020 – a full year before its implementation. It’s highly unusual for them to provide this much fore-warning. Add to that the fact you have been able to track these “Core Web Vitals” in Google Search Console since back in May 2020 too and that is a good indication of how important these changes are.

So if your website has not had a technical SEO audit since before May 2020 then now would be a good time to have one. A good audit will reveal issues with mobile usability, broken links, indexing and encoding issues, and the all-important speed issues, of which Core Web Vitals are a part.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals consist of 3 page-experience metrics which all fundamentally relate to the speed of a web page and, therefore, affect user-experience. They are part of how Google measures Page Speed.

Tip: Check out Google’s free tool PageSpeed Insights to see how your pages is doing.

In simple terms the 3 metrics are:

  1. LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) – which measures how quickly a page loads and a visitor can see something on the screen.
  2. FID (First Input Delay) – which measures how quickly a visitor can interact with your page by, for instance, clicking a button.
  3. CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) – which measures how quickly the page is visually stable.

Identifying issues with Core Web Vitals

The PageSpeed Insights tool will enable you to check metrics for an individual page but for a better overview of how well your whole website stacks up against these new metrics use another free Google tool – Search Console. If you haven’t used it before it’s easy to set up for your website then you can select the “Core Web Vitals” menu item from the left hand-side:

Tip: Search Console is a very useful tool for identifying all sorts of technical issues with a website not just speed issues.

Both tools make detailed recommendations on how to improve your website with respect to speed and user-experience.

What now?

Identifying speed problems related to Core Web Vitals is, in many ways, simple because Google provides both the tools and the recommendations to help. Once you have identified a problem, however, it will almost certainly require help from a web developer to fix and may require re-designing parts or all of your website. A reputable web developer will be familiar with speed metrics and know ways in which they can be resolved.

What next?

Digital marketing and SEO is a field that extends far beyond simply resolving technical issues with the speed of a website (although, clearly that is very important). But improving speed is a good first step to having a website that can be easily found online. Of course, then there is the whole issue of building a brand and creating customer loyalty but isn’t that what makes running your own small business such an exciting challenge? Good Luck!