Why content is king in the core web vitals era

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A lot has been written about Google’s new core web vitals, especially about their impact on SEO. The terminology makes it sound overly complicated, so let’s take a closer look at what these core web vitals mean for marketing and ecommerce teams.

The core web vitals are a set of tools, introduced by Google in May 2021 to measure your site performance in terms of speed, responsiveness, and visual stability. “Google’s core web vitals are very popular because they offer accessible measuring tools that provide clear-cut and tangible data about the browsing experience”, explains Jan Caerels, Lead SEO Expert at WiSEO.

“The core web vitals are massively pushed, but people shouldn’t lose focus of the bigger picture”, Caerels says. “Before jumping into these stats, it’s important to take a step back and define your marketing goals. There are, after all, many different facets that contribute to the desired results that go beyond the core web vitals”. 

Understanding the criteria 
It is true that the core web vitals influence the ranking of your site. However, in terms of SEO, you shouldn’t focus solely on these metrics. Rankings are determined by many factors and Google claims that relevant and valuable content outranks having a fast page. Experience has taught us that links from other sites, the so-called backlinks, also strongly influence search rankings.

“Google really is like a black box”, Caerels says. “The algorithms are constantly evolving and hidden from the public eye. In the long run, it’s not worth trying to outsmart one algorithm. Instead, you’re better off focusing on quality content, a well-built website structure and apt titles.”

“In short, the core web vitals are a set of three criteria that give an indication of the loading speed, responsiveness and visual stability of a page. Since the core web vitals have an impact on organic search results, they are often packaged as an SEO tool, but actually, they measure the user experience of websites”, Caerels says. These three indicators are the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). “The names make it sound much more complicated than it actually is”, Caerels laughs.

Measuring the user experience
The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the loading performance of the web page. It illustrates how quickly the largest piece of content on the screen is loaded. This can be an image, a video even the main title, the intro text, or the cookie pop-up banner. For a good page experience, the largest element on the page should load within 2,5 seconds. 

The First Input Delay (FID) examines the interactivity of your website. It indicates how quickly the browser responds to an input/interaction, such as clicking on a link from an URL or the add to cart button. To provide a good user experience, you should aim for an FID of less than 100 milliseconds. 

The last one is Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures the visual stability of your site’s layout. It verifies how quickly the content on a URL becomes stable so that when you click something the content doesn’t shift The CLS score should be less than 0,1. A CLS score of 0, means that the website is fully stable. 

To meet these standards, a website must score better than average. More specifically, the 75th percentile of page views should hit the targets. For example, in 75% of the visits, the largest element on the page (LCP) should load faster than 2,5 seconds. All three vitals need to be met to pass the core web vitals.

Focus areas: content, technical specifications and authority
According to Google, there are hundreds of ‘factors’ that determine search rankings. Page experience (including core web vitals, HTTPS, no intrusive interstitials, and mobile-friendliness) is just one of these. The impact of one factor in itself is usually not detrimental. And since there are other factors that attribute to SEO, it might be worth taking a closer look at this before putting all your resources into the core web vitals.

“SEO remains the most important factor to drive organic traffic to your website and consists of three important factors: content, technical specifications and authority. It’s really a team sport to determine the best strategy to reach your target audience (and potential customers) and enhance conversion,” says Caerels. 

“SEO is often compared to a marathon”, says Caerels, “because it takes a while before your efforts bear fruit. It’s a long-term investment compared to SEA, where you pay per click.” For optimal results, you can use SEO and SEA in tandem.”

So how do you improve SEO? “The ultimate goal should be for your customers to find you, easily.” Caerels swears by thorough keyword research, which he thinks should be the first and foremost step in your SEO strategy. “The keywords will determine the floor plan of your content and the skeleton of your website. Search results are hyper-personalised and locally driven, so, ideally, you should carry out a separate keyword research for each market or country you want to opt into.”

Once you’ve pinned down the relevant search queries you can distill a website structure with core and subpages and identify relevant content. Developers can optimize the technical aspect of your website, such as structure and code. To gain authority, you can allocate a budget for link building and invest in good content that generates links. And the circle is round.

Content is king
Good content is created by a user-friendly page layout, good copywriting with accurate keywords, pictures, visuals, and statistics. “You have to make sure you are present where your audience needs you. Authentic content is very important because chances are slim that you will score with an article that has nothing to do with your actual business. You’ll have to play around with the content you publish to see what works. There are no set rules or metrics that provide clear-cut solutions. Certain applications, such as Yoast in WordPress, try to give an indication, but instead of being useful it’s often confusing”, says Caerels.

Check out our blog post ‘49 tips to increase your content marketing ROI’ for more advice on authentic content.

“After you’ve set the tone of your content, you should check the technical aspects of your website, including browsing speed”, Caerels continues. “This is easier to fine-tune than content because it’s measurable and tangible”.

Building authority through social proof
According to Caerels the third important factor is authority. “Authority is linked to the reliability of your website and your content. It’s very important, yet difficult to influence in a legitimate way (it’s often manipulated by link building). When many websites refer to your site, your credibility increases, and you move ahead in the rankings.” 

“Influencer marketing or blogs can also be valuable due to their scalability, especially when the influencer’s target audience matches yours. When bloggers refer to your website it gives your brand a form of credibility. Influencer marketing or blogging can be part of a hybrid strategy”, Caerels says. “They can create content on your website or blog about you on their site. Website links have a longer lifespan than social media, but you can double the return by asking the influencer to share the link on social media or their own website.” 

Another great way to boost your website’s authority is to share social proof. This can be in the form of images, video, or written content from your community. “User generated content (UGC) can also build authority. This can be done by sharing the experiences of satisfied customers. Social proof and customer reviews help increase your power of persuasion because they serve as an external confirmation source.  However, user generated content must be carefully curated”, Caerels warns, “because the quality of their content can affect your credibility. You have to ensure that the content aligns with your vision and strategy.”

User generated content increases conversion and time on site
An UGC platform like Flowbox can help build trust and can increase conversion once you are on the site. Adding visual galleries that are refreshed regularly with inspirational and authentic content can increase important metrics such as time on site and return visits. It also provides an added value in terms of trust (social proof) and can therefore be indirectly linked to E-A-T (SEO). E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, and is an important principle for Google to rank websites based on quality. It actually sums up the attributes Google deems essential for a good website.

“So, when looking to improve SEO, the core web vitals are not the only (and definitely not the most important) elements to consider. However, when it comes to a tiebreaker, it can make a difference”, Caerels concludes. “It will certainly optimize your user experience and conversion, but in terms of rankings, it is more of a nice to have.”

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More information:
Cecilia Rehn, Digital Marketing Manager, Flowbox

Flowbox is an award-winning SaaS company offering a visual marketing platform to help brands leverage and distribute social content throughout the buyer journey to increase engagement, social proof and sales. Flowbox's heart lies in how technology can help brands generate and use owned, paid, earned and user generated content for a more effective, converting and transparent marketing and e-commerce. Through our platform, our customers are able to collect, moderate and publish content to their website, online shop and social channels.