While it’s no secret that Google updates the engine’s search algorithm frequently, many of the changes themselves aren’t publicized. After all, the goal is to give consumers the best search results, not to help marketers to create shortcut search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.
Marketers and business owners should be aware, however, of the Google SEO updates for 2021 that have been publicized and analyzed to see how these changes could be used to improve their results. Some of the most critical new features and updates involve largest contentful paint (LCP), first contentful paint (FCP), first input delay (FID) and cumulative layout shift (CLS).
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP is designed to measure the length of time it takes for main-page content to load so the page is ready to use. This user experience metric was made a ranking factor with Google in 2021. Some consider it to be the same as perceived load speed, although first contentful paint also plays a role in perceived speed.
The LCP measurement evaluates the largest image or content block from the user’s view. LCP could measure background images as well as main images and block-level text elements such as <main> and <section> elements or div, form and heading elements. While video and SVG elements are not part of LCP calculations at this time, the image elements inside an SVG element or poster image associated with video elements are. Images are generally calculated according to their visible size rather than a larger intrinsic size.
To improve performance in the LCP area for a particular page, all that is really necessary is to determine the largest image or text block and either make it smaller or make adjustments to resolve issues that would prevent that block from loading quickly. SEO analysts recommend optimizing mobile viewports before desktop because most sites are included in Google’s “mobile-first” index.
First Contentful Paint (FCP)
Like LCP, FCP is an important user-experience metric that contributes to ascertain perceived load speed. Where FCP measures the time to load the largest chunk of content, FCP measures the time needed to show any document object model (DOM) content from the page. A quick FCP lets users know they have reached an active page, although they are not yet able to take advantage of the contents.
Content measured for the FCP rating includes:
• Images (main and background images)
• Non-white <canvas> elements
• Scalable vector graphics (SVG) elements
Something as simple as a loading animation or company logo can trigger FCP.
An FCP measurement differs slightly from a first paint metric, which measures the time it takes for a browser to show any change on the screen, such as a different background color.
First Input Delay (FID)
Unlike the first two metrics discussed, which try to gauge a user’s loading experience, the FID measurement focuses on a user’s ability to interact with a website. Specifically, the FID is the time between a user taking an action such as clicking on a link and time when the browser is able to process the interaction. This delay is measured in milliseconds.
During the first moments after a page opens, crucial resources are still being loaded, which makes the first interaction more likely to be delayed. Google considers this measurement important because it affects a user’s first impression of the usefulness of a site. Moreover, Google hopes that encouraging page producers to improve the first interaction will improve the overall quality of web interactions. FID measurements don’t include continuous user actions such as scrolling down a page.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS involves a user’s experience with a webpage’s stability. This metric tracks instances where visible elements shift while a user is on a page and is referred to as unexpected movement or an unexpected layout shift.
When a burst of layout shifts occur rapidly with less than one second between each shift, that is known as a session window. A window is under five seconds in duration. The CLS measurement gauges the most sizable burst of layout shift scores for each unexpected layout shift. Recently, the CLS metric evolved from measuring the total of individual layout shift scores during the lifespan of a page.
Why This Matters
These reports will impact your search results now and in the future. I recommend taking a look at the report and if you score in the red zone, below a 50, updating your site. If you are in orange, you may need to make some adjustments. If you are in the green zone of above 90, you are probably safe.
The ‘Last Word’ On Google SEO Updates
When it comes to Google SEO, there is no such thing as a last word because methods are constantly evolving. While this can be challenging for marketers trying to put their firms in the public eye, in the end, the Google SEO metrics really do improve the viewing experience for all users, so paying attention to SEO updates can be a win-win proposition.