All About SEO
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SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is a cornerstone of digital marketing. It’s all about getting your website found on Google. But how much does that matter really? And what goes into SEO? Read on to find out!
1. Why you want to rank high on Google
SEO is all about ranking on Google. When it comes to Website Design, does that really matter? Will it make any tangible difference? YES!
WHY YOU WANT TO RANK HIGH ON GOOGLE
Google is the main way that we find information today. It’s no surprise that it’s the most popular website in the world, with an average 3.5 billion searches per day. Check out this site if you want to see how many there have been today–nearly 5 billion the day this was written!
With that many searches per day, it makes sense that you want your website to be first. Think of your own search habits. How often do you scroll down on Google and push “More results”? If you’re like most people, not very often.
In fact, the Top 10 results on Google get more than 90% of clicks. About 1/3 of total clicks goes to the number 1 spot. So if you want people to find your website, the best way is for them to find you on Google.
If you’re in that coveted top stop, you’re practically guaranteed to see the amount of good leads start to increase. And the best part? They’ll come to you. You might get someone stopping by your site at 3:00AM on a Tuesday who fills out a contact form.
A good website can be your hardest working salesperson, working 24 hours per day 365 days a year. All the better if you have a solid website that people can find easily on Google.
People are using Google. Don’t you want them to use it to find you instead of the competition?
But where do you even start? Is there even a point to try when there are over 1 billion websites? Fortunately, you’re not competing with every single website in existence. This is where keywords come into play.
WHAT ARE KEYWORDS?
Put simply, keywords are the words you type in for a Google search. When you type in your search bar, Google searches all the websites for those words and gives you results (This is the simplified version of course).
So if your website doesn’t have those words, chances are that it won’t show up. To increase the chances of your site showing up, use the words you want to rank high for on your site naturally. So if you want to rank for “Best Burgers” you don’t need to say “Looking for best burgers instead of not the best burgers? Our best burgers are the best burgers around. Come try the best burgers and see why our best burgers are the best burgers there are.”
Back in the early days of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), these kinds of sites were common, but as the technology to sort through them improved, quality became more important than how many times the word is used. We cover this more in our article, When it comes to content, how can quality be quantified?
So is there any point in adding “best burgers” to your website at all? Surely it will bring up a 5-star Michelin chef in Hamburg, Germany, right? Well, no. Because Google takes several factors into account to produce results, including search location.
That’s where the Periodic Table of SEO comes in.
Keywords: The words someone uses in a Google search. Using these words in your website will increase the chances of it showing up when they search for the term.
Best Burgers: Burgers that are the best. No other burgers are as good as best burgers.
2. The Periodic Table of SEO
SEO is complicated, but it’s all intertwined. To show these connections, the folks over at Search Engine Land turned SEO into a Periodic Table to help you visualise what’s going on.
CHEMISTRY OF SEO
No one besides Google Engineers know for sure what all of the things are that Google looks for when deciding what page to show. But it’s estimated to be around 200 “ranking factors” that pages and websites give.
A ranking factor is anything Google checks to decide where a page ranks. If you think that 200 of these sounds absurd and nobody will ever do them all, you’d be right. But some are more important than others. Below is Search Engine Land’s “Periodic Table of SEO Factors”, last updated in 2019.
If you remember the periodic table from Chemistry, this is setup in a similar fashion. The items in the same column are related to one aspect of SEO. Items in the same row are worth a similar number of “points”. The points are the weight of the factor in SEO. A higher number means Google cares about it more.
There are five main sections of this SEO table:
These are the primary things that get you ranked in Google. Do the stuff on the left section (and the yellow “Emerging Verticals”), avoid the Toxins, and you’re on your way to the number 1 spot!
Since this was last updated in 2019, some things have been updated. Everything in the table is still valid, but now there’s even more factors to consider! We’ll go over these other factors later on in this eBook.
THE PERIODIC TABLE OF SEO - 2019
In the SEO Periodic Table, Content is referring to written content like articles and blogs. Quality is the most important, then Research and Keywords. These two characteristics show that you’ve found the right keywords people are searching for, then used them appropriately.
We can’t understimate the importance of research. While you might think that “Exterminator” is the phrase everyone uses, it’s important to find out what people search for on Google. It could be that “Pest Control” has much more–the job instead of the profession in this case–which means “Pest Control” should be the target of your search. You can use tools like SEM Rush Keyword Magic Tool (Paid) or Google Trends (Free) to find this information.
Once you have the right keywords, writing your article and using that keyword and synonyms naturally will help your SEO. Freshness is the recency of the article. One published more recently is “fresher” than an article posted 5 years ago. Adding in Multimedia (videos, images, etc.) and Answers to questions related to that keyword will also help.
A wall of text can be full of useful information, but it’s helpful to break it up with related videos or images if you can. Depth is ensuring that the content answers the question. If it was 100 words about SEO, for example, it wouldn’t be doing the job so wouldn’t perform well in this area.
Architecture is the way that the site is built. Crawl refers to a web crawler, a “robot” that comes through the internet and adds pages to Google’s database. This is where the search results come from. If your website can’t be crawled due to some settings, you won’t be able to find it in Google!
Being optimised for Mobile devices is also extremely important in 2021. Most people search using their phones these days. This means your site needs to work well on cell phones. It can be a little tricky to do this since websites are almost always built on desktops. Many website platforms have tabs when you’re previewing a page to show what it looks like on different devices. Don’t ignore these! Doing so can make it so you don’t show up on Google.
Site speed is another factor that is only gaining in importance. Most users expect a site to load in no more than 2 seconds. After that, users tend to backtrack and see what else they can find. Google’s noticed this and has made it an important ranking factor.
Other architecture ranking factors include Security (Make sure your site is https and not http), Duplicate content and URLs. Https is making sure your site has an SSL certificate and starts with https instead of http so that the information is safe from hackers. Duplicate content is not copying and pasting your page with a different title and putting it multiple places on your site. And URL is the actual web address of your page. Ideally, it should match your Page Title and your target keyword. In this one it’s back9.co.nz/all-about-seo which is a good choice because SEO is our target keyword for this article.
HTML is like Architecture, but for a specific page instead of the entire website. Title is most important and carries the most weight; you should always include your keyword in the page title. Meta tags and descriptions come next.
A Meta Description is the paragraph beneath the clickable link in a Google search. You can specify this manually on your page and include your target keyword. If you don’t, Google will pick what it thinks is the most relevant part of the page–and it’s still learning so often gets it wrong.
Structure and Headings are making sure the page is structured in a way that makes sense. On this page, the Title is “All About SEO”. Headings are used to show other important parts. This section is under the Heading “What does Google look for when showing results?” and the sub-heading “HTML”. Structuring the page like this lets the search engine know what parts of the page are related, and the more structured the page, the better you do on this ranking factor.
AMP is a special web page format created by Google that loads mobile pages very quickly. It requires some specific structure and only works on certain pages. We go over this more in our article AMP Up Your Website for Mobile Devices.
A trusted website is one that other people link to because it has quality information and users stick around. Authority includes backlinks–other sites linking to yours–sharing the page, and more.
Engagement is referring to what people do when they’re on the site. If someone only stays on for a couple of seconds and leaves without scrolling or clicking anything, that’s considered a bounce. The higher your bounce rate (percentage of people who bounce away), the worse you do in this category.
Reputation is one that unfortunately you can’t do anything to change. It’s simply how long your website has been around for. A site that’s been around for several years and is weighed stronger than a brand new website. Google believes that if a website is maintained and updated over the years it makes for a stronger site, and one that likely won’t be abandoned soon. You’ll get more credit for this one the longer your site is up!
Originally the primary ranking factor, links aren’t as important as they once were. But they’re still valuable for SEO.
Links are the sites that link to your website. If someone sees your website as having valuable, useful content, they may link to that page from their own site. The more trusted and well-performing the site is, the higher the Value, and the more that link is worth.
Anchors are links to your site from a site with similar keywords. Both of these are considered Backlinks, which are links to your site. More is better!
The final category of primary SEO, User is all about the individual person who shows up on your site. Country is the country they’re searching from, with pages hosted in their current country being worth more.
Locality is a step further; pages in a nearby town/region are more likely to show up, all else being equal. That’s why you can search for “Best Burgers” and it prioritised nearby locations first.
UX stands for User Experience. If visitors stay on your site instead of clicking the result from Google and immediately hitting the back arrow, your site is more likely to rank.
History is referring to previous visitors. Have you noticed that if you’ve been to a site a few times that site is more likely to show up in a search later? That’s because you’ve shown your interest already, especially if you stay on the site and don’t leave right away.
The final value, Intent, is knowing why people search for what they do and answering accordingly. Keeping on-topic and answering questions in your content is a good way to do well in this metric.
Content: Information on your site. This can be through words, images, videos, and more.
Quality: How useful, relevant, and informative your content is.
Research: Keyword research to find what people are searching for.
Keywords: Using targeted keywords appropriately throughout the page.
Freshness: How new the content in. Newer content is fresher.
Multimedia: Video, images, audio, and media elements.
Answers: Content that directly answers questions is worth more.
Depth: Content that delves deeper into content is more valuable.
Ranking Factor: Any factor that Google looks for to decide how a page ranks.
Architecture: The way the site is built and structured.
Crawl: Having your website setup so that Google can read its pages and add them to the search database.
Mobile: Optimising a website to display and function on mobile devices.
Duplicate: Having copies of content like webpages in multiple places without canonical tags.
Speed: How long it takes your website to load.
Https: Using Secure https instead of http by using a ssl certificate.
URLs: Having your target keywords in the URL structure.
HTML: Hypertext Markup Language. In the SEO Periodic table it’s referring to the structure of individual web pages as opposed to the site as a whole.
Title: The Title of the web page. This is the text that shows up on your tabs next to the small icon.
(Meta) Description: A very brief summary of the page. This summary shows up in a Google search under the link and should include the target keyword.
Structure: Using markup to tell Google what elements of the page mean.
Headings: Structuring the page in a hierarchy. Higher level headings hold more value and subheading should be related to higher level headings.
AMP: Google’s fast-loading mobile page format. Pages need to meet certain requirements to be eligible are denoted by a lightning bolt symbol.
Trust: A combination of your site’s authority and reputation.
Authority: Signals that show your site is an authority on the topics it relates to. This shown through things like backlinks and engagement
Backlinks: Another site linking TO your site.
Engagement: The amount of time spent on your site or ways that people interact such as clicking on links or scrolling to the bottom of an article.
Reputation: How long your site has been live. The longer the site exists, the higher the reputation.
Links: Hyperlinks that link one webpage to another. In the SEO periodic table, this is specifically referring to backlinks–links TO your website.
Value: Links from sites that have more Trust and a higher Reputation are worth more.
Anchors: Links from other pages on a similar topic or using some of the same keywords.
Backlinks: Links to your website. The more good-quality links you have, the better!
User: Information relating to the user such as their location. Also includes user experience and past history.
Country: The country where the person is searching from. A website hosted in the same country is worth more.
Locality: The region a person is searching from, such as the state, town, suburb, etc. Businesses in the same locality hold more weight.
UX: User Experience. Design and functionality that make for an intuitive, easy to use website.
History: If a user has visited a website before, it’s more likely to show up in their search results later.
Intent: The reasons why someone goes to a website. If content answers a question directly for instance, it’s a good indicator of intent.
3. What Google doesn't like - Toxins
Up until now, the items in the SEO Periodic Table were things you wanted to optimise for. But the toxins are things you want to make sure NOT to do–or you could greatly hurt your SEO efforts.
WHAT ARE TOXINS?
The Toxins section is works in the same way as the Periodic Table, only with opposite results.
With toxins, the ones at the top with the highest negative value do the most harm for your SEO. Doing a few of these tactics on your website can get you a massive drop on Google fast–but only if you get caught.
So why would anyone bother using these Toxins? What benefit do they give you?
Toxins are tricks to dupe search engines or users. In the early days of SEO, these methods were used to go around Google’s algorithm. It wasn’t smart enough to detect the tactics yet, so thought that these sites were high-quality; even though they were full of spam or even prompted users to download malware.
As Google caught on to these tricks, instead of rewarding websites that used them with high rankins, it began to punish them instead. Overnight, they’d fall from the top of the search results into nothingness. Sometimes, Google will even remove sites from search results completely.
Instead of focusing on tricks and shortcuts, it’s better to focus on evergreen content and making the best user experience possible.
CLOAKING, STUFFING, AND HIDING
Half of the toxins have to do with trying to directly trick the search engines. Now that they’ve been discovered, these tricks will only harm your SEO.
Cloaking is showing search engines something different than users. If you’ve come across a site that seems like it will be helpful and then you click it and it’s a completely different topic, that’s because of Cloaking.
Stuffing is putting the keyword in there way too many times. It’s that bolded burger paragraph from Chapter 1. Websites use to bold the keyword too, assuming bold meant it was more important and Google would care more. But how did it help the user?
The opposite of Stuffing is Hiding. This is putting the keyword somewhere people can’t see it, like the same colour of the background or stacking other elements on top of it. Technically, the keywords are “there” but not part of the content. This is one way that some sites do Cloaking.
SCHEMES, PIRACY, AND INTRUSIVE
The toxins that don’t have as much to do about directly manipulating search results are about the kind of content they have and poor user experience. And some of the content is straight-up illegal.
Piracy is just that and exactly what it sounds like; putting stolen content on your site. Free video downloaders and cracked software are good examples. There’s a good reason why these sites change their name so often. They have illegal or stolen content and once Google flags them they have to restart.
Schemes are things like using link buying services or low-quality spam blogs. They’re shortcuts to making high-quality, valuable content yourself. When sites sell contact lists, these are the people who buying them–and likely send you spam emails too.
And finally, Intrusive is intruding on the user by getting in their way and ruining the experience. Ad-heavy pages are a good example of this. In 2021, ads are the lifeblood of the internet. Even reputable news sites can be filled with them. But Intrusive takes that to the next level. It’s opening multiple pop-up ads in a row, automatically creating tabs, or having full-screen ads show up several times in the middle of the page.
If you’re thinking this might be a lucrative way to make money from advertisers, you’re more likely to put users off instead–as well as Google.
Toxins: Content and tactics that actively hurt your SEO and will lower your rankings.
Evergreen: Content that is and will continue to stay relevant. It references long-standing values, goals, and facts that are unlikely to change.
Cloaking: Having your search result preview go to a completely different page about different topic.
Stuffing: Filling content full of the target keyword in an obvious and unnatural way. Also known as “over-optimising”.
Hiding: A method of writing about a popular keyword without showing it to the user. Hiding includes putting references with the keyword off-screen, behind other element, the same colour as the background, and more.
Piracy: Hosting stolen content or ways to get paid content for free–or by paying the website instead of the proper owner.
Cracked software: Removing features from software intended for protection. These are methods like generating false serial numbers or removing copy protection.
Schemes: Tactics like buying links and contact information or having low-quality content generation sites link to the website.
Intrusive: Intentionally intruding upon the user experience to force ads and pop-ups, etc.
4. The New Ranking Factors
Since the last update to the Period Table of SEO Ranking Factors in 2019, there have been a few changes to the way SEO is calculated. Now, there’s even MORE important things to consider.
When the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors 2019 was released, the table makers had their eye on a few things they expected to be big ranking factors in the future.
At the time, they were starting to see trends in sites that optimised for these factors that seemed to perform slightly better in their SEO efforts. They hadn’t yet been confirmed as significant ranking factors.
Fast-forward a few years, and that prediction has come true. All four of sections of the Emerging verticals can be a big help for SEO. Since they’re still relatively new, not everyone is doing them yet; meaning you might get the jump on your competition if you optimise your website with them in mind.
In a similar vein, a new series of ranking factors are just starting to come into play. These are called Core Web Vitals and are the most significant change to ranking factors in several years. Optimising for these isn’t as straightforward as using the keyword less often, however; some of them could require completely rebuilding a website. We go over these Core Web Vitals in a later section of this chapter.
While there was an upward trend in Voice searches, there wasn’t a guarantee that it would take off as a primary form of search. In the early days, voice search was clunky, hard to use, and produced substandard results. Many people who had trouble in the early days were resistant to using adopting it.
Google introduced voice search in the late 2000s as a free update and used the information it gathered from searches to improve the process. At first, only specific accents and clearly-enunciated words in a certain way would be recognized. In the 2020s, voice search is more likely to be accurate than not. So how does this affect SEO?
Nowadays, voice searches are one of the most popular ways to search. Backlinko reports that in 2021, voice searches are second only to mobile searches. This means voice has now surpassed desktop searches.
So why does this matter? People search with Voice with different phrasing than typing in the search bar. While you might type in “quaint meaning” you’re more likely to say “What does quaint mean?” after activating your voice assistant. Questions tend to be fully-formed.
Highlighting these common questions in your content as headings can increase the chances you’ll be found in a voice search. For instance, in this eBook we had the section “What are keywords?” This is a short question followed by an answer to the question, and is optimised for voice search.
By optimising certain pages (or even all of them!) for voice search, you’re more likely to be the result that pops up when the voice assistant. And often for these searches, it’s only the top result that gets traffic!
Local is an extension of the Locality metric from above. For some kinds of searches, Google knows that people only care about something that’s nearby. A search for “Best Cafe” is likely to bring up something close by because Google’s assuming you’re looking for somewhere to stop by soon.
This means that local listings are even more important than they used to be, and Google is putting a lot more emphasis on them. Google My Business has become a much bigger deal as a result. In fact, Google’s pushing these so hard now thatsome SEO experts believe it’s the single most important ranking factor for local SEO results.
Not sure what a Google Business Listing is? A Google My Business listing is the listing when you type in a business name and it shows the map and information about the business like opening hours and links to the website or to call or get directions. It shows up on the side of the search results in a separate sidebar.
If you haven’t made a listing, Google may have made one for you based on what it can figure out about your business. Sometimes that information is wrong. Even if it seems accurate, you’ll want to claim and verify your listing so you can update it and respond to reviews.
Since these are such an important part of SEO, we go into it in more detail about these Google My Business listings and how to make, claim, and verify them in our article Why should you have a Google My Business listing?
Multimedia plays a big part in keeping users engaged. When possible, it’s a good idea to include these on your web pages. The two main ways to do this are by adding images and video, which is why Image and Video are now they’re own dedicated ranking factors.
Images are more engaging than text alone. HubSpot does a deep dive into some fascinating stats about visual content that might be worth a read. The gist is that liberal use of images keeps people interested and helps them remember your message better.
Where does SEO play into all of this? Well, images have metadata you can update for SEO purpose. The most important element to update is the Alt Text.
Alt Text is a text description of the image that displays when the image doesn’t load properly. If you’ve seen a blank square with an x and a couple of words where an image should be, that’s the Alt Text. It’s also read aloud by accessibility readers for visually impaired people. By using your target keyword or a good synonym as part of the Alt Text, your SEO will improve.
Images should also be made for the web. What this means is that they use the minimal amount of memory to load in the proper size. Compressing and resizing images properly makes them smaller, which increases page speed, a significant SEO factor. Sometimes this involves creating multiple versions of the same image for different screen sizes, but the results can pay off both for the user and for SEO.
Video is everywhere these days. And it’s easier than ever to make them.
Video is praised as being the most engaging form of content, and is only slated to keep growing more popular. While it can take some practice and an early investment of time, resources, and education to learn video, it’s worth the effort. We have some tips on How to prepare to be on video that can help you start out too.
Like images, video also has SEO metadata that you can include. Subtitles are also helpful both for user experience and SEO. Some SEO ranking factors for videos include adding a proper title and description, optimising the size and serving multiple resolutions depending on user devices.
Adding subtitles is a huge help these days too. Subtitles give you a boost not only in Google, but on social media platforms too. Verizon Media even claims that nearly 70% of users watch video with sound off, especially in public places. Without subtitles, you could be missing out on a significant part of your audience, especially if your video is educational or relies on a spoken message.
Video SEO is a little more complicated than images, so our videographer Dakota touched up on these in the article How do videos help you SEO you can read if you’re interested in more details.
Emerging Verticals: Factors expected to become full-fledged columns in a later version of the SEO periodic table.
Voice: Optimising content for voice assistants where search queries are a little different and more fully-formed.
Voice Assistant: An AI voice recognition software that performs tasks based on voice commands. These include, Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and more.
Local: For some searches, Google places a significant amount of weight on local results.
Google My Business: Google’s way to display businesses. These are shown in a dedicated sidebar when a search matches a business name or a business is extremely well-optimised for the keyword.
Image: Adding images to your content and optimising them with SEO best practices such as using keywords in Alt Tags.
Alt Tags: A text description of the image. This is read aloud to blind people and appears if something stops the full image from loading properly.
Video: Using SEO best practices for Video. Videos have many kinds of metadata that can be added to tell Google what the video is, who made it, and what it’s about.
Subtitles: Written descriptions of what is happening in the video and/or a written transcript of what the speakers are saying.
5. Core Web Vitals
Brand new for mid-2021, Core Web Vitals go a step beyond traditional SEO by focusing on the User Experience. Traditional optimisation on it’s own won’t be enough–now the experience for the user is essential too.
WHAT ARE CORE WEB VITALS?
There a lot of bad websites out there. Websites can be bad for a number of different reasons, but when a website is “bad”, most people can agree on a few reasons why it’s not quite right, even if they don’t know the technical terms for the issues.
Some of them have useful information but are hard to use. The words can get pushed down the page while you’re reading when an ad loads. The menu might not work right or some of the links on it may be broken. The images might be the wrong size, or look pixelated.
But the core problems tend to come down to functionality. Some part of the page loads too slow (If at all), something doesn’t work as expected, or interruptions throw off the look and feel of the page and are distracting.
Google’s noticed that people complain about the same things often so decided to do something about it. In the past, UX was a single segment of the User part of the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors. Now it’s become a whole new column called Core Web Vitals.
Core web vitals are split into three main sections: Site Speed, Interactivity, and Stability. If one of these isn’t quite right, it can be a nuisance to the user. But when there are issues in multiple areas? That’s when visitors tend to give up and look elsewhere.
Since this behaviour was happening all over the world, Google decided it was time to address it. Over time, sites that were optimised for SEO but have a poor experience will start to drop in the rankings. So how can you make sure your site is ready?
We’ll go over each of the three factors in this section, and you can also read more about Core Web Vitals in our article, Google’s May Algorithm is a Game Changer!
LARGEST CONTENTFUL PAINT
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is basically a fancy way of saying “fast load times”. But instead of the entire page loading, LCP is talking about a specific part of it.
As the name suggests, largest contentful paint is referring to how long it takes for the largest visible image or text block to load. Since this is the “Main” part of the page where the bulk of a user’s attention will go, Google thought it was important to focus on this part of the page.
Full videos aren’t yet considered, but this is likely to change sometime in the future. So be careful about loading full-size videos directly on the web page and consider embedding them instead. Video posters, however, are considered for LCP.
Google has decided to standardise the speed across all their websites, so it’s easy to tell if you’re on track. A good LCP score is 2.5 seconds or less. Between 2.5 and 4 seconds is in the “Needs Improvement” category. And anything beyond 4 seconds is considered Poor.
You might think measuring this can be extremely difficult. And you’d be right. The best way to measure how you’re doing on LCP and any other Core Web Vitals is to go directly to the source. Google has a Core Web Vitals Report that you can run if you have a Search Console account to see how you’re doing. If you don’t have one yet and still want to measure these, there are other options available, but you should probably have your website in Search Console to measure performance, so signing up is a good idea!
FIRST INPUT DELAY
The next Core Web Vital metric is First Input Delay (FID), which measures interactivity. Unlike the LCP metric which starts immediately, FID relies on a user to do something first such as click a link or a button.
The First Input Delay value measures the time between how long it takes after someone interacts with the page and for the event to happen. If you’ve ever been to a very slow site, you’ve likely seen poor FID in action.
Have you ever visited a page and clicked something and nothing seems to happen? So then you decide to click on something else and suddenly the thing you clicked on before finally activates. This is because of a delay between you interacting and the website reacting to your action.
Long delays are incredibly frustrating for visitors. Because of this frustration, Google isn’t very lenient when it comes to delays. While LCP was measures in seconds, FID is in milliseconds. A Good FID score is under 100 ms. Between 100 and 300 ms Needs Improvement. Anything longer than 300 ms is Poor.
Many sites that seem to have agonisingly long wait times may be only a second or more in FID. Still, with Google counting a Good score as < 100 ms, if it takes a site 1 second, it needs to be 10x faster!
Cumulative Layout Shift
The final Core Web Vital metric is Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). It’s also the most difficult to measure. In fact, it underwent a major change on how it was measured in June 2021 and is expected to evolve more over time.
If you’ve been on the internet, you’re practically guaranteed to have come across why this metric exists. Have you been in the middle of reading an article when the text your reading suddenly shifts? And then you scroll down and it moves again?
Or when a page loads and you see a button you want to click and right before you click it suddenly moves and you hit something else? It’s annoying. Then you go back and try to hit the right one and it seems like it won’t happen this time and… Yep. Moved again. It’s incredibly frustrating. You could even confirm an order on accident when you meant to go back to a previous page!
This is easily one of the most distracting issues that users regularly encounter. Even some well known and popular news sites had problems with these jarring shifts. So Google decided to do something about it.
There are a lot of things that could cause this, but Google has noticed the trend and is pushing for developers to find better ways to load elements that don’t shift the layout much. Sometimes, a slight shift is impossible to avoid–but it needs to be small.
CLS scores are hard to explain, but know that less layout shifts equals better. But if you’re looking at metrics for your website, know that less than 0.1 is Good, 0.1 – 0.25 Needs improvement, and above 0.25 is Poor. You’ll notice there are no units there. CLS is the most technical of the Core Web Vitals and is still evolving. To find out what these scores need in detail and how they are measured, take a look at this CLS article from web.dev.
Core Web Vitals: Factors and elements of a website that Google believes are essential for a good experience.
Largest Contentful Paint: The largest visible video, image or text block when a page loads. This metric measures how long it takes for this item to fully load, with faster times being better.
Embedding: The data is pulled from an external source and read by your website instead of the entire piece of content loading from your web server. Embedding can speed up load times, especially when connected to a faster server.
Video Poster: A static image that displays while a video is loading. These are used so a visitor doesn’t see a blank box while waiting for it to load.
First Input Delay: The amount of time it takes for the event to happen once a user interacts. For instance, a Read More link is clicked and FID measures how long it takes for the rest of the article to load.
Cumulative Layout Shift: Measures how much the layout changes after the page loads. The more stable the page, the lower the CLS, and the better the page scores.
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