Google Explains How CWV Is A Ranking Factor But Doesn’t Improve Rankings

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            Google Explains How CWV Is A Ranking Factor But Doesn’t Improve Rankings

Google’s Search Off the Record podcast covered the topic of Core Web Vitals (CWV), noting that while it’s a ranking factor it’s not so important that improving it will improve search visibility. The podcast explains how to reconcile how CWV can be a ranking factor while at the same not something that will noticeably help rankings.

Actual User Experience Of Website Is More Important Than CWV

Rick Viscomi (engineer and Web Performance Lead at Google) and Lizzi Sassman (Senior Technical Writer at Google) downplayed getting poor Core Web Vitals scores, emphasizing what really matters is how the actual users are experiencing the website.

Lizzi Sassman said that she tested the Core Web Vitals scores for Google’s Page Experience documentation and got different scores. She shared that Google’s own documentation on Page Experience only scored 45 (on a scale of 1 – 100).

Rick Viscomi answered that actual user experience of browsing the website matters more than the scores.

He explained:

“… I think this is such a common cause of confusion because developers see one single number and it’s red.

It’s scary. Do I need to panic?

I get this question all the time and I say ‘What really matters is what your real users are experiencing.’”

Most in the search community have gotten the memo about not worrying about CWV scores. They’re great for benchmarking performance in terms of optimizing for sales, ad clicks and conversions, which is where a good user experience literally pays off.

CWV Improvements Not Visible In Search

This next part sounds contradictory but it makes more sense when it’s read in context. John Mueller asserts that CWV is used in the ranking systems. But in the next breath he says that incremental improvements CWV scores will not be noticeable in search results.

The context is that Mueller’s team spoke to the search team and discovered that CWV is used in the “ranking systems or in search systems” and that’s why it’s reflected in Google’s documentation.

“…we do say we do use this in our ranking systems or in Search systems.”

Then Mueller added that achieving perfect CWV scores won’t make a difference in the search results. He explained that what’s missing in that statement is that CWV as a ranking factor is one part of a bigger ranking engine and how it’s applied is not something that Google talks about.

He explained:

“I think a big issue is also that site owners sometimes over-fixate on the metrics themselves… And then they spend months of time kind of working on this. And they see this as they’re doing something for their Search rankings. And probably a lot of those incremental changes are not really visible in Search.”

And this is the part where says that the details of how CWV is used as a ranking factor is the part that’s withheld from SEOs and publishers.

“The details we tend not to go into. We don’t go into thresholds or anything like that. Similar to how we don’t talk about how many words on a page you have to have or all of those details, which, from my point of view, are almost secondary.”

So the takeaway is not that CWV is a ranking factor. The takeaway is that it’s good to improve CWV but a perfect CWV won’t be rewarded with better rankings.

Conceptualizing Core Web Vitals

This next part is interesting because they again emphasize the importance of speed in the wider and more general sense (the forest) and then zoom in to the more narrow sense of ranking where they talk about factors that actually make a difference.

  • Performance is good in the general sense.
  • Other factors are good in the more narrow sense of ranking.

Rick Viscomi explains how web performance is important in the broader overall sense:

“It’s really good for everybody and the rising tide lifts all boats. Check your website. Make it faster. Eat your vegetables.”

Then Lizzi Harvey advises that a better use of time is to focus on content quality, which is the narrow focus on improving rankings.

She commented:

“Yeah focusing on that and then still having like a terrible article like the words on the page are not good or the design is not good and you made it really fast. Okay. Is that really going to make an improvement for your users or for search?”

Two Ways Of Looking At Core Web Vitals

I don’t think that Search Off the Record had planned to talk about CWV as a broader general concern and content as a more specific ranking-focused factor. But that’s how the podcast naturally turned out and it makes sense to conceptualize Core Web Vitals as a general big picture factor because it helps reconcile how something can be a ranking factor that on its own doesn’t really make a difference in the search results.

Listen to the podcast from the 19 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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