We analyzed 3 million web pages from the top 20 Google search results to answer the following questions:
- Does web page performance matter for ranking in Google organic search?
- Which of the Core Web Vitals metrics correlate with first page search engine rankings?
In March 2022, Google announced that the page experience update for Desktop has been fully rolled out so we thought it would be interesting to see its impact compared to the Mobile update that happened in May 2021.
With the help of our free tool Wattspeed, we uncovered some interesting findings that I’m about to share with you today.
Summary of Our Most Interesting Findings
- The higher the ranking in Google, the lower the LCP metric is.
- 39% of analyzed web pages passed the Core Web Vitals metrics, while the other 61% were below the threshold.
- 80% of the pages that pass Core Web Vitals on Desktop also pass them on Mobile.
- The Core Web Vitals is a ranking factor, but it’s not as important as links, content, or search intent.
The above data is based on more than 3 million pages analyzed by this study. Read on to find out all the details about each of our findings.
You can also check out the entire Core Web Vitals Study on the Wattspeed website.
What are Core Web Vitals?
The Core Web Vitals, or CWV in short, is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of a web page.
The data that Google uses to rank websites in organic search comes from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) which is a public dataset of real user experience data on millions of websites.
It measures three Core Web Vitals metrics:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
These metrics focus on three aspects of the user experience: loading, interactivity, and visual stability:
In May 2021, page experience for mobile devices became a ranking signal. Almost a year later, in March 2022, Google announced that the page experience update for Desktop has been fully rolled out.
For more news about Google updates that affect search and rankings, I recommend you watch the amazing Google Search News channel. Here’s a link to the latest episode in which John talks about this latest update, which rolled out in March 2022.
This Desktop update includes all the current signals of the mobile version of the page experience update, except the mobile-friendliness part:
Google has also compiled a set of answers for anyone who has questions about these metrics in this comprehensive Core Web Vitals FAQ.
How Many Sites pass the Core Web Vitals metrics?
We analyzed around 3 million web pages and found that for both mobile and desktop pages, about 39% passed the Core Web Vitals metrics, while the other 61% were below the threshold.
What is interesting though is that the percentage of the websites that pass the CWV is higher for the highest ranking positions in Google organic search.
The CrUX report does not show CWV scores for pages that have not met minimum traffic thresholds. Thus we found a lot of pages in Google’s top 10 results that did not have any CrUX data associated with them.
Are the Core Web Vitals correlated with the ranking position in Google search results?
It is important to start by saying that some of the studies that we do in the SEO industry try to correlate certain factors with the actual Google rankings. However, most of the time, “correlation is not causation”, which means that just because two things correlate does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. So take the data below with a grain of salt and don’t jump to conclusions immediately.
That being said, there are some interesting charts below, so let’s dive right in.
Let’s look at each of the three Core Web Vitals and see if there is any correlation between them and ranking in organic google search:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures loading performance. For a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds since the page first starts loading.
It looks like none of the 3 million pages that were part of this study (which were found in the top 20 results of Google) have an average LCP lower than 2.5 seconds:
However, what is interesting, is that the charts above clearly show that, the higher the ranking in Google, the lower the LCP metric is.
First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have an FID of 100 milliseconds or less.
The good news is that all the pages that we tested (which are also in the top 20 results) have an FID that is less than 100 ms. However, the difference in FID values between the Top 20 rankings isn’t that great and there is no clear correlation between FID and ranking positions:
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of 0.1 or less. There is a slight visual trend here that shows rankings in top positions have a lower CLS, but the difference between the CLS values isn’t that great to justify a clear correlation.
Core Web Vitals by Industry
Not all web pages are created equal. Most of them use different technologies and they also have different features. For this reason, the Core Web Vitals metrics differ a lot for different pages.
When looking at the average results of the entire set of 3 million web pages that were analyzed in this study, it’s hard to get the whole story. So we decided to break down the entire set of pages by industry, to see how these pages perform with regard to Core Web Vitals for each industry.
Here’s the percentage of pages that pass the Core Web Vitals on Desktop broken down by industry:
And here’s the percentage of pages that pass the Core Web Vitals on Mobile broken down by industry:
The “Arts & Entertainment” section seems interesting because 74% of the pages that belong to this industry pass the Core Web Vitals on Mobile, but only 23% of these pages pass the Core Web Vitals on Desktop.
This is probably due to the fact that on Desktop, especially in the “Arts & Entertainment” industry, most pages display videos that take a longer time to load. On mobile, the same pages might scale down this video to an image instead.
When we look at each Core Web Vital metric separately, we can see that the LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) is the metric that most of these pages fail at:
And if we look at the LCP metric broken down by search result type, we can see that Video is the one responsible for the largest LCP score for most websites:
Check out the entire Core Web Vitals Study on the Wattspeed website for more detailed charts of Core Web Vitals broken down by industry, device and search result type.
Are the Core Web Vitals a major ranking signal?
The short answer is no. However, they become important when competing pages in search score well for all the other important factors. Read below for the long answer.
Page experience and Core Web Vitals are just some of the many factors that affect how Google ranks web pages in organic search. Some of them are more important than others and the formula was not made public.
John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, while talking about the May 2021 update said that, even though these performance factors will be used for ranking, they will not catapult your website from page ten to number one position. And that content relevance is more important than Core Web Vitals scores:
So just because your website is faster with regards to Core Web Vitals than some competitors doesn’t necessarily mean that come May you will jump to position number one in the search results.
We still require that relevance is something that should be kind of available on the site. It should make sense for us to show the site in the search results because, as you can imagine, a really fast website might be one that’s completely empty. But that’s not very useful for users.
It’s useful to keep that in mind when it comes to Core Web Vitals. It is something that users notice. It is something that we will start using for ranking. But it’s not going to change everything completely.
John Mueller, Google SEO office-hours – Feb 26, 2021
Some people from Reddit were skeptical about Core Web Vitals and their power over how Google ranks web pages in organic search results:
“Anyone else not buying Core Web Vitals? I just find it hard to believe that this actually becomes a greater part of the ranking algo. Has anyone seen dramatic gains or decreases based on it so far?“
“If two pieces of content are equally high quality and relevant to the search term and all the other ranking factors are equal, but one site has better core web vitals, it will rank higher.
I imagine it’s quite rare for two articles to be equal on all other factors so I think that’s why we don’t see much impact from it.”
And here’s the answer from John Mueller:
It is a ranking factor, and it’s more than a tie-breaker, but it also doesn’t replace relevance.
Depending on the sites you work on, you might notice it more, or you might notice it less. As an SEO, a part of your role is to take all of the possible optimizations and figure out which ones are worth spending time on. Any SEO tool will spit out 10s or 100s of “recommendations”, most of those are going to be irrelevant to your site’s visibility in search. Finding the items that make sense to work on takes experience.
The other thing to keep in mind with core web vitals is that it’s more than a random ranking factor, it’s also something that affects your site’s usability after it ranks (when people actually visit). If you get more traffic (from other SEO efforts) and your conversion rate is low, that traffic is not going to be as useful as when you have a higher conversion rate (assuming UX/speed affects your conversion rate, which it usually does). CWV is a great way of recognizing and quantifying common user annoyances.
Page experience is just one of many signals that are used to rank pages. Keep in mind that intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page with a subpar page experience may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.
John Mueller, Reddit
Are the Core Web Vitals scored for each URL or the entire website?
The Core Web Vitals scores are assessed for each individual page, and it is very clear in our study results that some pages are above and others below these thresholds.
Is CWV a pass/fail score?
As you can see in the images above, Google Search Console shows three states for Core Web Vitals: poor, needs improvement, and good. This is a clear indication that pages either pass (good) or fail (poor or need improvement). PageSpeed Insights also indicates that pages either pass or do not pass so a safe bet is that Core Web Vitals is a pass or fail score.
How can I check the Core Web Vitals for my own pages?
If you’re curious to see the CWV scores for your own pages, the quickest way is to use PageSpeed Insights. Just enter your URL and you can see the results for both Desktop and Mobile.
If you’re not looking for a one-time check, but rather to monitor your Core Web Vitals in time, take a look at Wattspeed. It’s a free tool that provides multiple page speed metrics and their evolution in time. You also get in-depth information about what the problem is and how you can improve your scores. You can then set up alerts that notify you every time your scores reach a certain threshold.
One interesting aspect of Wattspeed is that it lets you compare two pages. This allows you to see how a single page evolved in time and what problems had been fixed. But it also allows you to compare your page with a competitor’s page to see why the page experience scores are different.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console has a dedicated section for Desktop in the Page Experience report. It tells you how many of your URLs pass or fail the Core Web Vitals and the total number of impressions you get from these URLs.
It’s important to remember though that Google Search Console data comes from the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX), which does not show CWV scores for pages that have not met minimum traffic thresholds.
I’d like to thank the Wattspeed team for providing the raw data that made this study possible.
Now it’s time to hear what you think.
Were any of these findings surprising? Have you seen any significant position shifts after the Desktop rollout?
Tweet me and let me know your thoughts.