Digital Publishing Platforms Top Stories
3 mins read

Google’s massive algo update in 2 months: Publishers concerned about WordPress’ “Gutenberg bloat”

“WordPress doesn’t seem aware of what publishers need in terms of better user experience.”

A major Google search algorithm update—with “wide-reaching impact”—takes effect in 2 months. This update will introduce new page experience signals, combining Core Web Vitals—designed to measure how users experience the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page—with the existing search signals.

According to Google, these changes are expected to “have wide-reaching impact,” which is why the company has been repeatedly announcing the upcoming change for months.

This is important because Google is making Core Web Vitals a ranking factor. Starting May 2021, publishers whose sites are not optimised for these new metrics may see significant drops in their rankings on the search engine that powers well over 90% of searches worldwide.

The search giant has also introduced a range of tools to measure Core Web Vitals, so publishers can effectively prepare for the change, and address the issues that need to be fixed in order to present a better user experience, as measured by the new metrics.

But although Google has been encouraging preparations for almost a year, one major platform still seems quite unprepared. 

WordPress, which powers over 75 million sites, or 40% of all the websites on the Internet, appears unwilling to adapt to the changing scenario. 

HTTP Archive published real-world statistics of which content management system (CMS) achieved the best Core Web Vitals scores. The 5 most popular CMSs were tested, and while platforms like Drupal and Squarespace aced some of the major metrics, WordPress consistently fell behind.

For example, 61% of Drupal websites have a good LCP (metric for measuring load speed) score according to the Chrome UX Report, especially notable because it’s much better than the global distribution of 48%. On the other hand, only 1 in 3 or 4 WordPress websites have good LCP.

“On the WordPress side, development is moving forward as if Core Web Vitals do not exist,” says Roger Montti, Author at Search Engine Journal. “While on the publisher and SEO side it is the users of WordPress who are burdened with the task of “fixing”.

In a WordPress support thread where a publisher asked for help regarding their low Core Web Vitals score, the response was less than encouraging.

The reply from a WordPress Core Contributor was, “You should ask on a Google forum, as WordPress has nothing to do with this.”

WordPress doesn’t seem aware of what publishers need in terms of better user experience. As a consequence the WordPress development community appears to have no plans for giving publishers what they need.

Roger Montti, Author at Search Engine Journal

“Many of the user experience shortcomings in WordPress that are highlighted by Google are due to standard coding practices that are typical WordPress installations,” Roger explains. “The coding issues that Google’s tools highlight happen through no fault of the publisher themselves.

“The problems are built-in to WordPress itself, the themes and the plugins. But the problems are not happening through the negligence of the WordPress developer ecosystem, either. Common issues consist of sliders that add code bloat, forms that add code bloat, even the new WordPress Gutenberg site design and publishing platform is inherently bloated.”

The Gutenberg bloat happens in that WordPress loads every script needed for every single Gutenberg block that could potentially be used, regardless if the block is used or not. 

Roger Montti, Author at Search Engine Journal

“But the Internet is evolving at this very moment to embrace a set of user experience standards that are encompassed by the Core Web Vitals metrics,” Roger concludes. “What is happening is that the Internet is moving in one direction but the WordPress coding practices have not yet responded to the trend.”

This is leading industry experts to question, is WordPress out of touch with publisher needs?

Search engine rankings will see a massive change in about 2 months. Will WordPress respond, or do publishers have to consider moving to a more adaptive platform to remain visible in Google search?