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The desktop rollout of Core Web Vitals is complete: How can publishers optimize site performance?

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The desktop landing of Core Web Vitals (CWVs) shouldn’t be a surprise. Two years on from Google’s Page Experience announcement, publishers have had plenty of notice about the new metrics. Particularly as CWVs are already factors for search rankings on mobile. Nevertheless, with the desktop rollout now complete, it’s likely many publishers are hurrying to get their sites in order.

But why the last-minute rush? Probably because publishers have, rightly, been focused on mobile optimization in recent months, fearing loss of traffic and revenue after the mobile rollout in 2021. But with desktop accounting for just under half of global web traffic, failing to cater for this considerable portion of users could leave site owners at risk of losing audience favor and revenue, as well as their search ranking.

For those who feel underprepared, it’s critical to hit the accelerator on Core Web Vitals optimization – ensuring compliance with first input delay (FID), largest contentful paint (LCP), and cumulative layout shift (CLS) to maintain strong site performance across both mobile and desktop.

New rollout, same rules

The desktop activation, which mirrors the initial mobile rollout, signals phase two in Google’s mission to put users at the heart of digital media. This is done, namely, by encouraging publishers to improve core areas of online experience.

As with mobile, search algorithms will evaluate desktop site performance against set thresholds for loading speed, stability, and responsiveness. This is in addition to considering other page experience signals such as HTTPS security, time to total interactivity, and absence of interstitials. But data from Chrome’s User Experience Report shows that some publishers are already struggling with mobile optimisation, with global compliance averages for mobile standing at 34% for all sites (compared to 46% for desktop). And although they might assume desktop’s faster connections and loading speeds will make it easier to optimise against CWVs than for mobile, that doesn’t seem to necessarily be the case.

Figures reveal that only 60% of the top 1,000 media sites globally currently meet the requirements for CLS on desktop. This means desktop sites are experiencing more unexpected layout shifts on pages than they ideally should be – an issue that frequently leads to accidental clicks from users and, as a result, penalties from Google. With mobile sites scoring higher on this metric (69%), it’s clear publishers have a lot of work to do on desktop site performance, despite its superior speed.

So what can publishers do to boost their compliance scores – along with the user experience – across mobile and desktop environments?

Publishers’ new to-do list

While optimisation will require significant adjustment, there are smart tactics publishers can harness to maximise the chances of reaching key benchmarks and staying on track. In particular, this will entail streamlining site assets and mechanics, while also implementing tech that constantly monitors site performance and identifies problem areas across different environments.

1. Optimising speed (LCP) and interactivity (FID)

Basic housekeeping involves the optimization of media assets. Images should be served using modern formats, with a resolution that is adequate to the size occupied on the page. Whenever possible, the implementation of lazy loading – as well as the use of a content delivery network – for all static content is highly advisable.

But, often, these basic measures alone will not bring the site into compliance with CWVs. To further improve LCP and FID metrics, publishers must identify which CSS and Javascript code is required to render above-the-fold (ATF) content and prioritize its delivery over below-the-fold (BTF) assets. Ideally, all ATF code should be kept to under 14KB and delivered from a single domain, while using general-purpose libraries, such as JQuery for ATF content, should be avoided. Javascript code must also be monitored for “long tasks”, as they can significantly decrease FID.

2. Avoiding layout shifts (CLS)

To prevent content shifting around while loading, it’s important all elements on the page (including images) have a fixed height.

With complex monetization setups, it’s not always possible to determine the creative size in advance. Publishers using multi-size placements and ad refresh need to tighten integration between ad delivery systems and site architecture. By developing closer links, they can ensure ad space is reserved at the same time as content, or just after – typically using in-line JavaScript, rather than loading separate files. Ad placements should only be resized below the viewport, to avoid ads rendering haphazardly and driving accidental clicks.

3. Real-user monitoring

Ensuring compliance with Core Web Vitals requires constant monitoring. Google has fulfilled its promise of providing desktop user experience reports within its Search Console — as it did for mobile — and these are useful to get a quick overview of the situation. However, the results are based on a 28-day average, making it difficult to see the impact of any site improvements, or take action quickly if scores drop.

In order to optimise their sites effectively, and get immediate feedback on changes, publishers should use a more detailed real-user monitoring service, based on the up-to-date page experiences of their site visitors. For instance, our Core Web Vitals Monitoring offers granular real-time analysis of CWVs, with automated alerts if scores drop below a certain level. It also gives publishers the ability to drill down by page, device, browser and custom dimensions to pinpoint the source of any issues that need fixing.

On a longer-term basis, publishers will need to be ready for persistent adaptation. As measures designed to cover integral aspects of user experience, CWVs are subject to evolution. Equally, shifting consumer habits will inevitably fuel variation in how sites fare against current metrics; meaning there are no guarantees that healthy scores will last. All of which makes constant monitoring and fine-tuning critical for publishers to keep pace with continual changes.

The latest wave of CWV activation on desktop should prompt publishers to assess their site performance across all environments and take necessary action to boost the user experience – aiding consumer loyalty and revenue in the process. Only then can they strengthen ties with users, while enhancing their search prominence at the same time. But to ensure they can make the most of these advantages, they must work on keeping up their end of the bargain: to deliver exceptional experiences that delight users and power high CWV performance, as fast as they can.

Alexander Azarov
CEO and Founder, Clickio

Clickio offers an all-in-one technology solution for online publishers – combining an advanced, AI-powered advertising platform with integrated site performance, compliance and analytics tools. Since 2015, Clickio has been at the forefront of innovation in the industry, and was one of the first companies globally to provide a fully automated tool to manage GDPR consent. A Google Certified Publishing Partner, Clickio is recognized for its expertise in helping content creators to reduce their workload, increase user engagement and maximize advertising revenue.