Project Lightspeed: What We Are Doing About Google Core Web Vitals and Website Speed
Last year, Google announced that they are going to add a new ranking factor to their search algorithm: Core Web Vitals.
This aligns with Google’s dedication to user experience (UX), and ensuring that anyone using Google search will get what they want from the web pages listed on the results page.
But what does that mean to a website owner?
Should you panic that your online business is going to crumble? Or is the pandemonium about Google’s announcement an overreaction?
More importantly: Are Thrive Themes doing anything to improve Core Web Vitals?
Yes, we are. And in this post, we’ll share an official statement about what we are optimizing in our software, and why.
If you’re already familiar with Google’s core web vitals announcement, click here to jump to our official statement about what we are doing.
If you aren’t, read on to get a fresh perspective on what this is all about.
What Are Core Web Vitals?
The Google algorithm uses over 200+ ranking factors to determine which websites should be shown on results pages.
Not all factors are equal, and some will have a much greater impact on SEO than others.
Across the industry, it’s widely accepted that the main factors are:
You get the idea.
Google is concerned with showing great web pages that are objectively considered the right answer to a search query.
Last year, Google announced that they would be adding new ranking factors to their algorithm in May 2021 mid-June 2021 based on what they call ‘Core Web Vitals’.
[UPDATE: Google have changed their schedule and the update will start rolling out gradually from mid-June 2021 until August.]
"We'll begin using page experience as part of our ranking systems beginning in mid-June 2021. However, page experience won't play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August."
Google, 19th April 2021.
The 3 key factors Google have highlighted as part of the Core Web Vitals update are:
- 1LCP - Largest Contentful Paint: How long does it take before your website visually appears on a user’s browser so they can read or consume your page content.
- 2FID - First Input Delay: A measure of interactivity. How long does it take before a visitor can click, scroll or do something on the page?
- 3CLS - Cumulative Layout Shift: Does your website stay still while it’s loading? Or does it shift around unexpectedly?
You can see that they want a visitor to click a search result, see your content quickly, be able to interact with it immediately, and for it to remain stable on the page.
It’s important to note that this is about how your page code loads and is rendered, just as much as it is about your loading speed.
How Will the Core Web Vitals Update Affect Your Site?
Remember that this announcement adds to an already very powerful algorithm looking at over 200+ ranking factors.
The top ranking factors still remain.
Improving your Core Web Vitals isn’t going to make your website magically start ranking for search terms that you haven’t written content for, haven’t optimized for, have no backlinks for, and aren’t already ranking for.
“A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search”
Google, 28th May 2020.
You still need to satisfy the rest of the algorithm before Google decides your site is worth showing for specific searches.
This Google algorithm update is most likely going to affect websites that rank very highly for competitive search terms whilst being the worst offenders of Core Web Vitals.
I’m looking at you... top ranking recipe websites loaded with a million moving adverts, jumping videos and taking 20 seconds to load.
If you are not ranking in Google yet, having a fast site won’t make a difference. The issue isn’t speed, it’s everything else the algorithm is looking for.
“Let’s talk about site speed and SEO. About half of the enquiries we get at WPspeedfix are people looking for site speed optimization or speed help because they want better SEO. But if you take a 30 second look at their on-page SEO, you see that it’s horrible: they don’t have basic title tags, meta descriptions, and they don’t even have content for the things they want to rank for. Even if we got them 100 on page speed insights, it’s not going to make a difference because that is not the roadblock.”
Brendan Tulley, WPSpeedfix.
That’s not to say that Core Web Vitals don’t matter.
It does. Unanimously.
It’s significant enough that Google, who notoriously stay quiet about their algorithm improvements, have publicly announced that they are adding it to their algorithm.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Website?
The Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, suggests that you can get 80% of the results from 20% of the work.
It’s a good rule to live by, because it prevents a business owner from tripping up on the need for perfection or fussing over decisions that yield diminishing returns.
As a website and business owner, there are thousands of things to focus on and some will grow your business faster than others.
That’s why our recommendations for website speed are still the same as they were last year:
Follow best practices in these 3 key areas related to speed, and then move on.
- 1Use a quality website hosting service: this alone can have a massive impact to your website speed. Right now, we recommend WPX.
- 2Use a caching plugin: Caching can drastically reduce website load speeds by eliminating server processing times.
- 3Compress and serve adaptive image sizes: reducing the file size of your webpages will make them load faster, and images are often the biggest files.
Inside of Thrive Theme Builder’s Site Speed dashboard, you can one-click add pre-configured caching with Total Cache, WP Fastest Cache or WP Rocket.
When you enable these caching tools in Thrive Theme Builder, we take care of automatically applying the recommended settings that work nicely with our software.
Then, you can enable Image Optimization with either Optimole or Smush inside of the Site Speed dashboard, which will ensure that images on your website are resized and compressed to save space.
The rest, you can leave to us.
"But what about AMP?"
AMP stands for ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’. Currently our AMP feature is in a public beta, and we’re not sure if it’s worth developing it further.
A few years ago, Google stood by AMP as a necessary technology. But slowly, they’ve gone quiet about it. We get the suspicion that the shortcomings of AMP will prevent it from being the industry-wide solution that it was once promised.
And we’re not the only ones uncertain about the future of AMP. Google announced that AMP sites would no longer be a prerequisite for listing in Google’s Top Stories, and instead would be replaced by - surprise, surprise...
...Core Web Vitals.
What Are Thrive Themes Doing about Core Web Vitals?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, put the Google announcement into perspective, and have ensured you’re following best practice with hosting, caching and image optimization...
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room:
Thrive Themes software.
We already have our best developers working on a series of code optimizations in our software centered around Core Web Vitals metrics.
A significant part of your Core Web Vitals score is how the code of your website is structured.
The plugins and themes in Thrive Suite create the code that Google sees and loads. We’re working diligently behind the scenes to analyze how we serve that code on your websites and to carefully optimize it as best we can, without any negative effects to your site-building experience or your visitor’s browsing experience.
Since Google’s announcement last year, more and more information has slowly come out about what influences LCP, FID and CLS metrics. Google even stated that Core Web Vitals is a growing and evolving project.
We've kept our eyes on these discussions and have discovered where we can improve our codebase.
This isn’t just about satisfying Google. This is about creating the best software we possibly can.
But it isn’t a simple task.
This is software engineering at its most challenging.
We have our company’s co-founder working directly with the lead developers and code-geniuses behind the Thrive Theme Builder project to optimize the codebase of all of our tools.
We’re naming this Project Lightspeed, and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
What does Project Lightspeed involve?
Project Lightspeed, our code optimization project, will happen seamlessly behind the scenes, without risking any unexpected behavior on your site.
We’ll roll out code improvements steadily, over the course of multiple release cycles, beginning with our release in early May 2021. (Note that Google updated their announcement, stating the algorithm update will rollout from mid-June 2021 until August.)
Want to get technical? Ok, here we go.
1. Modular CSS and JS files
Previously, we served one consolidated CSS file to take advantage of browser caching. That means once your visitors have downloaded the file the first time they’ve visited the site, there’s no more CSS for them to download as they move around your website, meaning a larger upfront download in exchange for faster navigation on other pages.
However, according to Google’s Core Web Vitals, they don’t care for browser caching, only initial page load. So by breaking apart our CSS and JS files this way and loading only what is necessary per-page, it reduces the initial load every time.
In order to do this, we’re working on a system to compile CSS and JS files per element on save. This concerns how those CSS and JS files are built. When you click ‘save’ in our visual editor, it will scan the page for your chosen elements to build a unique CSS file and will only load the JS files necessary for that content. These files will be automatically minified and cacheable.
2. Inline Theme Structure CSS
We’re testing an option to load theme structure CSS inline, meaning you can choose not to store it in an external file. All other CSS resources that don’t contribute to page structure will be stored in an external file loaded from the website footer (websites load top-to-bottom, meaning code in the footer is the last to be executed).
This means the visual structure of your page will load very quickly, while the rest of the CSS resources are loaded after the shape of the page is assembled. You can expect faster LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) and lower CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift), provided our testing proves that Google sees these changes favorably.
3. Lazy Loading of Files and Code Assets
This is still explorative work at the moment and what we do in this area depends on the results of our tests. By lazy loading assets, we can defer the download of specific scripts or files in a webpage that aren’t important in the first few seconds that a visitor arrives on your site.
4. Other Advanced Enhancements
After we are satisfied with the bulk of our optimizations as the 80/20 of our code optimization, we’re going to explore DOM optimization to flatten the HTML, as well as some more innovative ways to improve our code. Most of these require explorative work and trial & error before we can even tell if they’ll pay off. But the point is that we’d like to go above and beyond... but only if our tests prove that it’s beneficial.
5. Site Speed Education
We don't expect you to understand all of the technical factors involved in site speed. That's why we develop software, and you run your online business. But we know that many of you look to us for advice and education with your website, and for us to debunk false myths and teach you what matters.
Later in the year, we're looking to create a compact Thrive University course that will educate you on everything you actually need to know on speed optimization in a single day... without wasting time on the things that don't matter. You'll be able to take the course, make sense of the nonsense, tweak the right settings, and move on.
Work With Us
I want to take a moment to reassure you that this is something we are quite dedicated to. As a customer, you see the fantastic new features that we release every 3 weeks. They get the lion’s share of attention.
But behind the scenes, our product team is always exploring how we can truly help you to create a better website and a better business with our tools.
We have conversations daily where we explore your biggest frustrations in website building, scrutinize our own software, and discover new ways that we can deliver improvements and features that we know will help.
We see our role as working with you and for you, to help your businesses grow.
For now, we encourage you to get good hosting, set up site caching and image optimization, and then leave the rest with us.
Head of Product