User experience used to be a vague concept. Although there was a lot of talk about how UX influences bounce rates and conversions, it was unclear what factors affected it directly. As a multidisciplinary topic, it was difficult to measure and assess objectively.

It became less cryptic when industry experts started to define it. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) describes UX as an individual’s response to interacting with a product, service, or system.

Interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design, and copywriting are only some of the disciples involved in web user experience. 

What are core web vitals?

Last year, Google announced that UX is going to influence page ranking by May 2021. Aside from existing page experience signals, the search engine will also consider loading, interactivity, and visual stability into its algorithm. These three facets are known as Core Web Vitals.

Core web vitals give website owners quantifiable UX determinants to improve web pages and overall performance. The three metrics are LCP, FID, and CLS. 

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP measures how long it takes for web pages to load their main content. It focuses on the image or block-level text elements that take up the most space on the viewport.

The faster your pages render content, the better you score on LCP. That said, content elements should not only appear on the screen but also be interactable. 

A good LCP score means web pages load within 2.5 seconds. Loading speeds between 2.5 to 4.0 seconds need improvement, and anything above 4.0 seconds equates to poor LCP loading speed. 

The usual culprits of poor LCP include slow server response times, excessive JavaScript and CSS, and large elements placed above-the-fold.  

First Input Delay (FID)

FID refers to the time it takes for your website to respond to user requests. Google scores this by measuring the time it takes for your browser to execute commands from the moment a visitor interacts with page elements. 

FID is applied to buttons, drop-down menus, forms, and other actionable blocks on your website. 

Young African-American Woman Using Time Managing App

The goal is to have your website instantaneously fulfill its functions on command. That’s an FID of 100 milliseconds or less. Meanwhile, web pages with delays that last more than 300 milliseconds score poorly on this metric.

The reason for slow response times is usually JavaScript. When servers are busy attending to loading JavaScript, user requests come second. That is why it’s crucial to learn exactly how to use JavaScript on your website. 

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

CLS is the metric concerned with visual stability. It measures unexpected movements of page content. The final CLS score is the sum of individual layout shift scores.

To help you visualize what CLS is about, imagine scrolling through a web page that hasn’t fully rendered its content. As more things start to appear, there are usually one or two elements that change position or dynamically resizes.

CLS takes into account impact fraction and distance fraction. The former is the area of the viewport that is affected by the movement of unstable elements. On the other hand, the latter is is the actual distance traversed by these content blocks. A single layout shift score is the product of these two measures.

Web pages that score 0.1 or less have good visual stability.

Poor CLS (anything above 0.25) is commonly due to images and videos without specified dimensions, dynamic embeds, and custom web fonts. 

7 Tips to Improve Your Core Web Vitals 

With the algorithm update just around the corner, it’s important to know what enhancements to roll out. Consider implementing the following enhancements: 

1. Switch to a Dedicated Server

No matter how well you design and build your website, a slow server renders all your efforts worthless. It bogs down all loading speed metrics, frustrating your visitors and harming web performance.

Problems usually arise in shared web hosting. Sharing resources with other websites may overload the server. It also makes your website more vulnerable to hacking attacks.   

If you suspect a faulty server, you can either pay for a better hosting plan or look for a new provider. Dedicated servers are preferred because they provide better performance, security, and flexibility over customizing software and applications. 

2. Optimize Images

Because images are usually placed above-the-fold, they affect LCP tremendously. The best way to optimize them is to reduce their file sizes. You want to use the right tool for this and the appropriate image format to maintain quality.

Optimize Images

After compressing images, rerun an LCP test on your web page. You may have to remove some of your featured images if you still get a low score. 

Alternatively, you can use an image CDN (Content Delivery Network) to reduce the load on your server. It works by optimizing image specs based on the device model and delivering cached content from previous requests made by similar devices. In doing so, image CDNs speed up web page download time by up to 50%.

3. Remove Non-Critical JavaScript and CSS

JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) make web pages more appealing, but they also consume a lot of bandwidth when used excessively. Deferring non-critical JavaScript and CSS helps load the main content of your website as quickly as possible. 

Additionally, make it a habit to check for junk code and removing them from your script. Web browsers go through every line of code. That means some parts of your website won’t appear unless all scripts are loaded. 

4. Split Long Tasks

Long Tasks are lines of JavaScript that keep the main UI thread busy for 50 milliseconds or longer. While it hogs the main thread, Long Tasks cause delayed responses, high or variable input latency, and unresponsive animations. In the worst cases, it can make the UI freeze completely.

Optimizing JavaScript execution is the best way to minimize Long Tasks. Ideally, they must be avoided, but splitting code is the next best thing. Broken up into chunks, JavaScript is easier and faster to compile, resulting in faster page load times. 

5. Use a Web Worker 

Another solution to managing Long Tasks is to utilize a web worker. Typically, JavaScript is executed in a single thread, creating a long queue of tasks. The problem is, this single-file architecture is prone to blocking.  

Web workers bypass this by creating multiple threads to offload other tasks, allowing the browser to handle different requests at once. So even when there’s a long task in progress, your website remains responsive and ready to respond to clicks, taps, and other commands. 

6. Set Dimensions for Images and Videos

We’ve probably all been to a website where an image or video doesn’t appear proportional to the web page. While the page loads, the embedded media overwhelms the viewport before falling to place. These kinds of websites perform poorly on CLS.

laptop with bbc food website on white tabletop

To avoid this, specify the height and width of images and videos before publishing them. This simple tweak fixes them in place as the browser automatically sets the aspect ratio based on the dimensions you’ve given. 

It also works to simply set the width of these elements and let the browser calculate the height on its own. 

7. Reserve Space for Dynamic Content

The reason why dynamic content is so disruptive is usually because there is no space dedicated to them. Using CSS, you can reserve space so that elements appear exactly where you intended.

It’s good practice to avoid dynamic content, especially those placed above-the-fold and above main text and images. They should only be used if they add value to the user experience or design them to move only after user interaction. 

If they’re integral to your design or marketing strategy, allot sufficient space and take note of the potential white space it will create. 

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