Publishers have favored search traffic to bring users to their sites progressively more in their ever-evolving struggle to maximize their traffic and ad revenue. However, they will once again need to balance their page design and rendering soon to adhere to Google’s upcoming Core Web Vitals.
The publishing industry is soon going to face yet another big change to the rules of the search game. Initially planned to roll out by May 2021, Google announced it is moving it from launching next month to launching between mid-June and the end of August. Google would be updating its search algorithm to incorporate Core Web Vitals (CWV); three new metrics to measure page experience to its SEO rankings in aims to improve user experience.
CWV are a set of metrics related to the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a webpage to aid site-owners to measure the user experience on their website. But what does this mean for the Publishers?
Well, the stakes are quite high as it is. In most cases, the traffic from search is almost equal to or even greater than from all social platforms combined for majority of publishers. As SEO is the lifeblood for the publishing industry, this change is something every publisher would need to adapt to.
What are Core Web Vitals?
CWV are a subset of Web Vitals and applicable to all web pages. It comprises three of the seven metrics that are key signals used by Google to measure the page experience score. The current 2020 set focuses on three aspects of the user experience:
The metric used to measure loading performance is termed Largest Contentful Paint or LCP. It is simply the amount of time required for a page to load its main contents. The optimum measurement of LCP for a good user experience is standardized at 2.5 seconds.
The metric used to measure interactivity is termed First Input Delay or FID. This is again a measurement of the time taken from when a user first interacts with a page like clicking a link or tapping on a button to the time when the browser responds to that action. The optimum measure for FID should be less than 100 milliseconds.
The metric used for measuring the visual stability of a webpage is termed Cumulative Layout Shift or CLS. At one point we all have encountered unexpected shifts in a page layout that has made us accidentally click on an ad. CLS is concerned with such layout shifts. The optimum measure for CLS should be less than 0.1.
Changes Publishers need to make
CWV should always help the publisher to consider where, how and of what size the ads must be placed on the webpage, especially for mobile devices.
What is necessary for capturing the full value of a page-view is to first have a complete understanding of where users are focusing their attention on your web page and then accordingly determine the size and frequency of ads to be placed at those focus points while avoiding negative impact on user experience. Here are some checkpoints publishers can consider:
Consider using the sticky footer ads
Sticky footer ads are the most versatile and ensure revenue irrespective of the device type and browsing behavior. Another benefit of it is that with sticky footer ads you can ensure that at least one ad-unit will always be in-view that can be refreshed every 30 seconds.
Consider employing lazy loading
Employing lazy loading at any ad placements that are currently out-of-view is one of the best methods for a smooth, quick-loading page. The key here is to prioritize what to load and when. This undoubtedly improved the user experience.
Define ad sizes beforehand
The CLS or Cumulative Layout Shift is probably the most problematic among the three new metrics to be introduced. This is because traditionally an ad, the height of which accommodates shifting pages, has always won the programmatic auction. Thus in order to prevent such page shifts, it is recommended to define the ad heights beforehand regardless of their size.
Evaluate your ad density and plan accordingly
Calculating your ad density is the easiest way to audit your existing inventory. You do so by adding up the heights of all the ads within the main content portion of your mobile page and dividing the sum by the total height of the main content portion of the page. As per Google standards, this number must not exceed 30%.
To optimize ad density publishers can space out their ads and reduce their sizes. A better option is to determine where audiences spend most of the time on each page and place ads accordingly.
CLS is important
Cumulative Layout Shift or CLS will be the toughest issue for publishers in the days to come. This is because CLS is negatively impacted whenever dynamic elements load on a page and the main offender are large ads that tend to expand outside its containers. Whenever you see article texts and headlines load initially in one place and then shift around as an ad loads a second later, you are seeing high CLS and this is never favorable for publishers.
Google is currently testing out a new badge system where pages with slower load speed and higher CLS will receive a red progress bar whereas those with faster load speeds and lower CLS will receive a green progress bar. For publishers receiving this green progress bar would become very important as it would favor their SEO rankings. To that end publishers can opt for some of the following changes:
Reserve space beforehand for dynamic ads
As publishers often allow ad units with variable heights this can be particularly tricky for them. What they can do is to target the largest possible ad height and clearly label the ad container based on that. They can also opt to investigate their ad-refresh logic and only refresh those with the same height to prevent a CLS-killing jump.
Avoid using giant and expanding inline ads
While the standard ad slots running within the body of an article are 250 pixels or shorter, many publishers exceed this height. One option they can consider is to keep rendering larger ads without negatively impacting CLS. This would involve using the entire reserved ad space including the container padding to their advantage to allow a slightly larger ad without impacting the CLS.
With the new CWV initiative of Google to be employed soon, if publishers act quickly on the various thoughts and changes discussed above, they might just find themselves ahead of the competition with better delivery of user experience and SEO rankings.
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