Category: Dev

Silverback Blog Posts

How to Optimize Core Web Vitals Beyond Nitropack

by Randy Huynh | March 21, 2023

The metrics behind Core Web Vitals ultimately help measure a website’s performance, user experience, and overall security to provide a fast, safe, responsive, and enjoyable user experience. And while the methodology behind improving your Core Web Vitals (CWV) may change, their impact on improving your site’s performance remains unchanged.

In the past, Silverback (and many other users) turned to Nitropack to find some quick wins to improve Core Web Vital scores. Over time, though, we realized it wasn’t a long-term solution. Nitropack can work well for some websites but creates issues for complex projects. For sites designed to scale, there needs to be a sound web optimization strategy for sustainable increases in your Core Vital Metrics.

First, Some Background: What is Nitropack? 

Nitropack is an optimization plugin that makes your website load faster through image optimization, code mining, caching, lazy loading, and other techniques. Once installed, it’s a great solution for companies that need a fast-loading website for its user experience but don’t have the budget for a developer to constantly optimize to improve their Core Web Vitals. 

Manually optimizing a website is a long process and includes trial and error to see which files can be condensed or delayed without impacting a website’s user experience. For example, you could delay a script to load but unintentionally cause some website components to stop working correctly. This can be a time-consuming process. To make this process easier, website owners can use automation tools like Nitropack to help optimize their websites. Automation tools can provide insights into which files can be optimized and can help speed up the optimization process.

How Does Nitropack Work?

Achieving the highest possible score on Core Web Vitals requires loading the least amount of files, Javascript code, and CSS styling for the user to interact with a website. From a visual standpoint, you can think of how a website renders information by comparing it to how a car is built on an assembly line. Companies will try to reduce production costs by minimizing the required touchpoints to assemble a car. Today, vehicles are produced through collaboration between humans and machines.

Websites take a similar approach to assembling information. A website’s “human” component is how you’ve built and designed it and how you intend the user to engage with it. If you have a website that isn’t optimized, your server will probably try to render every single file built into your website. The results aren’t ideal and mean longer load times and higher bounce rates, which can drag down your Google ranking and conversions. Research shows that website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time.

When Nitropack is installed, it serves as the “machine and optimizer” for your website. It figures out how to optimize for Core Web Vitals through:

  • Lazy loading CSS files and images
  • Adding an attribute for external script files that tells the server not to wait for the script to render
  • Identifying what CSS files it needs to execute first to display the site normally

Once Nitropack identifies what optimizations are needed, it renders a “cache” version of your site. The “cache” is delivered to a visitor and then, depending on how the user interacts with the website, will load the necessary files to improve the user experience. Core Web Vitals scores your site on how fast it renders, so a “cache” version of the site will ideally give you a high score for both desktop and mobile. Creating a faster load time to enhance the user experience is among the biggest selling points of using Nitropack.

The Issues with Nitropack

Over time, we found Nitropack worked well for various websites, but noticed display issues when it came to complex websites requiring the highest possible user experience. Nitropack requires the user to interact with the website to load more files, yet for some websites, it creates a large amount of white space during the loading process. For example, if your website has a hero slider, users might see a blank white space until they interact with the “slider area” before the images load correctly. We also noticed issues with inaccurate data being recorded. Some scripts used to track user activity didn’t function properly. 

To their credit, Nitropack has an excellent support team to help troubleshoot issues you see on a Nitropack-optimized website. You can also provide “exceptions” inside the plugin, so it knows not to optimize under specific conditions. There are issues with adding exceptions, and the more you add, the lower your Core Web Vital score will be, depending on how it impacts your website’s load time. When Nitropack no longer delivers the highest scores possible for Core Web Vitals, it’s time to transition to manually optimizing your website.

How to Improve Core Web Vitals Beyond Nitropack

We take several steps to improve clients’ Core Web Vitals beyond Nitropack. 

  • Step 1: Review error messages from a website’s Core Web Vitals through Google Search Console.
  • Step 2: Identify the error messages impacting the largest number of pages. 
  • Step 3: Focus on one URL at a time and make the necessary optimizations, then test if the score changes on page speed.web.dev to see if we can remove the error messages.
  • Step 4: Once the site has received the highest possible score, submit a “validation fix” to Core Web Vitals.
  • Step 5: Keep repeating the process for other error messages impacting the largest number of pages before working through the alerts on the rest of the site. 

Optimizing a website manually isn’t strictly a step-by-step process. It also involves a creative approach and experimentation. Every website is built differently, so some strategies you find online are the “base” of optimizing a site. If your score still isn’t improving once you’ve done everything you can with the help of resources you find online, you’ll need to get creative with out-of-the-box ideas. Brainstorm what can be swapped out based on user interactions and go deeper to reduce any unnecessary code for a specific page.

What Tools Should I Use? 

The question isn’t as much which tools to use, but how to test and measure your results when your Core Web Vitals assessment fails. Any optimization tools should be used on a staging area of your website first. Then, they should be immediately checked on pagespeed.web.dev or lighthouse to see if the optimizations improve your website’s Core Web Vitals score.

How Long Does it Take? 

Whether or not your site optimizations worked can be checked quickly on pagespeed.web.dev, but the “validation fix” on Google Search Console may take up to 28 days. Why the disparity? “pagespeed.web.dev” relies on bots to give a quick diagnosis of your website, but Google Search Console leverages actual user data from website visits to determine if you’re cleared from any of the errors that were previously found. 

Should I Get Rid of Nitropack? 

Whether or not you should get rid of Nitropack depends on your situation. If you’re strapped for time and have a tight budget, it’s still a great option in your SEO toolbox. However, if you can invest in some resources or want to make serious gains on your SEO, it’s worth getting rid of Nitropack and hiring a developer or partnering with an agency to help optimize your Core Web Vitals. 

When weighing your options, you can think of Nitropack as a “short-term” solution to quickly optimize your site, but having a developer is the “long-term” solution. Our team views Nitropack as a short-term solution because, at the end of the day, you are relying on a 3rd party company to constantly ensure that your website is optimized. 

Meanwhile, a developer is adding code to your website files that are permanent and do not rely on 3rd party tools to improve and sustain your Core Web Vitals. A developer or 3rd party company goes through the trial and creative thinking required to figure out ways to increase the Core Web Vital scores without impacting user experience on the website.

Core Web Vitals is Just One Part of a Successful SEO Strategy 

There’s more to building and sustaining a successful SEO strategy than improving your Core Web Vitals. Your website is your digital marketing hub, a lead generation tool, and a signal of credibility to your audience. Your site also needs a good UX, optimized content, and technical expertise. Get the full story on what you need for good SEO in our guide: The Marketing Leaders’ Guide to SEO.

Randy Huynh | Lead Developer

Randy is an experienced developer with expertise in variety of website platforms and integrations. He enjoys finding solutions to unique technical roadblocks.

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Silverback Blog Posts

How to Improve Core Web Vitals

by Kurt Lambert | February 9, 2023

Core Web Vitals are an essential part of any healthy, well-run website, but they’re also a vital part of technical SEO. When Google started rolling out new metrics, many websites scrambled to get their website up to speed while finding ways to shortcut the system. Yet despite all the tips and tricks, the Core Web Vitals update all leads back to one thing—building a technically sound and UX-friendly website is still the foundation of online success.

What is Core Web Vitals? 

Core Web Vitals metrics help measure a website’s performance, user experience, and security. They are designed to help web developers and site owners ensure that their sites are fast, responsive, secure, and provide a good user experience. 

Google released these metrics as a way to provide universal guidance for building a positive user experience online. They also help websites gain more visibility and recognition as a hassle-free experience for audiences as they browse, which are exactly the kinds of websites that Google wants to feature highly in search results — to give their users the best possible experience while searching. 

Here’s a look at what the Core Web Vitals include and why they’re a priority for your success

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Measures the time it takes for the main content of a page to load and become visible to the user. How quickly your site loads can impact your Google ranking, as Google prioritizes faster loading times as it leads to higher engagement and conversion rates. Research shows that 53% of people abandon mobile websites if it takes longer than three seconds to load, which could dramatically increase bounce rates and end a user’s journey through your website before it even begins.  
  • First Input Delay (FID) – Measures the time it takes for a page to become interactive after a user first tries interacting with it. This is important because users expect immediate feedback and responsiveness from a site, and a slow FID can lead to frustration and a poor user experience. Clicking buttons or interacting with forms that don’t respond right away can discourage users from sticking around a particular page. 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures the stability of the visual layout of a page. A high CLS score can indicate that the page’s design is shifting unexpectedly, which can be disorienting and annoying for users.

Each metric also works together and can impact one another. For example, if your CLS is poor, your FID will likely be higher as people leave your site to find a more satisfying experience elsewhere. Having a high LCP can mean images or videos taking longer to load, which can ultimately lead to a poor CLS score as content gets shifted around with each resource eventually displaying

Why are Core Web Vitals Important?

Google’s Core Web Vital updates help reduce your bounce rate and improve the overall search experience to help consumers find the answers they’re looking for. The goal is to provide an easy way to convert and make the user journey as seamless as possible.

According to Google, their “mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” When your website aligns with Google’s mission, your organic traffic and ranking should also improve. Because of this, Google began including CWV scores as a weighted part of its algorithm. While Core Web Vitals optimizations alone won’t lead to incredible keyword rankings and maximum organic visibility, it’s undoubtedly an important part of overall SEO strategy and optimization.

Google monitors websites’ core metrics and rolls that data into the Page Experience scores across Google Search Console. You may have a solid following on Instagram or LinkedIn, but a site with poor vitals will have issues getting pages ranked by Google, negatively impacting your performance. There’s no getting around needing a sound SEO strategy that strengthens your technical foundation to improve your online visibility and holistic web experience for your audience. 

The Current State of Core Web Vitals

Google’s Core Web Vitals in 2023 are still rooted in its original principles and metrics. It looks at these combinations of factors to continually improve the search experience. However, while it has not been confirmed by Google, it’s very likely that its broad core algorithm updates that have rolled out in the months since Core Web Vitals first became an official part of its algorithm in 2021 have seen the weight or importance of CWVs fluctuate in importance and impact across different industries, now that it has over a year of real-world data, measurements and context across the web.

In 2021 and 2022, websites that wanted to stay competitive were scrambling to improve their Core Web Vitals scores as quickly as possible. With increased demand, businesses and marketers started using tools, apps, and plugins baked into platforms like WordPress to improve performance through various optimization tactics. 

Instead of dealing with manual, tedious updates, these tools and platforms would automatically perform some key optimization tactics like caching entire websites, using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to combine JavaScript and CSS files and reducing image rendering time. In other words, websites wanted to deliver lightning-fast content as seamlessly as possible to keep their audience engaged.

Over time, our team found these types of platforms and fixes to be less reliable and posed a new set of problems. The platforms are designed to improve scores by simultaneously checking with Google Page Speed Insights in real time. Yet, it was tough to connect the improvement with what the reports in our Google Search Console were showing us. Progress just wasn’t showing up at the same rate as the Page Speed Insight tests suggested. It is possible that some tools and platforms instead were gaming the system for inflating Page Speed Insights scores, while not really being fully optimized where it truly matters — in the eyes of Google’s search engine crawlers 

There are also some serious incompatibilities that come with using a magic “fix everything” website platform. For example, sites with sophisticated analytics tracking or functionality often experience “over-optimization” for their JavaScript to run correctly. The results? Things will keep breaking or requiring excessive customization just to make the platform work, which can lead to a worse UX or a reduction in the improvements the platform was designed to help with.

Interaction to Next Paint vs. First Input Delay

In May 2022, Google announced a new metric to its Page Speed Insights tests, Interaction to Next Paint (INP). When they rolled out the latest addition, Google also released a disclaimer that it was an “experimental metric that assesses responsiveness.” In reality, it’s the same thing that one of their original Core Website Vitals updates, First Input Delay (FID), does. Although Google has not announced the next steps, it’s assumed that at some point in 2023, INP will replace FID as one of their primary metrics, as it measures responsiveness more accurately.

However, there are some critical differences between these two metrics. FID is measured when a user first interacts with a web page, while INP estimates how long a user has to take before interacting. The optimization of both FID and INP is about the same, but the latter should provide deeper insights into a page’s User Experience (UX). 

How to Improve Core Web Vitals for 2023

After noticing the flaws and gaps in the available tools and platforms, we learned a valuable lesson over the year—having a great, high-quality, performing website with a strong SEO and technical foundation matters. There may be efficient tools to help you improve your site, but there are no shortcuts to good SEO. 

It still takes time to take inventory of the existing issues with your Core Web Vitals and what causes them. We also needed to strategize actionable solutions and directly implement them into a web page, platform, template, server, or any area where we found issues.

When you take deliberate care to diligently improve your technical SEO and the Core Web Vitals of your site, it ensures both your audience and Google will see your much-improved UX. By addressing each issue directly, we are able to improve the universal vitals for any website platform. We don’t jump at quick fixes, but take our time to approve every issue or option available. Our team can now audit any website, then figure out the best short and long-term opportunities out there. 

Need Help with Your Online Reach?

As we head into 2023, there haven’t been any significant Core Web Vital updates—yet. But with every core algorithm update, Google increasingly favors optimized sites earning organic traffic. As a result, we also don’t see these metrics being de-emphasized at any point in the future. With all the recent Google updates in the content realm, providing a good UX will remain a constant as the backbone of your online success. 

Building a technical foundation of your website is important and impacts everything from rankings to visibility, which helps you succeed in a digital world. Explore our technical SEO services here to discuss your online presence and how to improve your ranking and user experience.

Kurt Lambert

Kurt is an accomplished digital marketer with over a decade of experience. He enjoys building out dynamic SEO strategies & solving complex website matters by blending creativity, data & technology.

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