If your blog is on our modern platform, it got much faster this week.  Major SEO benefits as well.  Why?  Core Web Vitals (CWV).

CWV is a new set of website performance measurements authored by Google. They measure the way a website actually behaves for a human user, rather than assess things that might look statistically significant to a machine, but don’t affect people as much. The CWV are detailed at https://web.dev/vitals/.

Google claims these measurements will begin to affect SEO in May, 2021.  For a couple of months I’ve been preparing our platform for this by improving our CWV scores.  I’ve been measuring that progress in Google’s excellent Lighthouse tool.  I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned.

It wasn’t that bad.

Before making any changes, I first gathered batch of scores from various sites on our network.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of our sites scored in the 60-70 range, out of 100, as measured by Lighthouse.  This might sound a bit low, but in my experience that’s a pretty good opening score for an assessment tool you’ve never before attempted to please.  I attribute our half-decent initial scores to:

  • By default, every single blog on our core platform enjoys massive performance optimization thanks to our unique integration between Cloudflare and WP-Engine.
  • No, or very few, scripted ads.
  • No analytics tracking beyond basic Google Analytics.
  • Very little third-party tooling.  We mostly make our own stuff, and therefore we don’t have to worry about scripts that call scripts that call scripts etc…
  • We offer an AMP front-end for mobile users, and AMP sites are five times more likely to pass a CWV test.

Like most developers though, if you show me a number, and tell me that I need to solve problems in order to make that number increase toward a particular limit, I get … involved.

There was a lot of low-hanging fruit.

We designed and developed the front-end for our core platform a few years ago, and in the ensuing period, many HTML/CSS/JavaScript features have gained browser support.  Some of these impact front-end performance and we were not taking full advantage of all of them:

By just quickly shoring up those three things, maybe a couple others, I immediately started to see scores in the 80’s and low 90’s.

There were only a couple of annoying problems.

One of the more time-consuming problems was transitioning off of Font Awesome icons, in favor of individual SVG images, for our AMP front-end.  Not a terribly deep problem, but labor intensive.  There’s a reason why we chose Font Awesome:  The developer experience is highly scalable and convenient.

Another snag was that some performance improvements were merely a Cloudflare setting or two away — but we have over 1,000 properties on Cloudflare and we like them to all work the exact same way.  Fortunately, a few years ago we built a custom dashboard for configuring a variety of CloudFlare settings across our entire network with one click.

Simpler is still better.

After all these years on and around the web, I still believe content is king.  I think almost anything other than content and primary navigation is likely unnecessary.   This intuition bore out well during the CWV process.  Sites that insist on loading third-party scripts for things like image sliders, custom email marketing or ads hit a ceiling on their CWV scores that is not present on our core platform sites.  For our core sites, the ceiling is quite literally 100.  After resolving a total of probably 10-12 issues, I started to see scores like this all across our network:

This site has a large body background image, high-resolution logos, custom fonts, yet it still scores 100 in the performance category.

Why stop at 100?

This is an addicting, highly gamified task.  I’m finding it hard to want to move on to our next major initiative.  Probably the next steps for improving our CWV even more are the various Cloudflare features that are tucked away at a higher tier than what our core platform uses.  Things like next-gen image formats, for example.  That’ll be something we examine later on this year.