Without Employing Black Hat SEO Tactics

In May of 2020, Google announced its intention to emphasize Page Experience and Core Web Vitals as major ranking factors in 2021. Given that Google’s propensity for secrecy is – understandably – based on keeping an ever-increasing competitive edge, protecting its ranking factors the same way that nations (ought to) protect nuclear codes, it was a pleasant surprise that leading search engine would give companies with an online presence ample time to ramp up their websites. Google’s algorithm, though shrouded in mystery, is the subject of study for SEOs (search engine optimizers) out in the field. This significant ‘heads up’ allowed SEOs to go back to the drawing board and along with the assistance of their company’s web developers, sit heads down working on improving the site based on these soon-to-be-vital ranking factors.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Such was the case at Jazwares. Jazwares.com recently underwent a site facelift, an initiative that began before they hired an SEO (ergo, me). Armed with this relatively new information of Core Web Vitals and Page Experience, I wanted to get a lay of the land of the current site to check its health score. Using Ahrefs to check for any internal errors (the dreaded, ranking killer 404s, for example), I found that the newly launched site was a dismal 75 in terms of health score. There were multiple problems that had to be addressed prior to addressing the elephant in the room (Google’s upcoming ranking factor change). These issues included:

  • Non-canonicals – There were several iterations of the website, including www and non-www
  • Non-secured – No secure SSL certificate, so in addition to the above, we had to choose one canonical (that ended up being www) and redirected (301) all the other site iterations, so as to also decrease competition within our site (via duplicate content)
  • Extraneous CSS and JS components removed
  • Pages missing meta fields – although not as important, they still hold weight when it comes to ranking factors (page title, meta description)
  • Poorly optimized images with poorly optimized alt text attributes – Photos were named as photo.jpg and attributes were missing
  • Image files themselves were not optimized for loading
  • URLs not optimized
  • And a series of other issues that once addressed, dramatically improved the site’s health score and customer user journey

Once these were out of the way, we turned our focus to the Page Experience and Core Web Vitals, by using Google Search Console and the Mobile-Friendly Tester to uncover any issues within each page. For example, we found that one of our FAQ pages was not mobile-friendly. Since Google is Mobile First, this is a big no-no! That said, the page tester revealed those elements that had to updated so that it could be mobile friendly. 

Shown: Google Mobile Tester

This plays into the Core Web Vitals that Google will be looking at when it updates its algorithm next year. Core Web Vitals include:

  1. Loading – Largest Contentful Paint
  2. Interactivity – First Input Delay
  3. Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift

Credit: Chromium Blog

These are technical terms used to describe how Google wants to improve the user experience when a searcher navigates a page on mobile: web pages should upload the most important components first (the ones that the user is looking for) and anything stylistic, later. It also measures how responsive the site design actually is and it’s also starting to penalize any annoying interstitial ads that pop up and purposely lead the user to click on a link they did not intend to click on. Similar to the PANDA, HUMMINGBIRD and PENGUIN algorithm updates, webmasters are to take note of these changes and apply them before 2021, lest the site suffers from one of the many nightmares an SEO can experience: poor page ranking!

As such, Jazwares.com is well on its way to being ready for Google’s next huge update, as 2021 is a few mere months away. The latest health report shows that the site, once a 75, is now thriving with a health score of 97!