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One of the things that is utterly maddening about SEO is that very little of the effort SEOs put into “doing SEO” the right way is easily measured. It can take years to turn around a site from a mediocre traffic generator to a powerhouse, with dozens of algorithm updates along the way causing us to question our progress and erode the apparent value of what we’ve accomplished. It requires persistence and dedication, and the belief that if you do everything right you will win.
But, if you’re paying for SEO services, whether they’re in-house staff or hired guns, you expect results you can measure. That sometimes means keyword rankings (though those can be fleeting), sometimes that means new URLs created (though those often end up failing to produce revenue), and sometimes it means hard stats — like those measured by Core Web Vitals (CWV).
Let’s take a quick step back… What are Core Web Vitals anyway?
Several years ago, around the end of 2017, Google started rolling out its first Mobile Index. The idea here was that the mobile search (and browse) experience was sufficiently different from that of the desktop experience that it warranted a different set of search results — where websites that were (at that time) mobile friendly could be given prominence.
Eventually Google decided the mobile index should be the only index, though they still haven’t realized that goal for some older websites, and they switched their focus to be promoting a mobile-centric experience overall.
They tried Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for a while, rewarding sites who built their content in AMP with more prominent results, but it was burdensome for website owners and not necessarily a better experience for users. AMP has largely been obsoleted by the CWV push.
Then they developed a mobile Page Experience system, a ranking factor, which took a hard look at how fast pages were loading, specifically how long before they were interactive and what was the loading experience along the way.
There was a lot of hemming and hawing from the webmaster community over how difficult it was to meet Google’s seemingly arbitrary goals for these highly-technical topics most of us had never even heard of: Cumulative Layout Shift, Largest Contentful Paint, and First Input Delay come to mind.
Google put a lot of effort into building documentation explaining what methods we were using (or not using) that made the web slow, especially for mobile users and web.dev (a Chrome centric website) became something we — those of us who build websites — spend inordinate amounts of time deciphering.
Eventually, Google’s team worked their way to a codified understanding of what it meant for a website to be fast enough and technically good enough — though it’s still a big stretch for a lot of websites, especially those running on WordPress which was not designed or built considering Google’s thoughts about page load speed.
We call this system, and the specific metrics that are getting measured, Core Web Vitals.
Why you might care about Core Web Vitals
While Core Web Vitals started as a “mobile thing” it’s now also a “desktop thing.” That means that every web page on your site, loaded by every browser on every kind of connection in the world, is measured and given a grade of some kind — I believe it’s more like Pass/Fail than it is like A+ or B-.
That grade is among the many factors that go into deciding whether or not you’ll outrank your competition for any given keyword, on any given search results page.
If you’ve never checked your scores, I recommend doing so now. Visit PageSpeed Insights and enter your home page (or better still, your most important page) into the tool to see how your site is fairing. I’ll wait.
First up, did your page pass or fail? If your page passed, you don’t need to hire a Core Web Vitals consultant, your current team is awesome. If your page failed, either for mobile or desktop, you might be worried. How much you need to worry is highly variable.
If you take a step back from grumbling about how the Google overlords want us to do things a certain (onerous) way, it’s worth considering what’s in it for you…
- Faster websites have a lower bounce rate (i.e. more people will receive your message)
- Faster websites convert better (i.e. there’s more money in your pocket)
- Websites with a smaller payload use less bandwidth (which you may or may not pay for directly)
But how much does Core Web Vitals matter for ranking?
Google has told us repeatedly that Core Web Vitals is more like a tie-breaker, not a significant ranking factor. A significant ranking factor would be how well your web page matches the user’s intent, or whether or not there are a lot of links pointing at a page.
There are (probably) hundreds of small ranking factors. A renowned SEO firm once told me when I was their client, “The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is to be just a little bit better than your competition.” Their point was that I should shore up any of the easy things to fix so that if my competitors were lazy, and all other things were equal, I’d win.
So… Now that you’ve evaluated your own site, go do a quick Google search for your most important keyword. Then pop each of the top pages that outrank you into PageSpeed Insights and see if THEY pass. If they don’t pass, it probably doesn’t need to be a top priority for you. If they DO pass, well, it’s time to start thinking about how to improve your Core Web Vitals — so that you win when the tie-breakers come along.
Why you should consider hiring a Core Web Vitals consultant
If you’re a website owner, a developer, a marketing manager, etc. you’re probably by now familiar with the importance of how you write your content, how you structure your pages, how you link to them from within your own website, and how people link to them from outside your website.
These skills and concepts are not highly technical — by technical, I mean the nuts and bolts of what happens between when someone requests a page from your website and you deliver it ready to be interacted with.
The skills needed for Core Web Vitals work are highly technical. Here is a list of terms you can expect to encounter along the way. Keep track of how many of them you recognize and could implement without much time spent learning how. (I lifted these straight out of PageSpeed Insights and it took me at least a year to learn how to deal with all of these technical measurements.)
The Basics (the metrics that get scored)
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- First Input Delay (FID)
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
- First Contentful Paint (FCP)
- Interaction to Next Paint (INP)
- Time to First Byte (TTFB)
- Time to Interactive
- Speed Index
- Total Blocking Time
The Things that Contribute to those Scores
- Render-blocking resources
- Properly sized images
- Defer offscreen images
- Minify CSS
- Reduce unused CSS
- Efficiently encode images
- Serve images in next-gen formats
- Enable text compression
- Preconnect to required origins
Who does Core Web Vitals consulting?
That’s an excellent question! I do, I do! In fact, I love it. It’s very technical and it creates clear wins (at least the kind that make your site measurably faster, not that necessarily make it rank better).
What will I do for you?
The very first thing I do (after talking with you about your site) is an audit of your site — of your whole site, not just one or two templates. Like earlier when you put your URL into PageSpeed Insights, I’ll get that data for every page on your site (I use the Screaming Frog crawler to do this, but there are other options).
I’ll also assess your competition for important keywords to give you a realistic idea of whether this work will pay SEO dividends, or if it will only support making your website faster (and the benefits earned by doing so).
After assessing where your CWV bottlenecks are, I’ll make recommendations about what to fix ASAP, what to work into your normal development cycle, and what to ignore.
I can handle implementation for you, but be sure to discuss this with your web developer(s) before pulling the trigger. Many developers do not want other people poking around in their code for a host of valid reasons. I can communicate to your team what needs to be done to fix CWV without your developer needing to learn everything himself. I’m happy to do the work or help your team, whatever suits you.
I don’t have a fixed fee. I charge by the hour for all of my time. That way I can answer all of your questions, dig deeper where digging is needed, and carefully prioritize the work to be done specific to your website.
For the initial in-take and the audit, I estimate 3-5 hours ($450-750). After that, costs will vary depending on what I find in the audit and what kind of information you need to make a decision to go forward with the work.
The audit will likely turn up other problems. I will share these with you, not as an upsell, but because you should know what’s going on with your site. I do more than CWV, so if you want me to work on these other issues with you, I’m happy to.
Maybe you’re not convinced it’s time to give me a call? No problem, there are a variety of types of consultants offering to whip your CWV into shape. Here’s a look at three firms that rank well for CWV consulting.
SEO London ranks #1 for “core web vitals consultant.” I can see they know what they’re doing and they’ve put a lot of effort into making sure you trust what they’re doing. They have a high customer rating from TrustPilot and namedrop some big name customers. Their FAQ is worth a read through.
If you’re in the US, this is one of the few aspects of SEO that I think is fine to outsource to the UK. I generally find some of the best SEO thinking comes out of the UK, but on top of that, they don’t need local knowledge to handle the nuts and bolts of CWV.
My only concern here is that the site is very Lukasz Zelezny-focused, the SEO that founded the agency, but I don’t know if he’ll be working on your site or how big the agency is. Be sure to ask questions about that if you contact them for this work.
CoreWebVitals.io is clearly completely dedicated to this process. The site says “Welcome to The fastest page on earth. I help clients fix the Core Web Vitals. Faster sites gain free organic traffic and an improved conversion rate.” It appears to be mostly one person, Arjen Karel, who does the work and he seems imminently qualified. He offers fixed pricing for audit packages, one for “smaller sites” and one for “bigger sites” (he evaluates either one page template or five page templates accordingly). He also offers “Dev Team Support” which is probably paid by the hour. I applaud his transparency in pricing and what’s included. He’s located in the Netherlands and charges are in Euros.
Erwin Hofman also ranks well for this service (and is also in The Netherlands). I like how he breaks his services into three kinds: Quick scan or consult ($450-1190), an actual PageSpeed audit (from $2380), and PageSpeed training for your team (from $1980). He seems perfectly well qualified to do this work.
All three of these consultants have one thing in common — they have a system to help you get your Core Web Vitals up to speed, and presumably a knowable up front cost of what they’ll do.
They, like any consultant, can not guarantee rankings and despite promising that you’ll get other benefits, they can’t really guarantee that either — after an audit is completed, you may discover you do not want to do all of the work needed to achieve passing scores or that you won’t get as much benefit out of it as you hoped.