Will Google’s Core Web Vitals Update Affect My SEO & SERP?

MODX has always been one of the fastest CMSes out there. Now Google is making that a very important part of SEO, thanks to its focus on Core Web Vitals.

By Ryan Thrash
December 11, 2020
Will Google’s Core Web Vitals Update Affect My SEO & SERP?

If you have a slow CMS like SquareSpace, WordPress, or Wix, your SEO game changes in May 2021

Having a fast website has always been a good thing.

Countless companies of all sizes have anecdotes and data that faster websites lead to happier visitors that stick around longer and convert better. Plus, faster sites perform better in SEO, all things being equal.

Amazon says a second slower page load would cost them $1.6-billion annually. Similarly, Google quantified a 400ms search result slowdown led to 8-million fewer ad impressions a day. And those were way back in 2012.1 It’d be much worse today.

Take this to the bank, both figuratively and literally: faster websites convert much better.

And suppose you want to stand a chance at competing with the heavyweights, much less your current smaller competitors. In that case, you better have a fast website.

Where do your visitors come from?

Organic search is one of the cheapest ways to get visitors to your website. Google loves well-written, properly structured, relevant content that is served fast and that people pay attention to. The holy grail of Search Engine Ranking Position, or SERP, is landing on the first page of Google.

If you do well with Google, you’ll almost certainly do well with other search engines.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, Google recently made it official.2 Your site’s responsiveness, overall speed, and how it acts while loading will start factoring in search results like SSL and mobile-friendly did earlier. By evaluating your content similar to how humans would, they can determine if it’s a good User Experience (UX)—or not. As it turns out, Google has tens of thousands of brilliant engineers who are exceptionally talented at this sort of thing.

MODX is one of the fastest platforms for website content delivery out there—in the top three. By comparison, hugely popular platforms Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix came in 18th, 19th, and dead-last, respectively.

Google states its SERP algorithm update will happen in May 2021. And where Google goes, so goes the whole SEO industry. Three factors will become new ranking signals, called Core Web Vitals:

  1. Interactivity – First Input Delay (FID) – how fast until things start showing up in browsers. Shoot for 100ms or less—over 300ms is too slow. Lab measurements of this can’t detect FID, so a good proxy for this is Total Blocking Time (TBT), which is how long blocking Javascript delays things.
  2. Loading Time – Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how long does it take for the largest part of your content to load. Aim for under 2.5 seconds, though I’d argue for under 2 seconds, personally. Over 4 seconds is too long.
  3. Visual Stability – Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – how much does your page move around when images, videos, fonts, and ads affect your content.

The platform that powers your website impacts the first two points above, FID and LCP.3 4 How you choose to build your site affects the third, CLS.5

Why your CMS Matters

The architecture of what powers your site has a massive impact on how quickly your content gets to your customers. But until recently, there has been very little data that compares real-world results.

That changed when SEO tool vendor Sistrix analyzed almost 20 million websites to determine what powered both their content and their e-commerce. It’s an excellent article and highly recommended for insight on this critical topic. Of particular note, this is real-world site analysis, not a gamed benchmark suite designed to show the best of platform X while making platforms Y and Z look bad.

For MODX users, it contains excellent news.

MODX is one of the fastest platforms for website content delivery out there—in the top three. By comparison, hugely popular platforms Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix came in 18th, 19th, and dead-last, respectively.6 Almost 80% of MODX sites scored well. Over 40% of sites built on WordPress didn’t cut it.

MODX performs so well because it has robust (and extendable) caching built into its core. A well-built site using MODX best practices7 8 can serve pages almost as quickly as plain HTML. MODX is like getting a static site builder—powered by a robust, proven, and customizable CMS back end—that even the most non-technical users can run.

From day one, we put speed and scalability first in MODX’s architecture, along with our foundational focuses on security9 and Creative Freedom.10 11 12 These were good choices when we first made them over 15-years ago, and they remain good choices today.

What should I do if I’m on a slow CMS, like WordPress?

If you’re a hobbyist or not trying to grow, stick with what you’ve got! If you’ve invested in custom work for your website or recently re-launched, you should weigh if investing in a rebuild is worth the time.

Let’s be clear, WordPress has a ton going for it that is envious: a giant ecosystem, plugins for almost anything, and massive market share. If you’re a startup or have a limited or non-existent budget, WordPress is probably a good option. You can pick a theme, toss in a dozen or two plugins, and have an impressive-looking website relatively quickly. But, speed, a track record for security, and ease of maintenance once you layer in those dozens of plugins will probably create more than a few pains down the road.

There are a few reasons you should invest in faster website platforms like MODX, though:

  • If you’ve not updated your site in a while—especially if it’s not mobile-friendly, or
  • If you rely on organic SEO as a strategy for building site traffic, or
  • If your site generates leads or revenues.

Porting a typical marketing site from other platforms, including WordPress and Drupal, is pretty straightforward. You won’t lose all the content you’ve spent years creating.

Does anything else matter, like your web host?

Your web host can slow down your site. Unfortunately, a lot of people throw hardware at the problem, thinking bigger web servers will solve the scaling issues. That doesn’t always fix things, though, and it’s just plain wasteful of rack space and energy, too. Neglecting crucial server maintenance often accompanies custom servers, another inevitable problem down the road.

The proper approach is taking the time to configure the right software on the right hardware for a specific job. Most marketing websites are straightforward to power but are usually on generic servers meant to do virtually anything you could need on the web—more inefficiency.

Chances are, if you’re on a cPanel server, your site will be slow—especially at EIG-owned web hosts, where once-great companies go to die.13 Ditto for GoDaddy.14

Unfortunately, the siren song of cheap commodity hosting is tempting for many. The reality is that it’s probably a bad idea to spend less on your critical website infrastructure than you do at Starbucks. Your website is your (hopefully) always-on public billboard to the world after all!

Thankfully, though, MODX has a killer solution for serving sites fast and keeping them up to date in MODX Cloud. It works great for any PHP app, including WordPress, with some enhanced features specifically for MODX.

Help! How can I find out more?

If you’re curious about your site, let us know. We’ll do a quick scan of it and share a report of where we think there are easy gains to make. We can even put you in touch with our trusted partners, MODX Professionals, to help you update your site.

In May 2021, the rules for winning the search game are changing again. You’ve got time to stay at the top—or gain on your competition—if you act now.

Is my website fast?