Neil Patel, one of the most renowned digital marketers in the world, conducted a joint study where they crawled 143,827 URLs to see how page speed affects SEO rankings. It was found that a website at Rank 6 was 20% slower than the website at Rank 1, indicating that Page Speed has a direct relationship with SEO Rankings. In this post, you’ll read about how the new WordPress 5.9 update can make WordPress site faster by improving an important metric of Google Core Web Vitals.
WordPress is one of the most widely used Content Management Systems (CMS) in the world. Approximately, 64 million websites (or 39.6% of the internet) are powered by WordPress.
And around 409 million people visit approximately 20 billion pages each month on WordPress alone.
Now that’s a lot of people. Imagine having 409 million disappointed searchers every month if WordPress stops rolling out continuous improvements in its CMS.
Each year, WordPress comes out with numerous changes, most of which are security updates and regular maintenance but these changes can have a huge impact on websites’ performance on SERPs like Google Search.
Let us look at the WordPress 5.9 update, which is scheduled to release in December 2021. So, what’s so special about this update? It can improve your WordPress website’s Core Web Vitals Metric by up to 33% resulting in improved search rankings, user experience etc.
In order to understand how this WordPress 5.9 Update can help you make your WordPress site faster, let us first get an understanding of what these three concepts mean:
- Core Web Vitals
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
- Lazy Loading of Images.
Core Web Vitals
In April 2021, Google announced that it will start using page experience as a ranking factor from Mid-June 2021. Of all the possible metrics (Web Vitals), there is a subset of three metrics (Core Web Vitals) that every site owner should measure. These three core web vitals are:
- Largest Contentful Page (LCP) – In simple words, it means how fast stuff appears on your website. Earlier, Google looked at how fast does the page starts loading but this was not good. Because if the page is just showing a loading indicator, it’s not very relevant for the user.
Now Google measures how much time does the largest text or image box visible within the viewport takes to be rendered.
- First Input Delay (FID) – This is a measure of the load responsiveness of the website. It simply measures the time from when user first interacts with the website ( eg. clicking a link or a button) to the time it takes for the page to show a response to that interaction.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – This measures the visual stability of the page or how unexpectedly the layout of the page shifts. Think of this – you added a product to your cart but changed your mind and want to cancel the order. You go on to click on the cancel button but the page layout suddenly shifts and you end up clicking on the submit order button.
Is this a nice user experience? Google wants site owners to fix that and make their website more visually stable.
Largest Contentful Page (LCP)
In continuation to what I have mentioned above, Google wants site owners to have an LCP metric of 2.5 seconds or less.
So, if on your website you have a big hero image and a heading on top of it, your largest contentful paint will be the hero image. If you have multiple headings of different sizes on your website, the heading occupying up the biggest real estate on the device will be the largest contentful paint.
Lazy – Loading
Lazy Loading refers to a technique used to optimize load time. With this feature, only the required content (above the fold) first and then loads the remaining content (below the fold) when the user needs it.
It helps in limiting bandwidth usage, boosting site performance and improving the overall user experience. It also gives the website SEO a boost.
It’s extremely beneficial and WordPress added it to WordPress core in its 5.5 update. However, this feature does not take into consideration if the content appears above or below the fold. The decision to exclude certain images from lazy loading was left to the theme authors.
It was recently discovered that too much lazy-loading can actually have negative impacts. There is room for improvement and that’s what the WordPress 5.9 update will be about. Let us see how this WordPress 5.9 can help you make WordPress site faster.
So how can the new update make your WordPress site faster?
Lazy-loading cannot be completely omitted as it comes with its own benefits, such as reduced bandwidth and less wastage of network resources. However, it can be refined to achieve better LCP values in a vast majority of cases.
Theoretically, if the first ‘x’ content images are not lazy-loaded by default, with ‘x’ being as high as possible so that there is little to no LCP regression and as low as possible so that there is little to no regression in the total bytes loaded, the LCP metric can be improved.
Felix Arntz conducted an experiment across 50 of the most popular WordPress themes on 2 different viewports – “Mobile” and “Desktop”. He used a plugin that prevents the lazyload attribute (See attribute code below) from being added to the first 1 or 2 content images respectively.
The main aim behind this experiment was to see if omitting the lazy-load attribute from the content that is above the fold will actually improve the LCP metric or not. (the largest image/text content within the viewport gets rendered faster).
Omitting the first content image from being lazy-loaded resulted in a median LCP improvement of 7% (1,877ms compared to 2,020ms with current core behavior) and a median image bytes increase of 0% (368KB compared to 369KB with current core behavior). → Omitting the first content image clearly results in an LCP improvement while not noticeably regressing on image bytes savedFelix Arntz – WordPress
When the first image was omitted from being lazy-loaded it showed a median LCP improvement of 7%. However, when the first 2 images were omitted from being lazy-loaded, worse results were produced for the LCP metrics.
In a vast majority of cases, preventing the first image from being lazy-loaded produced better results with LCP improvements ranging from 7% – 33%. To make WordPress site faster, the following recommendations have been made for WordPress 5.9:
- Instead of lazy-loading all images and i-frames by default, the first image or iframe should not be lazy-loaded.
- If this suggestion is implemented, WordPress will provide better LCP performance and have low bandwidth usage out of the box.
- Despite the suggested changes, the responsibility for fine-graining the lazy-loading attribute still lies with the theme author.
If these changes are implemented, websites made on WordPress can see LCP improvement of up to 33%. This will also provide a significant boost to their Search Engine Rankings. Let’s see what final features are added to the upcoming WordPress 5.9 core update and how they will have an impact on Google Core Web Vitals.
We do have an On-Page SEO Analysis for Beginners in 2021 blog post, which provides some additional measures to optimize images for better Search Engine rankings, feel free to check it out here.