Episode 63: Core Web Vitals as ranking factors and Discovery Ads

Play this episode:

Or get it on:

What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook and Rob Lewis discussing Core Web Vitals as ranking factors - Google recently announced three new metrics they will be using to measure page quality and these will be incorporated as ranking signals in 2021. Rob will also discuss discovery ads and how to advertise in Google's Discover Feed on mobile.

Show notes


MC: Welcome to episode 63 of the Search with Candour podcast. Recorded on Friday the 29th of May 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I’m blessed to be joined, very remotely, by Mr Rob Lewis again.

RL: Greetings.

MC: So today we are going to be talking about the new Google core metrics and what that means for search rankings and Google discover ads.

Rob, this is the first podcast episode we've done since quarantine isn't it? this is the first time we're speaking?

RL: It's been strange, strange times.

MC: Sorry, not the first time we're speaking; obviously we speak quite a lot because we still work together, but the first time we've talked on a podcast and it is strange because I’m used to sitting at the other end of that table and seeing you drinking your Doombar and now I believe... what was it you're drinking now?

RL: It's a Gin and Tonic. It's my first just to clarify, I haven't been drinking G&Ts all day.

MC: I'm pleased that some things haven't changed at least while we're quarantine. So i wanted to kick off this episode and talk about a post that happened on the Google webmaster central blog just yesterday because if you listen to our last episode we went into depth about the new core metrics that Google is using in lighthouse version six, and these were around the largest contentful paint, around delays with interaction and my favourite which was CLS - the cumulative layout shift - which is Google now measuring those websites that jiggle about as they load and normally end up with you clicking on an ad when you just wanted to find out what that celebrity looks like in 2020.

So the post went up yesterday and it's quite interesting news, it's basically saying that Google's going to start using these metrics as search ranking signals. So I’ll read out some of the post and just talk through it. So again, I will link to this post on the episode notes which will be at So the post is called, ‘Evaluating page experience for a better web’ and Google says: ‘Through both internal studies and industry research, users show they prefer sites with a great page experience.’ Maybe not one of those things you actually need that much research on, if you're calling it a great experience, and sort of asking people if they prefer a great experience, but they've done studies and they're trying to identify specifically what it is that makes a good page experience. It's obvious that people like good experiences because they're good, but what Google started doing with these studies is pulling apart what actually constitutes those experiences.

So they've said: ‘In recent years search has added a variety of user experience criteria, such as how quickly pages load and mobile-friendliness as factors for ranking results. earlier this month the chrome team announced core web vitals; a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability, to help site owners measure user experience on the web. today we're building on this work and providing an early look at an upcoming search ranking change that incorporates these page experience metrics.’ So they've immediately got the attention of every SEO when they started talking about search ranking changes. Google says, ‘We will introduce a new signal that combines core web vitals with our existing signals for page experience to provide a holistic picture of the quality of a user's experience on a web page. as part of this update, we'll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for top stories, feature in search on mobile, and remove the amp requirement from top stories eligibility. Google continues to support amp and will continue to link to amp pages when available. We've also updated our developer tools to help site owners optimise their page experience.’

So a couple of important things just add that intro bit, they're removing the amp requirement for top stories. So the new stories in Google at the moment, to be eligible for those, you had to use the accelerated mobile format, that's no longer going to be the case. And secondly, they've said they're combining these new signals and this is actually going to have a change in there's going to be ranking signals that will change our sites rank. And why I’m paying attention to this is, it's not very often that firstly Google is specific about algorithmic things that are going to change, and it's not that common that they give us so much notice. There is a note on the post that says about the timing; ‘We recognise many site owners are rightfully placing their focus on responding to the effects of Covid19. The ranking changes described in this post will not happen before next year, and we will provide at least six months notice before they're rolled out. we're providing the tools now, to get you started and because site owners have consistently requested to know about ranking changes as early as possible.’ which is fair enough.

So we're going that's not saying it's going to happen in six months, they're saying it's happening next year at the earliest, but they're also going to give us at least six months notice before they're rolled out, which may sound like a long time but especially from my experience with maybe larger clients with developer teams that already have lots of kind of tickets open and things in their pipeline, six months isn't a huge amount of notice to get these changes done. They've gone into a little bit more detail about page experience, saying the page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.’ and that's quite important.

I spoke in the last podcast around when pages load having them partially load up rather than stay blank until they're fully loaded, although the total load time is different, the experience and perception of the user are that the page is faster and they're more satisfied with that, in general. They say, ‘optimising for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction. Core web vitals are a set of real-world user-centred metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usabilities such as load time, interactivity, and stability of content.’ So if you want to know any more about them, I suggest you listen to the last episode if you haven't already, because we go into detail about the three new metrics, what they are and what they mean. They've also provided a helpful image that shows the current search signals they're using to measure page experience and the new core web vitals. So we already know to measure page experience Google looks at mobile-friendliness - so if a page basically works and is navigable easily on mobile. They look at safe browsing, so that's something you can get feedback on through Google Search Console, making sure your site's not serving on malware to people. HTTPs - so having a secure connection, we know is a ranking signal and of course, no intrusive interstitials or pop-ups or anything like that, which again sometimes catches people out. So even if you do it wrong, things like a language select pop-up that's done badly can actually impact these signals for page experience. So they're adding to this the loading metric which is largest contentful paint, interactivity which is the first input delay, FID, and visual stability, the cumulative layout shift, CLS, -so as I said I won't go into detail about these because with that in the last episode.

One interesting thing that I did read is that these core web vitals, while this is what Google has said, these are what we believe are good metrics to describe a good page experience, they have said that these may not actually remain the same over the years. So as technology changes, as user expectations change, Google's saying we may actually change these metrics, so they're always going to be metrics these core web vitals that describe what a great page experience is about. So the summary that Google gives is, they believe user engagement will improve as experiences on the web become better and these new signals are basically going to help make the web better for everyone. So you can get these new WebCore vitals from Google Search Console now and this is something I personally would start to make inroads in, looking at the scores you are getting, and seeing where you can improve. And you know as Google’s saying here, hopefully anyway, improving these things outside of SEO, you should hopefully be able to improve conversion and just generally make your visitors a bit happier.

RL: So a couple of days ago Google made an announcement that it was going to be globally rolling out its discover ad format and previously it was only rolled out on a limited basis and this is an ad format which shows on Google feeds. Primarily it shows on the Google discover feed and for those that don't know what the Google discover feed is, it might just be easier if I read their own description of it which is as follows, ‘Discover shows users a mix of content based on your interactions with Google products or contents that you choose to follow directly, and we're not limited to what's published today if we think that a user would find earlier content interesting then discover will show it.’ Basically it's a bespoke feed to show you content that you that Google thinks you will find interesting, and I have to say I really like it I use it all the time all day, I’m constantly using it.

MC: This is on the Google app, right? You can install it.

RL: Yeah, so on my phone I swipe to the right and I have my own news feed essentially, and I much prefer using it to google news because it's where I go to view the lighter-hearted stuff that interests me, you know where I’m shielded from the state of the world and politics.

MC: I really need to get on this. So I’ve looked at Google Discover quite a lot, just from a work point of view, but I don't actually use it myself because I try and set my phone up so it has like the least possible information about me and what I’m doing.

RL: Yeah of course, that that does make sense. I mean I find it really useful though for my niche interests and also it's useful because when I’m Googling stuff about my kids’ interests I get up-to-date notifications about the latest fortnight update and things like that I need to know about that my kids are into, so it's a really nice little tool to have.

This is where I’m really interested in it as a marketer because I think if ever there was a place to be shown an advert for something that caters to your own individual tastes, to be sold a product that you are interested in, in my opinion, it will be on the Google Discover Feed, and just to clarify that the announcement they've made, the discover ad format, doesn't just show on Google the Google Discover feed, it also shows adverts on the YouTube home and watch next feeds, and also if you've got a promotions tab in your Gmail account, they may show there as well so it's an ad format that's catered primarily to people's individual feeds and those feeds may show on Youtube, Google Discover and Gmail. and I’ve been experimenting with the setup of the campaign today and it's a new format for me, I don't unfortunately, at this point, have any historic performance insights to share at this moment I’m still waiting for the ads to be approved by Google, it seems as though it takes a bit of a fair time for their reviews team to approve them. But setting them up is quite straightforward, you just create a new campaign as you normally would in Google ads and you have a brand new campaign type. So whereas before you've had search, shopping, display, you now have a new display campaign type called discovery, so when you're filtering through different campaign types, you now have discovery showing as well.

Now there are some interesting facts about running a discovery campaign that I think is important to share. The first is that there's no manual bidding, they've removed manual bidding and it only uses target CPA as a bidding method now, there are no device targeting options, so you can't show ads primarily on mobile or desktop it's whatever Google decides to show it on, there's no frequency capping and you're not able to add exclusions. So Google has stated it will automatically manage itself and will do its best to make sure that it won't show adverts around sensitive topics. So it is a much more automated solution, but you do still have control over who you want to target. So where your ads will show, you're limited, but who you can show that ads to is where you maintain full control. So you can set it up as you would a normal remarketing campaign, you can use your standard remarketing lists and audiences, and if that's successful if you get conversions at a good CPA, you can consider expanding it as an outreach platform as well. The only thing Google has said is, if you're using custom intent audiences, it only supports keyword targeting at this time, you can't use URL intent targeting, so it's worth bearing that in mind - if your custom intent lists contain URLs as part of your list, you can only use keywords at this point.

A few other things they've announced about it that's worth bearing in mind; they're recommending that you set your daily budget to 10 times the amount that you've set your target CPA, which in my opinion, is pretty high. I can understand totally why they're saying that - they want to give it time for the algorithm to learn what works best, obviously not every advertiser has enough budget to do 10 times per day, worth of their target CPA, especially when they're trying a new channel such as this.

MC: It’s so unlike Google to ask you to put your budget up as well...

RL: Yeah…

MC: Just a question then, if you're trying to do lead generation and you had sort of fairly high-value leads and maybe you wanted to run a PPC account and you only wanted like four leads a month, like one a week, that would be quite difficult to do then I guess if you had a lead that's worth 400 pounds - so they're asking you to set then a 4000 pounds a day budget?

RL: Yeah and they're saying do that as a data collection exercise as well you know to begin with to get this algorithm to work. I have to say it's interesting that you mentioned leads because at the moment I feel as though the way the Google Discover feed is set up, it caters very well to e-comm, specifically to products to fashion, and in fact I’m actually trying it at the moment for one of my fashion clients, so um I’m interested to see the results there, but one of the ways in which it charges you is it charges you per interaction with the cards. And just to clarify, it doesn't actually call them ads, it calls them discovery cards and there are two formats that you can choose, there's just a static card which comprises several images, but there's also an interactable carousel format where you can slide and look at multiple cards, and obviously if you slide then that in itself is an interaction. So I think at the moment visual brands will really flourish on this type of ad format, but it's early days, it awaits to be seen how well it's going to do, but in my opinion, one of the things that Google really needs to work on is its custom intense algorithm. In my experience when trialing it on the display network, I've had very very mixed results and different types of traffic quality, often on the lower end of the traffic quality spectrum.

MC: That’s a very polite way to put it.

RL: I’ve put it a bit harsher in the past.

MC: So this does sound like a very hands-off method of running ads and it reminds me, it was quite a few episodes ago now uh one of your predictions was Google is moving away from keywords and slowly trundling towards this intent-based bidding process, do you think that's what we're seeing with Discover? because Discover’s all about not what you're searching for isn't it, it's Google guessing what the next thing is.

RL: Yeah and it's about better understanding your lifestyle and what makes you unique, and one of the things I’ve constantly found over the years, more so now, is that every single search query on google is so unique in scope, everyone's unique requirement is unique to them, and when clients used to say to me in the past - what's my top 10 keywords - it's very difficult to share that information now because everyone's unique search query is unique to them. And I think the Google Discover feed is very much a representation of that because it's your own little universe of things that you're interested in and I think all of that is additional data for Google and it gives marketers a much better chance to create truly unique, niche targeting options to show ads to the people that need your product and who would genuinely be interested in your products. So for me, I’m excited, it's a great ad format and I can't wait to start experimenting with it.

MC: So one of the challenges we face as a digital marketing industry is decreasing reliability of being able to deliver people cookies. So we used to be able to just give your marketing tracking cookies to everyone and obviously there's a lot more regulation about what we can do now and lots of ways people are just automatically blocking cookies, so we can't add them to audience lists and we can't track multiple visits, and so it's harder to get these behaviour patterns, so I guess what Google's been able to do there, as you said, is actually more powerful than what we've previously been able to do with web cookies because they're getting all of these touchpoints and interactions through the phone and the app and the other connected Google services to build, so if anything, we're getting a better picture aren't we, of the consumer. Well, Google is getting a better picture of a consumer and is allowing us to pull levers blindly and rely on them to steer us.

So I think that's quite an interesting thing. I think it's interesting and worrying in the same sense that at least with web cookies that people have worries about privacy and whether they're founded or not with cookies and companies having a bit of usage data, but one of the silver linings, I guess in a way for me on that, was that at least that data is distributed over lots of different companies and different people and they all have a bit of the picture because what we're seeing now, that's being taken away you're just ending up with a few companies that have all the data on people on very detailed pictures because we've become very reliant on their products.

RL: Yeah and I think because we work within the marketing industry we understand that although we have access to target people based on their interests, we don't actually know who they are, all we know is that we are showing adverts to people that have an interest in that particular niche. We don't know that their name is Mark Williams-Cook and that they have an interest in XYZ

MC: I wondered where you're going with that then.

RL: Yeah, so I think a lot of the people that are exposed to these adverts, probably do have a worry that maybe we, as marketing agencies or advertisers, are collating this personal data and understanding all of their interests and desires, but obviously that's not the case to us, it's just X number of people had an interest in this and we've shown ads to that many people it's basically the extent to what we see when we're managing these campaigns.

MC: Yeah we need to keep telling people that to put their fears to bed; we don't know your deepest darkest desires just yet as marketers by name at least.

Anyway, Rob thank you so much again for your time, joining us during quarantine, and we will be back on Monday, June the 8th with another episode. As usual, if you are enjoying the podcast please do subscribe, drop us a note, let us know if you've got any questions for us do send them in, we do do the occasional Q&A session and otherwise, I hope you'll tune in next week and we'll see you all then.

RL: Goodbye.

More from the blog