Since June 2021, Core Web Vitals (CWV) for mobile devices have been one of the key ranking factors for sites, which is why CWVs and site optimization play an important role in attracting and retaining users. In February 2022, Google began rolling out CWVs to desktop versions of sites, with the update due to be fully complete by the end of March. With this in mind, it’s important for publishers to understand how to optimize their Core Web Vitals for desktop.

In general, the ranking requirements for desktop versions of sites will be the same as for mobile, with largest contentful paint (LCP), cumulative layout shift (CLS) and first input delay (FID), used to measure loading speed, stability and responsiveness respectively. These will be used alongside other page experience signals such as HTTPS security, time to total interactivity, and absence of interstitials. (You can read more about the Core Web Vitals metrics here.)

But there is one difference with the desktop scores: optimizing your site for mobile devices will not count towards desktop search results. In fact, Google recognizes the desktop and mobile versions of the same site as separate entities. From now on, if the site uses different URLs for the desktop and mobile versions of the site, then (if configured correctly) search signals on computers will be generated based on the URL seen by the “full” site version user. This might lead some publishers to see quite different scores for the two versions of their site. 

Why desktop optimization might be more difficult than it seems

With faster connection speeds and greater processing power, desktop computers should, on the face of it, perform better on Core Web Vitals, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, figures from the Chrome User Experience Report show that for the top 1000 media sites globally, only 59% are compliant with CLS on their desktop site, compared to 67% on mobile. This means desktop sites are experiencing more unexpected layout shifts on pages than they ideally should be – an issue that frequently leads to accidental clicks from users and, as a result, penalties from Google.

The poorer CLS scores on desktop are perhaps down to publishers focusing their optimization efforts on mobile over the last few months. In many cases, desktop sites still employ overly complicated, slower loading setups which could soon be penalized in search rankings.

Tips for Optimizing Core Web Vitals for desktop

Use a CDN

We have explained here the benefits of using a CDN (content delivery network), which is especially effective if your site users are located far from the original site server. When using a CDN, “heavyweight” static content (images, videos, CSS, etc.) is requested from the point of presence (an intermediate server that duplicates the contents of the main one) closest to the user. As a result, the processing time of a user request is significantly reduced.

Pay attention to images

Although desktop devices can handle page loading faster than mobile devices, this does not mean it’s worth overloading pages with images. We are talking about a simple optimization of graphics both in size (resolution) and format. Of course, no one uses bmp images on pages, but you should pay attention to the less resource-intensive WebP, which can completely replace the familiar png format. You can also dig deeper and use lazy loading of images when scrolling a page. This will save user resources and increase LCP metric.

Don’t Forget About Scripts

Whether it is an internal script of your site, or a third-party script, referring to some external resource, everything creates an additional load on pages. In the latter case, often even more than in the first one, because users have to wait for a response not only from yours, but also from a third-party server. So choose your plugins, trackers, and ads carefully. At the same time, it will be useful to conduct A/B testing for performance measurement.

Reserve space for ads

Any advertisement must have its own reserved space, processed by a browser, otherwise the page template will not display correctly. Usually it looks like this: a user opens the page, waits for the main content to load (likely clicks on it) and sees how the page shifts further and further, stopping it from working with its content. This is how ads with no allocated space often load, and it is a sure way to drop your CLS score. Also keep in mind that this type of ad usually turns out to be non-adaptive (doesn’t take device screen resolution into account).

Set up real-user monitoring

In order to optimize your site effectively, and get immediate feedback on any changes you make, it’s important to get data on your Core Web Vitals scores in real-time, based on the real experiences of visitors to your site. If you’re relying on tools such as Google Search Console, which are based on historical data, it can be difficult to see the impact of any improvements you’re making or take action quickly if your scores start to fall.

Clickio Web Vitals Monitoring offers granular real-time analysis of CWVs, with automated alerts if scores drop below a certain level. It also gives publishers the ability to drill down by page, device, browser and custom dimensions to pinpoint the source of any issues that need fixing.

Click here to register free for Clickio Web Vitals Monitoring.