What is First Contentful Paint and How Does it Impact SEO?

First Contentful Paint (Blog Cover)

Google has been in a ceaseless war with shoddy UX for over a decade now. User experience means pretty much everything to Google, and they have the resources to throw at it. And since Google’s job is to organize and display what the internet has to offer, their crosshairs may be pointed at your site. In the past, we have talked a lot about the different factors that affect Search Engine Optimization and Google ranking. So today we want to continue that discussion by explaining something called first contentful paint. And in explaining first contentful paint, it would help to familiarize and refresh our memory as to what user experience is.

First Contentful Paint and User Experience

First contentful paint is an important aspect of user experience. First contentful paint has to do with the loading speed of your website. When someone types your URL into their address bar or clicks on your link from a search engine or other source, the first contentful paint is the first element of your website that begins to render on their monitor. Usually, first contentful paint is your website’s header or top navigational menu. 

This is the first thing that people see when loading your website and it lets them know that the content that they came in search for is on the way and will render soon. You may be starting to see what first contentful paint and user experience have to do with one another. When your site loads fast – when the first contentful paint shows up quickly and in turn, renders first meaningful paint quickly – Google considers that part of good user experience. When people have to wait multiple seconds for your website to start showing signs of life, Google considers that you guessed it, part of bad user experience. 

The New Era of Google Ranking

We are living in a significant era as far as digital marketing and SEO are concerned. On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Google announced that they would be using a set of metrics called “Core Web Vitals” to incorporate into their ranking algorithm. Core Web Vitals are criteria that judge websites based on user experience. This includes “load time, interactivity, and the stability of content” as Google puts it. And while these changes are not set to roll out until 2021, smart marketers will begin to adapt right now so that they are ready to rank when Google officially makes this change.

In essence, though, Google will now be looking at SEO and the overall user experience when ranking websites. That means that first contentful paint is going to be a huge decider on how high your website gets placed on Search Engine Results Pages. 

This represents a shift toward more “human-centric” metrics that Google is using to rank websites. You can probably see how this is going to have an effect on the current standards or Search Engine Optimization.

What FCP this Means for SEO

Before you throw out all your SEO textbooks, understand that current SEO practices are still very much valid. As Common Places Interactive lays out in their article, SEO is still going to be the first signifier to the Google bots. In other words, just because Google is getting more UX and human-oriented, doesn’t mean that they are going to start using humans to comb through the millions of search engine hits it pulls up on a single query.

In short, this means that computers are still going to be used to index your website, and what do these computers use to index? That’s right, SEO signals. In 2021 the process of Google rankings is going to go something like this:

  • A search is made using keywords
  • The Google algorithm will scour the internet in search of those keywords and relevant data
  • Google will then comb the sites based on Core Web Vitals and other metrics
  • Google will display results based on the relevancy of SEO and Core Web Vitals

So as you can see, SEO is still very much part of the game. As things stand now, it looks like SEO will still be the initial signifier for the Google algorithm. The results that are indexed in this initial search will then be further scrutinized using Core Web Vitals.

Going Forward With FCP

While this may sound like a bit of frustrating news to a lot of webmasters out there, it should nonetheless come as no surprise. Google’s job since its inception has essentially been to improve the way their system provides relevant content to its users. One just needs to take a look at Google’s update timeline to see how much effort the company has put into improving its search engine. It’s obvious to see that Google is an ever-changing machine. So not only should this latest update come as no surprise to you; you should also expect more changes very soon. 

But don’t stress out. There are some very helpful tools out there that you can use for free to improve the speed of your first contentful paint. Google itself launched Lighthouse in 2008 which lets developers test their website loading speed and see how it loads as visitors experience it. Lighthouse will essentially audit your page based on SEO and UX and let you know where and how you can improve.

Adapting to SEO’s Evolution

If you haven’t figured it out by now, it really pays to be adaptive when it comes to digital marketing. The value that Google has placed on first contentful paint and UX, in general, is just another shift that the company has made to keep developers honest and to keep their own users happy. It was preceded by past changes and it will be succeeded by future ones. 

Here at Nolen Walker, our job is to help you be adaptive in the ever-changing digital market. With our tools and guidance, you can stay on top of the latest changes in search engine algorithms.