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Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Could your charity be about to start losing online visibility?

New research from Uprise Up has shown that of charity sites tested, only one third pass the ‘Core Web Vitals’ assessment by Google. Given that the Core Web Vitals are becoming a search ranking factor, it is worrying that two thirds of the sample sites are not prepared for the update on mobile.

Research from the CharityComms digital benchmark has also revealed that the amount of website traffic coming to charity websites from mobile continues to rise, with the percentage of charity traffic that came from mobile devices up by a further 5.3% from 2019 to 2020. With Google’s latest major update, charities could be in danger of losing some of their largest source of traffic if they do not optimise for the Core Web Vitals.

Currently, more than half of tested charity sites do not pass the Core Web Vitals assessment.

What are the Core Web Vitals and what do they have to do with mobile traffic?

The Core Web Vitals (CWV) are individual metrics that measure the load speed and usability of your webpage. They form just a part of the Page Experience update, which takes into consideration other factors, such as security, mobile friendliness, and intrusive interstitials, that already influence rankings to date. This all contributes to Google’s ongoing mission to place the user at the centre of search. 

The CWV are: the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), the First Input Delay (FID) and the Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Broken down, each metric measures the following:

LCP measures the loading of a page; how long it takes to render the largest element to be exact. Page Speed has always been crucial to a good user experience. We now know the LCP should load in 2.5 seconds or less to fit within Google’s guidelines.

FID measures the interactivity of a page, telling you how long your page takes to respond to a user’s initiated engagement. First impressions matter, so the target FID is 100ms or less.

CLS measures visual stability and gives an indication of where elements are moving around the page unexpectedly. The less content and design elements shift around for a user, the better the page experience is. CLS should score 0.1 or less.

The performance of these metrics will now influence how your website ranks on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

We know mobile has been important for a while now, with mobile-first indexing (MFI) first introduced back in 2018. The full roll out of MFI last year means that Google now universally uses the mobile version of sites for indexing and ranking in organic search. Add in the Page Experience update and you have a strongly pro-mobile platform to combat and use to your advantage.

It’s apparent charities need to take CWV into consideration as currently only a third of the surveyed site’s pass the Core Web Vitals Assessment for mobile. On average, 60% of these charities’ URLs were classified as ‘poor’ or ‘needs improvement’. Not addressing these pages may leave many charities at a huge disadvantage in the SERPs, whilst their competitors profit.

Sample data has shown that on average over 60% of a website’s pages are categorised as either ‘poor’ or ‘needs improvement’.

With the Page Experience update in the process of rolling out, now is the time to be making rapid changes to your site to ensure that it provides an optimal page experience.

What does the data say?

The LCP is the CWV metric charity sites perform the worst for. 60% of the charities surveyed had at least 10 URLs on their website that had an LCP over 2.5 seconds, meaning these pages are under-performing and classified as ‘poor’ by Google Search Console. There was a wide range in scores, with the LCP ranging from 2.6s up to 5.8s, more than double the recommended load time. Considering a study by Google shows that 53% of visits are abandoned when a mobile site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, these are concerning results. Especially given that the LCP, and thereby the load time, will soon have a stronger influence over rankings and traffic.

Over the sites tested most pages had an average load time beyond the 2.5 second limit.

The CLS was another metric charity sites struggled to score well for. Though the target score is 0.1, the CLS isn’t considered ‘poor’ until it is 0.25 or over. 46% of surveyed charities had pages with a CLS above this value. Where the CLS was poor, we recorded scores from 0.27 through to 0.68, showing some pages have high levels of instability. If a user can’t easily interact with a page they are much more likely to exit the site completely. This on top of fewer users even visiting the site due to the CLS effect on rankings.

The FID was the best performing, with only 13% of sites showing any issues. The remaining charities were already meeting Google’s target of 100ms or less, showing responsiveness is already being well met in the charity sector.

For tested charity sites, it was the LCP and CLS that were causing the most issues.

Alongside Core Web Vitals, ensuring your website is deemed mobile-friendly is also more important than ever. Research conducted using Uprise Up data revealed that 7 in 15 charity’s have at least one page that is not mobile friendly. In fact, 2 in 15 do not pass the mobile friendliness test at all.

A site is mobile friendly when you can interact with it on mobile as easily as you would on desktop. It should be responsive to your device and easy to view, with no need for users to pinch or zoom in order to read the content. To check how mobile friendly your webpage is, visit Google’s Mobile-Friendly test for personalised recommendations.

How can we optimise for mobile users?

Charities should be optimising their sites for mobile to appeal to their mobile audiences rather than risk cutting them off altogether. A bad user experience can prevent visitors from accessing the information they need. It can also linger in the mind and prevent a user from returning, leaving charities facing the potential loss of their largest source of traffic.

Want to avoid this?

Check the page speed of your website with Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool. Your webpage is scored out of 100, for mobile and desktop, and you receive a list of recommendations for improvements. Pages should strive to score 85/100 or higher. Common issues that affect page speed include using oversized images, including unused code or not deferring offscreen images. This can all force a browser to render more than is necessary for your page to load and function. Streamlining your code to critical elements only can do wonders for the LCP.

Other factors to consider are:

Responsive Design

Design is key, so ensuring your site has a mobile responsive design is crucial to adhering to mobile-friendliness standards. A responsive design adapts the display to different zoom states and viewport sizes to perfectly fit the user’s device. It improves the user experience by altering the features of your site to fit any screen dimension. Considering that several of the underperforming URLs we identified had no viewport set and content wider than the screen, implementing a responsive design would go a long way towards alleviating some of the most common issues that affect user experience. Having sites that respond quickly to user interaction can also impact experience, so ensuring you have a quick FID is important.

Usability

However, a responsive design does not mean that your site is fully-optimised for mobile, there are other factors to consider still. Accessibility is where sites fall short. In 2018 the government released accessibility regulations, stating websites and apps must be made accessible by being ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’. Some, but not all, charity websites are required to meet these regulations.

Take into account the usability of your site from a mobile device. Of the charities that we analysed, 46% had URLs that were not considered mobile friendly. Of these, all had clickable elements on their site that were too close together and over half had text that was too small. Unlike on a desktop or tablet, it is harder to click smaller items on a mobile. Therefore, it is important to take into account the size and placement of any clickable items. Buttons need to be large enough to be tapped by a finger, but spaced out enough that the user does not accidentally interact with the wrong feature. 

The stability of a page can also affect its usability, and we know the CLS can be a challenge for some. Charities can run their individual URLs through the web page test tool to identify where significant changes occur in their page layout. Identifying these elements can then make it easier to rectify the issue in house, or discuss the necessary changes required with a web developer.

Conclusion

With the ever increasing importance of mobile traffic for charity websites and the roll out of Page Experience making Core Web Vitals additional ranking factors you need to consider, optimising for mobile is more important than ever before. Using a sample of 15 charities, from a variety of sectors and sizes, we know that taking the time to assess the mobile friendliness of your site and see how it compares against the Core Web Vitals could help your charity acquire traffic from the ever growing mobile market.