July 1, 2023
The Internet is now very quick and even tiny delays can make a big difference. How well a website works can affect how much users like it and where it ranks in search results, which is key for business success. One way to make a website work better, getting more attention lately, is Real-User Monitoring, or RUM. As we learn more about RUM and how it impacts SEO, we'll see its effects on things like Core Web Vitals1, and tools like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse.
Real-User Monitoring (RUM) is a type of performance monitoring that captures and analyzes each transaction by users of a website or application. Unlike Synthetic Monitoring, which simulates user behavior in a controlled environment, RUM collects data from actual users in real-time. This gives developers, product owners, and marketers a holistic view of the user experience across multiple variables such as device type, geographic location, and browser.
As the name suggests, RUM offers insights into real user interactions and experiences. This information can be invaluable when optimizing for performance and, consequently, SEO. Google's algorithms are becoming increasingly user-centric, which means factors that improve user experience (UX) are likely to be rewarded with higher search rankings2.
Web performance is more than just speed. It encompasses a variety of metrics related to how users perceive the responsiveness, fluidity, and stability of a webpage.
Let's discuss the key performance metrics that RUM typically measures, and how they tie in with SEO.
First Contentful Paint (FCP) measures the time from when the page starts loading to when any part of the page's content is rendered on the screen3. This could be an image, text, or even a canvas render. It's a useful metric to measure perceived load speed and an integral part of the Core Web Vitals.
While FCP focuses on the initial rendering, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the time it takes for the largest image or text block visible within the viewport to become fully visible4. An ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) quantifies how much a page's content visually shifts around. A low CLS helps ensure that the page is delightful and usable5. High CLS can lead to a poor user experience, with elements moving around the page unexpectedly.
These metrics, collectively known as the Core Web Vitals, are central to the user experience and, by extension, to SEO7. With the advent of the Page Experience update in 2021, Google has explicitly stated that these metrics affect search rankings8. RUM helps track these vitals and provides insights into how to improve them, leading to better search engine rankings and enhanced user satisfaction.
Now that we understand the importance of RUM and its connection with SEO, let's dive into the tools that can help monitor and improve web performance.
PageSpeed Insights (PSI) is a free tool from Google that provides information about how well a page performs according to a set of performance metrics. It provides both lab data (based on a simulated load of a page) on these metrics.
While PageSpeed Insights provides excellent insights, they have a major drawback: they only offer a simulated user experience. Real-User Monitoring tools, on the other hand, capture data from actual users. This data reflects the true experience of users interacting with your website in the wild.
RUM tools like Loado collect performance data directly from the users' browsers. This includes everything from load times to Core Web Vitals. Having this real-world data at your fingertips allows you to identify and address issues that synthetic testing might overlook.
With RUM, you can analyze user experience across different dimensions such as geographical location, device type, and browser. This granularity helps identify performance bottlenecks specific to certain user segments, enabling a more targeted approach to optimization.
Moreover, RUM tools provide dashboards with visualizations that make it easy to understand the data, track performance over time, and report findings to stakeholders.
The relationship between web performance and SEO is clear: better performance leads to improved user experience, which in turn leads to higher search engine rankings. However, the role of RUM in SEO strategies is not always straightforward. To clarify this, we must understand that improving SEO is not just about optimizing for speed but also about delivering a superior user experience.
RUM allows you to prioritize improvements that will have the most significant impact on the user experience. Since user experience is a vital part of SEO, focusing on it can have a positive effect on your rankings.
For instance, if you observe that the majority of your users are from a particular geographical location, it might be beneficial to use a content delivery network (CDN) to serve your content faster to these users9.
Similarly, if you notice a high bounce rate from mobile users, this could indicate that your website isn't optimized for mobile devices. Improving your website's mobile experience can lead to lower bounce rates, longer dwell time, and eventually, better search rankings.
With RUM, you're relying on real-world data rather than controlled, synthetic tests. This data can often lead to insights that could be missed in lab tests.
For example, you might notice that a certain page has a high FCP or LCP only for users from a specific country or those using a particular device. Armed with this information, you can optimize your website to address these specific issues.
In conclusion, Real-User Monitoring plays a crucial role in shaping SEO strategies. By focusing on user experience and leveraging real-world data, you can optimize your website for both performance and SEO. This can lead to increased visibility, higher user engagement, and ultimately, business success.
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