Why car dealerships are talking about Core Web Vitals (“CWV”)

Alex Griffis January 19, 2024

Diving into the world of Core Web Vitals (or “CWV”), you’ll discover specific factors that Google considers essential in a website’s overall user experience. They’re not mere buzzwords or cyclical trends, but crucial elements that could make or break your used car dealership’s online success. They’re the check engine light of your digital vehicle.

Today, we will look under the hood of Core Web Vitals, why they matter, and how car dealerships are winning by improving the customer experience on their websites.

101: Why Core Web Vitals matter for car dealers and automotive websites

Imagine your potential customers trying to browse through your online inventory. They’re excited and ready to purchase, but your website could be faster, more convenient, and more user-friendly. Frustrated, they close your website, taking their business elsewhere. How is this measured? Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals, an initiative led by Google, provides quality signals essential for website performance. While some changes are coming to CWV metrics in Q1 of 2024, the standards have mostly stayed the same since 2020. The key metrics Google cares about fall into three buckets focused on user experience: loading, interactivity, and visual stability.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) and Largest Contentful Paint (CLS): The two metrics dealerships are overlooking while getting penalized by search engines.

Most automotive websites experience visual instability: you open a dealership website, and things shift around on the screen before finally settling into place. Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS, is the Core Web Vital that reports on this. What causes poor CLS ratings? More often than not, third-party plugins like live chat, digital retailing, or pop-ups contribute to massive layout shifts. By embedding these products into their website, many dealerships get penalized by Google out of the gate.

The second key metric is Largest Contentful Paint, or LCP. Its name may be confusing, but LCP reflects your website’s speed and loading time. 

You’re in good shape if your Largest Content Paint is 2.5 seconds or less, but we often see LCP numbers in the 6 to 10 range on automotive websites. Poor-performing LCP is primarily caused by:

  • Third-party scripts and plugins
  • Uncompressed images and videos
  • Tracking pixels and advertising beacons
  • Multiple Google Tag Manager or Google Analytics tags
  • Slow server response times

More often than not, an automotive website provider can correct any of these issues. However, since many providers are white-labeling blogging software like WordPress or, more broadly, using antiquated technology, fine-tuning a website to perform across multiple devices and varying bandwidth takes work. It’s why Overfuel built its website platform using the same modern technology stacks as Hulu, TikTok, Netflix, and Twitch. We’ve also implemented safeguards to:

  • Automatically compress images and videos without quality loss.
  • Efficiently cache images and media assets.
  • Improve initial website speed by deferring third-party plugins from loading until after the website is fully rendered for the end user.
  • Consolidate GA4 tags and Google Tag Manager containers.
  • Adjust layouts to accommodate third-party plugins and achieve zero Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

How Core Web Vitals is changing the landscape (and costing auto dealers money and opportunity)

Over the course of 2023, we saw pay-per-click (PPC) advertising costs increase by 200-300%. The competition is heating up across paid advertising channels, budgets are depleting faster, and website traffic/lead counts are declining. While this is true for many dealerships, Overfuel customers experienced the opposite, and here’s why:

  1. When a dealership joins our platform, we often see zero pages in the Google Search Console marked as “Good, ” meaning 100% of their website pages are failing Core Web Vitals.
  2. After we resolve the issues, we submit a new sitemap to Google Search Console and manually trigger a re-audit of the website, telling Google, “We hear you, and we’ve solved the problem.”
  3. Over the next 60 days, Google will recognize the improvements and rank the pages higher. This is where the magic happens, and organic search impressions go through the roof, along with click-throughs to the dealership website.

The result? We increased overall traffic and lead volume by 300% for this customer by solving their Core Web Vitals issues. In other cases, we see the traffic model invert, meaning a dealership’s traffic shifts from mostly paid ads to 50-60% organic. Not only is organic traffic free, but it’s also the best-converting traffic across any customer acquisition channel we’ve seen. If you were in the dealership’s shoes, what would you do: increase your advertising spending or get dramatically more traffic for free?

As you can see above, this client went from zero “Good” URLs to 163. As a result (below), organic search impressions and clicks skyrocketed, resulting in a 300% increase in organic traffic and lead volume.

Car dealers focusing on Core Web Vitals are winning the race to organic, mobile-first car buyers.

As margins are slim and advertising costs are high, excellent search engine performance is more critical than ever. At the most fundamental level, it all starts with optimizing the website for speed and outstanding mobile performance. We must remind ourselves (and dealerships) that most car shoppers are not visiting their website on an ultra-wide screen on a lightning-fast WiFi connection. It’s the opposite: around 80% of website traffic to a dealership’s website is from a mobile phone on a 4G/LTE connection. 

So, how are dealerships winning the Core Web Vitals race? Lightning-fast speed, clear calls to action, and less bombarding potential customers with competing third-party plugins that lower conversion rates while slowing websites down in the process. 

Why didn’t we mention the third metric, First Input Delay (FID)?

Come March 2024, First Input Delay (FID) will be replaced by a new Core Web Vital metric, Interaction to Next Paint (INP). INP will measure the responsiveness of a website and how it responds to user inputs, helping dealerships understand how smooth and responsive their website is to mobile car shoppers. Since third-party plugins are often clunky or embedded in iFrames, will they perform smoothly and responsively? It seems highly unlikely. Since automotive website providers generally didn’t change their behavior after the introduction of Core Web Vitals in 2020, will they be ready for the changes in 2024? That, too, seems unlikely.

The world of web development is constantly changing and evolving, and as new technologies emerge, dealerships need to be in the know. Here’s why dealerships are talking about Core Web Vitals:

  • Core Web Vitals are critical for search engine optimization (SEO).
  • The metrics CWVs track directly reflect how good your user experience is.
  • The three key metrics are changing in March 2024, with Interaction to Next Paint (INP) replacing the First Input Delay (FID).
  • 2024 will be the year of increased scrutiny (and worse ranking) of websites with poor mobile responsiveness.

If you want to assess your Core Web Vitals, we recommend PageSpeed and GTMetrix to determine where you are at, and if you’re looking to make improvements, let’s talk.

By Alex Griffis

President and CTO, Overfuel