Author: Rachel Anderson – Director of Web Intelligence | Find her here: Twitter
In June 2021, I analyzed the web performance of location pages managed by the top location provider brands. Since that article was published several important events have happened:
- Google finished rolling out the Page Experience Update
- SOCI acquired Brandify
- Uberall acquired Momentfeed
- Representatives from several brands reached out and said they were in the midst of improving Core Web Vitals
With all these shakeups and assurances, I thought rerunning our analysis would be valuable (and fun!). If you haven’t read the original article, you should check that out first.
But Why Though?
Often when working with multi-location brands I get questions about which location provider offers the best services. Now that Core Web Vitals are a ranking factor, it’s important to keep performance scores in mind when choosing a location page provider. Of course, CWVs are only one of many ranking factors, so this shouldn’t be the only SEO consideration when choosing a provider. The intention of my research is to help brands understand what they should be looking for from a performance standpoint when choosing how to manage their location pages.
I began with the list of domains and URLs that were analyzed in June 2021. Additional domains for Uberall and Momentfeed were added to the analysis, based on recommendations from Uberall and Momentfeed representatives. I took up to 100 location pages (unique URLs) from each site and ran them through LightHouse, which simulates a Poor 4G mobile connection. I then analyzed each of the providers for average CLS, LCP, and TBT (using LightHouse means I have to use Total Blocking Time instead of FID). I did this exercise twice to ensure relative consistency in results, since LightHouse returns lab data (real time performance). Several domains had extreme differences in scores between the two data pulls, so I took the average score.
Data Notes: Some of the original URLs that we checked are 301 redirecting or 404ing. Those URLs were dropped from the analysis. An additional provider, Momentfeed, was added to the analysis due to the Uberall acquisition. The domains checked for this analysis were provided by a Momentfeed representative, so these domains may skew more positively than the average domain.
What We Found Last Time
When I completed the analysis in June 2021, most providers had good Total Blocking Time scores, very bad LCP scores, and had a mixture of ‘good’ and ‘needs improvement’ CLS scores.
At the time of analysis, Rio SEO and ChatMeter had the best overall results, but still failed Core Web Vitals tests overall. SOCi and Uberall had abysmal scores – Uberall’s LCP was 5 times longer than the maximum ‘good’ score.
Five long months have passed since completing the original analysis on these domains – plenty of time for location page providers to take our CWV findings to heart and make adjustments to benefit their clients, right?
I appreciate your optimistic attitude, but I’m afraid you’re quite wrong.
Cumulative Layout Shift
What is Cumulative Layout Shift? CLS scores measure visual stability of the page. The size of an element and the amount that it shifts impact the score. CLS is the only score not based on speed. Good CLS scores are .1 and under. The ‘needs improvement’ range is between .1 and .25, and anything over .25 is considered bad.
Call me naive, but I was shocked to see that CLS scores have actually gotten worse over the past five months. Average scores across the providers went from .1 to .13, meaning that average scores are now in the ‘needs improvement’ range.
Rio SEO had very slight improvements to their already good score. Brandify and ChatMeter had no change to their good scores. But BirdEye, Yext, SOCi, and Uberall all have worse scores in November 2021 than June.
Uberall’s score jumped into the needs improvement zone entirely because McDonald’s Germany, which previously had a score of .02 jumped to .78. Essentially, the page loads in reverse: the footer first, then app download buttons, and then all the content at the top of page. Excluding this outlier, Uberall’s location pages are in the good category for CLS.
Largest Contentful Paint
What is LCP? Largest Contentful Paint measures loading performance. To be considered ‘good’, Largest Contentful Paint scores should be at or under 2.5 seconds. The ‘needs improvement’ range is between 2.5 and 4 seconds. Anything over 4 seconds is considered bad.
In my original analysis, Largest Contentful Paint was the metric that providers struggled with most – the average load time was 7.99 seconds.
So they fixed it right? Wrong, the average load time is now worse: 8.01 seconds (which is admittedly very close – the first Lighthouse check had much worse scores than the second, which averaged out to something less awful).
No domains from any of the providers have an LCP score in the ‘good’ range. Yext, Momentfeed, Rio SEO, and ChatMeter each have domains in the ‘needs improvement’ range. But SOCi, BirdEye, and Brandify domains all have exclusively ‘poor’ LCP scores.
This aligns exactly with the findings in June. And sadly, the domain with the best LCP score, stores.petco.com, dropped from ‘needs improvement’ to ‘poor.’ To offset that sad news, stores.loft.com, managed by Yext, dropped their average LCP score from 12.8 to 3.6 seconds, placing it firmly in the ‘needs improvement’ range.
Of the providers, MomentFeed and Yext domains tend to have better LCP scores, though all providers still have a lot of work ahead to get ‘good’ LCP scores.
Total Blocking Time
As a reminder, with lab metrics, we use Total Blocking Time as a stand-in for First Input Delay, which is only a field metric. FID and TBT measure interactivity.
- ‘Good’ TBT scores are under 2 seconds
- ‘Needs improvement’ scores are between 2 and 6 seconds
- Anything over 6 seconds is considered ‘poor’
In June, TBT was the Core Web Vitals metric that providers performed well for. All providers had a ‘good’ score except for Uberall, who had a ‘needs improvement’ score. But now… Brandify and Rio SEO dropped into the ‘needs improvement’ score range and Uberall has dropped to ‘poor.’ So what happened?
Uberall was the notable exception to the ‘good’ TBT scores in June with a load time of 5.4 seconds. Their TBT score increased to 6 seconds due to Ulta’s location pages going from 17.3 seconds to 27.6 seconds TBT. Ulta is a notable exception here, because the other domains served by Uberall are in the good or ‘needs improvement’ zone. Excluding Ulta from results, Uberall has an average TBT of 1.3 seconds. Ulta’s location pages also have significant LCP issues, so this domain as a whole is bringing down Uberall’s score. When I asked Uberall why this domain is such an outlier, I was informed that they are on an older location page product that was brought in as part of an acquisition. This means that new customers shouldn’t run into Ulta load times.
Brandify’s TBT increased from .7 seconds to 2.4 seconds, also due to one domain experiencing longer load times. The stores.truevalue.com domain increased from .7 seconds to 2.9 seconds due to a number of third party scripts and a few chained requests. So is this really Brandify’s fault? Several of the scripts are due to maps and other templated resources, so they do appear to have some responsibility for the increase in TBT. However, TrueValue themselves seem to have further slowed things down by loading additional scripts on all their site’s pages.
Rio SEO’s average TBT went from .6 seconds to 4.9 seconds. How did this huge jump happen? Again, one domain had significant increases to their TBT – stores.petco.com. Petco’s location pages jumped from 1.2s TBT to 7.9s TBT (average, this was a domain that was very inconsistent between runs, but never received a ‘good’ score). Again, third party code and chained requests are the issues causing a high TBT. In this case though, most of the issues seem to be scripts for ads and user experience tracking. There is still a little responsibility on Rio SEO for the scripts within the page template, but the majority of issues seem to be Petco’s fault, not the location page template.
So what next?
Somehow, over the past five months, location page providers have actually gotten worse for Core Web Vitals. The Core Web Vitals were first announced in May 2020 and here we are 18 months later seeing location pages with rising CLS, TBT, and LCP scores.
In June 2021 the averages for CWV across location page providers were:
- CLS – .1
- TBT – 1.7s
- LCP – 8.0s
In November 2021, the averages for CWV across location page providers were:
- CLS – .13
- TBT – 2.5s
- LCP – 8.1s
Even excluding the outlier of Ulta.com doesn’t “fix” the data – web performance is a serious issue for location page providers and there doesn’t appear to be a quick push to fix it.
Would you recommend any of these providers for location pages?
My advice remains unchanged – if your organization can afford to create and manage their own location page infrastructure, do it. Being dependent on a third party provider to make platform changes to improve your SEO is clearly risky.
Core Web Vitals are absolutely not the most essential item to ranking location pages, but in competitive industries and markets, they have an impact. Using owned technology allows your organization to adapt pages to incorporate what is most important for SEO in your industry.
My organization cannot manage our own location pages. What now?
Core Web Vitals are only one part of successful location pages, so you’ll need to do your research. Ask providers for examples of other domains utilizing their location pages and analyze them for organic performance and SEO best practices.
Even if you utilize a location page provider, your organization still has some responsibility for Core Web Vitals on location pages. In this analysis, the worst performing domains for Core Web Vitals include third party scripts, navigational elements, and font loading delays that are domain-wide issues – not caused by location page providers. Whether your organization uses a third party or manages location pages themselves, monitoring CWVs and implementing fixes on problem templates is key. Core Web Vitals are both the responsibility of organizations and location page providers.
Based on Core Web Vitals alone, I’d be hesitant to use SOCi, BirdEye, or Uberall location pages. However, it’s worth mentioning that some of the domains I checked are for location page products that are no longer offered by those providers (the brands have not paid for the faster, updated product). So newer product offerings may have better CWV scores.
I was pleasantly surprised with MomentFeed scores (the additional provider that I didn’t highlight in my original analysis). On average, they had the best LCP and TBT scores and the second best CLS score (still in the ‘good’ range) out of all providers.
MomentFeed, ChatMeter, and Rio SEO have ‘good’ CLS scores, mostly ‘good’ TBT scores, and the lowest LCP scores, so if Core Web Vitals are a priority for your location pages (they should be) and owned technology is not an option, they’d be who I’d research first.
Curious about your own Core Web Vitals scores? LSG’s cutting-edge Lighthouse technology allows for the tracking of web performance and new additions to our ongoing study. If you want to see how you compare or are interested in being included in part III of the study, give us a shout.