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What Is Topical Authority in SEO & How to Build It

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What Is Topical Authority in SEO & How to Build It

Imagine if your website (or clients) could rank for every single keyword related to a desired niche.

Enter topical authority.

Now imagine that you could even achieve this with no link building.

If some people in the SEO world are to be believed, this is achievable by anyone willing to write content about absolutely everything within a topic.

But realistically, you should still expect to build links and do a lot of other SEO activities. Topical authority is not a silver bullet.

But it’s still worth your time. 

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about topical authority and how to build it for your sites.

What is topical authority?

Topical authority is an SEO concept where a website aims to become the go-to authority on one or more topics. 

Building topical authority is about helping search engines understand a website’s topic so that it has better potential to rank for topically related keywords.

Let’s say you want to rank articles around the topic of protein powder. Writing just the one article targeting “protein powder” is probably not enough to compete in this niche.

Why? Because it’s a massive topic and you can’t possibly cover everything about it in one article.

To build topical authority, you need to cover everything related to protein, such as: 

  • what is protein”
  • what does protein powder do”
  • what is the best protein powder”
  • how to use protein powder”
  • how long does protein powder last”
  • how to use protein powder for weight loss”

Topical authority is achieved when a site fully covers a topic as a whole rather than focusing on just individual keywords. 

If you’ve spent any time digging into the SERPs looking for SEO opportunities (and let’s be honest, you have), you’ve probably noticed sites with low Domain Rating (DR) scores ranking well—thanks to topical authority.

For example, check out the SERPs for the keyword “mountain bike gifts”:

SERPs for the keyword "mountain bike gifts"

At first glance, you’d expect to see a big e-commerce store like Amazon (DR 96) at the top of the search results for a product-focused keyword like this.

However, a DR 23 site is ranked in second place, well above Amazon.

Why is this?

Possibly because twowheeledwanderer.com is a site all about the topic of bikes. Whereas Amazon (although much stronger in terms of SEO metrics) lacks the topical authority for its domain, as it sells more general stuff.

Although it should also be noted that search intent plays a big part here too. Amazon is the only page on these SERPs ranking with a product category page, whereas the rest are articles/gift guides.

This is just one example where a website with topical authority has outranked more established players.

Why is topical authority important (for SEO)?

Google, as a search engine, works with semantic associations. This means it has to associate a website with a topic in order to rank it as a relevant resource for keywords that are part of that topic.

If you have a lot of content about a certain topic, this allows for more relevant internal links, which allow Google and users to find your content more easily which, in turn, may land you more natural backlinks.

If you take away nothing else from the concept of building topical authority, take this:

When you create content pieces around the same subject and interlink them, your topical authority in the eyes of Google increases. This helps to show it that you’re knowledgeable, aka an authority on the topic and a trusted source.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss the elephant in the room:

How does topical authority work?

Spoiler for this section: No one really knows.

With the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, topical authority became increasingly important. 

It changed the ranking system for content so that it was determined by relevance to a user’s search query. 

Prior to Hummingbird, keywords were the main emphasis of Google’s search algorithms. In order for Google to understand what a user was looking for, keywords were used.

However, Google simply couldn’t understand the context behind user searches. 

A (very) brief history of Google and authority

Over the years, Google has moved more toward semantic search:

  • 2011 – Google announces “Structured Search Engine” for structuring the information on the web.
  • 2012 – Google launches Knowledge Graph for better understanding information about real-world entities.
  • 2013 – Hummingbird algorithm ranks sites based on inbound links and keywords. Google can now rank content based on relevancy to a query. 
  • 2018 – Google’s Medic update means YMYL content needs to show expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in order to rank.
  • 2019 – BERT is launched. It is a model for better understanding relationships between words, concepts, and entities in human language.

You can’t really talk about topical authority without mentioning E-A-T at some point.

E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness)

Google’s emphasis on “expertise” and “reputable websites” can be seen in its Quality Rater Guidelines:

Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy.

This suggests that building a reputation for your website as a “subject matter expert” is likely to contribute to the “authority” aspect in E-A-T. 

While E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, the concept helps to inform the ranking algorithms. So when Google views your website as an expert resource on a topic, it’s more likely to rank your content higher.

Learn more: What Is E-A-T? Why It’s Important for SEO

How to measure topical authority 

The lack of clarity around the whole concept of topical authority contributes to having no definitive way to measure it.

Sure, more rankings and more traffic may be a good sign. But they just as well may be a result of link building or other SEO activities.

Thankfully, there are smart people like Kevin Indig, who devised a way of roughly calculating topical authority using the Traffic share by domains report in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

Traffic share by domains in Ahrefs

Here’s how to calculate the proxy to topical authority in Ahrefs:

  • Take a head term like “ecommerce” and enter it in Keywords Explorer
  • Go to the Matching terms report and filter for a minimum volume of 10
  • Export all keywords and reupload them into Keywords Explorer
  • Go to Traffic share by domains
  • Traffic share = topic share aka “topical authority”

How to build topical authority in four steps

So how do you build topical authority for your site?

First, you need to cover all the obvious SEO basics. Assuming you’ve got the basics covered, building topical research is pretty straightforward. 

In very simple terms, you need to:

  • Do keyword research to find all the talking points within a topic.
  • Organize that data into topic clusters.
  • Produce content that meets the search intent of those topic keywords.
  • Build relevant internal and external links to your content.

At the risk of becoming an authority on the topic of wasting time by rambling on about things no one really knows other than Google…

Let’s crack on and learn how to build some topical authority.

1. Do topic-based keyword research

It should come as no surprise that the starting point for building topical authority is keyword research

Identifying queries that users are searching for and topics of interest is the beginning of most SEO projects, and building topical authority is no different.

To be considered a “topical authority” by Google, you need to find and write about all the talking points within a topic.

Sidenote.

Google’s main goal is to give people the most relevant answers to their search queries as quickly as possible. Your focus should be the same. Instead of thinking about an article as focused on a single keyword, think of them in terms of topics and subtopics. You’ll want to try and cover everything in your content that Google expects to see.

Choosing a good seed keyword is the foundation of your topical research. 

Identifying a seed term that is relevant to your topic is key. Here’s how to approach picking a good seed keyword for doing topical keyword research:

Topic Good seed keywords Bad seed keywords
coffee roasting process coffee roasting
coffee roasters
coffee
roasting
taking care of dogs dog care
dog health
animals
dogs
all kinds of mountain biking mountain bikes
mountain bikers
bicycles
bikes
Why are they good/bad? Clearly focus on the topic Too vague/specific; potential for lots of irrelevant KWs

Struggling to think of useful seed terms?

Try and pick seed keywords that represent an entity in Google’s Knowledge Graph. Entities in SEO are a complex subject and far beyond the scope of this article and my soft monkey brain to tackle right now.

So for the purpose of speeding up seed keyword selection, I’ll use entities straight from the horse’s mouth:

  1. Go to Google Images
  2. Drop in my broad topic 
  3. Check out the image filters (these are the entities that Google associates with the topic)
Entities in Google Images

Once you have selected a seed keyword, it’s time to expand the list.

For example, let’s say you want to build topical authority around the topic “project management software.” 

You’ll want to create content around keywords like:

  • project management software benefits”
  • project management software for students”
  • project management software definition and examples”
  • best project management software”
  • project management software for business”

To get to this point is relatively simple, although it can be time consuming. 

Drop a broad seed term in Keywords Explorer. The overview acts as a good starting point for understanding the topic.

Continuing with the topic of “project management,” here’s what you want to pay attention to: 

Top-ranking result

As the name suggests, this is the top-ranking page for the target keyword:

Top-ranking page metrics for target keyword in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This is a great starting point for research. At a glance, you can see how many keywords this single page is ranking for:

Traffic potential in Ahrefs

Given that this is the top-ranking result, the keywords here are usually key subtopics you’ll want to cover—or at least provide an indication of.

Keyword ideas and questions

Still on the “Overview” panel, you can quickly see the top questions being asked around the topic:

Keyword ideas in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

SERPs

One of the best places to get more SEO data is on the SERPs, and topical keyword research is no different.

Overview of the SERPs in Ahrefs

What I like to do here is expand the list to show the top 100 ranking pages (click Show more) and then cherry-pick low-DR sites that are ranking for a good number of keywords.

This site stood out to me because it is DR 32 with a little over 200 keywords and ranking in a sea of DR 70+ sites. 

Example of a site with a lower Domain Rating on the SERPs

This is a good sign that this site has a good amount of topical authority for me to leverage in my own research.

Traffic share by domains

It’s also worth hopping over into the Traffic share by domains report. This report shows the domains that get the most organic traffic based on your seed keyword input:

Traffic share by domains from a seed keyword

This is useful for seeing who are your major competitors, which you can use as sources of more keywords. Cherry-pick domains and drop them into the Content Gap tool to uncover more keywords.

Here’s how to uncover more terms from competing domains:

  • Run your site through Site Explorer
  • Go to the Content Gap tool
  • Pick suitable domains from the Traffic share by domains report
  • Apply some filters (if you want)
  • My preference: filter by keyword—in this example, “project management”—and some minimum volume and KD scores 
Ahrefs' Content Gap tool showing results around the topic of "project management"

Now that you have a list of keywords for topics (that get searched), it’s time to make sense of the keyword data.

2. Create topic clusters

Topic clusters are interlinked pages about the same subject. The purpose of them is to group relevant content together so that it is easier to find by both users and Google.

Armed with your keyword research, you’ll want to organize your list of terms into clusters based on search intent while also considering traffic potential. 

Your topics should have good traffic potential and typically be informational in intent, like this:

Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer overview for subtopics

Pick a topic for your cluster (or pillar page) that is relevant for your site to target and has enough depth that you will have subtopics to explore. 

Now, you’ll want to pick the most appropriate content format to create for the cluster: 

  • Guides – An evergreen content format that fully covers a specific topic. 
  • What is X – A deep-dive definition or answer to a question. 
  • How to X – A step-by-step tutorial detailing how to do a specific task.

These pages should be well structured with enough content to be useful as stand-alone articles but also link to more in-depth articles within the topic. 

Once you have your topic pillar nailed down, you’ll want to go “more niche.”

Just taking a quick look at the “how to get into project management” example, we can see more potential subtopics to target:

Example keywords for doing topic-based keyword research in Ahrefs

These pages should be fairly comprehensive and link to other topic pages and cluster content. 

Linking between your pages is vital for topical authority. Doing so helps build a semantic relationship between those URLs, telling Google that these pages are topically related. 

3. Write authority content

Now it’s time to take your keyword research and topic clusters and create some content.

The way to establish topical authority that most people are familiar with is by creating in-depth content. 

Start with your main pillar content pieces. Generally, you will want to have a pillar page for every type of product or service you provide or the main area of the subject you want to be seen as an authority on.

These focus topics should be broad enough that they have subcategories to target but also specific enough that a searcher landing on your page will find them relevant.

Ahrefs’ beginner’s guide to SEO does a good job of acting as an overview of the topic, and then directing users to more specific parts of the topic (in the stand-alone chapters):

Example of a topic overview page: Beginner's Guide to SEO by Ahrefs

Next, you’ll need to write supporting content.

Instead of writing about a topic in general, be more specific. Supporting pages should match user intent and are where you can gain more content depth. 

You’ll typically find that these pages are the ones where you will target long-tail keywords.

For each piece of content you create to help build your topical authority, you’ll want to:

  • Write quality content that aligns with your topic and what your audience actually wants to read.
  • Keep E-A-T in mind. 
  • Cover as many topics and subtopics as you can.
  • Match search intent (e.g., write a how-to guide for the [how to X] keywords, a list of benefits for [benefits of X], etc.).
  • Internally link to different relevant topics.
  • Continually update your content as it ages.

4. Build relevant links

Even the best content sometimes needs links to rank better.

When it comes to link building for topical authority, you need to make sure that the websites that link to you are relevant. 

Link building for topical authority—relevant pages cast a stronger vote

If you run a blog about coffee, getting a link from another bigger coffee website in your niche will be perfect. Whereas getting a link from a finance blog will be less relevant and, therefore, carry less weight. Relevance is the key.

Here are a few topical backlink tactics:

  • Guest blogging – Create useful content for topically related websites.
  • Skyscraper Technique – Create the go-to resource on the topic.
  • Ego bait – Mention key players in your niche and reach out to them.
  • HARO – Get “expert quotes” for your article.

Of course, it’s not just links on external sites you should be building but internal links on your own site too. In fact, these are pivotal for building topical authority.

Google uses internal links to help discover new content (source):

Some pages are known because Google has already crawled them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.

Each pillar page should be treated as a hub for that topic. Use internal linking to connect it to every piece of supporting content. 

For instance, using the “mountain bike” example again, all your pages on tires, helmets, tools, etc., should link back to your pillar page on mountain bike accessories.

Still have questions about building topical authority? You’ll like the final section.

Here are answers to a few common questions you may have about topical authority:

What is topical relevance?

Topical relevance is the relevance that the content on a website has in relation to a particular topic. Search engines use it to determine how relevant a page is to a user’s search query based on factors like content, backlinks, and keywords.

What is semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is the process of building more meaning and topical depth with content. This is used by search engines to return the most relevant search results. Semantic search focuses on the meaning behind search queries instead of traditional keyword matching.

Learn more: What Is Semantic Search? How It Impacts SEO

What is website authority?

Website authority is a metric created by SEO tool providers to measure the strength of a site’s backlink profile compared to other sites in their index.

Learn more: How to Increase Website Authority (Domain Rating)

Are there any data-backed topical authority case studies?

I’m glad you asked.

Topical authority is a massive subject. There’s a lot of work out there done by people smarter than me in this field. Here are some case studies you should check out:

Final thoughts

Although it can be a powerful tool for ranking on Google, topical authority is not a magic fix for all of your SEO needs. 

It requires a lot of work and can take some time to kick in, but it’s worth pursuing if you want to rank for all the keywords in your niche. 

Just keep this in mind and you can’t go wrong:

Write about everything your audience wants to know—even better if the keywords align with your product/service.

Got a question on topical authority? Tweet me.



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No Algorithmic Actions For Site Reputation Abuse Yet

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Looking up at an angle at the Google sign on the Head Office for Canada

Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, has confirmed that the search engine hasn’t launched algorithmic actions targeting site reputation abuse.

This clarification addresses speculation within the SEO community that recent traffic drops are related to Google’s previously announced policy update.

Sullivan Says No Update Rolled Out

Lily Ray, an SEO professional, shared a screenshot on Twitter showing a significant drop in traffic for the website Groupon starting on May 6.

Ray suggested this was evidence that Google had begun rolling out algorithmic penalties for sites violating the company’s site reputation abuse policy.

However, Sullivan quickly stepped in, stating:

“We have not gone live with algorithmic actions on site reputation abuse. I well imagine when we do, we’ll be very clear about that. Publishers seeing changes and thinking it’s this — it’s not — results change all the time for all types of reasons.”

Sullivan added that when the actions are rolled out, they will only impact specific content, not entire websites.

This is an important distinction, as it suggests that even if a site has some pages manually penalized, the rest of the domain can rank normally.

Background On Google’s Site Reputation Abuse Policy

Earlier this year, Google announced a new policy to combat what it calls “site reputation abuse.”

This refers to situations where third-party content is published on authoritative domains with little oversight or involvement from the host site.

Examples include sponsored posts, advertorials, and partner content that is loosely related to or unrelated to a site’s primary purpose.

Under the new policy, Google is taking manual action against offending pages and plans to incorporate algorithmic detection.

What This Means For Publishers & SEOs

While Google hasn’t launched any algorithmic updates related to site reputation abuse, the manual actions have publishers on high alert.

Those who rely heavily on sponsored content or partner posts to drive traffic should audit their sites and remove any potential policy violations.

Sullivan’s confirmation that algorithmic changes haven’t occurred may provide temporary relief.

Additionally, his statements also serve as a reminder that significant ranking fluctuations can happen at any time due to various factors, not just specific policy rollouts.


FAQ

Will Google’s future algorithmic actions impact entire websites or specific content?

When Google eventually rolls out algorithmic actions for site reputation abuse, these actions will target specific content rather than the entire website.

This means that if certain pages are found to be in violation, only those pages will be affected, allowing other parts of the site to continue ranking normally.

What should publishers and SEOs do in light of Google’s site reputation abuse policy?

Publishers and SEO professionals should audit their sites to identify and remove any content that may violate Google’s site reputation abuse policy.

This includes sponsored posts and partner content that doesn’t align with the site’s primary purpose. Taking these steps can mitigate the risk of manual penalties from Google.

What is the context of the recent traffic drops seen in the SEO community?

Google claims the recent drops for coupon sites aren’t linked to any algorithmic actions for site reputation abuse. Traffic fluctuations can occur for various reasons and aren’t always linked to a specific algorithm update.


Featured Image: sockagphoto/Shutterstock



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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

WP Rocket, the WordPress page speed performance plugin, just announced the release of a new version that will help publishers optimize for Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), an important Core Web Vitals metric.

Large Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP is a page speed metric that’s designed to show how fast it takes for a user to perceive that the page is loaded and read to be interacted with. This metric measures the time it takes for the main content elements has fully loaded. This gives an idea of how usable a webpage is. The faster the LCP the better the user experience will be.

WP Rocket 3.16

WP Rocket is a caching plugin that helps a site perform faster. The way page caching generally works is that the website will store frequently accessed webpages and resources so that when someone visits the page the website doesn’t have to fetch the data from the database, which takes time, but instead will serve the webpage from the cache. This is super important when a website has a lot of site visitors because that can use a lot of server resources to fetch and build the same website over and over for every visitor.

The lastest version of WP Rocket (3.16) now contains Automatic LCP optimization, which means that it will optimize the on-page elements from the main content so that they are served first thereby raising the LCP scores and providing a better user experience.

Because it’s automatic there’s really nothing to fiddle around with or fine tune.

According to WP Rocket:

  • Automatic LCP Optimization: Optimizes the Largest Contentful Paint, a critical metric for website speed, automatically enhancing overall PageSpeed scores.
  • Smart Management of Above-the-Fold Images: Automatically detects and prioritizes critical above-the-fold images, loading them immediately to improve user experience and performance metrics.

All new functionalities operate seamlessly in the background, requiring no direct intervention from the user. Upon installing or upgrading to WP Rocket 3.16, these optimizations are automatically enabled, though customization options remain accessible for those who prefer manual control.”

Read the official announcement:

WP Rocket 3.16: Improving LCP and PageSpeed Score Automatically

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ICONMAN66

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

This post was sponsored by DebugBear. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

Keeping your website fast is important for user experience and SEO.

The Core Web Vitals initiative by Google provides a set of metrics to help you understand the performance of your website.

The three Core Web Vitals metrics are:

This post focuses on the recently introduced INP metric and what you can do to improve it.

How Is Interaction To Next Paint Measured?

INP measures how quickly your website responds to user interactions – for example, a click on a button. More specifically, INP measures the time in milliseconds between the user input and when the browser has finished processing the interaction and is ready to display any visual updates on the page.

Your website needs to complete this process in under 200 milliseconds to get a “Good” score. Values over half a second are considered “Poor”. A poor score in a Core Web Vitals metric can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

Google collects INP data from real visitors on your website as part of the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). This CrUX data is what ultimately impacts rankings.

Image created by DebugBear, May 2024

How To Identify & Fix Slow INP Times

The factors causing poor Interaction to Next Paint can often be complex and hard to figure out. Follow this step-by-step guide to understand slow interactions on your website and find potential optimizations.

1. How To Identify A Page With Slow INP Times

Different pages on your website will have different Core Web Vitals scores. So you need to identify a slow page and then investigate what’s causing it to be slow.

Using Google Search Console

One easy way to check your INP scores is using the Core Web Vitals section in Google Search Console, which reports data based on the Google CrUX data we’ve discussed before.

By default, page URLs are grouped into URL groups that cover many different pages. Be careful here – not all pages might have the problem that Google is reporting. Instead, click on each URL group to see if URL-specific data is available for some pages and then focus on those.

1716368164 358 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of Google Search Console, May 2024

Using A Real-User Monitoring (RUM) Service

Google won’t report Core Web Vitals data for every page on your website, and it only provides the raw measurements without any details to help you understand and fix the issues. To get that you can use a real-user monitoring tool like DebugBear.

Real-user monitoring works by installing an analytics snippet on your website that measures how fast your website is for your visitors. Once that’s set up you’ll have access to an Interaction to Next Paint dashboard like this:

1716368164 404 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Interaction to Next Paint dashboard, May 2024

You can identify pages you want to optimize in the list, hover over the URL, and click the funnel icon to look at data for that specific page only.

1716368164 975 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideImage created by DebugBear, May 2024

2. Figure Out What Element Interactions Are Slow

Different visitors on the same page will have different experiences. A lot of that depends on how they interact with the page: if they click on a background image there’s no risk of the page suddenly freezing, but if they click on a button that starts some heavy processing then that’s more likely. And users in that second scenario will experience much higher INP.

To help with that, RUM data provides a breakdown of what page elements users interacted with and how big the interaction delays were.

1716368164 348 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Elements view, May 2024

The screenshot above shows different INP interactions sorted by how frequent these user interactions are. To make optimizations as easy as possible you’ll want to focus on a slow interaction that affects many users.

In DebugBear, you can click on the page element to add it to your filters and continue your investigation.

3. Identify What INP Component Contributes The Most To Slow Interactions

INP delays can be broken down into three different components:

  • Input Delay: Background code that blocks the interaction from being processed.
  • Processing Time: The time spent directly handling the interaction.
  • Presentation Delay: Displaying the visual updates to the screen.

You should focus on which INP component is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time, and ensure you keep that in mind during your investigation.

1716368164 193 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Components, May 2024

In this scenario, Processing Time is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time for the set of pages you’re looking at, but you need to dig deeper to understand why.

High processing time indicates that there is code intercepting the user interaction and running slow performing code. If instead you saw a high input delay, that suggests that there are background tasks blocking the interaction from being processed, for example due to third-party scripts.

4. Check Which Scripts Are Contributing To Slow INP

Sometimes browsers report specific scripts that are contributing to a slow interaction. Your website likely contains both first-party and third-party scripts, both of which can contribute to slow INP times.

A RUM tool like DebugBear can collect and surface this data. The main thing you want to look at is whether you mostly see your own website code or code from third parties.

1716368164 369 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Domain Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

Tip: When you see a script, or source code function marked as “N/A”, this can indicate that the script comes from a different origin and has additional security restrictions that prevent RUM tools from capturing more detailed information.

This now begins to tell a story: it appears that analytics/third-party scripts are the biggest contributors to the slow INP times.

5. Identify Why Those Scripts Are Running

At this point, you now have a strong suspicion that most of the INP delay, at least on the pages and elements you’re looking at, is due to third-party scripts. But how can you tell whether those are general tracking scripts or if they actually have a role in handling the interaction?

DebugBear offers a breakdown that helps see why the code is running, called the INP Primary Script Invoker breakdown. That’s a bit of a mouthful – multiple different scripts can be involved in slowing down an interaction, and here you just see the biggest contributor. The “Invoker” is just a value that the browser reports about what caused this code to run.

1716368165 263 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Invoker Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

The following invoker names are examples of page-wide event handlers:

  • onclick
  • onmousedown
  • onpointerup

You can see those a lot in the screenshot above, which tells you that the analytics script is tracking clicks anywhere on the page.

In contrast, if you saw invoker names like these that would indicate event handlers for a specific element on the page:

  • .load_more.onclick
  • #logo.onclick

6. Review Specific Page Views

A lot of the data you’ve seen so far is aggregated. It’s now time to look at the individual INP events, to form a definitive conclusion about what’s causing slow INP in this example.

Real user monitoring tools like DebugBear generally offer a way to review specific user experiences. For example, you can see what browser they used, how big their screen is, and what element led to the slowest interaction.

1716368165 545 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a Page View in DebugBear Real User Monitoring, May 2024

As mentioned before, multiple scripts can contribute to overall slow INP. The INP Scripts section shows you the scripts that were run during the INP interaction:

1716368165 981 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP script breakdown, May 2024

You can review each of these scripts in more detail to understand why they run and what’s causing them to take longer to finish.

7. Use The DevTools Profiler For More Information

Real user monitoring tools have access to a lot of data, but for performance and security reasons they can access nowhere near all the available data. That’s why it’s a good idea to also use Chrome DevTools to measure your page performance.

To debug INP in DevTools you can measure how the browser processes one of the slow interactions you’ve identified before. DevTools then shows you exactly how the browser is spending its time handling the interaction.

1716368165 526 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a performance profile in Chrome DevTools, May 2024

How You Might Resolve This Issue

In this example, you or your development team could resolve this issue by:

  • Working with the third-party script provider to optimize their script.
  • Removing the script if it is not essential to the website, or finding an alternative provider.
  • Adjusting how your own code interacts with the script

How To Investigate High Input Delay

In the previous example most of the INP time was spent running code in response to the interaction. But often the browser is already busy running other code when a user interaction happens. When investigating the INP components you’ll then see a high input delay value.

This can happen for various reasons, for example:

  • The user interacted with the website while it was still loading.
  • A scheduled task is running on the page, for example an ongoing animation.
  • The page is loading and rendering new content.

To understand what’s happening, you can review the invoker name and the INP scripts section of individual user experiences.

1716368165 86 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Component breakdown within DebugBear, May 2024

In this screenshot, you can see that a timer is running code that coincides with the start of a user interaction.

The script can be opened to reveal the exact code that is run:

1716368165 114 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of INP script details in DebugBear, May 2024

The source code shown in the previous screenshot comes from a third-party user tracking script that is running on the page.

At this stage, you and your development team can continue with the INP workflow presented earlier in this article. For example, debugging with browser DevTools or contacting the third-party provider for support.

How To Investigate High Presentation Delay

Presentation delay tends to be more difficult to debug than input delay or processing time. Often it’s caused by browser behavior rather than a specific script. But as before, you still start by identifying a specific page and a specific interaction.

You can see an example interaction with high presentation delay here:

1716368165 665 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the an interaction with high presentation delay, May 2024

You see that this happens when the user enters text into a form field. In this example, many visitors pasted large amounts of text that the browser had to process.

Here the fix was to delay the processing, show a “Waiting…” message to the user, and then complete the processing later on. You can see how the INP score improves from May 3:

1716368165 845 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of an Interaction to Next Paint timeline in DebugBear, May 2024

Get The Data You Need To Improve Interaction To Next Paint

Setting up real user monitoring helps you understand how users experience your website and what you can do to improve it. Try DebugBear now by signing up for a free 14-day trial.

1716368165 494 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Core Web Vitals dashboard, May 2024

Google’s CrUX data is aggregated over a 28-day period, which means that it’ll take a while before you notice a regression. With real-user monitoring you can see the impact of website changes right away and get alerted automatically when there’s a big change.

DebugBear monitors lab data, CrUX data, and real user data. That way you have all the data you need to optimize your Core Web Vitals in one place.

This article has been sponsored by DebugBear, and the views presented herein represent the sponsor’s perspective.

Ready to start optimizing your website? Sign up for DebugBear and get the data you need to deliver great user experiences.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Redesign.co. Used with permission.

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