Website Accessibility and Core Web Vitals Matter, Even for Small Sites

laptop screen with Core Web Vitals scores

Virginia by Rail is a multi-regional partnership of Virginia DMOs (destination marketing organizations) aimed at getting groups and individuals to tour the state using the train to get from one region to the next.  Until recently, they only had a marketing brochure and did not have a website.  They needed a simple site to introduce the program and provide a way to funnel traffic to the DMOs for those who want more information. 

Elevage Digital built a one-page site (plus privacy policy and accessibility statement pages) that was inspired by their print brochure.  As part of the design and build process, we continued to keep website accessibility and page speed best practices in mind.

Building and Testing for Website Accessibility

Website Accessibility should be part of all digital projects, regardless of size.   An accessible website can be used by those with visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive impairments.  Roughly 25% of adults in the US have some form of disability so making your website accessible opens it up to a wider range of potential visitors.  International, federal, and some state laws require websites to be accessible.  Accessibility best practices can increase Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and overall website usability.  

Elevage Digital follows the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines  (WCAG) standards to build and test websites.  We used a combination of keyboard, screen reader, and automated testing tools to check for common accessibility issues, including:

  • sufficient color contrast
  • proper tab order
  • hover and focus states for clickable items and form fields
  • proper image alt text
  • proper HTML heading order
  • warnings for outgoing links
  • visible labels for all form fields

Testing for digital accessibility is an ongoing process so we included an accessibility statement with information about our testing process and contact information if someone finds an issue.  

Optimizing Core Web Vitals and Page Speed

Core Web Vitals and Page Speed are important considerations for any website.  Visitors will leave sites that take more than 3 seconds to load. Core web vitals (CWV) are a set of measurements that include how quickly a page starts to load, how quickly it becomes interactive, and how much the appearance of the page shifts while it is loading.  These measurements are factored into 100 point scale to generate an overall score that Google uses are part of its algorithm for ranking pages.  

Total Blocking Time (TTB) – how long the site is blocked from being reliably interactive – and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how long it takes for the largest block of content to become visible on the screen – account for over half of the total CWV score so it’s important to keep these as low as possible.  To do this, we focused on several key areas.

Choosing the Right Website Hosting Platform

One of the biggest decisions when building a site is where to host it.  This is definitely an area where you get what you pay for (or don’t get what you don’t pay for).  We chose a well-regarded WordPress hosting provider, known for both speed and security.  A content delivery network (CDN) is built into the hosting platform to reduce the time it takes for content to be delivered to the site visitor. 

Optimizing Images for Quicker Loading

Images are one of the biggest killers of Core Web Vitals.  The larger the image file size, the longer it takes to download, which can impact LCP scores.  As part of this project, we optimized images every step of the way.  First, images were sized appropriately based on how they would be displayed on the site. Next, we adjusted the quality level to balance image quality and file size.  Lastly, we converted images to WebP format for additional compression. 

File Management to Reduce Blocking Time

In addition to optimizing images, we optimized the other asset files (fonts, Javascript, CSS) to the extent possible without compromising performance.  We compressed and combined files to reduce the number of requests to the server.  We delayed the loading of less critical files and completely removed files from the theme that were not needed.  Lastly, we hosted font files on the same server as the website instead of loading them from an external domain (ie. Google Fonts) to reduce the dependency on external servers.  All of these actions are aimed at reducing the time it takes for the page to load and become interactive.

Through these efforts, we were able to get the CWV scores in the mid-80s on mobile and 100% on desktop.  With strategic decision-making and a little effort, these results can be achieved on larger sites as well.