Site speed is fast becoming a hot topic in the digital marketing world.
After the announcement of Google’s Core Web Vitals and site speed’s influence on search rankings, business owners and digital marketers alike have been on an endless conquest to achieve that coveted 100/100 score from Google’s PageSpeed tool.
The truth is, scoring less than 100 doesn’t mean your website has failed, and site speed is just one of many, many factors in whether or not Google will favour you.
We’ve had sooo many questions about our websites, site speed and how these websites will rank if they’re not achieving that top score. It’s tricky to explain because site speed, metrics, and how and why Google does what it does is… a lot.
So, we’ve created this handy guide to give you some insight.
The first stop in your loading speed conquest should be how it all works.
Like, what even affects page speed?
Your logo, your images, the copy, the colours, the buttons, your menu. All of it. Every single element on the page needs to be loaded and thus, affects your site speed.
It means that for most small business-scale WordPress websites to score 100 on Google’s PageSpeed tool, they would almost have to have an empty, blank web page.
What’s super interesting about this, though, is that even if you did have a blank page with absolutely nothing to load, you still wouldn’t score 100/100 if it wasn’t hosted on a high-quality server.
Yep, your web hosting is one of the most overlooked factors in site speed. The lower the quality of the host, the worse your results will be.
Web hosting is super important across the board, but especially where your website speed is concerned.
A poor website host will mean your downstream optimisations will probably be ineffective.
That’s what affects loading speed, but where do Core Web Vitals come in? ⏱️
Strap in because this gets pretty technical.
Core Web Vitals are measured in three different metrics.
The first is LCP, Largest Contentful Paint. It’s how long it takes from the moment a user arrives on your website to when the viewable part of the page appears to have loaded.
The second is FID, First Input Delay. This is how long it takes for your website to become interactive. So, how soon the user can click a button, scroll, or click into a form.
Google suggests the benchmark for LCP is 2.5 seconds and FID less than 100 milliseconds.
CLS, Cumulative Layout Shift is the third factor. CLS measures how far the elements shift from the page’s viewport.
Have you ever tried to click a button or a link on a page, and just before you make the click, the page moves position, and you miss?
Here’s an example:
That’s a layout shift, and according to Google, your website should score 0.1 or less in this metric.
Your layout shift score is calculated like this: impact fraction x distance fraction = layout shift score.
Impact fraction is the percentile of shifting done by the on-page elements. So, if the element shifts 25% down the page, then the impact fraction is that remaining 0.75.
The distance fraction is how far the element has moved relative to the viewport. So, if it moved by 25% of the viewport, then it’s 0.25.
Google has a pretty comprehensive explainer on this.
Perfect design, user experience & site speed...
No website has all three.
It sounds dramatic, but it’s kind of true. When it comes to web design, it’s a constant trade-off between creating a beautiful design, a design that is easy to use, and a website that will load in time.
So, we need to compromise. Your website needs to have colours and imagery to grab and retain attention. It needs words to communicate and engage.
And it needs to have navigational functions, accessible information about your business, and opportunities to contact you.
All of these things will affect your site speed, though. So, when we’re designing your website, we’re constantly evaluating how we can get you both: a quality, conversion-ready website and a website that loads quickly.
Google cares much more about the entire experience of the website visitor, rather than having a perfect score in one area, like the page speed.
So, it’s a balancing act. However, small sacrifices around your page speed can be made to improve your website’s design and functionality — as long as it improves the overall user experience.
Even Google can't get the perfect score.
If anyone should be able to score 100, it’d be Google and its websites.
Google isn’t that concerned with their own metrics, though. Instead, they’ve also made that effort to consider UX, functionality, and design ahead of page speed.
Let’s take a look at a few of Google’s sites.
Google National Park Service Project
This one scores 68 on desktop and 25 on mobile.Given the functionality of this website, it’s actually insane that it managed a 68 score. It allows you to tour through national parks and landmarks, interacting with 360° video while being guided by audio.
Google’s video search engine, YouTube, is a brilliant example of page speed as a ranking factor.
Video is rich in data and will cause a website to load much slower. So, YouTube, a website that is filled to the brim with video, is going to struggle.
It scores abysmally. 38 on desktop and 42 on mobile. But, if you Google a search term like “how to tie shoelaces” or “how to julienne carrots”, — YouTube will be in that top position.
Google’s announcement of site speed as a ranking factor was heavily focused on eCommerce websites.
Google’s own eCommerce site, Fitbit, manages a score of 35 on desktop and 17 on mobile.
Site speed is just one ranking factor.
We’re on page #1 of Google for our key terms, and we only score 72/100.
There are so many ranking factors. The quality of your content, the authority of your domain, how well your content is optimised, the user experience, mobile-friendliness, and how “crawlable” your code is.
Site speed is just one of many ranking factors. And scoring any less than 100 doesn’t mean your website is a failure, ready to be banished to the place Google sends terrible websites.
Google’s tools and algorithm updates can all seem pretty intimidating. At the end of the day, though, the search engine just wants to send their users to the most relevant website to give them the best experience.
We scored 72 in the PageSpeed tool. And we’re not mad about it.
Our score of 72 doesn’t seem to negatively impact our rankings.
We rank on the first page of Google for all our key search terms 💁♀️
Of course, being a team of digital marketers, we are constantly trying to improve our site speed.
But we’re always balancing that with the need to give our website visitors helpful information and a fantastic experience.
Instead of benchmarking against Google, why not your competitors?
If you’ve been poring over your PageSpeed results and benchmarking your website against a perfect 100/100 score, have you had a look at your competitors?
Run the top websites ranking for your key search terms through the PageSpeed tool. Are they scoring perfectly?
After all, if the businesses in the top spots on Google don’t have perfect speed scores, why waste your time and resources perfecting yours?
Don’t get us wrong, the PageSpeed tool is a super handy guide
The PageSpeed tool and third-party tools like GTmetrix are so helpful when it comes to troubleshooting your website and its speed.
If you’re noticing speed issues with your website, running it through these tools can give you excellent insights.
They’ll let you know about all the suspected issues with your site and rank them by importance or urgency.
But it’s important to note that the list of suggestions isn’t always necessary to fix if you’re not seeing any real issues. A lot of the suggestions PageSpeed offers are simple binary flags.
They’re basically here to say, “Hey, we’ve noticed you’re not using X or implementing Y, that might help 🤷♀️”
They’re here to point you in the right direction. The suggestions are sometimes beneficial and sometimes not relevant, depending on how your website is built.
These tools are super handy, but they’re also not completely accurate
The online speed testing tools, like Google PageSpeed, Pingdom Tools, or GTmetrix, are “synthetic” tests.
So, they’re trying to emulate what happens when a real-life website visitor lands on your website.
These tools don’t consider a lot of factors, though, and so these tools usually have a few inconsistencies compared with actual website visitor data.
It’s like we said earlier, these tools are a guide to help you improve.
The best way to spot real issues on your website is by checking your verified Google Search Console account. You’ll be able to pick up page performance issues based on actual data from your real website visitors.
Site speed, and all optimisation should be dynamic 🔆
Google and website design are constantly evolving.
So, your website should be too.
Your efforts, not just in site speed optimisation but also in bettering your website across the board, should be ongoing.
The benchmark is constantly shifting — so your website optimisation should be too.
Remember: focus on what your website is trying to achieve, and remember to look at your website as part of a bigger picture.
It’s not just a website designed to tick off a checklist handed over by Google.
It’s a tool to help you create more business.
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