My mobile website scored 25/100 on Google PageSpeed Insights, and for the first time in my life, I’m content with a D- on my report card. If this sounds familiar, you should be too.
The red number at the top of the page has many of us striving for a perfect score of 100. But what if I told you that a faster website isn’t enough to get your website to the top of Google? When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), Google PageSpeed Insights scores are not as important as everyone in the industry has made you believe.
If you search anything related to site speed optimization on Google, you’ll find endless articles that tell you to head over to Google PageSpeed Insights to get the best score possible. While optimizing your website speed is very important, the score you get on PageSpeed Insights is actually irrelevant.
How Does Site Speed Affect SEO?
There’s no doubt that site speed is a ranking factor in the Google Search Engine Algorithm. In fact, Google has been very vocal about this subject. But how much weight does site speed actually carry?
On May 28, 2020, Google announced that core web vitals will soon become a new ranking signal, stating that user experience will begin to affect rankings. In their announcement, they list core web vitals (measurements focusing on loading, interactivity, and visual stability) as signals “important for delivering a good page experience in Google Search”. This proves that site speed is being considered, but there is also evidence that it does not outweigh other on-page factors.
Ultimately, Google’s commitment is to provide an obstacle-free and satisfying online experience to users that use their search engine. However, they clearly state that faster site speed and user experience will not out-rank better content. Content is still king.
So, when it comes to site speed as a ranking factor, Google isn’t looking for a website with lightning-fast speed, it’s looking for one that can meet a user’s intent. As such, user experience and content should be the focus of any SEO campaign. Site speed is merely a small piece of the puzzle.
The author of this article from Vardot.com said it best, “SEO is simply about making sure search engines like Google do not condemn your content and website as sub-standard.” As long as the site speed is comparable to the websites you are trying to out-rank, your time and effort are better spent focused on other factors that are more likely to result in a boost in rankings.
What Metrics Are Google’s Priority?
Overall, there are more than two hundred ranking factors included in Google’s algorithm. Google doesn’t want us to know how their algorithm works because everyone would cheat it, so some ranking factors are proven, some are speculation. This list of ranking factors includes anything from backlinks and domain factors to page-level factors and user experience. Of course, backlinks are the most important ranking factor in terms of authority score, but let’s focus on the on-page signals.
Here are a few that will drastically improve the user experience for your visitors and ultimately carry much more weight than site speed alone:
- Average session duration: A session is simply a visit to your website. It ends when a user leaves your website or if that user has not engaged with the site for 30 minutes.
- Engaging images, videos, and easy to read content will help a website achieve what most marketers determine to be a good average duration: about 2-4 minutes.
- Bounce rate: A “bounce” is a single-page session on your site. Whether you want this metric to be higher or lower ultimately depends on what your goals are for engaging users. A higher bounce rate is fine for single-page websites or landing pages, but if the “meat and potatoes” of your website are product pages, news articles, or checkout pages then you should be striving for a lower rate.
- An engaging home page with many call to actions and images can help entice users to take action on other pages of your site, thus, lowering your bounce rate.
- For blog posts, great readability and an aesthetically pleasing design will help improve this metric.
- Pages per session: The average number of pages a user views per session. What you’re looking for with this metric is more pages per session. This signals that users are more engaged with your website and that your content is highly relevant.
- An organized website architecture and internal links throughout your design help to increase pages per session.
- Conversion rate: The percentage of webpage visitors who are completing your desired goal (ie. Making a purchase, submitting forms, contacting your business.)
- Conversion rates generally improve when important page elements are easily accessible, product images are high-quality, and call to actions are present throughout the website. It also helps if your messaging is clear and easy to read/consume.
You may have noticed that there’s a common theme in improving these metrics: content and design. Which is why there must be a middle ground between design aesthetics and site speed.
Faster loading times will dramatically improve these metrics. But fast loading times play a minimal role compared to other on-page signals. It’s essential to outperform your competitors in these other areas because Google looks at these page-level metrics to determine how users are engaging with your site. At the end of the day, Google seeks to reward websites that offer good site experience and engaging/relevant content. Site speed becomes a less important metric compared to experience and content.
What Would A Perfect Score Achieve?
Getting a perfect score is possible but doing so means sacrificing many design aesthetics that would negatively impact the user experience.
In order to achieve a high score on PageSpeed Insights, you have to remove almost everything that makes the website look good. Pages must be stripped down to complete basics. Eye-catching images, call-to-action buttons, and even headers and footers can slow a page down. These are some of the items making your website a good experience for your users.
Here are a few examples of design and content that you might need to sacrifice for a perfect score:
- White space
- Mobile-friendly aesthetics
These elements are some of the items that are most valuable to your SEO strategy, they lead to better average session duration, improved bounce rate, and encourage conversions. Google PageSpeed Insights is not considering these metrics when determining the score, which is why a perfect 100 isn’t enough to get your website to the top of the page.
PageSpeed Insights is going to tell you every possible way to speed up your website and implementing all of their recommendations is not necessarily going to contribute to your overall digital strategy.
How Google PageSpeed Insights Can Help
Google PageSpeed Insights is still a beneficial tool, and you absolutely should use it. Although Google no longer powers PageSpeed Insights, the tool still allows us to uncover what is causing our websites to be slow. Optimizing our websites for speed is still an essential exercise that we must do.
These recommendations are best seen as suggestions for changes that have the potential to improve website speed, but not all of them will make a substantial difference when looking at the bigger picture. Some items will increase site speed without sacrificing main design elements; others barely make a difference in speed but will negatively impact aesthetics. As marketers, it falls on us to determine which items are worth the trade-off.
As long as your website loads as fast as possible without compromising the elements that are important to you (and under 3 seconds), it’s very unlikely that you’ll see a negative impact on your rankings. It’s time that we focus on what really matters: user experience and content.
The Bottom Line
User experience will have an even more significant impact on Google rankings in 2021. We should prepare for these changes and utilize all of the tools given to us. It’s important not to rely on your PageSpeed score alone in evaluating the performance of your website. Remember, while a fast website should be your goal, it’s just a small piece of a much bigger picture.