Page Speed is the score Google awards a site after assessing it through its own Page Speed Insights service. The metric is based on their view of how a web page should be constructed to load fast, offer a pleasant user experience with good code quality underneath.
Everyone loves a snappy site but there are genuine commercial reasons behind Why Page Speed Matters.
In this article, we deal with these and provide some stats explaining the positive and negative consequences of this all important metric.
- A little background
- The reason why Page Speed matters
- Page Speed Insights vs Page Speed
- Page Speed Insights vs WebPageTest vs GTMetrix
- What the experts say
- How to test
- What is a good score?
- What is a bad score?
- How to improve
- Page Speed modules
- Is 100 possible?
- Where does AMP come into the mix?
- What was the Page Speed Service?
A little background
Since 2010 Google has placed great importance on Page Speed because it offers a pleasant User Experience.
Back then, as internet speeds got faster and the iPhone began to change how we browse the web, developers were trying to offer richer and more interactive experiences. Lots of tracking scripts were coming on the market promising more insights than ever before and data hungry product managers insisted on using every one of them in an effort to uncover the magic metric that could change their business.
Ad driven News sites, in particular, were big offenders and still are as they include lots of dynamic content, images and tools for tracking all the interactions.
With advances seemly happening on all fronts, something had to give and the loser in many cases was loading time. In reaction, Google decided to create a tool to give developers some way of measuring the speed with actionable advice on how to fix it.
With that Page Speed was born.
The reason Why Page Speed Matters
Given that is is possible to have a fast website but a low Page Speed score, you might be asking Why Does Page Speed Matter?
The reasons are very simple.
1) For Search Rankings
Firstly, Google uses the Page Speed metric as one of the ranking signals in their algorithm so a high PageSpeed score can raise your position in search results. In basic terms, when all things are equal between two sites, the one with the better Page Speed score will be ranked higher.
So many aspects of SEO are uncontrollable such as backlinks - you can influence sites that link to yours but you cannot actually control them. Page Speed is a controllable metric as it can be managed by you or your team without depending on external factors.
In highly competitive niches such as gambling where every successful site has a solid on and off page strategy, SEO is won on the margins. This is where increasing a Page Speed score from 65 to 85 could make all the difference to rank a site one position above its competitor.
In reality, though, all things are never equal between two websites, so it’s not as clear cut to say that you will go to number one on Google if you have a good Page Speed score but it will certainly help.
2) User Experience
The Page Speed Insights service also measures User Experience with an emphasis on mobile.
A poor layout or content that is not scaled will cause a user to click back, which increases your bounce rate. Nothing decreases the reputation of your site faster than high bounce rate in the eyes of Google.
They are in the business of providing answers to questions, so if lots of users feel like your site doesn’t provide the answer they need by virtue of poor UI and bounce back, Google will know about it and send you down the rankings.
3) Adwords Quality Score
Thirdly, for Adwords campaigns, Page Speed is one of the factors involved in calculating the Quality score. A low Page Speed score directly correlates with a low Adwords quality score. This means that competitors ads are more likely to be shown over yours and you will have a higher cost per click(CPC).
Not appearing in the number one Adwords spot can be disastrous if a company doesn’t have natural search presence yet or just wants to run a product test. If other aspects of the ad are not in order, it could be enough to push your listing outside the top four and into the ads at the bottom of the page where the CTR drops by a significant margin.
If you manage to stay in the top four, the price of every click is higher than it needs to be so your margin is immediately reduced on any conversions you make from clicks.
This won’t make difference to the bottom line for a local hairdresser advertising to clients in their town but for large companies operating in high competition niches or digital marketing agencies running million dollar PPC campaigns, Page Speed points are big business. A low score means they are immediately spending more for traffic than they should. Considering some keywords cost hundreds of dollars per click, a few percent of difference multiplied by a thousand clicks quickly adds up to noticeable sums of cash and proves that Page Speed really does matter.
PageSpeed Insights vs Page Speed
Before we go any further, It is important to clarify the difference between Page Speed Insights and page speed. When most people talk about page speed, they are referring to the time it takes for a web page to load, also known as the page-speed. This can be measured by the naked eye and testing tools like WebPageTest and GTMetrix.
Page Speed Insights, on the other hand, refers to the score from 1-100 that Google gives a site when tested through their Page Speed Insights API, a tool separate from the other two.
There are three grades a site can achieve - poor, average and good, with different thresholds for each. A top score denotes quality but regardless of where you land on the scale, the higher you can get, the better.
Why the difference?
The reason for this difference is debatable but most likely because developers can use bad code practices to achieve a fast site so Google wants to provide a tool that measures loading speed while also checking front end user experience and underlying code.
Page Speed Insights is a completely different testing tool to the others on the market which we discuss below.
Page Speed vs WebPageTest vs GTMetrix
As mentioned above Page Speed is testing tool often thrown into conversations with WebPageTest and GTMetrix.
The difference is that Page Speed provides a score at the end based on its view of speed, mobile friendliness and code quality, whereas the other two offer a loading time in seconds, regardless of the UI or code that was used to achieve it.
There are many other testing services, with some even owned by Google, but Page Speed is the only one that matters for SEO because it is used by Google as a ranking signal.
Testing your site performance?
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What the Experts say
Gary lllyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst @ Google
Green is great
Ilya Grigorik, Web Performance Engineer @ Google
it is a criteria that effects user experience so you should be optimizing for user experience and speed is one of them
Pat Meenan, Staff Software Engineer @ Google
To make sure that your mobile page speed is as fast as possible, confirm that your images are formatted correctly
How To Test
Go to the Page Speed Insights Service and paste in the URL you want to test. The tool will then ping your domain and carry out a series of checks, after which you will see the score your site has achieved.
It only allows you to test one URL at a time though and many people only test their homepage and make assumptions that the rest of the site will be fine as it uses the same header and footer, etc.
Try out PageSpeed Plus for a more powerful PageSpeed Testing tool. It’s a wrapper around the official API that allows you to bulk test a list of URL’s in one go and provides a site wide Page Speed metric instead of just a single URL.
What is a good score?
Up until recently, 80 was given the A grade but Google has since upped the threshold to 85 to obtain the magic green status. With the dynamic nature of websites, it is best to give yourself some padding and score over 90 in PageSpeed as one uncompressed image added by a content editor in the future could be enough to reduce your score back down into average territory.
What is a bad score?
If your grade doesn’t exceed 50 you will be in the red zone with a poor score and need to spend some time fixing it as soon as possible.
How to improve it
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There are official Page Speed modules for Apache and NGINX that you can manually install on the server. They will automatically apply performance optimizations to incoming requests.
However, adding a new server module is not as quick to implement in comparison to making a few code edits and server level knowledge is required, so research the process if you are not sure.
Is 100 possible?
Yes, and we did it once but don’t waste your time trying. Even google.com itself fails to achieve 100 in its own test!
At the moment, there is no good explanation why their own script causes less than perfect results in their own tools but it is refreshing to see that they are not giving themselves any advantage over other scripts.
Hopefully one day they will fix it or provide a workaround as Page Speed is an important matter in the mobile first index but until then, aim for 90 and above.
Where does AMP come into the mix?
A new site can be built with AMP from the start or it can be added to an existing domain gradually by creating AMP versions of URLs on a page by page basis.
The functionality on offer at the moment is limited and the UI can’t be as good as highly styled information portals because CSS is limited to 50k. As expected though, AMP sites score incredibly well in Page Speed by default without any further optimizations so you get Page Speed built in from the start instead of retrofitting an existing codebase.
A nice little bonus of building an AMP site is that the listing will have a thunderbolt icon beside it in the mobile SERPs and the early data shows that this increases CTR.
What was the Page Speed Service?
A quick note on something you may have read on blogs or heard about is the Page Speed Service. It was an official Google project that allowed you to route all your traffic through them by pointing the DNS at their nameservers. They would then make performance optimizations automatically before sending the result back to the browser. It was retired in 2014 as it didn’t fit with their business model but Cloudflare does something similar and has stepped into this space with a replacement offering.
Page Speed matters for SEO. It is something you can control which cannot be said for many of the ranking signals in the Google algorithm. It’s easy to fix using the Web Performance tutorials on this site and many others. If you haven’t optimized your Page Speed yet, start on it today.
If you know of any other reasons Why Page Speed Matters, let us know in the comments below. We respond to all posts because it helps everyone share the knowledge and build fast websites.
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