PageSpeed is the score Google awards a site after assessing it through its own PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed Matters.
In this article, we deal with these and provide some stats explaining the positive and negative consequences of this all important metric.
- The reason why PageSpeed matters
- PageSpeed Insights vs Page Speed
- PageSpeed 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
- PageSpeed modules
- Is 100 possible?
- Where does AMP come into the mix?
- What was the PageSpeed Service?
Since 2010 Google has placed great importance on PageSpeed 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.
Advertisement 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 seemingly 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 PageSpeed Insights was born.
The reason Why PageSpeed Matters
Given that is is possible to have a fast website but a low PageSpeed score, you might be asking Why Does PageSpeed Matter?
The reasons are very simple.
1) For Search Rankings
Firstly, Google uses the PageSpeed metric as one of the ranking signals in their algorithm so a high PageSpeed score can raise your position in search results. When all things are equal between two sites, the one with the better PageSpeed Insights score will be ranked higher.
So many aspects of SEO are are unknown and uncontrollable such as backlinks - you can influence sites that link to yours but you cannot actually control them. PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed score but it will certainly help.
2) User Experience
The PageSpeed 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, PageSpeed is one of the factors involved in calculating the Quality score. A low PageSpeed 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, PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed really does matter.
PageSpeed Insights vs Page Speed
Before we go any further, It is important to clarify the difference between PageSpeed 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.
PageSpeed Insights, on the other hand, refers to the score from 1-100 that Google gives a site when tested through their PageSpeed 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.
PageSpeed Insights is a completely different testing tool to the others on the market which we discuss below.
PageSpeed vs WebPageTest vs GTMetrix
As mentioned above PageSpeed Insights is a testing tool often thrown into conversations with WebPageTest and GTMetrix.
The difference is that PageSpeed provides a score at the end based on its view of speed, mobile friendliness and code quality, complemented with real-world data from the Chrome User Experience Report. The other show 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 such as Lighthouse, but PageSpeed Insights is the most accurate as it uses real world examples to give a true reflection of loading time that users are experiencing on your site.
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, formerly Staff Software Engineer @ Google and now Cloudflare
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 PageSpeed 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.
You can also 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 PageSpeed 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
There are lots of changes you can make from enabling GZIP compression to eliminating render blocking resources. We covered these topics in detail when we explained how to score over 90 on PageSpeed so check it out. Work through each section and remember to test after every one to see what PageSpeed lift it provides.
There are official PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed by default without any further optimizations so you get PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed Service?
A quick note on something you may have read on blogs or heard about is the PageSpeed 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.
PageSpeed 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 PageSpeed yet, start on it today.