SEO Mythbusting - Page Speed (Core Web Vitals) is Not A Big Ranking Factor
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In today’s hyper connected world everyone wants relevant, accurate information instantly – the moment that they search for it.
Millions of people searching on Google every minute are no longer willing to wait three or even four seconds for their results to load. This is a big part of why Google shows how quickly your search was executed at the top of the results (almost always calculated in milliseconds, no less).
At the same time, a lot of website owners have not been focused on how to improve the loading speed of their pages.
This is a huge problem. Especially if you want to rank highly competitive keywords when doing search engine optimisation (SEO).
In recent SEO Mythbusting Series from Google Webmaster, Martin Splitt (Developer Advocate, Google) and Eric Enge (General Manager of Digital, Perficient) broke down some critical factors for page speed.
What's page speed (Page experience)
"We, as a search engine, do not want to have users frustrated when they see the content. So it makes sense that a fast website is a little more helpful for a slow website."
For a long time, even professional SEO consultants have tried to minimise the importance of page speed when it comes to ranking highly in Google results.
Recently,though , Martin Splitt (a Developer Advocate at Google) as well as Eric Enge (General Manager of Digital at Perficient) put an end to this SEO myth once and for all during a Google Webmaster series.
Announcing to the attendees that Google “…as a search engine does not want to have users frustrated when they see content”, these two professionals then went on to say“…it makes sense that a fast website is a little more helpful than a slow website”.
On top of that, the Chrome team at Google also announced a handful of Core Web Vitals metrics in July 2020 focused on the importance of speed, responsiveness, and stability.
A Core Web Vitals called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) specifically measures page loading speeds, and the only way to get an “EXCELLENT” rating from Google is to have your pages load inside of 2.5 seconds after a link has been clicked.
Myth Busted – Page Speed is Critical for SEO, but not a big factor
"Content is still the king. There's no question about that" -- Martin Splitt
Site speed is important, but it’s just one ranking factor among many.
Like most ranking factors, page load time alone won’t earn you a top spot on the SERPs, but a slow speed will hold you back from ranking higher. So what should you do? Try to improve your site speed, but keep optimising your other search factors as well.
Reorienting Our Approach to Optimising Page Speed
The number one challenge that savvy web developers, marketers, and business owners have when it comes to page speed these days is this:
Far too many websites are still being built based on outdated information, tools, and tactics that used to help improve speed but no longer make that much of an impact.
Too many web designers are still working on compressing images, resizing images, streamlining CSS and HTML, and other “on page” optimisation tactics. These tactics are still important (make no mistake about that) but they aren’t the biggest levers you can pull on to speed your site up.
It’s important that you reorient ASAP if you’re going to increase your page speed across your web platform. If your site continues to lag behind (loading in four or five seconds compared to 2.5 seconds or less) it’s not unreasonable to expect a significant drop in search engine rankings.
Prioritise above-the-fold content
First, you need to heavily prioritise optimising EVERYTHING that will load “above the fold” when someone first arrives at your website.
This is often overlooked by SEO professionals (especially because responsive design guarantees there will be different “above the fold” sections of content for most every user) but it’s something that you really have to focus on: Using Native image lazy-loading aka "lazy" image attribute helps in this optimisation.
<img src="image.png" loading="lazy" alt="…" width="200" height="200">
Leverage your CDN setting
Secondly, you need to optimise your CDN settings ASAP. The way your host or set the CDN can be a blocker for seeing the content. Check your server specs and host memory to see if they are compatible for your website content.
This involves digging deeper into the administrative panel of your host. You’ll want to check out the specifications of your server, dive into your host memory options, and confirm that everything is compatible for the type of content you are displaying on your web pages.
Bigger hosts offer all kinds of CDN optimisation applications or plug-ins. Leverage these resources whenever possible to boost the speed of your site on the host side.You’ll be in a much better position to see tangible improvements as far as SEO is concerned.
Lighthouse report is just a reference
The recommendation from the lighthouse report does not represent all your user experience, hence the metrics. With that in mind, a 6 seconds loading reduction from the image resizing recommendation is not a guarantee to all your users. Lighthouse is just a lab test using your own device specs.
- The scores from the lighthouse report are just for references instead of ranking factors. Google does not use any speed scores to be a ranking factor.
- The best way to test your speed in different devices is buying a device the test the speed with it
- With that in mind, using Google Analytics to break down your speed performance in devices, locations and other dimensions is a great start to address the issue,
- Use Chrome User Experience Report hosted on Google BigQuery to get the real user data.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is not a ranking factor
AMP is just a tool to help your site to achieve the better page speed goal, hence a better search ranking result. It's not a ranking factor. Progressive Web Apps (PWA) is also a good tool.
What should I look into in terms of Page speed
First of all, Core Web Vitals should be the parimary focus on improving your website experience.
And then we can break down to the following metrics:
- Average Speed Index: How quickly the mobile page displays content to users. Best Practice: 3 secs
- Average Time to First Byte (First Paint): How fast and responsive a mobile web server is in a specific category. Best Practice: Uner 1.3 secs
- Average Request Count (HTTP Requests): The number of individual pieces of content needed to display the entire mobile page. Best Practice: Fewer Than 50
- Average Page Weight Bytes: The total size of a mobile webpage, measured in bytes. Best Practice: Less than 500kb
How To Optimise LCP
First let's use the following image to understand what Largest ContentFul Paint is:
- Eliminate unnecessary resource load delay (Use "preload" or priority hint, use same origin resources and remove lazy load on LCP object))
- Reduce resource load time (Compress images, CDN and proper cache expire time)
- Reduce time to first byte (Server side optimisation, eg. get a dedicated host)
Core Web Vitals & Page Experience FAQs:
Google Release Important News About One of Their Ranking Factors - Page Experience
Source (1, 2)