How to Test & Improve Website Speed
Making sure Google likes your website is just as important as making sure your clients like your website. That’s why it’s worth it for most small business owners to check and improve website speed. I’m going to teach you how today.
Luckily what Google likes best is websites that have a good user experience (UX). There are a lot of different facets to good UX. I recently had a fascinating meeting with someone who uses a website platform their developer built, as opposed to an industry standard platform like WordPress. Now, we have a rule here at Create That: we don’t change what’s working. So while I personally choose to build on the WordPress platform, I’m not going to dismiss a proprietary web platform just because it’s not WordPress.
Unfortunately in this case, the website performance was abysmal. That is a big deal because about a year ago, Google changed its algorithm to judge sites more harshly on performance or as they put it “page experience.” Websites with poor page experience scores get penalized in the search results. One important core web vital is how fast your website loads. Their site had a score of 23 out of a possible 100 on the most common speed test.
No wonder the site doesn’t show up in search results. To me, it’s basically marketing malpractice to hand over a site with such poor core vitals. Even though it irks the hell out of me that Google’s opinion matters so much.
Unfortunately, Google Does Matter 😒
Google is basically Big Brother with a vaguely sinister Sesame Street vibe. Its algorithm manipulates your search results for reasons we know about and reasons we don’t. Google claims it’s all about delivering results that satisfy users, but whatever their defence, they definitely shape how we see the world based on the data they have about us. And if you don’t believe me, use a web browser that doesn’t track you and then do the exact search on Google and compare. The difference in your search results is a bit startling.
Problem is, pretty much everyone uses Google to search the web. So whether or not you like Google, it’s prudent to do everything you can to make sure Google likes you.
I’m going to tell you how to test the speed of your site and then improve it so you can make Google happy.
There are lots of ways to measure website performance, but if you’re a small business, the most important for you are your core web vitals, which includes how fast your site loads. The most commonly used tool to measure this is called PageSpeed Insights.
When you log in to PageSpeed Insights, enter your URL. PSI will then test your site’s speed. You’re aiming for a score of 90 out of 100, but really anything above 70 is pretty good.
The different between good and bad is mere milliseconds.
There’s a scientific reason for this. The part of our brain that decides whether we stay on a website and look around or click away makes that decision in about 50 milliseconds. So you kinda need to have something to look at on the page within that 50 milliseconds.
Is Page Speed Important in 2022?
If your developer tells you that your PageSpeed Insights score isn’t a big deal, it’s a sign they are not small business experts,
Page speed is not the only important metric to track, but it is the one that matters most to small business owners because it’s the one that has the most favourable effort-to-impact ratio. In other words, you can improve your search engine ranking the most with the least effort.
Often developers are more concerned with another measure Google uses to rank you: the amount of traffic your website can handle. If hundreds of thousands of people show up on the site at the same time and your site can’t handle the load, it will crash. Just like the contractor who built your deck cares that it won’t collapse with 45 people standing on it, the developer who builds your site wants to make sure it doesn’t crash when traffic goes up.
The thing is, most of us are never going to have 100,000 people try to visit our site at the exact same moment. That’s a scenario that might affect Ticketmaster the day Lizzo tickets go on sale, but I have never seen it affect a local law firm, dental clinic or fitness centre. Most small business owners are not trying to attract that kind of traffic, at least not without warning.
For that reason, whether your site can handle that kind of traffic is totally irrelevant. That metric simply doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, it is vitally important to make sure every single person in your target audience who visits your site has a positive experience. Amazon doesn’t have to sweat it if some people become frustrated, but small business service providers do. So for you and me, page speed is more important than traffic load capability and don’t listen to anyone who says it isn’t.
The Stakes and the Solutions
If you don’t optimize the site for Google, people aren’t going to find you when they search for businesses like yours. Frankly, that’s just a shame when you’ve spent time, money or both developing your site.
If you don’t have the time or know-how to fix every little thing Google tells you will improve your page speed, here are a few high-impact strategies to prioritize.
Drop the Builder
The first consideration is whether your site uses a builder. A website builder (such as Elementor, Beaver Builder or WP Bakery) is a tool that turns a custom coding experience into a drag-and-drop experience. Unfortunately, it can also slow down your site.
Imagine you’re going on a trip and you want to look really terrific while you’re away. For most people, that would probably mean filling a big suitcase with great outfits and whatever products keep you feeling your best. If looking good is your priority, you’ll likely have a heavy suitcase, not just a tiny backpack.
That’s the problem a builder has too. It uses a bunch of extra code to make your site look effortlessly good, but then it’s stuck hauling that heavy code around, which slows down your site.
Recently I was preparing to begin work on a site and I noticed that it had been built using a builder called Divi. Divi is notorious for slowing down your websites and for not keeping pace with Google’s expectations. There really is no solution here except to rebuild the site.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Milliseconds
Another factor that really can slow down your site is images and video. For video, make sure you store it on another server, not your own website. Instead of putting the video directly on your site, you want to put the video on a service like YouTube or Amazon S3 and then embed that.
Google wants you to put images on your site in a next-gen format. The WebP format has become their preference. Previously, you likely used a JPEG image or a PNG image. WebP is just another file type that is faster to render online. If you’re working in WordPress, I recommend downloading a plugin that will help transfer your existing images into WebP format.
Cache is King
Another solution you may find helpful is caching. Caching means your web browser stores a picture of your site in what’s called a cache near your geographic location so that the next time it’s easier for the website to load, which improves their overall user experience. Caching is an excellent tool to streamline your site’s user experience. However, it won’t compensate for other speed problems, so manage your expectations.
We have a website-building checklist that is absolutely free. If you haven’t already downloaded it, check it out. And if you are looking for answers about web design in plain language, I am here to help with a free brainstorming session.