Ah, SEO: the never-ending game of cat and mouse that delights data nerds and infuriates the rest of us. There’s always something new to learn, and today we’re digging into your biggest Google PageSpeed Insights questions, including why your score went down and whether or not it really matters.

What is PageSpeed Insights and how does it work? 

The super brains at Google are always building new optimization tools to help us improve our website experiences, and Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) is the latest in a lineup of ranking factors. PSI measures both desktop and mobile page performance, pulling out relevant data and improvement suggestions in a variety of categories. 

Sounds simple enough, though your report will include several terms that aren’t always the most user friendly. Here are some PageSpeed Insights buzzwords about Core Web Vitals to impress your friends and colleagues! 

  • First Contentful Paint: measures the brower’s time to render the first piece of DOM content after a user navigates to your page. 2s or under is considered good.
  • Largest Contentful Paint: measures perceived loading experience, marking the point during page load when the primary–or “largest”–content has loaded and is visible to the user. In short, this is when the user thinks the page is loaded or mostly loaded. Less than 2.5s is considered good.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: illustrates how much the page layout changes during load as elements are inserted into the DOM (usually dynamically via scripts). A low score here is desirable: 0.1 is the ideal benchmark. 
  • First Input Delay: measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to respond to that interaction. Less than 100ms is the ideal benchmark. 

Google takes all this information—pulled from both lab data (controlled environments) and field data (real-world experiences)—and rolls it into one neat and tidy speed score. Ranked on a scale of 0-100, your speed score is a snapshot of how well your page is performing, but is it the end-all, be-all benchmark of performance? 

Does my PageSpeed Insights score matter?

Well, it does matter, but it’s not the final word, as page speed is just one of the many signals used for pagerank. According to Moz: 

“Google has indicated site speed (and as a result, page speed) is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. And research has shown that Google might be specifically measuring time to first byte as when it considers page speed. In addition, a slow page speed means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget, and this could negatively affect your indexation. Page speed is also important to user experience. Pages with a longer load time tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page. Longer load times have also been shown to negatively affect conversions.”

So, do you need to worry about your PageSpeed Insights score? Not necessarily the score, but the Core Web Vitals will matter. The new Core Web Vitals metrics will be tied to page rankings in a future update (likely 2021) as part of a new metric called “Page Experience Score” (actual name/titling TBD). The new version of metrics will likely be a broad update impacting everyone, but Google made the metrics available in Google Search Console so webmasters can start making improvements now, ahead of the update.

Why did my score go down in PageSpeed Insights? 

No one likes to see a downward trend, but seeing a dip in your PageSpeed Insights score isn’t an immediate cause for concern. Your PSI score is a moving goalpost, constantly calculated and recalculated with ever-changing variables. Google never reveals strategy shifts until after they happen (rude), often causing frustration and panic from businesses and SEO strategists alike. 

For example, at the end of May 2020, Google rolled out PSI changes that caused a lot of scores to suddenly tank. The LDM team reached out to our Google reps to understand why, and learned these PageSpeed Insights updates for 2020: 

  • Google is weighting blocking scripts (“Total Blocking Time”) – even their own, such as Analytics and Google Tag Manager – more negatively than before
  • Google is highly prioritizing Time to First Byte as well as the Largest Contentful Paint, and a new metric is being considered: Cumulative Layout Shift. 
  • A scoring calculator is available now, which shows how specific metrics affect the score (Ref)

Because of these shifts (and infinite more on the horizon), your PSI score will always be changing, but working with an SEO team will ensure your site is making the necessary adjustments as time goes on.

How can I get a 100/100 score in PageSpeed Insights? 

 

While not technically impossible, achieving the perfect 100/100 score is a bit of a white whale. Since the targets can change at literally anytime without warning, hitting the bullseye often demands more luck than skill. The good news is that you don’t need a perfect score to perform in the SERPs, as page speed is only one factor and it mainly impacts only the slowest sites

Your agency or web developer should be working in 2020 and 2021 to watch not only your PSI score, but all the Core Web Vitals key metrics to help you stay ahead of the competition. 

Stay Ahead of Google Updates

Want to ensure your site stays ahead of the curve? At Launch Digital Marketing, we geek out over this stuff, so contact our team on knowledgeable nerds to keep a watchful eye on your website! Whether your website needs an update or you need help with SEO, we’ve got you covered. 

Meet Crystal Mack

Crystal Mack is a Senior Copywriter at Launch Digital Marketing. With a master's degree in Mass Communication and several published books to her pen name, she is a self-proclaimed word nerd and staunch supporter of the Oxford comma.