Page Load Speed – Just the Facts, Please

Liz Zwiers Ad Ops

Page load speed is a concern for many publishers nowadays, especially with Google’s upcoming roll-out of Core Web Vitals. But what does that mean for you? If you aren’t familiar with the issue, or you just want to learn more, we’ve got you covered.

What is page load speed?

Put simply, page load speed is how fast your web page loads its contents. If you have images that aren’t optimized (with huge file sizes), multiple page items that aren’t cached, or you have bloated CSS, HTML, or JavaScript files, your page load speed is probably taking far longer than it should.  

Why should it matter to you?

You may have heard rumblings over the past year about Google’s Core Web Vitals. Rolling out in May 2021, it’s important that you understand how they affect you and your web site. Core Web Vitals are a  set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability, which can help you measure the user experience for your web site(s). Google also uses these metrics to evaluate and rank your website in its search results. So, if you rely on Google search results for traffic to your website, improving your page load speed plays a part in improving your ranking in those results.

Page load speed is also a major factor for an individual user’s experience on your website. Think about it, you surf the web yourself. If a website takes a long time to load, how do you feel about that site? How long does it take you to get frustrated? How long are you going to stick around if it takes too long? High performing sites engage and retain users far better than low performing ones. When Pinterest reduced perceived wait times by 40%, they increased search engine traffic and sign-ups by 15%

How does page speed affect SEO?

If your site takes too long to load, people aren’t going to stick around to access it once it does, which means fewer conversions and less money in your pocket. According to data shared by Small SEO Tools and Strangeloop, a one second delay in page load time will drop your conversion rate by 7%. This means that if your website drives $100,000 per day in sales, you could lose $2.5 million per year in lost conversions.

How can you check your page load speed?

Now that you know that slower page loads aren’t good for your site (or your revenue), how can you check if your website is loading fast enough? The quickest and most accurate way is to navigate to Google PageSpeed Insights. It is a Google-developed tool that reports on the mobile and desktop speed performance of a page and gives you guidance on how the page can be improved. 

Other tools to evaluate your page speed definitely exist across the web, but be wary of opaque promises linked to improvements “only they” can make to your site. And keep an eye out for less-than-transparent tools that hide how they make their speed “evaluations” (more on that below). Wouldn’t you rather see the actual results for yourself, instead of having a biased individual “interpreting” the results and trying to sell you something? 

At Sortable, we’re developing a feature (within our analytics dashboard) for our existing customers so that they don’t have to go to external sources for their Core Web Vitals data (but they absolutely can, to confirm its veracity). For each of their site’s pages, publishers will be able to see their user experience scores, what the status is (good, needs improvement, or poor), and how it’s trending over time. This will allow our customers to better optimize for both advertising revenue and user experience. We’re aiming to release the feature within the next few months, before Google launches their initiative. 

How can you make your web pages load faster?

Once you’ve established your website’s page load speed, if you see that it needs improvement, there are some fantastic resources here for best practices you can use to bring down your page speed. If you want a super easy way for how to make your website load faster, we recently published an article on a few WordPress plugins that can help out with your page speed. This site also has a TON of information if you want to dive deeper into optimizing your site to align with Core Web Vitals. 

If you’re looking for a few common things to check, take a look at your image types and sizes. Optimizing your image files to next-gen formats could really improve your speed. So could caching any of the static page elements that are slowing your site down. Remove any unused CSS or JavaScript and/or minify them. Once you’ve instituted those changes, re-analyze your site on PageSpeed Insights. The Opportunities section of your results contains a list of several actions you could take to minimize your page load times.

What about other “page speed optimizers”? 

Yeah, we’ve seen those too. So, we tried a little test. We wanted to see if this company’s “speed results” were accurate. Because if those claims aren’t legit, we’d find it hard to believe any other promises they push. We ran the company website of one of Sortable’s competitors through their own speed-analyzer-test (which will henceforth be referred to as “faux-analyzer”) and got the following results:

Fantastic score, eh? Their website’s current score is on the left at 95. But, 95 what? We have no idea. Their “potential” score is 96. Right off the bat, we’re skeptical of numbers we see when they provide absolutely no explanation of the given score. There’s also zero transparency into what data they’re using to come up with these *very* impressive numbers.

Then we ran their website through Google’s PageSpeed Insights and saw this result:

That’s quite a disparity. Even if the two assessments use different criteria, there is clearly a disconnect here. How can a site do *so well* using their own faux-analyzer (95) and yet perform so poorly with Google’s Core Web Vitals assessment (28)? 

[On a side note, we ran the PageSpeed Insights tool on Thursday, March 18, 2021. These results have the potential to change daily as Google’s collection period is for the previous 28 days.]

There does seem to be a heavy emphasis on speed with the faux-analyzer though. Let’s look at their speed scores, specifically.

The speed score of the exact same site that scored a 95 on their faux-analyzer, rates as slow on the Speed Index (as indicated by a red triangle). So, what sort of data are they using to analyze their page speeds? What does 95 even mean? We’ll never know because they don’t explain — the only way to get any sort of explanation is to sign up with their service.

Don’t fall for these attempts to steal your business. We want you to use the most accurate tools so that you can make informed decisions about your site. And your revenue. We invite you to try it yourself! Compare the “data” from other sites’ faux-analyzers to that of Google PageSpeed Insights

If you’re looking for help improving your site’s page load speed (with the added benefit of transparency), we’d love to help you out. You can get started by emailing us at team@sortable.com or booking a demo. If you’re an existing Sortable publisher, our Client Success team will be happy to help you understand the impact of Core Web Vitals and help you optimize your website. 

And stay tuned for updates on our own Core Web Vital integration to Sortable’s analytics dashboard!