Page Speed, Google Updates, and Your Website

In 2021, Page Speed Will Become a [Bigger] Website Ranking Factor 

Page speed, in its most basic definition, is how long it takes to load a webpage. In this article, we’ll explain why page speed matters, what updates Google plans to make, and what Foster Web Marketing is doing to make sure your site is ready.

How Does Page Speed Impact My Site’s Ranking?

Since 2010, Google has been using page speed as a ranking factor. Only pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” have been impacted. However, that is about to change.

Find Out How to Get Your Website Ready for Google's 2021 Changes

Thanks for the History Lesson, What About NOW?

In May 2020, Google changed the game again. The company introduced “Core Web Vitals” and announced that those new measures would eventually be used as a ranking factor (likely sometime in 2021). The good news is that, unlike normal Google fashion, Google has promised us at least a 6-month warning before using the new signals as a ranking factor, and that 6-month announcement has not been made yet.

But WILL This Update Affect ME?

Yes. Sometime in 2021, Google will begin using Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor, and the current scoring system is what they will be looking to as the new standard for performance. 

Fill out the form here if you’re ready to learn about your page speed score and what you can do to improve, or keep reading to learn more and get info about the changes we’re implementing.  

How Big of a Deal Is This Update?

Frankly, we don’t know, but it probably isn’t as scary as it all sounds. Having the Core Web Vitals as yet another ranking factor in a sea of ranking factors is probably not going to change a whole lot. Quality content is still going to reign supreme in terms of ranking. What we are looking at is likely a tie-breaker scenario. Say Joe has content piece A and Jane has content piece B, and for all intents and purposes, Google is viewing them as having identical value to a searcher. That is when things like page speed start to play a role. If Jane’s site loads 5 seconds slower than Joe’s, or if she has significant issues with her Core Web Vitals, the higher rank might then be given to Joe. If Jane had a better and more relevant piece of content all along, page speed and Core Web Vitals are very unlikely even to play a role at all. 

To put it in perspective, as of writing this, CNN.com is scoring a 0 (yes 0) in PageSpeed Insights, but we doubt Google is going to stop looking at them as a major news source just because of a soon-to-be-added ranking factor.

That said, we want to ensure that every aspect of SEO and a site’s speed can get the attention it deserves.

So What Is Foster Web Marketing Doing?

Since the May announcement, we have been looking at the new measurements to determine the next best steps for all of our clients and their sites. We have explored and implemented several global updates, but we’re finding that the new changes Google is looking for are very site-specific and are not things we can necessarily roll out across all of our clients’ sites.

Because of this, we’ve created a few options for page speed upgrades, outlined below.

Option 1: A New V5 Website 

Our development team is introducing a new website framework that will be available to our clients, starting in mid-November. What will be affectionately referred to as “V5,” these shiny new sites will have a significant advantage over any previous version of our sites in terms of page speed scoring and overall performance. An example website's score when analyzed through Google's PageSpeed Insights.

With mobile web use on the rise and Google’s increasing focus on page speed, some clients would choose a fast-loading website over one that is feature-rich. 

We decided we want both.

Our upcoming V5 websites are designed to give you a competitive advantage with page speed while still keeping the custom designs and features found on our V4 sites.

All sites built on the V5 framework will score between 80–100 on Google PageSpeed Insights, and all design elements and features on desktop will be present on mobile.

The V5 website is a paid upgrade, and it can only be applied on a site-by-site basis. We’re applying a new feature called code-splitting at the file level, where we essentially split all existing website code into smaller components that can then be loaded in-browser as needed. This speeds up a website by allowing the browser to process only the code needed for in-view site elements during page load.

V5 also includes the latest web performance strategies, such as lazy-loading, asset optimization, and improved handling of third-party scripts.

Who will get this V5 website upgrade? New sites and redesigns will be built on the V5 framework starting November 16th. 

So, to Recap, Here Are Some V5 Features:

Option 2: Page Speed Upgrade 

If you have a V4 website* (typically applies to sites built between 2018-2020) and are otherwise happy with your site’s layout and design, you can purchase a cost-reduced PageSpeed Upgrade package. This option is less expensive than a redesign, enhancing speed and performance without redesigning the look and feel of your site. 

Pricing for this option will be determined by a site review from our development team but will typically range between $1,000–$3,000. When a ticket is submitted for this option, a developer will determine level-of-effort and provide you with an estimate. 

*Unsure if your site is V4? We can help. Fill out the form here to find out.

Note: This option is not available or compatible with the V3 framework. Sites on the V3 framework or older should choose the redesign option.

Option 3: Alternative Recourse

For clients that care about page speed but do not want to purchase a redesign or a PageSpeed Upgrade, we can still help. Put in a ticket if you haven’t already. We will retrofit any page speed enhancements that are compatible with your site-version. This will be covered by your DSS license at no additional cost. Please keep in mind that page speed score gains from this option are small compared to an upgrade or redesign.

FAQs

Q: How do I know what version my site is (i.e., V3, V4)?

Fill out the form on this page. There are no strings attached, but this way, we can identify your site version and let you know what options are available to you. 

Q: Why can’t a V3 site get a PageSpeed Upgrade package?

Short Answer: It’s not cost-effective for you.

Applying the code-splitting required for the V5 framework to a V3 site would cost you more than a redesign. With a redesign, you get a shiny new site AND a page speed upgrade for less money.

Q: All this time, you’ve told me to focus on content, and now you’re saying my site will be affected by page speed—what gives?

It’s still about content! Superior content will out-rank speed in search results. If two separate sites have equally high-quality content, Google can use the page speed score as a tie-breaker. Page speed does matter, and you want to be ahead of your competition in this way, but page speed doesn’t take the place of good content.

Q: What Is PageSpeed Insights by Google?

PageSpeed Insights is an online tool that grades webpage performance on a scale from 1 to 100. It also provides a report on suggested optimizations and ways to improve website performance and speed. It uses the Core Web Vitals to determine your score.

Q. What are the Core Web Vitals?

For search rankings, performing poorly in the Core Web Vitals is what will determine an impact on rankings, if any. Google has determined that these “Core Web Vitals” are the three metrics that matter most when it comes to page speed. They are:

Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s main content to load. An ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster.

First Input Delay: The time it takes for a page to become interactive. An ideal measurement is less than 100 ms.

Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1.

A screenshot of Google's Core Web Vitals metrics.

Q: Yikes—my score is pretty low. This must be really bad, right?

No need to panic! Scores do not necessarily represent your actual page load time or what users experience when visiting your site. For example, a site that loads quickly can still score poorly in this tool. Scores are based on Lab Data (an intentionally poor simulation to show developers how their sites might perform under poor conditions). Next year, ranking factors will be measured against Real-World Data from visits to your site, which always scores higher than lab data.

Fun fact: When the PageSpeed Insights tool was updated in May, page speed scores for the entire web dropped. Espn.com scores a “9” for mobile. Target.com scores a “24.” Avvo.com scores a “28.” 

Q: What are some things that might be slowing down my page speed?

There’s a good chance your third-party scripts are slowing down the load time of your site. Google is fussy about any external resource on your site that takes time to go get because it blocks the rendering of your web page while doing so. The browser has to pause loading your website each time it has to fetch and then execute a third-party script. 

The optimal approach to third-party scripts: Use them responsibly. 

Keep analytics and anything that is lead-generating (chat, for example). Ditch anything unnecessary (Twitter feeds, just sayin’). 

P.S. V5 handles third-party scripts in a way that minimizes impact on page speed scoring and page load times! ;)

Ok, I’m Ready to Get Ahead of These Google Changes

Great! It’s always better to be proactive rather than try to fix the issue after it’s already impacted your rankings. Fill out the form on this page so we can see what changes need to be made to improve your Core Web Vitals metrics, overall page speed score, user experience, and we’ll identify your website’s version so you know what options are available to you. This is also a great place to start if you have questions about what to expect for your website in 2021.

Find Out How to Get Your Website Ready for Google's 2021 Changes