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Google Redesigned How They Measure Page Speed. Here’s What to Do About It

Performance scores are dropping dramatically for top sites.

In October 2018, publishers received warnings via Google Search Console that their sites were performing too slow. Then, in November 2018, the search engine debuted a redesign for their widely used PageSpeed Insights tool. Among other updates, PageSpeed Insights now includes new data from Google's Lighthouse platform. Lighthouse is a tool built into the latest version of Google Chrome that helps you determine how well your site is performing, and tells you which pages on your site need improvement.


Google Spares No One: The Redesign Has Decreased Speed Scores Across the Web

Google's latest update to PageSpeed Insights has markedly decreased Lighthouse scores across major sites, and Google hasn't spared itself from the scrutiny. The search engine has set a high bar for the open web on what top performance should look like, especially on mobile. The following are some examples of major websites with speed scores that might surprise you.

It's important to note that Google calculates every desktop score with a WiFi connection in mind, while every mobile score is based on access to a site via a 3G or similar network to simulate suboptimal connectivity. Equally important to consider is that these scores shift on a regular basis as sites improve or decline and Google continues to refine its scoring algorithms. The results we've chosen to display below were taken on December 11, 2018.

Setting the Bar: How Google Stacks Up

First, let's set an initial benchmark and take a look at how Google's home page performs against the new PageSpeed Insights tool on mobile:

As expected, Google's home page receives a very good fast rating. But let's be honest here: Google's home page is not quite the same experience as a publisher's site where media and text-heavy articles need to load efficiently. We'd expect top marks for it. And despite all of this, Google's home page still didn't achieve a perfect 100 score. Ouch.

So what about Google's news aggregator and app instead? Here's a look at how Google News performs on mobile:

Now we're getting some interesting results. Google News doesn't perform nearly as well as our initial benchmark, receiving a poor rating overall. Google's emphasis throughout 2018 has been on getting publishers to improve mobile experiences for users, and its borderline scathing score for its very own news platform shows that it's not so easy to acquire a passing grade in the category.

The result isn't too much different when you analyze Gmail for mobile performance:

Notching a place just over the border into average territory, Gmail on mobile — which is a heavily optimized platform — continues the trend of Google's mean page speed scores. But again, just like with Google's home page, Gmail is not the same as a typical publisher. So let's move on to how other publishers compare to the bar Google News has set.

Major Media Companies: Does a Custom, High-Cost CMS Pay Off?

For sites with heavy traffic, page speed is a do-or-die factor for audience growth. It's part of the reason why major media powerhouses invest in hyper-expensive CMS options, customized to both host their content and hopefully set them apart in the saturated digital ecosystem. But do the inflated costs really justify the results?

Starting off with a major player in the new media space, here's how an article by The Washington Post scores on mobile and desktop:

With a score of 30, The Washington Post scores well under our bar of 47. And its desktop score sits right around the middle of average territory.

Moving on, Vice has long been considered one of the top-performing new media sites around. But does its PageSpeed scores match its reputation?

Vice's mobile score barely improves upon what The Washington Post posted, but it drops several points when it comes to desktop performance. Overall, it's a very average showing among the results we've collected so far.

So what about The New York Times? Well, on desktop its score doesn't quite match up to The Washington Post, but it's a step ahead of Vice's showing:

But when it comes to mobile, it squeaks in with the lowest score of the bunch so far, once again proving that incredibly expensive tech doesn't necessarily equal matching performance.

And finally, here's how BuzzFeed stacks up to the rest:

BuzzFeed ranks right around the middle of the pack on desktop, and has the worst showing on mobile of the four major publishers we've taken a look at. No surprise given the trend we're seeing.

So what does this all mean? In a nutshell, it's very difficult to achieve a high mobile score under Google's new page speed standards. Desktop isn't much easier, either. And none of the four sites we've analyzed come very close to matching the scores put forth by Google's own properties.

A Premium, Lean Tech CMS: How Do RebelMouse-Powered Properties Compare?

Here's a look at the score for the desktop version of an article on Higher Perspective. Due to the highly optimized nature of our platform, the page outranks the four new media companies we tested above by a considerable margin:

With a mobile score of 60, the site even outperforms Google News and Gmail, and its desktop score cracks things wide open by capturing a perfect score.

Other RebelMouse-powered properties perform along the same lines.

GearBrain it its current incarnation scores high in the average bucket, and Motherly gets top marks in the desktop category while still scoring ahead of the initial four new media sites we tested on mobile.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this quick study, PageSpeed Insights scores are fluid, and RebelMouse-powered properties are constantly improving theirs as we continue to make great strides in optimizing our overall platform.

Performance as a Pillar: Understanding RebelMouse Culture

Many publishers are shocked by this latest update from Google. But for us, it's not that surprising. We've taken Lighthouse scores seriously for years, and have leveraged them to ensure our sites are constantly high performing. Site speed has been a pillar of our culture since we launched in 2012. It's why we outperform some of the biggest sites on the web. And like with any pillar of a company's culture, optimizing for high performance is never a one-time effort. Our engineers have been crafting and tuning our platform to address these new standards long before they surfaced.

RebelMouse culture is not just about site optimization though. We highly prioritize all the pivotal elements of site success such as security, ad configuration, how we code CSS and JavaScript, configure CDNs, and scale servers. It's why we're a high-performing platform that's more than a CMS.

A Deeper Look into Google's New Metrics

Before Google's update went live in November, the warnings issued to publishers in October came from the new Chrome User Experience Report that covers three new metrics:

  • First Contentful Paint: The point immediately after navigation when a browser renders pixels to the screen.
  • Time to Interactive: The time at which a page is visually rendered and capable of reliably responding to user input.
  • First Input Delay: The time when a user first interacts with a site, to the time when a browser is able to respond to that interaction.

Metric descriptions from Search Engine Journal.

According to Search Engine Journal, these new metrics may not be familiar to a lot of web developers, but it's worth getting more acquainted with them since Google is clearly using them to monitor page speed. Remember, it only takes a few seconds of a slow load experience to turn a reader away forever.

How We Can Help Your Site Load Faster Than Google

The tricky thing about digital publishing is that you can exhaust all your resources on creating quality content, but it all means nothing if you don't have a fast-loading website. So even if your content is worth reading, it's vulnerable to failure if the right technology and strategy aren't in place. Let's make sure this doesn't happen to you.

In the warnings delivered by Google in October, there were three suggestions on how to fix a slow-loading site:

  1. Use Lighthouse to audit your pages
  2. Fix low-performing pages
  3. Update your sitemap

The first two can be tackled together. At RebelMouse, we can help you update your sitemap in Google Search Console and track keyword wins using our Entry Editor.

Even if you don't have a site replatform on your roadmap, we can help you optimize your current site's page speed, in addition to addressing your Lighthouse audit, Google Search Console setup, and SEO strategy. Don't fall victim to slow page speed going into 2019. Request a proposal today and let's start working together.

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