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Why You Should Ignore Google PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights should have everything going for it. It’s free, it’s made by Google, and it has a simple scoring/color system. But in fact, it’s one of the worst possible options for assessing or improving your website speed, especially if you use WordPress. This post explains why.

This blog post covers:

  • What’s wrong with PageSpeed Insights (the main reasons you should ignore it)
  • How to magically improve your PageSpeed Insights scores for free
  • How to really test your website speed (and improve it) for free

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What’s wrong with Google PageSpeed Insights?

Although Google Page Speed Insights is often recommended by non-technical people, especially in the blogging and advertising network worlds, at Lyrical Host we don’t recommend it at all, either for assessing your site speed or using its suggestions as a way to improve your site speed. Here’s why.
 

01. It doesn’t (necessarily) reflect your actual real world page speed

This is the biggest reason. The most common thing we see is that the Google PageSpeed Insights scores and colors for a site have no correlation with how fast or optimized the site actually is. This isn’t always the case, but it almost always is. The colors and grades in Google PageSpeed Insights are very inconsistent and not based on real-world speed testing.

The best indicators of your site speed are: the actual time it takes your site to load in seconds, the size of your page, and the number of requests. The number of requests your website makes is basically it calling everything required to load the page. This could be fonts, images, all kinds of things. For bloggers, if a page has hundreds of requests, it’s often due to advertising scripts. This is one of the reasons ad networks prefer you to look at Google PageSpeed Insights; because proper speed tests can sometimes (but not always) reveal that ads are adding hundreds of requests to your page.

 

02. It was created to indicate code improvements to developers

PageSpeed Insights was originally a Google project created for web developers with a high level of technical understanding to make minute final corrections to their websites while building or redeveloping them from scratch.

Despite its claims, the vast majority of the suggestions it makes for your site will have little to no discernible impact on your site speed; they’ll usually only shave a few kilobytes off (which isn’t discernible to humans) and aren’t worth investing your time in, especially if you’re noticing your site is slow. If your site hasn’t been optimized and checked for speed, there are nearly always much bigger wins with less work to be made elsewhere.

 

03. It’s based on automated checks

PageSpeed Insights doesn’t understand your specific website, its purpose, or your goals. It’s mostly a series of automated checks designed to look for very generic bits of code and return a yes/no. So it doesn’t tell you about the one file on your site that is adding a ton of time to your page load, it often flags things that aren’t an issue for your specific setup, and it overemphasizes factors that have little to no effect on your real word website speed or user experience.

This is partly because it assumes you’re a coder who knows what’s a problem and what’s best ignored, and partly because it assumes you have a coded-from-scratch website. Which brings us on to the next problem…

 

04. It’s not designed for WordPress websites

As such it’s not helpful for explaining anything WordPress-related to you, such as which plugins are slowing your site down, or flagging that you have fifty blog posts displaying in full on your homepage instead of just a handful of post summaries. It doesn’t tell you to ditch the WooCommerce code automatically added to your non-WooCommerce pages, or that your image optimization plugin has run out of CDN credits, or that you have multiple caching plugins installed, or that your Pinterest widget in your sidebar is adding an extra three seconds every time it’s loaded.

The most common reason we see for a website being slow is images not being optimized correctly (you can learn more about everything you need to do in this post: How To Optimize Images For The Web – spoiler: installing a plugin isn’t enough!). The second most common reason is something specific to WordPress (such as the above reasons), which you’ll never discover by using PageSpeed Insights.

Related:  Which Yoast Green Lights You Actually Need (And Why)

 

05. It’s not consistent

There have been many times where people have tested their site using PageSpeed Insights, then tested it again a few hours or days later and got different scores and/or colors returned, even though they haven’t changed anything on their site.

One of Google’s senior analysts, John Mueller, noted that PageSpeed Insights isn’t consistent. He advised that the tool should be used to give an idea of places where improvements could be made for your users’ benefit, but the score shouldn’t be seen as a final goal. Search Engine Land also states, “Overemphasizing a particular metric, or even a specific speed score, may not be the best use of your resources as Google itself does not categorize speed in such a specific manner.”

 

06. It suggests experimental things

Unsurprisingly, PageSpeed Insights has a bias towards using other Google tools and creations, many of which are experimental and could be discontinued at any time, are in beta, or aren’t compatible with a lot of browsers.

For example, some image file types it suggests using are still in beta and not widely supported or understood enough to be worth switching to yet, especially for the amount of time and effort that it would take for an established site to change all their images.

 

07. Improving your grading score or color doesn’t guarantee your site is faster

Only the actual numbers, such as your site speed in seconds, are important for assessing your site speed. Scores out of a hundred and red/orange/green colors have little to no real bearing on your site speed. For example, you could improve your PageSpeed Insights score from 50 to 80 without visitors or search engines seeing any improvement to your speed.

If you’re interested in real world data, WP Rocket has written a blog post comparing a variety of sites that PSI has rated red or orange that in real life perform very fast, and green rated sites that perform very slowly.

To sum up, improving your PSI score or color is unlikely to help your actual page speed.

 

08. It judges your site based on its 3G mobile performance

PageSpeed Insights uses a slow 3G connection for its mobile testing, rather than 4G or 5G or a regular broadband connection. To put it into perspective, as of 2019, even 75% of people in LMICs (lower and middle income countries) have a 4G connection or better.

This means that the vast majority of your visitors, especially desktop users and people from more developed countries, will see faster page loads and have a much better experience browsing your website by default than PageSpeed Insights suggests.

 

09. A lot of important speed factors go ignored

PageSpeed Insights doesn’t take into account a whole bunch of quick wins and easy changes you could make to your site to improve its speed. In addition to not providing useful tips for WordPress site owners (we have a whole blog post on that), there are plenty of site speed factors that aren’t covered. For example, using a web host that provides full SSD storage (like us!) will ensure your site is significantly faster out of the box than a host that just has you on regular old school hard disk storage.

There are too many important speed factors missing from PageSpeed Insights to cover here, but the upshot is that it’s like trying to read a novel with half the chapters missing, and then wondering why you don’t understand the ending.

 

10. It suggests changes that may break your WordPress site

As mentioned above, PageSpeed Insights hasn’t been designed for WordPress websites. Therefore, some of the suggestions it makes, such as deferring particular JavaScript files, can really mess up your site if implemented. It’s not always the case, but it can be, depending on your specific website and what you have installed and running. For this reason, it’s best to avoid making changes or hiring someone to make changes for you if you aren’t sure what they involve or what benefits (if any) there would really be to making them.

 

Final words

As of writing this post, Google is trialling a complely different method in Search Console to test your site’s page speed. It’s based on visitors to your site using Chrome, and therefore it’s even more important that you focus on your site’s real world speed rather than generic, automated PageSpeed Insights scores.

Related:  We Asked Bloggers, "What's Your Blogging Story?"

Ultimately, Google’s Page Speed Insights scoring system is too generic to accurately test WordPress blogs, and is too developer-oriented to be helpful to the average blogger looking to improve their website speed for visitors and search engines. It’s highly unlikely to get you any significant real-world speed wins even if you improve your score or colors. There are better ways to test your site and likely bigger wins to be made.

PageSpeed Insights is great for advanced web developers looking to shave a few KB off page size during a build or rebuild, but it’s definitely not good for identifying big wins and problematic files or decisions that make a difference to you and your visitors.

As Google PageSpeed Insights has an API, you may see it pop up as part of other tools, for example SEO tools that test speed such as Neil Patel’s. So be careful if you’re cross-referencing results between tools; you could be using PageSpeed Insights information without realizing it!

 

How to magically improve your Google PageSpeed Insights score for free

If you’re interested in improving your Google PageSpeed Insights scores purely for cosmetic reasons or because your ad network has told you to, you can install a free plugin, like Page Speed Ninja, and configure it to work for your site. But, we say that with the caveat that it’s highly unlikely to make much if any difference to your actual page speed or your visitors’ experience; it would be just for your own psychological benefit of seeing higher numbers or better colored lights. We don’t really recommend it because it’s not necessary. But if it gives you peace of mind, go for it.

We don’t recommend paying for any tools or services that increase your PageSpeed Insights score, because it’s a cosmetic metric with no real meaning or use.

If you’re going to pay money for site speed improvements, we’d recommend checking with your host first to see if you need them, and then secondly if the person/company is reliable and genuinely likely to improve your site speed (run from anyone who mentions using PageSpeed Insights to assess your speed, who throws affiliate links to “must have” plugins, web hosts, or themes, or offers an automated tool/service).

So if we don’t recommend PageSpeed Insights, what do we recommend for testing your site speed? Read on to find out.

 

How to really test your website speed – and improve it – for free

The vast majority of the time, the sites we see with speed issues are ones where the images haven’t been optimized correctly (even if a plugin like Smush or Shortpixel has been installed), there’s a particular site feature causing most of the load time, for example ads or social media plugins, or the site owner isn’t aware that some of the things they do are cause slow speeds (for example, huge pages with lots of heavy elements going on).

If you’re interested in improving your website speed, check out our blog post, The Blogger’s Guide To WordPress Speed Optimization.

The best tool for identifying these kinds of problems is WebPageTest.org, which is free. There are also other great free tools out there, including GTMetrix and Pingdom, but you also need to know how to read the results and what actions to take.

Lyrical Host customers can also raise a support ticket to do our Speed Boost course (free for customers!). After you’ve made changes, just raise a ticket and we’ll double-check if there’s anything else you can do. The vast majority of the time, there are things we can suggest that will make a significant difference to your site, and it won’t cost you anything either.

 

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Why You Should Ignore Google PageSpeed Insights

Jenni Brown
Co-founder of Lyrical Host, Jenni has been in the web hosting industry for years and specializes in social media, copywriting, search engine optimization, and email marketing. She loves cats, baking, photography, and gaming.

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