A slow performing website dramatically hurts both user experience and search engine optimization. However, with the right diagnostics and fixes, you can significantly improve your Google PageSpeed score.
Follow this comprehensive step-by-step guide to speed up your site and enhance rankings:
Why Google PageSpeed Metrics Matter
PageSpeed Insights is a free tool from Google that analyzes your website’s loading performance. It looks at mobile and desktop performance across various factors including:
- Time to first byte (TTFB) – Measures how long it takes for the server to return the first byte of content after a request is made. Fast TTFB improves overall responsiveness.
- HTML/CSS optimization – Evaluates whether HTML and CSS code is minified and compressed to minimize file size. Lean code improves load times.
- Image compression – Checks if images are properly compressed to reduce file size through lossless or lossy methods. Smaller image files enhance speed.
- Caching and gzipping – Assesses if caching and gzip compression are enabled to minimize files requested and served. Caching stores local copies of assets to avoid re-downloading.
- Server latency – Tests for slow roundtrip response times between browser and origin servers. Minimal server latency speeds up delivery.
Optimizing these PageSpeed factors leads to faster real-world performance. And since site speed became a ranking factor for mobile searches in 2018, improving PageSpeed also enhances SEO visibility in competitive searches.
Faster pages mean happier users who spend more time engaging with your content. For ecommerce sites, faster performance directly translates to higher revenue. So there are huge user experience and business incentives to improve site speed.
Set a PageSpeed Score Goal
What exactly is considered a “good” PageSpeed score?
- 90-100 – Very fast site with optimal performance
- 80-90 – Good with room for minor improvements
- 60-80 – Average, significant opportunity for optimizations
- Under 60 – Slow site that urgently needs speed improvements
After running your homepage through PageSpeed Insights, set a goal for improvement such as boosting your score from 65 to 85. Defining a target helps motivate your optimization efforts and quantify progress as you make changes.
Don’t feel discouraged if your site receives a poor initial score. Many sites start off with low scores in the 40-60 range. The key is catching these issues early before they impact user experience and SEO.
Diagnose Optimization Opportunities with PageSpeed Insights
The first step is running your homepage through Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Simply enter your URL and hit “Analyze”. PageSpeed Insights will test your page and generate a report with opportunities to improve performance on both mobile and desktop.
Pay particular attention to any metrics labeled “Low” or “High” priority:
- First Contentful Paint – When initial content renders on-screen. Quick first paint improves perceived speed.
- Time to Interactive – Time until page responds quickly to input and becomes fully interactive.
- Total Blocking Time – Cumulative layout shift time caused by JS and CSS blocking HTML parsing. Minimize blocking to accelerate rendering.
- Largest Contentful Paint – Point when primary content like hero image loads visibly. Delayed LCP hurts user experience.
- Cumulative Layout Shift – Visual instability as page elements shift during load. Minimize layout shifts and paints to reduce CLS.
These metrics highlight the specific weaknesses your site should tackle first to boost PageSpeed score. The report also suggests technical fixes to apply for each opportunity area.
Validate Findings with Real-World WebPageTest Data
While PageSpeed Insights uncovers optimization areas, it doesn’t show real user performance data based on location, browser, or connection speed.
Complement your Insights results by running your site through WebPageTest as well. WebPageTest measures actual first paint, load, and render times across:
- Different continents and connection types
- Various device types including mobile, desktop, tablets
- Multiple browsers like Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox
The waterfall charts visualize your site’s requests over time so you can pinpoint lags. The filmstrip view shows rendering progressively.
Together, PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest help build a comprehensive picture of speed opportunities tailored to real visitor experiences. With insights from both tools, you can create a priority list of impactful fixes.
Defer Offscreen Image Loading
Images loaded above the page fold display immediately to visitors. But offscreen images still slow down initial load, even if users can’t see them yet.
Defer the loading of offscreen images using the HTML “loading” attribute:
<img src="image.jpg" loading="lazy">
This delays loading of the image until users scroll near it. Deferring offscreen images significantly reduces initial bandwidth demands.
Compress Images to Optimize File Size
Bloated image file sizes are one of the biggest causes of slow page loads. Use tools like ImageOptim (Mac) or Squoosh (web) to compress images:
- Lossless compression – Compacts images without losing quality by pruning unnecessary metadata and optimizing encodings.
- Lossy compression – Reduces file size substantially by pruning actual pixel quality. Be careful not to sacrifice too much visual quality.
Find a balance between compression efficiency and acceptable image quality for your brand.
Also use modern image formats like WebP whenever possible – they enable much smaller file sizes compared to traditional JPGs and PNGs with similar quality.
Enable Browser Caching
You can enable caching by setting header policies in your .htaccess file:
# Cache images for 1 month <FilesMatch "\.(jpg|png|gif)$"> Header set Cache-Control "max-age=2628000, public" </FilesMatch> # Cache CSS and JS for 1 week <FilesMatch "\.(css|js)$"> Header set Cache-Control "max-age=604800, public" </FilesMatch>
Intelligently caching elements improves performance significantly for repeat visitors to your site.
Minification removes unneeded whitespace, newlines, comments and optional parameters from code to reduce file size.
You can minify code through:
- Your content management system or framework
- WordPress plugins like Autoptimize
- Build tools like Grunt, Gulp or Webpack
- Online optimization tools
Just be sure extensive minification doesn’t break site functionality. Test thoroughly after implementing.
Combined with caching, optimized code minimizes the files that must be loaded for each page.
Eliminate Render Blocking Resources
Render blocking resources delay displaying page content until they finish loading. This leads to unsightly blank loading states.
Allow Googlebot access to these critical files
Async allows the script to run in the background without blocking page loads.
Monitor Performance Continuously
PageSpeed optimization is an ongoing process, not a one-time task. Continuously monitor your site’s speed metrics through:
- Google PageSpeed Insights checks
- Daily WebPageTest performance reports
- Real user speed data in Google Analytics
- Chrome User Experience Reports
Keep testing and iterating page improvements as code evolves over time. Don’t let performance regress.
Follow a Structured Optimization Path
Knowing where to start with so many potential fixes can be overwhelming. Follow this structured optimization path:
- Quick Wins – Defer offscreen images, fix crawl errors, asynchronous critical JS. Easy fixes with big impact.
- Resource Optimization – Compress images, minify code, eliminate unused fonts/scripts. Optimize file sizes.
- Caching – Implement content delivery networks and intelligent browser caching. Dramatically accelerates repeat visits.
- Hosting – Upgrade hosting plan or switch providers. More power, better infrastructure.
- Code Efficiencies – Review CSS/JS for performance best practices. Refactor inefficient code.
Consistency compounds results. Take that first step today, then build positive momentum.
Optimized page speed results in more engaging visitor experiences and improved SEO rankings. Follow these comprehensive tips to accelerate your web pages.