Google Pagespeed V5 Update Graphic

Google PageSpeed Insights – before, after & how to fix it

In November 2018 Google quietly released an update to its PageSpeed Insights tool known as V5.

We say “quietly” because V5 wasn’t just a simple update to PageSpeed as billed. In fact, it represents a wider algorithm update that affected organic search rankings globally. That means your site and your competitors’ sites too.

More about PageSpeed V5 Update

Essentially, V5 isn’t just something developers need to take note of. Actually it’s something that the wider search engine optimisation and Google Ads community needs to digest.

As the first major update to Google’s search algorithms since January 2018, V5 builds upon the real user data Google now pulls from its Chrome browser (referred to as Lighthouse) to measure the speed of a site.

As it stands, if your site is now deemed to be “slow” by the PageSpeed tool, then there is going to be a penalty in the search results. While factoring speed into Google’s rankings isn’t anything new, this pushes page speed right to the top of Google’s ranking factors. Meaning it’s not really something you can ignore any longer. Cheap WordPress template sites beware.

We’ve seen some blogs online about the speed changes and their effect on positions. But as far as we can see, no one has been able to demonstrate how much their page speed dropped as a result of V5.

As no one is mad enough to monitor all their clients’ page speeds on a daily basis it seems so far there has been V5 coverage on its effect on the rankings. And not necessarily how V5 affected their page speed.

Luckily then as part of our near fanatical dedication to reporting everything, we actually were tracking page speeds the day before and day after the V5 update (well, every day this year in fact).

In this blog post then, we’ll talk about how V5 affected our page scores. We will show you pre and post V5 speeds and then talk through how we resuscitated those scores back to the 90s.

So why were we monitoring page speed anyway?

So you’ve all seen the movies where pilots go through their system checks pre-flight or in the event of an emergency. To us, running PPC or managing a content campaign is like flying an aircraft. There’s certain things you just need to do before, and during the flight.

We’ve been around the bush, suffered from the peaks and troughs and ultimately over time learnt that there’s a certain number of essential things we need to do to get our campaigns right up there.

If we’re having a bad day (and bear in mind we spend big sums of money every day on our campaigns) then we need to roll out our checklist and go through everything step by step. This eliminates the possibility of anything other than the market affecting our results.

One small part of that, learnt through trial and error, is page speed.

When we wake up, one of our teams goes through all our sites and forms, testing them to see if they are working and to ensure that our mobile/desktop speeds are 90+. The results get filed away on basecamp never to see the light of day unless there’s a problem.

I don’t know how many other companies do this, but we do and it’s something I’d recommend to anyone that asks.

What happened when the update was rolled out?

 Pagespeed Graph

The first thing to note here is that the V5 roll out to mobile happened on 5th November, but it didn’t actually hit desktop until a week later on 12th November. The roll out seemed to take about 5 days respectively for both roll outs to settle on a new score.

Our sites were well optimised before the update, with scores averaging in the 90s (out of 100). As a result of V5 some of our previously well optimised pages had dropped down to the 70s by the end of the roll out. A 30% hit.

This kicked in our process of re-optimisation, which we completed for all our clients by 19th November, recording page speed scores under the new V5 rules of 99/100 in some cases.

At Report Central we stayed ahead of the curve, because we saw what was happening and having been through our sites to deal with the V5 issue we’ve compiled a list of the things we did to address V5 to share with you.

If you haven’t already, how can you deal with V5?

Image Size Matters

Images make a big impact. They are a great way to get your message across in a way that text can’t. It’s no wonder then that the average user spends an average of 5.94 seconds looking at a website’s main image.

Pagespeed graphic

But, it is important to consider image size. Large images slow your page down. Make sure any images you are using on your site are resized as you want them.

Many people add bigger images that get re-sized on the page. Remember, at the end of the day bigger images just add to slow page load speed times.

Defer unused CSS

Before a browser is able to render any content, it must first download and process any stylesheets required to lay the page out – the style and layout information for the page.

What this means is that that the browser blocks rendering until external stylesheets have been downloaded and processed. This can take several roundtrips which delays the time to first render.

What’s more, once the stylesheet has loaded, the browser’s CSS engine has to evaluate every rule contained in the file to see if the rule applies to the current page.

What tends to happen is that many websites reuse the same external CSS file for all their pages, even if many of the rules defined in it don’t apply to the current page.

The best way to improve stylesheet loading and rendering time is to cut down on your CSS footprint. After all, each one of your CSS files delays the rendering process. So, the more CSS files you have, the slower the page load speed.

A good way to do this is by removing or deferring CSS rules that aren’t actually used by the current page. This will help speed up your site.

Defer offscreen images

Offscreen images are ones that are placed below the fold, this is the segment of a website that users need to scroll down to see.

As users can’t see offscreen images when they load a page, there’s no reason for them to be downloaded in the initial page load. If they are, this just slows your page down.

By deferring the load of these images, your site is able to load at a quicker rate.

If you are unsure about which of your images are offscreen, they will be flagged by Lighthouse.

Preload key requests

Let’s say your page’s Critical Request Chain is as follows:

Your web page won’t appear complete until the last 2 resources, style.css and ui.js, have been downloaded, parsed and executed. Without preload links, these two resources will only be requested once app.js has been downloaded, parsed and executed.

The problem lies in the fact that the browser will only become aware of the last 2 resources once it has downloaded, parsed and executed app.js. This is an issue because these resources are important and you’need to download them as soon as possible.

To improve your site speed, you should declare your preload links in your HTML. This tells the browser to download key resources as soon as possible. Without preload links, style.css and ui.js will be requested at the same time as app.js, slowing your page load speed down.

Within the PageInsights tool, Lighthouse will flag the third level of requests in your Critical Request Chain, signalling them as preload candidates.

Allow text compression

 Text Compression Graph

Compressing text is an easy and effective ways to optimise your web page speed.

A great way to compress text is by using GZIP. This is a generic compressor that often achieves compression rates up to a whopping 70-90% for larger files. You can make savings of around 60-88% for JavaScript and CSS frameworks.

Most browsers support GZIP compression for HTTP requests. But, you should make sure that the server is properly configured to serve the compressed resource when it is requested.

Installing Packages

Last but not least, PageSpeed Modules, modpagespeed and ngx pagespeed, are open-source webserver modules that work to automatically optimise your site.

It is a good idea to install a page speed module from Google, in this case for Apache. You can install this module on a dedicated hosting server.

At Report Central we believe that this could add another 10% plus improvements to page load speeds.

For further help on installing packages to your webserver, check out this handy guide.

Next Steps – say goodbye to slow mobile load speeds

If your mobile speed has suffered since the November Lighthouse update, you can use the above tips and tricks to bring your speed back up to what it was. We’re talking from experience.

It goes to show, it’s always better to stay ahead of the curve for mobile. For further help with mobile or website optimisation talk to the Report Central team today.

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