Page Speed and Website Builders

Page Speed and Website Builders

Why is my website slow? What can I do to speed up my website? Are WordPress and Wix as good as they claim? Should I use a website builder to build my own website, or should I get a web agency to build it? This article might help...

Page speed, SEO and your customers

In July 2021 I attended a number of SEO presentations which had been organised by Brighton SEO.

One particular point I want to focus on here was raised during a very interesting presentation by Tom Wells speaking on behalf of Searchmetrics. In a nutshell Google does what has it always has done, and continues to evolve. Google places a lot of emphasis on is Core Web Vitals.

I’m not going into what Core Web Vitals is here, other than to say that Google is targeting user experience. It is not in Google’s best interest to rank websites in search results which are either not relevant to the search terms entered, or presents a poor experience once the user arrives on the website.

Poor experience is not whether the colours of one site are nicer or more vivid than the next, but based on criteria such as how long the page takes to load, and how stable the page is during the display process.

I’m sure that you have sat waiting for a page to load, and have been pleased if it loaded in less than a second, but less pleased if every page on a website took 10 seconds or more to load.

Web Page Stability

Ever had those frustrating times when a page is loading, you see the link or button you want to hit, and then just as you go to hit the button it suddenly moves and you hit something else by mistake? That is usually because parts of the page are still being pushed around by images, ad banners or other elements as they load.

These things can cause you to hit the Yes button instead of No, Buy instead of Cancel, or you land on the wrong page which you then have to wait to build before you can hit the back button to return to the page you were on previously. And that’s if you can still be bothered to stay on that website at all!

Sound familiar? Google calls this Cumulative Layout Shift (or CLS)

Anyway, back to the point raised by Tom Wells of Searchmetrics, which I fully endorse and was already well aware of before last week’s SEO presentations.

Google is targeting User Experience

Google’s page experience update is being rolled out, and is expected to be completed by the end of August 2021. Amongst many things which will be impacted are slow websites.

The web is slow and bloated

The average load time on mobile devices is in excess of 5 seconds, and typical user experience is poor. Over time web pages on average have been getting heavier, and much of this can be attributed to the rise of website builders such as WordPress, Wix and Squarespace.

Every few minutes I come across yet another ad on Twitter or Facebook to boost your business by getting online cheaply. Some of these ads are by WordPress or Wix themselves, and others are posted by some of the design agencies who use them as a means of producing quick websites.

Website builders have their place, but it would be a mistake to think that they’re the holy grail of website production. So it’s worth being aware of a few points.

Disadvantages of Web Builders

They can be difficult to customise
Sites produced by website builders can be difficult to customise once they’re live. Sure you can update the content and images, but changing the page and site structure can be less easy than you would like to think.

Developer support is often needed.
I was called by a company a few weeks ago and asked if I could fix a problem with a form button on a WordPress website, because it had suddenly stopped working. I hadn’t built their site as I don’t use WordPress (for reasons which will become clear), but I offered to take a preliminary look so I could give them an idea of cost.

I went to their website, and waited for it to load. It was very slow, so before I did anything else I entered the web address into Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This is one of Google’s analysis tools, and provides separate scores out of 100 for mobile and desktop layouts for each individual page submitted.

Page Speed Scores

The homepage on the website I tested scored 41/100 for mobile, and 54/100 for desktop. Compared to the websites we build at Targa which typically score between 90/100 and 100/100, that website scored poorly, but compared to many WordPress and Wix websites I have seen, it’s certainly not the worst.

One of the worst scores I had seen was 8/100 for a WordPress business site, but the design agency which produced it only scored 11/100 on their own website. But only recently I came across a website designed by a professional web design agency who had produced a website for a motorcycle racer which scored an incredible 3/100 for mobile and 15/100 for desktop!

Example of poor page speed for a professionally build WordPress website
Example of poor page speed for a professionally build WordPress website

For a professional design agency there is clearly a lack of care and understanding, and their customers are largely unaware that the reasons their websites are slow is largely because of the way they have been built.

Targa build websites for motorsports and the trades, and I have seen many examples for both markets where Google’s PageSpeed Insights returned scored them lower 15 out of 100. Considering many of these sites have been built by web design agencies who also offer SEO services, I have to question why they’re as bad as they are.

One reason is cost and the ongoing trend to drive costs downwards. I can't imagine anyone reading this, whatever their profession, wakes up in the morning and willingly goes to work for nothing.

So why are websites so cheap?

Websites built using site builders can be cheap because they’re quick and easy to build due to template selection, colour pickers, and the drag and drop nature of putting a page together.

Another reason is that some of these web agencies have web designers who do not understand code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc), and are happy to churn out websites quickly with little regard or understanding of subsequent performance issues. In many cases even their own web design agency’s website underperforms for the same reasons, as I have already mentioned.

You could say that many people have jumped on the bandwagon, downloaded a free website builder, and thought Hey I could set up my own web design business and subsequently dictated what the perceived value of many years of REAL web design experience is worth by undercutting web design costs with poor results.

But things are not always what they seem...

A simple test using Google’s PageSpeed Insights not only shows the page speed scores for mobile and desktop, but identifies other things of concern and areas of improvement. Besides the speed and layout shift which I have already mentioned, excessive data sizes of images and code are often causes of poor page load scores and poor user experience, as are hidden links to multiple font libraries, large external styling code files, and plug-ins, regardless of whether they’re used or not.

Why any professional web designer would willingly publish a website which uses images 10 times the size they should be is beyond me. Do they care, or do they even realise?

And then there is code bloat...

What is Code Bloat?

I like to travel light. If I want to visit my family for the afternoon, I won’t need a suitcase. If I’m stopping overnight, I’ll need a change of clothes and a few other essentials, but I won’t need my Speedo’s, snorkel, Leatherman multi-tool, mosquito net and first aid kit.

In other words I’ll take what I need as I won’t need everything including the kitchen sink (my Mum already has one of those).

So on that basis, why should every web page you visit on a website have to download MASSIVE data files when at least 90% of that code is not needed?

Here's a real life example. Out of respect I won't name the website as the company paid good money to a web design agency to build their website.

In the screenshot below you can see that this particular page calls for several external styling files to be downloaded, regardless of whether or not it needs those files or all of their content. The first of those files is the type of file which tells your web browser what colour, size, position and styling to apply to the text and images you see on a page. When I opened up the file to take a look, there were nearly 18,000 lines of code, with a file size of over 470kb.

That one file, aside from all of the other files which are also being downloaded for a mobile display, is more than 24 times the entire size of styling file we use for so it's understandable why so many web builder sites are slow and clunky.

Example of excessive CSS file size due to code bloat
Example of excessive CSS file size due to code bloat

Another example of bloated code for that same website is shown below, where only 2% of a 350kb JavaScript file is used. That file could be about 7kb and still do what it needs to do. The rest is unnecessary data which will still be downloaded and slow things considerably.

Example of excessive JavaScript file size due to code bloat
Example of excessive JavaScript file size due to code bloat

Why is that so important?

Well if you or your customer is trying to view a website on a mobile, the mobile network coverage is slow to medium, and you don’t have a phone contract with unlimited data, you won’t want to have to wait to download lots of huge data files and images if the page you’re trying to view doesn’t need them.

But how would you know?

You have a slow website

If all that matters to you was that you wanted a cheap website, then you’re happy (although maybe not for long).

But if your business depends on that website working to generate leads and sales, and if users or potential customers leave your site because it’s frustratingly slow or parts of the page keep moving around, then you have a problem. And that problem would extend way beyond the cheap and not so cheerful budget website you once looked forward to launching.

Some very quick and simple self-help taking less than a minute could therefore be an advantage before you commit to having a new website built. Here's how...

Try Google’s PageSpeed Insights – it’s free

Head over to Google PageSpeed Insights where you will see a box in which to enter a URL.

Enter the URL of your own website, or the website of the design agency you’re thinking of using, and some of the websites they have produced. Wait for few seconds and see how each one scores.

More information about the scoring can be found at the link below, but in summary:

I live by my word, so feel free to check out LIVE Google PageSpeed tests on the mobile and desktop versions of the homepage of this website:

I hope this insight has been useful, so good luck!

Please note that Searchmetrics recently published a study examining the Core Web Vitals (CWV) scores of more than 2 million URLs, which is very well worth a read.

Useful links

Related topics

Daron Harvey, motor racing fan and owner of Targa Web Services

About the author: Daron Harvey started building websites and working on SEO back in 1996. From 2000 spent 20 years in eCommerce, project managing and maintaining global multi-lingual websites. Subsequently founded Targa Web Design, specialising in website design, UX and SEO.

Page Speed and Website Builders Page Speed and Website Builders