People often ask questions about slow websites
- Why is my website slow?
- What can I do to speed up my website?
- Why does my website not work on a mobile phone?
- Are website builders such as 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?
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 aims to display the most relevant search results based on the search terms that the user has entered, as well as and other factors such as their location, previous search history, etc.
Google also places a lot of emphasis on a concept called Core Web Vitals. I'll mention Core Web Vitals again later, but for now I'll just say that Google targets user experience and measures against a number of factors.
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.
The emphasis Google places on relevance and customer experience leaves many websites to perform poorly in search engine results.
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:
Google is targeting User Experience
Largely due to excessive code and poorly built websites, 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 hours I come across yet another ad on Twitter or Facebook to boost your business by getting online cheaply, using website builders 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 Website Builders
Some are better than others
Let me first be clear that some website builders are better than others. Although I have mentioned WordPress, Wix and Squarespace in this article, I do actually favour Webflow as it offers the web designer a lot of flexibility during the build, and without bloated code and unnecessary clutter typical of many other website builders.
In many cases website builders are useful for those without coding skills, but there are some disadvantages worth being aware of:
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.
The amount of control offered
WordPress provides a really good interface which allows words and images to be position on a page, with some control over where and how they appear, but not enough control over the selection of specific images suitable for use on screens from mobile to tablet, to desktop and large high res screens. This can be a huge problem causing load time and display issues.
WebFlow's support in this area is much better, although an understanding of HTML and CSS can help.
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 Submit 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.
They can be buggy
At time of writing, even Squarespace's very own homepage has a few scrolling elements which
stick to the cursor in Chrome and it's difficult to shake them off.
The experience of those elements is better with Microsoft's Edge Browser, but considering that the market share of Chrome in 2021 was 64% compared to 4.25% for Edge, I would hope that Squarespace get the problem fixed on Chrome pretty soon!
(Source for browser stats: www.oberlo.co.uk)
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.
Many score lower than 20/100, but only recently I came across a site designed by a professional web design agency who had built a website for a motorcycle racer. It scored an incredible 3/100 for mobile and 15/100 for desktop! You would think that professional web designers should know better!
I previously mentioned issues with Squarespace's own homepage. Besides those issues there is an abundance of animated behaviour which make sections jump out at you as you scroll up and down the Squarespace homepage, which made me curious how the page would score in Google's
Page Speed Insights tool, which rates web pages against factors such as page load time, page stabilty, etc,. and a list of metrics known as Core Web Vitals.
So I tried it...
The scores I saw at time of writing for the Squarespace homepage were 22/100 for mobile and 40/100 for desktop, which were significantly lower than 96/100 and 100/100 for targaweb.com
It also showed
Core Web Vitals Assessment: Failed for Squarespace.
Scores vary over time, but try them for yourself in real time now:
Professional web designers: "Hey, I can do that!"
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, the trades and small business. I have seen many examples for each of these markets where Google’s PageSpeed Insights returned unreasonably low scores, and considering that 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 by endlessly undercutting the competition, and that inevitably means that corners will be cut. 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. But it doesn't stop there.
Another reason is that some of these web agencies have
Jumping on the web design bandwagon
You could say that many people jumped on the web design bandwagon, downloaded a free website builder, added some images and content to a template, changed a few colours and sizes, and then decided to a promote themselves as freelance web designers without any of the foundation skills and knowledge you would expect if you were paying for a service.
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.
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?
A real life example
Here's an example, but 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 TargaWeb.com so it's understandable why so many web builder sites are slow and clunky.
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 unstable, 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:
- 0 to 49 (red) are considered to be poor
- 50 to 89 (orange) are considered to needs improvement
- 90 to 100 (green) are considered to be good
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.
Other Web Design Posts
- Do I need a website if I have a Facebook page?
- Has your website become constipated?
- Selecting images for web pages
- Customers, Personas and User Stories
- Websites That Add Value
- Page Speed and Website Builders
- The Importance of Page Speed
- Web Design Pricing Transparency
- Website Builders
- Responsive Websites
- Do I need a mobile friendly website?
- Searchmetrics Core Web Vitals Study
- Google's Core Web Vitals report
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- Explanation of PageSpeed Scoring
About the author: Having begun building websites back in 1996, Daron Harvey has been a leader in website design best practices for over 26 years. Since 2000, he has been focused on eCommerce, Product Management and maintaining the global, multi-lingual websites of some of the world's largest corporations. During the global pandemic, Daron left the corporate world behind and founded Targa, specialising in Website Design, User Experience (UX/UI) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).