Debunking the top 6 web performance myths

Website performance is an area with few experts and plenty of opinions. As a website owner trying to optimize performance (or figure out if you need to improve it) you might become frustrated from receiving conflicting information and advice.

I decided to create this guide with extensive Google documentation to be your true north in such situations. Let’s debunk some web performance myths!

The most popular web performance myths:

1. Pagespeed is not a ranking factor (and thus it’s not important or pressing to address)

Indeed, pagespeed is not a ranking factor at the moment. It will be in May 2021 mid-June 2021 as part of the search signals for the mobile experience. In other words, if you consider it important for SEO to have a mobile-friendly website, you should also consider it important to have a fast website (with special attention to your website’s mobile performance).

Search signals for page experience
Source: Google. The core web vitals are part of the pagespeed score.

Moreover, websites with higher pagespeed scores are perceived as faster by the user.  Some studies correlate better web performance with more conversions and purchases on e-commerce websites.

Page loading speed statistics

2. Pagespeed equals good quality code

There are as many definitions of what constitutes good quality code as there are Google search results for this term. Good code quality is subjective and will vary depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your web developer.

In most cases, hasty development will indeed lead to low pagespeed websites. Especially WordPress code can be a mess, with themes that carry a lot of unused boilerplate, excessive plugin use, etc. Still, these are specific code issues, e.g., unused CSS, too many synchronous requests, etc., and not just “bad quality code” that can mean anything.

3. Pagespeed doesn’t mater, web vitals do

Web Vitals is an initiative by Google to provide unified guidance for quality signals essential to delivering a great user experience on the web.

These are the LCP (loading), FID (interactivity), and CLS (visual stability), and Google offers tools and extensive documentation on how to improve each.

The 3 Web Vitals

The statement that Pagespeed doesn’t matter but web vitals do is incorrect because Pagespeed is a score calculated based on the web vitals.

Moreover, Google mentions in their official documentation that one tool to measure the Web Vitals is Pagespeed Insights. Even a Google app shows you exactly how the Pagespeed score is calculated based on the Web Vitals and other performance metrics.

4. You need to redesign your website/ theme to achieve better web performance results

The design has little to do with Google pagespeed and the overall web performance of a site. In my experience, you can achieve 80% of the results with 20% of the actions, and Pagespeed Insights will even tell you which actions these are!

Pagespeed audit opportunities

Some of them may require design adjustments -particularly recommendations from the Chrome User Experience Report. But in my experience, this is never as drastic as to require a website redesign.

5. Your GTMetrix Score is good, so why bother with Pagespeed

GTMetrix is a popular web performance analytics tool. It can analyze the performance aspects and provide you with a list of recommendations on how to improve them. Unfortunately, these audits are very different from the Pagespeed audits, which Google uses to evaluate performance.

Recognizing this, GTMetrix announced that it would soon undergo a major upgrade that will replace the aging PageSpeed/YSlow libraries with Google’s Lighthouse metrics. Essentially, they will change how they evaluate a website’s performance and adopt Google’s pagespeed metrics.

You can imagine Lighthouse as an extension of Pagespeed. Whereas PageSpeed is a performance score, and Pagespeed Insights measures the performance metrics only, Lighthouse audits more aspects of a website, e.g., accessibility using the Chrome User Experience Report.

6. You can improve pagespeed but that will decrease SEO

Needless to say that SEO includes everything about making your website better for your visitors. From content to speed and user experience, Google uses all of these as signals in their ranking algorithms. Experts who would tell you otherwise probably have limited experience in one or many of these areas.

For a comprehensive overview of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what it includes, I recommend The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz, which is truly excellent.

Mozlow's hierarchy of SEO Needs

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, a page with a high pagespeed score is guaranteed to offer a better experience to its visitors. Also, faster websites utilize fewer resources and have smaller carbon footprints. If you’re looking at your site’s performance in Google Analytics or Google Search Console, thinking about what could you improve next, your site performance is definitely worth considering.