TL;DR: Google PageSpeed Insights is a good initial point of reference—but chasing high scores doesn’t necessarily equate to ranking higher in search engines. Instead, you should concentrate on improving the user experience.

  • What is PageSpeed Insights good for?
  • What are the limitations of PageSpeed Insights?
  • Focus on the user experience, not scores.

If you’re ever curious about how quickly your web pages are loading, chances are you’ve plugged your URL into Google PageSpeed Insights to see what comes up. As one of the most popular tools on the internet, it is the jumping-off point for many website owners eager to increase their website speeds and all the benefits associated with that. 

The problem is, although the tool serves as a great reference, it’s nothing more than an indicator of what the issues are. It’s not an ironclad, step-by-step guide that you can use to improve your speed or rankings. 

Yes, PageSpeed insights is useful—but don’t waste your time chasing scores.

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What are Google PageSpeed scores good for?

Your website’s loading speed is an extremely important factor in the overall performance of your website. If you’re experiencing a high bounce rate or have other indicators of poor speed, you should begin investigating what’s wrong.

PageSpeed Insights (PSI) does serve a purpose in this regard, providing useful information that you can use to make quick adjustments or point you in the right direction. 

For example, it can let you know if you have a slow server response time, if you need to minimize the scripts loading on your pages, or if you should consider data compression, caching, or similar. PSI will also show you if you have excessive redirects or images that need to be optimized. 

It works by running a quick test on your website for both mobile and desktop devices, providing an instant score that outlines problems that are slowing down your website. The score is provided by a tool called Lighthouse, which measures two types of data: lab data and field data. 

Lab data is collected from a controlled environment using predefined network settings and devices to get the results. Field data, on the other hand, uses information from real page loads. 

Once it has this information, it provides an easy traffic light indicator for both mobile and desktop to show how well you’re doing:

  • 0-49: slow (red)
  • 50-89: moderate (orange)
  • 90-100: fast (green)

You can find out more about Google PageSpeed scores from their Insights Doc.

woman with laptop, looking at a piece of paper confused.

What are the limitations of PageSpeed Insights?

If the tool is useful, then what are the problems? 

The main issue is that the score doesn’t necessarily equate to your site’s speed, capture the real user experience, or identify where visitors are having a difficult time with your site. 

Beyond this, some of the suggestions simply aren’t feasible and achieving a perfect 100 score isn’t always possible. For example, you can’t minify files that aren’t hosted on your website or optimize Google’s own analytics code (which is often flagged as an issue).

Perceived performance

PageSpeed Insights also has trouble measuring the perceived performance of your website. One example is using something called lazy loading. This works by loading portions of a web page as you scroll through it instead of loading the entire page all at once. If you have a website that has a lot of high-resolution images that are being lazy loaded, this won’t be reflected in the score. PageSpeed Insights will say it’s slow, while your visitors are actually having a good experience.

Server location

Where your server is physically located in relation to your target audience can play an important role in the speed of your website. However, the PageSpeed Insights score has no idea where your server is located, which can lead to results that are of no use geographically. The same is true if you run the test using a CDN and the test server is in another location to the site.

At the end of the day, the only thing that is important to your users and to your SEO visibility is speed—and the score doesn’t accurately reflect this. If you concentrate solely on the score, you may or may not improve the speed. Definitely take the issues pointed out by PSI into consideration, but be sure to focus your effort and resources on the speed and the actual end user experience. 

Professional swimmer in a pool picking up speed.

Focus on speed, not scores

The point isn’t to chase your Google PageSpeed score, it’s to speed up your website. How do you do this? 

The first step, which PageSpeed Insights can play a useful role in, is to audit your website. We have another post on assessing your website’s performance, which will give you a good idea of what you should be looking out for. 

Once you’ve done this, there are tools you can use to help you take the most important steps in improving speed. This will likely involve minifying and caching files, removing unnecessary scripts, compressing overly large images, limiting file sizes and more. 

For most of these issues, installing a few choice WordPress plugins can help you achieve great PSI scores and website speeds. Our recommendations, and the stack we use ourselves, are: 

  • WP Rocket—The most popular WordPress caching and performance plugin out there. 
  • ShortPixel—Specializing in image compression and optimization.
  • Perfmatters—Allows you to disable scripts and other assets which may influence your website’s speed. You can also disable WordPress options that are automatically enabled by default and only can be disabled otherwise with code. 

Next Steps

Tools like PageSpeed Insight and the above recommended plugins are useful and, with their proper usage and configuration, you can ensure your visitors are getting the best possible experience. 

If you’re struggling to get the results you want, our WordPress Speed Optimization Service offers ongoing support to make sure your website is constantly performing as it should.

About The Author
Justin Korn

Justin is the founder of Watchdog Studio, and former Director of IT at both Wells Fargo Securities and AirTreks. A prodigy of the dotcom era, he now provides businesses in Oakland, California and the surrounding Bay Area with honest, expert website services to drive growth.