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insights on page speed and usability

May 3, 2021

written by
Rex Vokey

As discussed in many of our other blog posts, there’s a heavy emphasis on page speed for websites. Why? Because your users want fast websites. And what your users want, you want. It’s part of a good user experience. I think we can all relate. When we go to a site, we don’t want to wait. Even if we had all the time in the world, we want near-zero delay between asking for the information and getting it, lest our attention drift.

Google knows this, which is why they’re always evolving (improving?) their metrics and now include that speed factor as part of the secret algorithm they use to rank sites in their search results. But they don’t stop there. They try to give developers and web managers the tools to try and improve the end user experience. But what about the rest of the experience? Is speed all that matters? What about functionality or usability? A super duper fast site that’s broken is still going to suck right?

web vitals

Google calls these “essential metrics for a healthy site.” While 3FO doesn’t always necessarily agree with each detail of what Google calls a healthy site, on the whole, we do agree. More recently, this has gone beyond just speed. The metrics they’re using now are:

We’ve written about our take on these, on LCP and CLS. And we have an upcoming post on FID. With CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift), we’ve gone firmly into the realm of usability. Google is attempting to quantify one of the things I hate most when I visit a page: things moving around! Have you ever tried clicking on something, only to have it move right as you’re clicking/tapping? Infuriating.

tools for measurement

For a long time, we used a proprietary tool that followed Google’s rules as a guide and came up with its own score akin to Google’s PageSpeed Insights scores. And for a long time, this worked pretty well. But last year, Google started heavily changing its rules and its tools. And as I said before, those rules are in a constant state of evolution. So we decided to pivot and started directly using Google’s tools to score and provide performance recommendations for client’s sites.

For quick feedback on performance and usability of a given page, there are tools built directly into Google’s Chrome browser – referred to collectively as “Lighthouse.” For more real-world data, there’s Real User Monitoring (RUM) data Google actually uses to rate their pages, and this is available via PageSpeed Insights, among other methods. With this, you’re getting information from actual use of the site over the past 28 days.

Being fully aware that data and reporting are sensitive subjects for our client’s businesses, and knowing we were about to stand everything we’ve done for the last few years on it’s head, we tread carefully. So we tested and implemented this across the board, measuring against other benchmarking tool sets, and made sure to clearly communicate why I had the development team at 300FeetOut change methodologies, reporting, and analysis recommendations.

what to do with this information

How closely does one need to follow recommendations that come from this data? Well, we believe in the intelligent application of recommended fixes. We can’t just look at the recommendations and blindly implement every single one of them, exactly as stated by the tool. We want to make sure that the number one goal of the data isn’t about making sure Google makes the most money, it needs to be about the best user experience. We have to evaluate each item with regard to what it means to every other item and the overall user experience of the site. Sure, we have our opinions, too, but they’re based on our feel for the site as a whole, and how we see users interact with it.

In the end, it’s the users of the site we want to keep happy and have a great experience. This is just one part of that. A very important part!