Beyond Pagespeed Insights or Lighthouse: why every website is a series of trade-offs.

Your business strategy should be the overarching driver as to why you have a website, what you expect it to do, and how to measure performance.

There are a series of trade-offs to consider which will determine how much effort is put into useability, experience, technical and business-related performance, organic search ranking and more. It’s a balancing act that requires many different skills, competent people and a suitable budget.

Visual and interactive design vs performance, speed and accessibility

While it’s possible to have a visually stunning website and retain good performance, speed and ranking, there will always be something that suffers to make another thing better.

If you use interactive design that’s based on clicking visual elements to proceed to the next step, this may exclude visually impaired people from making sense of your site. You also need to consider contrast between background colours/images/videos and text. It might be easy for you to read it, but many people struggle with low contrast.

If you have many large images, use heavy browser-based processing for visual effects, or have too many plugins, this will add to the time it takes to load the site. One of the major factors for users bouncing (clicking back in the browser before looking at any other pages on your site), is how long it takes for your site/page to load. Often it’s because they give up waiting to see something meaningful.

Load speed is significantly increased with slow internet connections, devices with poor processing speeds, your server environment, and how well your site has been coded. You don’t have control over internet speeds or slow devices, so you need to be extra careful about:

  • your server having a fast processor and fast/reliable internet connectivity;
  • your CMS/platform or any server-based processing is not doing unnecessary tasks or loading redundant code;
  • the resulting HTML, CSS, JS etc. code that is sent to the browser only loads necessary files. And that the files are loaded using best practices – giving priority to above-the-fold content i.e. everything you can see when the page loads on your device’s screen without scrolling.

The ultimate keywords for organic search ranking vs a better user experience (UX)

What is the primary goal of your website? Examples:

  • Does your website exist primarily to sell products/services to people searching for them on the internet e.g. eCommerce or a local service?
  • Does your product/service require face to face sales and the website is more of an information portal?
  • Does your website exist to inform people about a brand, public figure/celebrity, or a well-known event?

Being clear on why your website exists will help you craft your writing for the right cause. You should always write for humans first. If your business relies on SEO and organic search traffic, and that’s the primary reason for your website, then consider changing your writing to include your ultimate keywords, but that’s where the balancing act comes in.

How far do you go with your keywords in the title and description in comparison to saying something that’s easier to read and more meaningful? Is it necessary to include the location in the title for people searching for your local service? Do you sacrifice important information to fit the ultimate keywords in?

If your strategy says you rely primarily on organic search, still write for humans first. Make small changes, but know that changing titles and text can take months to show a difference in search results. Change, wait, check results, change, wait, check results, and continue until you’ve found the best balance between meaningful content and the ultimate keywords.

Examples of trade-offs for a site’s goal

The following screenshots are results from Google’s web.dev tool (see https://web.dev/). This tool is not completely accurate, but it gives us a pretty good overall view of performance.

Some things simply cannot be fixed due to a large site or too many contributors, and that’s usually a people/training and compliance problem.

Here are some examples with very brief summaries…

Apple

Apple performance

Apple is focused on a great user experience and SEO at the expense of performance. There are quite a few changes they could make to improve performance without reducing the user experience. Having said that, the site loads very fast, which is probably due to very good network of server hardware. This shows that you can’t always believe that a big red blotch on your website’s performance report is a bad thing.

The New York Times

The New York Times - Performance

It’s obvious that they’re primarily focused on SEO, which makes sense for a fast-paced news site. There are many areas of improvement here, however a lot of them are content-related. Assuming they have many different people adding content to the site, that’s a people issue with training and compliance. Some examples are poor contrast, and images without ‘alt’ tags (for screen readers). I can only imagine the constraints pushed on the developers for this site to make sure everything works. The more functions and overall content you have the more failure points you need to monitor, so it’s understandable that performance and accessibility will probably always suffer on this site.

Amazon

Amazon.com - Performance

Too much javascript, too many images, too much code. The overall amount of data sent to the browser is too much. There are many opportunities to improve this site. Luckily they have very fast servers.

Your budget will be the final call

It all comes down to the size and complexity of your requirements, who you choose to make your site, and who manages it. The most expensive price doesn’t mean the best result, but you need to be aware that it takes a lot of time to get good performance. It’s not set and forget, it’s ongoing, and your budget needs to be appropriate.

Stay true to the primary goal

There’s no cheat sheet or checklist to achieve good website performance. Always start with your website’s primary goal and communicate that to all stakeholders, especially those in charge of content. Your website should be fluid and continuously tested and improved, from the hardware to the end-user’s feelings about it and everything in between.