The Secret Way to See What Google Thinks of Your Website
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Ultimately the best websites are those that provide the highest quality experience for users. But how does Google measure that?
Google says their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Over the years, Google has optimized the way in which it has chosen to show its users the best and most informative websites when they search for a particular topic. We all want our websites to be popular. Not just for ego’s sake, but a popular website can translate into increased awareness and revenue for our business. In the early days, it was possible to “game” the Google ranking system by creating a lot of links to your website from random website set up for just that purpose. But ultimately the best websites are those that provide the highest quality experience for users. But how does Google measure that?
With its artificial intelligence technology, and focus on measurable quality metrics, Google is able to see which sites are most likely to be relevant to their users, i.e. much of the world’s population.
Making sure your website looks good in Google’s eyes not only increases your search ranking, but increases the likelihood that your users will find your site valuable, continue to browse it, and generate more leads and revenue for you.
But what makes a website experience good? There are several elements.
Performance. How fast your website loads and becomes responsive to user input is one major factor. How fast the first screenful of content becomes fully visible and useable, “the above the fold content”, is critical. These days about half of the traffic to websites is from users browsing on mobile phones. Google research shows that 53% of mobile users will abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, and 47% expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less.
Accessibility. Is your site friendly to people who might have visual or physical impairments? If your site displays green text on a red background, it will become illegible to the approximately 8% of men who have red/green color blindness.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization). 24/7 Google’s automated “bots” crawl the web looking for content to add to its search index so it can be looked up quickly. There are some relatively easy technical optimizations that your website developer can do to make your site more google-crawler friendly. But if, say, your developer doesn’t know what a sitemap is and how to add one, it’s going to make Google’s spiders’ jobs more difficult, and make make it more difficult for your potential users to find the various pieces of content spread across your website.
How can you find out how well your website is doing in those 4 areas? Well, if you have a Chrome browser, you’re in luck. Google has provided a somewhat “hidden” option in Chrome that lets you see how it thinks your website scores on Performance, Best Practices, Accessibility and SEO. You don’t have to be a programmer to access this.
In Chrome, Browse to your website, or the website you want to evaluate.
Select View->Developer Tools from the Chrome menu,
or press cmd-option-i (mac) or control-shift-i (windows).
In the new panel that opens, you should see the Lighthouse tab at the far right. Select it.
You should see something like this:
You can Select “Mobile” or Desktop as the device type then press “Generate Report”. You’ll then see a score of how good your website experience is for desktop browsers (fast connection, large screen), or mobile users (small screen, slower connection). For mobile, Chrome artificially slows down your connection and shrinks the window size to simulate what a real-life mobile user might experience.
If your website is well constructed, you should see high scores here. For example, and not to brag – well, maybe a little – here is the score for Fflying Llama’s home page on a desktop browser:
Even with the best development tools, it takes a fair degree of expertise and hours of hard work to get numbers this good. But the pay off is that at least from an empirical standpoint, your website is well on its way to meeting Google’s high standards.
There are a couple of things to note here. If you don’t change anything on your website between runs, the last 3 measures (Accessibility, Best Practices, and SEO) won’t change . That’s not necessarily true for the Performance numbers however. It is advisable to run the tests at least a couple of times to get stable performance numbers. And these numbers may change from time of day or the speed of your own connection or the size of your browser window. If you want to re-run the test click the circle with the line through it and then press Generate Report again:
A quality website will have desktop scores with all of the 4 items in green, which is a score of 90 or above. If they aren’t all green, then your website has some room for improvement. If they are red, then that is a sign your website has some serious problems that will likely negatively impact your users’ experience.
Mobile Experience Matters Even More
As of Summer 2021, Google has started taking into account how well your site performs on mobile browsers when deciding how high to rank your page in search results. If your site is super slow on mobile phones, its search ranking will suffer.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to achieve good performance on mobile. For example, here is the mobile score for the home page of Fflying Llama’s home page.
Much as we all may want to get straight-A’s, that’s sometimes nearly impossible to achieve with websites that have anything more than the simplest of content (for example, and not coincidentally, Google’s own search page).
What does Google think of YOUR website?
Open Chrome and follow the above steps to see how well your website is doing. If your website doesn’t have a great score, you may want to consider investing in a professional to help you improve it. And take a look at the home website of your web designer or the person building your website. If their own website isn’t scoring well in the Lighthouse metrics, what are the chances that they will make your website score well?
Let us know in the comments what your website scores are and what steps, if any, you have done, or plan to do to improve it.