The pandemic has many of us focused on our physical health. But if you’re an executive or marketing leader, there’s another health concern that should be top-of-mind: your website health.
Unsurprisingly, most buying, selling, and marketing shifted online as the pandemic spread across the globe. Duke University’s annual CMO survey for 2020 found that online sales were up nearly 43 percent, and organizations were investing 11.5 percent more in digital marketing as compared to 2019.
With everyone taking transactions online, you must have a top-notch website to remain competitive. So, when’s the last time you checked out your website’s health?
If you’re squinting and grimacing trying to remember when that audit was, it’s been too long. Fortunately, Google Lighthouse allows you to quickly run vitals on your website and shine a light on any weak spots.
What is Google Lighthouse?
Google Lighthouse is a free, open-source tool for checking your website’s performance. Many sites look fine from the outside but have issues lurking under the hood. This is particularly true for those quick-and-dirty websites, built years ago without much forethought as to how the site would need to scale. As search engines, coding and development best practices, and customer expectations change and advance, these sites see big drops in performance.
Lighthouse brings all those imperfections to light. It scores your site’s performance on desktop and mobile, and it can even assess progressive web apps when applicable. You should be checking the performance of all iterations of your online assets, and Lighthouse makes it easy to cover your bases.
When you run the audit, Google Lighthouse produces a color-coded rating for four primary focus areas: performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO. You’ll see a red, yellow, or green score for each category, with green being good to go and red meaning there’s serious room for improvement.
Fortunately, along with its rating, Google Lighthouse also specifies any detractors from your score and suggests fixes to move you from the red or yellow zone up to green.
Curious about what each of the four focus areas comprises? Let’s take a closer look.
When it comes to site performance, the name of the game is speed. Slow-loading websites are deadly. The average consumer will give a site about three seconds to be fully functional before bouncing back to Google search results or over to a competitor.
Like an Olympic swimmer jumping off the block, you want to eliminate any drag on your site’s performance out of the gate. Reducing the number of items that can pull down your page’s load time gives your performance a major boost.
Accessibility is becoming a significant focus in website design and development—as it should be! You want as many users as possible to be able to navigate your site.
When it comes to on-page elements, Lighthouse wants to ensure everyone can engage with your content. That means high-contrast text for the visually impaired and captioned videos for those with hearing or auditory processing challenges.
As for background factors, HTML has a role to play. Alt text, title and heading tags, and buttons and links with accessible names are all audited as part of the accessibility test. While these elements are hidden for most site visitors, they are essential for those who use screen readers to access your site.
Next up is the grab bag category of best practices. These are general dev items that don’t fit squarely into other areas. Things like relying on a deprecated API, using HTTP rather than HTTPS, and unsafe links to cross-origin destinations will all dock your score.
When you think of general development, speed (beyond what you see in the performance category), and security, this is the audit where Google Lighthouse considers those factors.
Many of the issues that compromise security and speed are present on sites created years ago that rely on outdated methods to keep them running.
Security has become an area of increased concern for consumers, so it’s time to update to current best practices. Chrome browsers began publicly flagging HTTP sites as non-secure way back in 2017. If you’re still not switched over to HTTPS, not only are you leaving yourself and your customers open to vulnerabilities, Google is calling you out on Chrome. Yikes!
Like security, SEO is another area that requires regular attention. SEO guidelines are frequently in flux, and if you created your site before the days of semantic search, it’s time for an overhaul.
If your SEO is weak, you’re not going to do well in SERPs, will be ineligible for position-zero or the knowledge panel, and will not appear in voice search.
It’s not enough to simply optimize your homepage and call it a day. You must optimize each page on your site for search, and if you’re running an e-commerce website, that can be hundreds of pages!
Keyword stuffing, clickbaity links with no real content behind them, and other black hat tactics will surely be flagged by Google Lighthouse. Still, there are more innocent mistakes that also warrant attention.
Do all of your pages contain the appropriate metadata? Are your links crawlable? Is your robots.txt valid? These are the types of factors Google Lighthouse considers in its SEO audit.
How the Audit Works
Google Lighthouse runs audits on a page-by-page basis. This provides you the flexibility to check specific pages you know have room for improvement or to do a total audit if it’s been a while since your last checkup. How you choose to use the tool depends on your needs.
For each page on which you run the audit, Google Lighthouse will pull together a comprehensive list of issues, plus an overview of all the ratings the page passed with flying colors.
The good news is that Google Lighthouse provides tons of actionable insight into how to improve your site. But that means you need someone with the know-how and bandwidth to read and interpret the issues and execute fixes.
Oftentimes, tactical improvements precipitate a broader strategic discussion. You want to build a website that works for your audience, so you need to know who your ideal customers are and what they expect from their online experience with your brand. An agency can help guide these discussions and execute necessary updates.
Yes, the process of auditing and improving your website can be tedious and feel overwhelming, but it is always worth it. With so much business happening online, ranking in search and providing visitors with a best-in-class experience has never been more critical.