Why the New York Times only has a PageSpeed Insights score of 52

Jan Hornung Last updated on 21.10.2020
10 Min.
PageSpeed Insights The New York Times
Last updated on 21.10.2020

Some of the largest and most successful WordPress sites worldwide like the Wall Street Journal or the People Magazine cut in Google's PageSpeed Insights ...very badly. And this despite the fact that their business model depends on good performance. Using the New York Times as an example, I will explain why you can neglect the PageSpeed optimization score and what concrete benefits your WP business derives from this insight.

Update: Google has changed its PageSpeed Insights tool in November 2018 Since then the data of the analysis is based on the open source tool Lighthouse. The new PageSpeed Insights one includes even more factors in the evaluation, which is why many websites perform worse than before in the new PSI score. This is also true for our case study - the NYTimes WordPress website - where your desktop PSI score is now 46 and the mobile score is 21. More information about the new PageSpeed Insights score can be found in Video from #SEODRIVENwhich you will also find at the end of this article.

line infobox blue

What do the websites of Forbes, Time Magazine, New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, people magazine and Harvard Business Review together? These are large publications with a reach of millions and corresponding online sales. And they are all running up WordPress !

You can imagine that performance is a hot topic especially for such big releases. The better it site performs, the better the user signals and the more people read it. The publication benefits from this twice over:

  • The better the user signals, the more advertising revenue.
  • The more readers, the better the number of subscribers.

The bottom line is that performance for such publications is directly related to sales. The business model only works if as few users as possible drop out.

The Financial Times also shows that performance pays off. The tested 2016how a delay in the loading time of one to five seconds affects the behaviour of the readers. The result: The slower the site loading time, the fewer articles the visitors read. The result: reduced advertising revenue and fewer subscriptions taken out. Not surprisingly, optimizing the loading time was a top priority when the Financial Times website was launched around six months later. has been revised.

If you look at the results, the Google PageSpeed Insights for the above mentioned publications, it does not look like performance optimization plays a major role at first glance.

PageSpeed scores in comparison_Publications

With the exception of two, all tested publications achieved a mobile optimization score in the good range (80-100). But with the desktop score it looks quite different: The PageSpeed-scores of NY Times, HBR and People Magazine are "low", the scores of WSJ, Forbes and Time Magazine are only "medium" and only the New Yorker just makes it into the good area.

What is it with these "bad results"?

The PageSpeed-Score has nothing to do with loading speed

Many believe that the score (e.g. 60/100) output in PageSpeed Insight site indicates the loading speed of the page. The name of the tool suggests this. Only: "PageSpeed" and "Page Speed" are not the same in this case. The optimization score that the tool finally ejects has no correlation to the page loading time.

Correct reading: The Google PageSpeed Insights-Score indicates not the loading time.

Instead, it checks whether the site operator has implemented certain measures that are considered "best practice" in performance optimization. The implementation of these measures is then evaluated on a scale of 0 to 100. 

A second myth that persists: A good PageSpeed score improves your Google ranking. But that is just as little the case. Yes, the speed of one site influences the ranking. The score that the tool outputs, but is not considered by Google (especially since it does not correlate with speed anyway). So you can largely disregard the Google PSI score when it comes to SEO.

In addition, the page loading time is not relevant for the ranking, i.e. the time it site takes to complete to load. Instead, Google includes the Time To First Byte (TTFB) value as a factor. This is the time that elapses until the browser receives the first response from the server after an HTTP request. Usually, milliseconds are involved here.

The correlation between TTFB and the ranking could already be proven in 2013 (you can find corresponding articles by MOZ here and here). On the other hand, Gary Illyes - Google's most respected web trend analyst in the community - publicly announced via Twitter that don't worry too much about the page loading time must.

Case study: The PageSpeed Insights-Score of the New York Times

Let's take a closer look at the New York Times as an example. It reaches a mobile PageSpeed Insights-score of 84 ("good") and on the desktop one of 52 ("low"). What beats PageSpeed Insights to improve the loading time? According to Google, the desktop version could benefit from the following measures, among others:

Eliminate JavaScript and CSS resources that block rendering in content "above the fold" (visible without scrolling)

The background of this suggestion is that JavaScript should normally be loaded in the footer or at least asynchronously. If it is loaded in the header, this can lead to delays because other resources are put behind. In some cases, however, it significantly affects the functionality of the site , if all JavaScriptsites are in the footer. In this case, you must check from case to case how the measure affects yousite .

And when the CSS resources are loaded at the end, the whole site thing builds up completely without design - not a nice user experience. Of course, it would theoretically be possible to filter out the CSS needed for the content "above the fold" and add it at the top and then load the rest of the stylesheet at the bottom. However, this is almost impossible afterwards, this trick would have to be taken into account during development. It also means considerable effort for the developer and ultimately only improves the page speed score, but not the actual page loading time. So the effort is probably better invested elsewhere.

Use browser caching

PageSpeed Insights Caching

Doesn't sound wrong at first. But if you look at the suggestions for what else could be cached, you'll find elements that are not hosted on the site NY Times itself. For example, files that are hosted by Google Analytics or Facebook and are included for monitoring purposes at the NY Times. The NY Times has no influence on the cache configuration of these elements - so the suggestion is for nothing.

Google also criticizes the use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) - a network of servers distributed around the world but connected to each other. International users in particular benefit from this. A CDN is basically advantageous for performance, as the server response time is greatly reduced and the content can be delivered much faster. And with a publication as relevant as the New York Times, you can assume that readers all over the world will want to access the content and not wait long.

Optimize images

PageSpeed Insights_Images

A large part of the images suggested PageSpeed Insightsfor optimization would become only a few kilobytes smaller due to compression, in some cases even only bytes. Of course this is Compressing images an important factor for performance optimization. With such small savings, however, it is doubtful that this will significantly improve your loading time.

Reduce JavaScript

PageSpeed Insights_Java Script

A total of almost 72 kilobytes could be saved here. It remains to be seen whether this makes a fundamental difference for a newspaper as huge site as the New York Times.

Reduce HTML

PageSpeed InsightsHTML

As with the images and JavaScript files, the proposed savings potential is minimal and therefore not very convincing.

Some of the measures proposed by the tool are likely to be simply uneconomical, and others would bring only such marginal changes that it is not worthwhile using them. The sobering conclusion is that it PageSpeed Insightsthrows up all kinds of suggestions for improvement. But not all of them lead to a significant improvement in the performance of the NY Times. Otherwise, we could assume that they have already been implemented - after all, performance here directly influences the success of the business model.

PageSpeed Insights-Score remains a customer issue

In the professional world, the complete discrepancy between page speed score and loading speed has led to a heated debate. Finally, the tool is also available to laypersons who are not necessarily aware of this discrepancy. articles from respected Online Marketing gurus like thiswhich talk about a PageSpeed score of 100 being equivalent to a fast loading time, also cause confusion.

Again and again, developers report calls from highly unsettled customers complaining that PageSpeed Insightseverything is red and orange and ordering an implementation of all proposed measures. The bottom line is that the tool often results in time being wasted in two ways: during optimization, when nonsensical suggestions are implemented, and during communication, when the customer is told why they are nonsensical.

Although the PageSpeed Insights score may improve if you reduce image sizes and HTML by a few KB. However, performance benefits from measures that the PageSpeed Insights tool does not suggest at all. Professional performance optimization is ultimately more than just orienting oneself to a single key figure. This is also shown by the relaunch of the Financial Times: A comprehensive redesign site is usually necessary for larger optimization efforts.

I am particularly interested in High traffic areas. Smaller websites should of course first of all see to it that basic "best practices" are followed. However, above a certain threshold, massive changes must be sites made to the site to improve performance at all, such as switching to a good host one or a fundamental overhaul of the site architecture. This should be clear to you and your customers.

Arguments for real performance optimization

The uncertainty about the PageSpeed Insights score offers a good opportunity especially for design agencies: Because if you recognize the connection between loading speed and business and know how to use it, you will stand out from the competition. Concrete figures and case studies such as the NY Times example will help you to convince existing and potential customers:

  • 2006 Amazon conducted A/B testswhich showed that 100 milliseconds delay in loading speed meant about 1 percent loss of revenue per year - or in other words: 1.6 billion dollars.
  • Studies show that in recent years the average attention span of users has decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. So once a website loads for five seconds, only three remain to convince the user of the content. (The validity of these data is debatedbut you're on the safe side if you assume that users will devote less rather than more time to your content :-)
  • Especially for mobile sites devices, the loading speed is highly relevant for business. At eCommerce the loading time has a fundamental effect on sales: if it is site too slow, more than half of the customers prefer to leave their money elsewhere. 53 percent of the users drop out if a site mobile phone loads for longer than three seconds. And for every second that a mobile takes site longer to load, the site operator loses 20 percent of conversions. And mobile traffic is not to be neglected: The average Useful life of the Internet via mobile devices is already at around 87 minutes today, and the Smartphone has overtaken the laptop as the most common Internet device.

How you get your clients to ignore the PageSpeed Insights score

So how do you help your customers to get the Google rating PageSpeed Insightsright and give the tool less importance? Here's a summary of the most important arguments:

  • The PageSpeed Score has nothing to do with the loading speed, but evaluates whether certain measures have been implemented that are generally recommended. Not all of these measures make sense. You can offer your customers to check them in detail and implement the ones you think make sense.
  • The PageSpeed score is not relevant for SEO. The Time to First Byte (TTFB) is included in the ranking, not the complete loading time. You can change this value, for example, with the tool Webpagetest.org raise. How to correctly analyze the real page load time with Webpagetest, we explain in our e-book.
  • The PageSpeed Insightstool only checks "publicly" accessible factors. For example, the tool cannot see what the database is like (which is good for security reasons). With a tidy database, a slim Themeone that doesn't send too many HTTP requests to the server, and as little Pluginsas possible, your loading time will increase significantly. But these factors are influenced by PageSpeed Insights is not taken into account. So actually performant WordPress sites still bad scores.
  • PageSpeed Insights does by no means include all measures of performance optimization. Above all, make your customers aware of the importance of a good hoster that works with HTTP/2 and the latest PHP version. If the hosting is no good, you can site optimize it as much as you like, the loading time will not change fundamentally.

Focusing only on the PageSpeed score is like taking a horse to a Formula 1 race. Even if you paint your horse's coat red and shave a Ferrari logo in the side, you won't overtake the motorized race cars.

Final thoughts

Forbes, Time Magazine or the New York Times may not have the most visually appealing websites - but they are among the most successful WordPress sites worldwide. This is because design, function and speed work together to promote a harmonious overall experience.

However, the PageSpeed Insights-score does not reflect this. It regularly presents developers with the challenge of explaining to concerned customers that their website not disappears in the depths of the search results if the tool's verdict is "poor". The Loading time of one site is dependent on a lot of factors, and many of them are not even displayed by highly simplifying tools like GooglePageSpeed Insights.

A real measurement of the charging time must never be missing!

When working with GooglePageSpeed Insights , it is recommended, for the reasons mentioned above, to critically examine the proposals with regard to their economic efficiency and compare the results of the test with other values (for example with those of Webpagetest or Pingdom).

Who finally decides to implement proposed measuresshould in any case measure the actual loading time before and after to put the effectiveness of the optimizations to the test (for example, with our Performance framework).

At the bottom line, the tool points out some standard measures (compress images, use SSL and/or HTTP/2, set up caching, etc.) For a good user experience, however, the designsites , the load-time-optimised display (which the PageSpeed tool does not measure) and the UX optimisation are of particular importance.

Have you ever had the experience of a bad PageSpeed score? Or are you aware of the worried enquiries from customers on this subject? Leave me a comment with your experiences and tips.

The new PageSpeed Insights


By downloading the video you accept the YouTube privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video


RAIDBOXER of the first hour and Head of Support. At Bar- and WordCamps he likes to talk about PageSpeed and website performance. The best way to bribe him is with an espresso - or Bavarian pretzel.

Comments on this article

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with * .