This post was updated in 2018, 2019 and 2020 to reflect new features in the Google PageSpeed Insights tools and changes in technology.
One of the most popular tools for webmasters, including those using Shopify themes, is Google’s PageSpeed Insights service, which seeks out and identifies ways to improve your website’s page loading speed and related factors — but how much weight should you give to the advice this (or a similar) tool gives you?
Google is on record as being “obsessed” with speed on the Web and also has indicated that speed does play a role in Web rankings — so speed is obviously something that should be considered when developing any website.
That translates into the idea that sites that load faster will rank higher in search engine results.
However, it’s easy to take Google’s PageSpeed Insights advice on your Shopify theme a bit too much to heart while also ignoring some easier ways to improve your site performance.
In July 2018, Google rolled out significant updates to its PageSpeed Insights tool, including a new user interface and new ranking methodology.
When running PageSpeed Insights, one of the first (and scariest) recommendations Google may give you is to “Eliminate render blocking resources.”
Without getting overly technical, this is referring to utilizing some advanced Web development techniques within the structure of the code to help improve speeds.
Newer versions of Out of the Sandbox themes do "minimize" code wherever practical.
While these techniques certainly reduce load time, they also are something that only more advanced users should tackle. Further, many “minification” tools don’t recognize the unique Liquid tags used in many Shopify theme files, which can cause the entire theme to stop working.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that every feature or design element that’s added is likely to trigger issues with any page speed testing tool. Adding cool designs or highly interactive features can be great for user experience — but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s likely a trade-off with your site speed.
At the end of the day, it’s often a fine balance between features and speed — and typically it’s difficult to have the best of both.
Google's PageSpeed Insights may also recommend that you "serve images in next-gen formats" including JPEG 2000, JPEG XR and WebP.
At this time, switching your image files to these formats, with the exception of WebP in some cases, is not fully supported by Shopify or Shopify themes, though advanced development work could be done to take advantage of these formats.
That said, not all browsers can correctly display all of these image formats (including WebP) at this time, so using them can cause image display problems or require you to use additional code to designate alternative image files to use, which can add to the complexity of development work.
Google may also mark some of the following "diagnostic" elements in its PageSpeed Insight tool:
All that said, however, it's important to note that both Out of the Sandbox and Shopify are always exploring new ways to leverage the latest improvements in web technology, including the ones Google cites above.
However, it's important to keep in mind that new technologies can take a while to become rolled out everywhere. Often this is because, as a new technology, elements aren't fully supported or proven, so it can take time for the features to become more widespread.
All that said, there are some solid, easy and fast ways that you can improve your site speed without needing advanced development.
The Shopify platform itself also has some key advantages in regard to page speed. Your entire store is hosted on scalable, high tech servers that are optimized to handle the demands of ecommerce stores.
These servers are much more efficient and typically provide much better load times than other services you could find on your own.
Though Google PageSpeed Insights does sometimes flag caching issues, controlling the cache settings for your site is not possible if you're using Shopify's servers for images or other assets.
Shopify does take care of caching files as efficiently as it can while balancing how Shopify stores look and function.
Finally, keep in mind that Google's PageSpeed Insights is a great tool and can give you lots of great ideas, but often the recommendations can be very difficult to implement for an unknown return on investment.
It's a common misconception that fixing elements Google PageSpeed recommends will suddenly rocket you to the top of the search engine rankings — the reality is that page speed is just one of the many, many factors used to rank results.
Also keep in mind that many Shopify stores (take "handmade jewelry" for example) are in extremely competitive industries in terms of search engine rankings and it's unlikely that a small, independent merchant could outrank the larger players in the space no matter how fast the site is.
If you're truly concerned about search engine optimization, a great first place to start is by reviewing and rewriting your product descriptions.
If you're using the Turbo Shopify theme, it's also important to note that many of the speed boosting techniques this theme uses are not detected by Google PageSpeed Insights or many other page speed tools.
Specifically, most page speed tools cannot detect Turbo's advanced page preloading feature, which is one of the main ways to boost page loading times.
Google PageSpeeds also offers a completely separate test for how your site loads on mobile.
Many of the same issues will be flagged as on desktop and there's often only so much you can do about them, as outlined above.
It's also worth noting that Google's mobile scores depend on what are known as "emulators" — which are computer programs designed to mimic the behavior and performance of a page on a mobile device.
However, emulators are not always consistent or accurate — in fact you may notice that some speed tools give you different results each time you run the test.
PageSpeed Insights and other speed tests often do not detect Turbo's intelligent preloading feature, for example, because this depends on user behavior.
For both desktop and mobile, it's important to keep in mind that the score Google gives you is just one factor that determines how your site is ranking and how well it performs for users and in search rankings.
While it's always a good idea to what you can to improve your site speed, chasing after a 100 is not a good use of your time as a business owner.
Keep in mind that most, if not all, of the elements that page testing tools flag are necessary to make it possible for your customers to browse and buy on your site.
In short, you should focus on controlling elements of speed and SEO you can — such as optimizing images and writing quality content — rather than focusing too much on speed testing tools.