Learn how to use Google Lighthouse to improve your property website

Nov 15, 2022

Picture of guide to Google Lighthouse ebook

I’ll start by giving you a full disclosure: This may not be the most lighthearted blog post you’ve ever read. It could, however, be one of the most important when it comes to creating the highest functioning website possible that attracts the most leads.

And your website leads are paramount: They have a conversion rate of 12-15%, compared to an ILS conversion rate of only 2-3%.

This post dives into the nitty gritty of using Google Lighthouse, which can be a little tricky at first (or maybe you love this stuff, I don’t judge!). Either way, grab a good cup of coffee and let’s hunker down to better understand how your website stacks up, so you can optimize it to drive the most traffic. 

Let’s start at the beginning

As I mentioned, website leads have a much higher conversion rate than those from ILSs. The combination of high performing websites and a solid search marketing strategy will lead to more bang for your buck, aka more leads and ROI. With this in mind, let’s bring our focus to Google, the king of the search engines.

When it comes to assessing the strength of your website, did you know that Google does a lot of the work for you? Enter Lighthouse, an open-source automated tool created by Google that you can use for free to improve the quality of web pages. Lighthouse can audit on any web page based on what Google has outlined as the Core Web Vitals. These are a set of metrics that Google uses to assess page performance including website speed, responsiveness and visual stability.

Again, Lighthouse is free to use and backed by Google.

How does Lighthouse score your website?

Lighthouse scores your website based on performance, accessibility, best practices, search engine optimization (SEO) and whether it qualifies as a progressive web application (PWA). Each section (except PWA, but more on that later) is scored on a scale from 1 to 100, 1 being poor quality and 100 being an A+ website experience. If all the terms I just threw out seem a bit overwhelming, stress not! Let’s break them down piece by piece:  

1. Performance

Your performance score comes from a combination of six metrics designed to represent a user’s perception of your site.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who just clicked on your website link or typed your URL into their browser. Each of these six metrics play a role in the important, albeit short (literally seconds!), journey of loading your website.

Here they are broken down, along with Google’s recommended benchmark for timing:

  • First Contentful Paint measures the time it takes for the first text or image to appear onscreen. The goal is to have this first element pop up in less than 2 seconds.
  • Largest Contentful Paint is just what it sounds like. It measures how long it takes for the largest text or image to appear on the screen. Google’s benchmark for this is less than 2.5 seconds.
  • Speed Index calculates how quickly the contents of a page are visibly populated, a.k.a. how long does it take for the whole page to appear, not just preliminary text and images? Your goal time here is 4.3 seconds or less.
  • Time to interactive is the time it takes for a user to be able to interact with your page. This means being able to click, scroll, etc. Your goal here is less than 3.8 seconds.
  • I like to think about Total Blocking Time like a sandwich. This metric measures how much time is sandwiched between the First Contentful Paint and the Time to Interactive, or how long does it take for all the steps we just talked about to happen in succession? Think of it as the time the user can see your site but is blocked from engaging with it. The benchmark for the number of seconds between the beginning of your website load journey and the end of it is 300 milliseconds or less. I told you this was a snappy process!
  • The last performance metric is Cumulative Layout Shift, and it measures how much page elements above the fold shift during page load. To put it in a not-so-eloquent- manner, how herky jerky is your website while it’s spooling up? Instead of measuring in seconds, the benchmark for this metric is a score of .1 or less. See how Cumulative Layout Shift is scored.

2. Accessibility

The second component Lighthouse scores your website on is accessibility. It seeks to rate how well all users can navigate your site, including those with vision impairments. To do this, Lighthouse investigates a couple things.

First, it checks whether there is enough contrast between background and foreground colors. It also analyzes whether your image attributes have alt elements, meaning that a screen reader can read descriptive text for the image if a user can’t see well.

Lighthouse also checks to see if links have optimized anchor text, which means users understand what will happen when they click a link. Are they opening a brochure? Going to another page of your website? Phrases like “click here” and “learn more” do not count as optimized anchor text.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how your accessible your website it, but these items are a good place to start.

3. Best Practices

The Best Practices element seeks to understand whether your website’s code is clean, secure and healthy. Google Lighthouse analyzes different areas of your website to do this, and there’s a lot that goes into it. If you’re interested in learning more about general best practices, check out this article.

4. SEO

Lighthouse also scores you on how well optimized your website is to show up organically in web searches. Lighthouse only checks for basic SEO elements, but a good SEO strategy goes further. There is a lot that goes into this, including optimizing your page titles, keywords, maintaining your Google My Business profile … the list goes on!

There are tools to help you refine your SEO on your own, such as Google Search Console and Google Analytics, but working with agencies like REACH by Rentcafe can help you step up your SEO game and earn high scores on Lighthouse.

5. PWA

Lastly, Lighthouse checks whether your site is PWA optimized. This means that your website, while delivered through the web, creates a use experience on par with a native app. There is no numerical score on this component, just a yes or a no.

How to audit using Google Lighthouse

Now that you know the basics, you (yes, you!) can run an audit on your own using Lighthouse. You can either add the Lighthouse extension on the chrome webstore or you can visit Page Speed Insights at https://pagespeed.web.dev/. You can then use the scores to understand what you’re doing well and where you need to improve. Generally, red scores of 0-49 are poor, orange scores of 50-89 present opportunities for improvement, and green scores of 90-100 mean you’re doing exceptionally well.

When running your own audits, it’s important to test and test again (and then maybe test a third time). Lighthouse scores are fluid. They can fluctuate from audit to audit based on browser extensions, user locations and even ads displayed on the page. Most significantly they change because of work you’ve done on your site to improve performance.

Esther Bonardi, vice president at REACH by RentCafe, recommends running your audit 3-5 times to get the most accurate score. After testing on your own, you can touch base with your website designers and SEO experts to see how you can continue improving your website.

If you want to learn even more about measuring your website metrics, you can check out this comprehensive guide to Google Lighthouse or watch this webinar. Happy auditing!

REACH by RentCafe services

Did you know that RentCaffeine, the website platform used for REACH clients, was built specifically to align with Google’s Core Website Vitals? We offer both corporate and property website design services as well as SEO services to help your brand rise in search results.

Working with a professional agency will help best optimize your website so you’ll know you’re in great shape when someone asks, “How does your website stack up?”

For more website tips, read this interview with Neha Marathe, creative lead at REACH.

Elle Schantz

Elle Schantz is a valued intern at REACH by RentCafe. She is currently a student at Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in Marketing and Global Studies.

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