Is Your Store’s Speed Score Stealing the Spotlight in Your Ecommerce Strategy?

Trying to chase a perfect Shopify speed score? This could be to the detriment of other, more commercially valuable aspects of your online business! In our latest article, we’re exploring how this speed score is calculated, why it might not be as high as you expected, and why you shouldn’t let it steal the spotlight in your ecommerce growth strategy.

Written By
Hannah Smiddy

Calling all Shopify merchants! Wondering why the speed score in your Partner Dashboard is so low? Worrying about the impact it’s having on your success? If you’re fretting about frustrating customers with slow load times or dropping down Google’s search rankings because of a low speed score, fear not. 

This score matters, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of your ecommerce success, so it’s important not to over-prioritise it at the expense of higher return-on-investment (ROI) activities.

In this blog post, we’ll explore how your store speed score is calculated and why it might not be as high as you expected, before breaking down some common misconceptions about what this score means for your success. We’ll also dip into some best practice advice for implementing on-site changes (hint: data-driven decision making!).

Ready? Let’s get started.

Setting the scene: Online store speed scores in Shopify

Back in July 2020, in a bid to make it easier for merchants to understand how their online stores are performing, Shopify released a new online store speed report. 

Your speed score is calculated as a weighted average of Google Lighthouse performance scores for your homepage, highest-traffic collection page and highest-traffic product page. The resulting figure, out of 100, is displayed on your Shopify store dashboard and recalculated on a daily basis.

Source: Shopify Online Store Speed: How to Measure and Optimize It

Scores are based on how fast the mobile versions of your pages perform in the Shopify test environment. Lighthouse performance reports run in this environment to avoid fluctuations in internet connection speed, device processing power, browser extensions or antivirus software, and allow for accurate comparisons to that of other stores on the Shopify platform.

According to Shopify, “a higher score represents an online store that’s fast for the wide variety of customers accessing it”, whilst “a lower score represents a store that might not be accessible to the full range of customers that want to make a purchase”.

Alongside your store’s speed score, Shopify provides information about how your store’s performance compares to similar businesses (stores which share common attributes, such as number of sales to date, number of products and variants, traffic, theme etc.). Your store will either be ranked as slower than similar stores, the same speed, or faster.

Why the low scores?

We may be biased here at Swanky, but Shopify is fast. Really fast. That’s part of the reason why it’s used by so many big-name brands with high-volume stores. 

But this renowned rapidity isn’t being reflected in stores’ speed scores, with many Shopify sites ranking poorly in speed tests. Take global fitness apparel brand Gymshark, for example, who scored just 6 out of 100 for speed. Having recently been valued at a staggering $1.3 billion, it’s safe to say that this Shopify Plus success story is doing just fine despite its single-figure speed score.

Closer to home, one of our clients scores just 4 out of 100 for speed (largely caused by conversion rate optimisation testing on the site), yet has seen phenomenal revenue growth in recent months (we’re talking seven figures!). Less than a year after the first A/B test went live on their store, they’ve seen a staggering 3902% ROI. This demonstrates that, with the right efforts (a tailored conversion rate optimisation strategy in this case), ecommerce growth can occur irrespective of your speed score.

Why the low scores though? Here’s Swanky’s Founder & Director, Dan McIvor, to give his take on the issue:

“Store speed is a really complex issue, but, in a nutshell, Shopify sites use technologies and configurations that tend to lower the Google Lighthouse performance score. 

Speed testing tools like Google Lighthouse are looking for specific technologies and configurations that they expect to see on ‘traditionally speedy sites’ – if these are missing, they are taken as indicators of a site’s potential to be faster. 

However, Shopify uses its own unique set of architectures, technologies and configurations, specifically tailored to the platform and optimised to service its 800,000+ stores. The result is that Shopify sites get penalised because testing tools can’t find the traditional technologies in use. Instead, they incorrectly take Shopify’s tailored optimisations as indicators of a slow store.

Another factor to take into account is that most speed tools generate scores based on total site loading speed, which doesn’t measure the actual visitor experience. This simply measures the time from request to last byte – an approach that seems to disregard the way the web actually works.

Web browsers load the minimum content required to render the page (at which point the visitor can begin browsing) and then load below-the-fold images, non-blocking Javascript etc. afterwards. Web users don’t wait for an ecommerce store page to load each and every element before they start interacting. Instead, the time that matters is how long they wait until they can begin viewing and interacting with a page.”

Don’t obsess over a higher score

With a speed score placed in a prominent position on your Shopify dashboard, it could be easy to over-prioritise your efforts in this area, and very tempting to chase the best score possible. It’s only natural to want to improve, especially when you’re being compared to similar stores.

However, whilst store speed can be an important factor for search rankings and customer experience, it could be stealing the spotlight from other, more commercially valuable aspects of your ecommerce business. 

Ultimately, if your store feels good loading on a real device, and doesn’t feel noticeably slower than your competitors, there are more than likely more important things to focus on than increasing your speed score.

The importance of data-backed decisions when making site changes

There are endless resources out there that suggest ways to improve your store speed, but it’s important to remember that the advice you read is often overly generic. Each store is unique, so speed issues shouldn’t be tackled with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. 

When it comes to making changes to your online store to improve performance, we always recommend taking a data-driven, commercially-minded approach. Here’s our Head of Operations, Ben Homer, to explain in more detail:

“For ecommerce sites, there’s always going to be a trade-off between functionality and speed. When trying to make improvements to your store performance, testing is crucial. Look at what the data’s telling you. If not, you could unwittingly decrease revenue in the pursuit of a higher speed score.

For instance, say you decide to remove a video from your homepage in an attempt to improve your site speed. Whilst this may give you a better speed score and potentially improve your search ranking (thereby making your store more discoverable and contributing to increased revenue), this same tweak could decrease trust and product understanding (leading to a decrease in conversions and dip in sales).” 

Final takeaway

If a low speed score has sparked panic in your ecommerce team, it’s time to stop torturing yourselves.

Unless there are clear problems with the time your site takes to display content (we’re talking more than around five seconds), we’d recommend concentrating your time and resources on conversion-boosting tactics that can drive real results for the customer experience and your bottom line.

And remember, avoid making changes to your store based on guesswork and assumptions. Instead, use A/B testing to validate your decisions, and let the numbers do the talking! 

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With a decade of experience in the industry, it’s safe to say that our team of experts know a thing or two about ecommerce. To find out more about our wide array of launch and growth services, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!

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