We’ve all heard of the ‘Project Management Triangle’, right? It’s a model that highlights the three major constraints when it comes to completing a project: speed, cost, and quality. It shows that a project can be delivered fast, cheap, and good – but you can only select two of those options.
For example, if you want a project completed quickly and cheaply, then quality is probably going to suffer. Similarly, if you want it done fast and to a high standard, it’s probably going to cost more.
I’ve been thinking about the Project Management Triangle a lot lately, and I’ve realised that there’s something quite similar in web optimisation. If you think about it, a ‘Website Optimisation Triangle’ would cover design, content, and speed. But once again, you can only choose two of the options.
The possibilities, therefore, would be:
A: A website with a complex design and high volume of content that runs slowly
B: A speedy website with complex design but minimal content
C: A speedy website with plenty of content, but with a very simple look
So what should you pick, A, B, or C? That all depends on the primary success metric.
The truth is that the primary success metric has changed a lot over the years.
Many years ago, a complex design would have been what businesses were aiming for. At a time when the web was still in its early stages, the more complex a website, the more impressive. Bells, whistles, all manner of rich media…. you name it. The more complex the site, the higher the wow factor.
Then came the ‘Content is King’ era; the era of blogging. And suddenly, the primary success metric changed. Design was no longer the big draw for visitors. Regular updates and news stories were.
Today, of course, things are different again. And it’s all down to Google’s Core Web Vitals.
I’ve already talked a lot about the basics of Core Web Vitals in a previous post, so I won’t bore you with the ins and outs. But essentially, Google has developed Core Web Vitals to ensure that every website loads and runs at a speed that generates positive user experiences, with no frustrations.
This massively changes what a successful site looks like. It changes the primary success metric, and it changes the way that priorities are established. It makes speed mandatory, not a ‘nice to have’.
In a way, Core Web Vitals are a little like the Terminator. Core Web Vitals are out there. They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until your website is faster.
What this means is that, if speed is now non-negotiable, then there’s going to have to be some sort of compromise on either complexity of design, or volume of content – or maybe even both.
From the images you choose to the video you embed, there are many, many design and content-related factors that can affect your site’s load speed, and impact your Core Web Vitals score.
A ‘good’ Core Web Vitals score is considered to be less than 100ms, with many website owners aiming for between 90 – 100. But to achieve this, you’re probably going to have to make some compromises. This could mean anything from simply optimising your content in a smarter, more effective way, to actively removing some design elements if they’re really slowing you down.
Design-wise, elements such as form fields and carousels can have some of the biggest impacts on speed. Carousels especially can be problematic from a Largest Contentful Paint perspective, as they’re made up of both large images and multiple lines of text. A good way to see what’s working against you in your design is to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights which shows what’s affecting your LCP. Another factor to consider is whether you’re using any third-party scripts in your design. Research suggests that each additional script can slow a webpage down by as much as 34.1 milliseconds.
Content-wise, the thing to really be aware of is any content that’s located ‘above the fold’, as this can have a huge impact on LCP. It’s generally best practice to keep any ‘above the fold’ content as light as possible. Another factor to consider is optimisation. For example, if you embed videos into a page without optimisation, it’s naturally going to impact your speed. This could be solved by using data compression tools, converting to HTML5-supported formats, or removing audio from muted videos.
Having said all of the above, it’s important to remember that it’s all about finding the right balance.
Contrary to popular belief, Google’s Core Web Vitals isn’t inherently about speed. It’s about providing great experiences for users. Speed just happens to be a big part of that. So we all need to remember that there are going to be times when a certain design element, while not super speedy, helps to create a more immersive experience for users. Or when specific content can help engage and delight.
That’s why I like to think of speed as being part of the triangle, rather than its own all-powerful entity. Speed alone shouldn’t be our entire focus. Instead, it’s OK to look at speed alongside clever design, or rich content. All three together is probably too much, especially with Core Web Vitals being a ranking factor and having an impact on search engine visibility. But, just like with the Project Management Triangle, it’s OK to choose two, depending on what your priorities are.