After spending a lot of time dealing with Core Web Vitals and Google Search Console, I came to a realization. WordPress themes are great because they come with a lot of the functionality already provided for you. All that you really need to do is some customization here and there to make it yours. However, there is a catch to all of this functionality. All of the functionality is CSS and JS heavy and can really weigh your website down. All of this weight increases your page load time, which results in low page speed scores from Page Speed Insights. I am still reeling from raising these page speed scores. Then they eventually hit a peak because I reached a point where peeling anything else back will just stop pages from working. I get it. If you want a website that does a lot, then it weighs a lot. That is just common sense. Yes, I optimized the web pages without sacrificing much functionality, but still. I wish that the WordPress theme was just fast from the get-go and I build out the functionality as needed.
So I came looking for a new WordPress theme, something that is just lightweight and fast. Something that just had the minimum where a developer like me can just add whatever is needed later. Rather than having way too much to start with and peeling layers of functionality off. I see this as more of a learning experience than anything. So this is where I randomly stumbled upon a WordPress theme called GeneratePress. For starters, this theme is free and offers a paid option with more themes and support. A developer like myself enjoys WordPress hooks and can get by with the Gutenberg Block Editor. So here I am, hoping that starting off with a very fast and feather-light theme will be the ticket to getting my articles on this website ranked on Google. I am very excited about this journey. So let us get into it and let me share you my thoughts on GeneratePress.
Good for Simple Purely Informational Websites
I started off by saying that CSS and JS heavy websites carry too much weight on them. You really do not see how many pounds they have on the scale until you run a speed test. Some people say that the speed scores do matter in Google search engine rankings, others do not. My personal opinion on this topic is that since the speed scores come from Google themselves and you are trying to rank your web pages on their search engine, then it would not hurt to take this seriously. If this were Bing, then you can just skip it. Google currently holds 92% of the search engine market share. So I would say, do it. I do think that speed scores are a factor because Google is checking to see how fast your pages load and also how stable your layout is. A stable layout is part of the user experience and the metric that I am referring to is cumulative layout shift. So websites that are purely blogs with mainly just text, some images and video are good candidates to use a WordPress theme like GeneratePress. If you expect to use this theme on something that is more of an application than just a website, then you will have a lot of your hands to deal with. I mean, I am sure that it can be done, just that you will do most of the work yourself but be in full control of what CSS and JS are weighing your application down.
Page Speed Scores in the High 90s! Could this be the One?
The search for being found on Google is also a search for a good WordPress theme with high page speed scores. Normally, your mobile scores are lower than your desktop scores. The reason why is because our phones tend to be weaker than a larger device like a full-fledged device that has more computational power. Some larger devices like desktops are sometimes physically connected to the Internet with an ethernet cable. So desktops will benefit from stable speeds than phones that either live off Wi-Fi or their mobile networks. So most of our efforts are spent on raising mobile speed scores and they can vary so much from desktop scores. For example, you can have a mobile score of 60 and desktop of 95. Such a huge discrepancy right? With everyone moving toward phones over large stationary desktops or even laptops, your mobile scores will not become more important in the future. This is why I am discussing page speed scores in such great length because Google will value your mobile pages more as part of their “mobile first” initiative. What this means is that Google will focus on your mobile pages more than desktop when it comes to valuing the worth of your website. So responsive design becomes even more crucial.
When I first tested a page that used GeneratePress and saw both mobile and desktop scores of 100, I was shocked! No like really, that was the first time that I saw any website that could reach such high scores. I mentioned the lack of all that heavy CSS and JS that plagues other WordPress themes. What else could it be? For one thing, I think that Google Fonts are nice but are basically a luxury. If your pages can handle the weight of adding Google Fonts, sure why not? But we have gotten along with just the basic standard fonts, like Arial. Nothing is wrong with arial. This is the most basic san-serif font that just works. In an effort to make our pages look fancy, somehow we all got caught up in the idea that we needed really fancy fonts. Do we? Sort of yes, sort of no. The fancy Google Fonts are what I would think, used for branding purposes to make your website standout. I just think that if you have good unique content that showcases your knowledge, you can get by with Arial. You can really get by with just good content, if your content is really that good.
Default WordPress Themes 2022 and 2021 Just Not Up to Snuff
Speaking of Google Fonts, the 2022 WordPress theme uses them and I have a feeling that it was what caused the mobile page speed scores to be low sometimes. I would see low 90s on some tests and then run them again a few times, dropping down to 60! A 30 point fluctuation. You can say, well you know, that 60 was just on one of those tests. Not all of the time. Yes you are right, the page speed scores are just a snapshot of the page at that moment in time. Just like device connection speed can vary throughout the day, so can the page scores. Since the scores consider user connection speed (mostly in Lighthouse, which is another topic for another article), maybe I just hit it at the wrong time. Anyway, matter not to me. I do not want to see scores that low. Even websites with very low mobile scores in the 30s still rank high on Google.
The trick to ranking high on Google is loosely based on this equation:
Content + Page Load Time (Speed Scores) + User Experience + Changing Google Algorithm = Google Search Engine Ranking
Notice that the first three parts of the equation are parts that you can control. To give everyone a fair change at ranking, Google throws in an unknown variable, their ranking algorithm that changes every now and then. Think of the ever-changing ranking algorithm as a way to shuffle everyone around so that others have a shot of being on the first page of the Google search engine result pages (SERP). Some websites will move up, some down, some will stay up. For those who move down, this gives them an incentive to not be complacent. Time to maintain your SEO and move back up the rankings. Also, this makes them consider if they want to go the inorganic paid advertisement route. Not my cup of tea as a developer. Developers are all about organic traffic. That is where our skills lie, in getting free traffic. I tried the 2021 theme with this website and the page speed scores are better than the 2022 theme. Still, 2021 did not beat GeneratePress. So I changed theme after theme and then found GeneratePress.
The Hunt for the “Best” WordPress Theme
I was just like, when you have a simple website, how hard it is to find a good WordPress theme. I just want fast, that is all. No weight at all. Then I found GeneratePress, saw the page speed score and was sold. This is important for later because I might start to add some CSS and JS that might weigh the website down. I do not plan to do so now because I want to reap the benefits of a high speed score and seeing my content rank on Google. If you think about when newspapers were still popular, they were just blank ink text on gray paper. You had images with the stories to illustrate a point but that it was it. Basically, it was a very plain layout that just worked and everyone read the newspaper just fine. Then came magazines of colors and digitized web pages that could animate and move. From the beginning, newspapers understood that a simple layout that gave users information that they are looking for is what just worked. If it works, it works, no need to over complicate it. Sometimes when I see websites that have images moving around and you need to scroll or click all over the place to find something, I am just like, “Too busy”. Overly complicated websites are too distracting and moving elements on a page cause our eyes to deviate away from what we are reading. Keeping this in mind, I really enjoy the simplicity of GeneratePress, it just gives you what you need, nothing more.
Issues With CSS/JS Heavy Websites: Low Speed Scores and Long Page Load Times
I talked quite a bit about this already but I want to touch upon why lots of CSS and JS can really be a drag on your website. Now I mentioned that web pages that are more like applications are just inherently complex and cannot avoid lots of CSS and JS. So we all know that there are exceptions to the rule. I will have to give a pass to web applications because they need all of that CSS and JS to work. There is just no way around it. CSS and JS are just doing what they are meant to do. CSS will make the application look pretty and JS will make it interactive and draw in data. For all of those other websites, go easy on this stuff. When you are adding stuff to your website, you are making an assumption that someone will use it. Will they use it? Maybe. Just like an impression versus a click. An impression is just when your website shows up on Google. Will they click on it? Depending, you are competing with all the other websites both above and below you. Toss this chance up in the air because it all depends on your audience.
It’s All About SEO and that Organic Free Traffic
I mentioned organic traffic, which comes from search engines earlier, but there are some things that I want to add. Relying solely on inorganic traffic is bad because you basically bypass all of the protocols that Google put in place to rank your website. With inorganic traffic, you have paid ads that will show up at the top of page one depending on how much you are willing to pay for each click (PPC). However, the problem with this is that there is no check of how good your content is, how fast it loads and how stable it appears for users. So you are just paying money to say, “This is good enough, now just put it up there and see what happens”. Expensive keywords can eat up a monthly advertising budget quickly. So unless you fork over more dough, then you will exhaust your advertising funds and revert back to relying on organic traffic. If you do have organic traffic to use as a fallback, then your website will literally fall through the cracks. Plus, if you rank high organically, then you know that your website is good because Google has deemed it so. Google likes your website and places it higher above others. This is the whole point of Google. The search engine is there to serve the best online content to people, so if Google likes you, Google wants people to see what you have to offer on your website.
Good Content + High Page Scores + User Experience = JackPot?
After discussing each of these topics, I want to bring them together. Let us call them the “trifecta”, good content, high page speed scores and a great user experience. Is that all that is needed to rank high? As my article has stated, each part of the equation has a lot of technical intricacies that make it tricky but fun. Once you get a hang of this for yourself, you start to see how each piece works. If you really work on each piece then you will rank. If you have something to share with the world, just remember so do the rest of us. So much competition to rank on Google for so many topics that have already been done. So the goal is to try to add your unique perspective or spin on things. Perhaps you have a one-of-a-kind experience with something that no one else has had before. Once you know what people are searching for online to find you, then you can hone in and focus on that particular topic. There is a fine balance that you must achieve when it comes to staying within your niche and branching out. What exactly to write about depends on how unique your knowledge is in a certain topic and if it is something that people want to find online. When you do find what works for you, you will rank and hit the jackpot.
Here is once again, to close out another article. I was really excited to write this one because I no longer have to worry about speed scores anymore thanks to GeneratePress. Now I can focus on sharing my hopefully, unique perspective surrounding my profession and see how things go with Google. I am pretty sure that we can all agree that we really just want to share our thoughts with the world and not worry about those page speed scores. Not only is GeneratePress fast but the design layout is clean, simple and works. No Google Fonts needed, just a standard san-serif font. Everything is just nicely placed and not much needs to be changed or moved. So this theme looks great out-of-the-box with very little customization needed. Less time spent on page load times and layout and more on content sounds like a possibly winning plan to me!