We ran the same desktop Google Lighthouse score check on twenty five of the most well-known design agency websites in the city. We were surprised to find that every other homepage had a problematic score in at least one important area. We got a perfect score.
So we tried harder
Most developers think the mobile Lighthouse analysis is for static sites and idealists. But we were emboldened by our success, and wanted to see how far we could get if we actually tried. After all, we’re the pros, right?
Until now, we thought there was a choice to make. Quality, speed, or price: you could have two. It was mostly based on theories about the internals of WordPress: the increase in processing time when pages are rendered by a server in real time. We thought there was no better way to cache our scripts and styles without reaching for a full, front-end framework like React or Vue.
But it is possible to have a full-featured back-end and CMS like WordPress without losing the speed battle. We were wrong, and we admit that. And now we’re here! A perfect mobile Google Lighthouse score to frame in our office.
This is important
It’s a well-known fact that we can’t say enough: if you have a slow website, you’re losing money. As Shopify says, “milliseconds could be costing you millions“. Since Pittsburgh agencies score lowest on the speed part of this challenge, it’s not a guarantee you’ll get what you need from them.
So we’ll make you an offer. We’ll pass along good advice on how we achieved success to individuals, businesses, and agencies alike. And we’re proud to offer a Hundreds Option in our web development quotes that will make sure your next website can compete with modern users’ needs.
Walk through our site. Check the weekly mobile Google Lighthouse score we leave in the footer of our most popular pages. Mobile Lighthouse scores are an achievable metric, and we’d like to inspire you to live by them.
Agency Google Lighthouse score results
We chose the most famous and best-rated Pittsburgh design and web agencies. We made a list of URLs, booted up Chrome, and did a desktop Lighthouse scan of each site’s homepage. We used the same computer (with Apple’s 2023 M2 Max chip) and the same internet connection at the same time of day, to keep results as consistent as possible.
We chose the desktop score out of respect for the agencies on the list. We felt that holding them to the mobile results would be unfair. We might be younger and faster, but we aren’t out to steal your parking spot.
Average total score
The chart below aggregates the four Google Lighthouse scores and ranks them by combined score. The first few agencies gain a perfect score on one or two of the metrics, but the scores quickly trail to a place where every result is lacking.
Without naming names, what struck us most by these rankings was that there was very little correlation between the size of the agency, the minimum budget size, the quality of clients, or their perceived street cred. It was really all over the map.
Here’s a short description of each individual metric in detail:
The Performance score is closely tied to page speed, which significantly impacts user behavior and bounce rates. A delay in page load time makes people move on. If a page takes more than 1 second to load on any device, users notice and think it’s slow. Every additional second in load time decreases user satisfaction by 16% and, more importantly, makes people leave. And mobile devices with smaller CPUs suffer significantly slower load times across the board. Speed is a requirement, but it was a hard metric for most of the sites we reviewed.
Absolute top speed isn’t crucial. But many of these scores were well beyond that 2.4 second threshold where bounce rates start to skyrocket.
The Accessibility score compares a website to standards designed to ensure that the site is usable by people with various disabilities. Non-compliance with WCAG and ADA standards can lead to serious legal repercussions. For instance, in 2022, there were 2,387 web accessibility lawsuits filed under the ADA and the Unruh Act in the United States, highlighting the legal risks associated with non-compliance. These lawsuits often focus on violations of WCAG standards, with penalties for ADA violations ranging from $55,000 to $75,000 for the first offense and up to $150,000 for subsequent violations.
It takes a true expert to even know how to test for accessibility. We know that accessibility plugins and scripts aren’t a simple fix for this. In fact, Google Lighthouse scores for accessibility are considered a low bar.
The Best Practices score checks against modern web development standards, crucial for a site’s security. It encompasses practices like using HTTPS, ensuring correct image ratios, and avoiding deprecated APIs. These are fundamental for a website’s long-term health, for sure, but the big problem is if they’re failing: it’s often a sign of a security or processing vulnerability.
The SEO score is a critical measure of a site’s optimization for search engines. This tool assesses key elements like loading speed, user interactivity, accessibility, and best practices, all of which contribute significantly to a site’s search engine ranking. While the overall Lighthouse score doesn’t directly impact SEO, it relies on the same Core Web Vitals (which do).
We expected this to be the best, because this is what we do as marketing and design agencies, right? But quite a few sites came in with scores below 90. Oof.
Google Lighthouse Score FAQs
Google’s Lighthouse score is an open-source, automated tool designed for improving the quality of web pages. Lighthouse runs a series of tests against a webpage and then generates a report on how well the page did. It audits four areas: performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO. From there, developers can use the failing tests as indicators on what needs to improve. It’s an essential tool for modern web development, ensuring that websites meet current standards and best practices. And if you use Chrome, it’s built in! Try it yourself.
An agency’s website is its showcase, a reflection of its expertise, creativity, and understanding of current trends. We tested against other agency homepages because they’re the embodiment of each agency’s design and technical capabilities. They’re not just portfolios; they’re living examples of their best work. And don’t get us wrong, we really expected to find a lot of perfect scores! We know just how talented our agency counterparts are, and we expect that great work to be on display.
Yes, there are that many agencies and more! And we’ll happily release our selection criteria on request, but we didn’t find it appropriate to publicly publish them.
This is a slippery slope. Famously, Google itself doesn’t have close to a perfect Lighthouse score. We don’t recommend that every website optimize its speed to this level. But if you’re finding yourself with lower than 90s in a category, there’s a systemic issue that should be addressed.
Lighthouse uses your computer and your browser to make its report. If your browser has add-ons or many open tabs, or your computer’s processor isn’t great, we’re sorry to say you can’t blame the internet. That’s why we share our daily, real-time scores through Pittsburgh Speed Challenge [many thanks to Zach Leatherman for the quick and easy site template].
We already did! Leagues Design has our speed package, it’s also got a perfect desktop Lighthouse score, and they pay zero dollars per month in hosting fees.
The first time we scored 100s, we did it with the developer’s favorite speed machine: Jamstack. Leagues Design is built to be fully static, and served directly from Netlify. It has a full, editable CMS too! But that’s even fancier and less relevant to this case study.
Dot Foundry’s company website is a little bit different. We use it to show off everything that your typical marketing website can do, including API crons, user-specific workflows, analytics, and all the other bells and whistles!
We favor a design-focused and simplified layout, but please don’t mistake that for “light”. We have many text and image sections and multiple homepage JS libraries (including one that triggers lottie-based motion graphics). We integrate standard analytics methods. The list goes on.
But just in case that wasn’t enough, we’ve added an ambient, background video CTA just to show off 😉
How we got the perfect Google Lighthouse score
A perfect score requires careful development across every category we can think of. It’s like an A+ on a test – you need to know how to figure out the answer to every question, and every type will be asked at least once. Here are a few ways our build wasn’t performing initially:
SEO and Accessibility were in the bag
We strive to make everything we do accessible and optimized. So we didn’t really have a problem here! The Yoast plugin is always a great starting point for site SEO rankings, and a major reason to use WordPress in the first place. Many sites reach 100 with that plugin alone.
Accessibility relies more heavily on idiomatic development. There were one or two missing fields on sub-pages, but our main page was already optimized to include appropriate image alts, forms, and aria labels for people who use screen readers. (We also make a point of being keyboard-accessible, though that won’t move the Lighthouse needle.)
Lacking server resources
We’ve long been fans of managed WordPress hosting, but we weren’t immediately aware that the cheaper plans give significantly lower resource allocation. Our site was already competing so well in the market that we thought the servers were great! Funny, that.
When we upgraded our server to provide hosting as a service, our speed suddenly and dramatically increased. It was a not so subtle reminder to us that even tech savvy folks get what they pay for.
To solve this, we used a tool baked into WordPress itself. We were already enqueuing all scripts with wp_enqueue_script(), so we simply added a
defer tag with the
Too much included CSS
Using ACF Blocks for this theme had one drawback: WordPress doesn’t know which ACF Blocks are used on a page until it’s rendered the whole page. Luckily, quite a few plugins offer minification, inlining, and even the removal of unnecessary styles. We found one that did the trick marvelously.
We admire the work of leading Pittsburgh agencies. Their websites serve as benchmarks of brand excellence, driving us to elevate our standards. We hope these results foster a sense of healthy competition and continuous improvement. We’ll know we did our job if an article like this, highlighting the importance of Lighthouse scores, sparks a positive turnaround in the industry, encouraging agencies, including ourselves, to push the boundaries of user experience and dedication.
It’s no fluke
Said another way, we didn’t expect Google’s Lighthouse scores to set us apart like this, and we think that firms will make an effort to bridge that gap quickly. But also, it’s not a surprise to us that our sites are so fast. We’re always here to help make, audit, or improve your site too. Just give us a holler if you’d like a Google Lighthouse score ✌️