Marfeel Team 2020-05-21

What you didn’t know about optimizing ad and page speed (using PageSpeed Insights)

If you know a thing or two about Marfeel, you’re probably aware of our obsession with page speed and Google’s PageSpeed Insights test.  Why? Because testing your website against Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool means you can benchmark against data from “real-world Chrome users who experience popular destinations on the web.” Plus, (and I hope you know) faster websites rank higher in search, and this tool allows us to fill in the gaps to pick up your speed. There’s an issue though: measuring and optimizing page speed without ads is not best practice, although we’ve seen other publishers in the industry inflate speed scores by removing advertising from the audit. To match the complete user experience, you need to follow the guidance of the audit to optimize both ad and page load speed simultaneously. 

Why care about overall page speed?

Simply put, a faster website is your route to the top of the Google rankings. Take a look at the research by Backlinko, where they analyzed over one million Google search engine results pages (SERPs) to figure out the most common factors for top-10 ranking websites. They quickly found that average page load speed for any website was a huge factor in ranking higher:

Source: Backlinko. 

If Google is ranking you according to their own rules, shouldn’t you follow their guidance as close as you possibly can?  For Google’s Performance Score, 80% of the scoring weightings from PageSpeed Insights are dedicated to:

  • Time to interactive (33.3%): How long it takes for a page to become interactive.
  • Speed index (26.7%): How quickly the contents of a page are visibly populated. 
  • First contentful paint (20%): The time from navigation to the time when the browser renders the first piece of content.

To hit all of these standards, you need to audit your site to ensure every element is super lightweight — including your ads. 

How to correctly measure page speed

For publishers, running a display ad is like running a mini website inside your own. In this research by developer Patrick Hulce, he found that roughly 60% of a page’s total loading time is caused by scripts that place ads or analyse user engagement.  Publishers should know that page speed is important. But if your ads are insulated from these improvements, then you’re not optimizing for full mobile performance. We’ve witnessed an example of a publisher whose PageSpeed Insights score has been boosted by removing advertising from the audit. This turns Google’s PageSpeed Insights score into a vanity metric and does not represent the true performance of a mobile website.  The anonymous publisher below ran the audit and achieved an overall score of 91:
page speed insights 

But if you look carefully, not a single line of ad code is listed under 3rd-party resources. This is due to a delay in the javascript that triggers the ads. No wonder the page scored so highly! This is not a real way to measure performance, nor is it approved by Google. To get the most accurate results your website must be crawled in exactly the same way Google, and the user, would experience it.  Therefore, we need to focus on optimizing ad loading times, not just page speed, to achieve elite website performance. 

3 tactics for faster ads and pages 

Through testing and optimizing 1 billion web sessions per month, Marfeel combines sophisticated monetization technology with page load tactics to deliver highly viewable ads that don’t slow down your overall page speed.  These practices include: 
  1. Lazy loading all your page elements, including ads
  2. Fixing ad latency and improving ad viewability 
  3. Implementing server-side header bidding 

1. Lazy load your page elements

Lazy loading is a strategy to render both content and ads at the exact moment your readers are likely to view them. It’s a delivery optimization logic that can save gigabytes in bandwidth, and it’s what Google also uses within AMP to deliver faster content.   By lazy loading ad impressions, you are able to maximize ad viewability on an impression by impression basis, and create a mobile experience for users as though they were scrolling through Instagram. You can lazy load other elements of your page too, including social embeds, images, iFrames, and video players.  
Lazy loading 

After ensuring you’re loading your resources the right way, you need to make sure that your ads deliver. 

2. Improve your ad viewability

Speeding up your website complicates things a little... because now your ads need to run alongside them. If this is not possible, it can cause ad viewability issues. If you think ad viewability is an issue now, just wait until 5G exposes heavy web pages and slow ads for what they are.  To fix ad latency, publishers need to implement tactics that instantly request and deliver the first ad impression faster. This includes prefetching all the connections that will be needed in advance, requesting the ads in order of prioritization, and cutting the weight of monetization code. Marfeel’s product team got to work on this issue and developed a way to decrease the loading time of the first ad by 66%, resulting in up to a 10% increase in revenue for our publisher partners. If you want to learn how, it’s better to hear it from the mouth of our Head of Product in the Fast Ads webinar.  After optimizing your ad infrastructure, you need technology that can deliver demand without compromising page speed.

3. Optimize your header bidding setup

Fact: to get more money through programmatic advertising, you need to introduce more bidders. Research by Prebid shows that increasing the number of bidders for your advertising inventory from 5 to 10 delivers an increase in CPM of around 60%. Simply put, the more bidders, the higher your CPMs.  

Ad speed CPMs 
Source: Prebid. 

However, the difficulty is maximizing monetization from these bidders without impacting your page speed. Client-side header bidding can create a huge number of server requests, and each of those requests has the potential to make your mobile website slower. Server-side header bidding, on the other hand, will speed up your website by shifting this heavy lifting while also ensuring you can collect more bids and improve your yield. It is up to forward-thinking technology like this to close the gap between ads monetization and page speed.

Conclusion: Follow the standards or lag behind

Mobile performance in 2020 tells us to ‘be fast or be ignored’, but we must not neglect the weight of monetization on overall page performance. By optimizing monetization alongside page content, you can deliver a lightning-fast, super-light mobile website that delivers real results in PageSpeed Insights, and real results in your wallet.  At Marfeel, we have taken websites from lowly PageSpeed Insights scores to the top quadrant, always aiming for a score of 80+. Even a score of 79, such as the below, is better than a hoax score of 90+ without ads. 
Lighthouse score
The tactics in this article are just a few ways to produce a faster page speed alongside ad monetization. However, we know there’s a fine line between a strong monetization strategy and a disruptive experience. Overload your page and it will cost you readers. Fail to optimize your ads and leave money on the table.  In our free guide for publishers, 5 tactics to balance UX and monetization, we pulled together more of our own secrets to optimize and monetize every page without turning your readers away.  

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