Having fast, accessible websites that are easy to use is critical for publishers – particularly as book sales migrate online, albeit temporarily, due to COVID-19. Google Lighthouse is a free-to-use automated tool that publishers can use to audit their sites and will generate a report that scores on performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, SEO and more.
This article will explore some typical recommendations from Google Lighthouse in the following areas:
- performance – how long a web page takes to load
- accessibility – the ability of users to access the site regardless of disability or impairment
- SEO – ensuring the site follows SEO best practices
You can run Google Lighthouse from the DevTools within the Chrome browser or install it as a Chrome Extension. For full instructions on how to generate a shareable report on your site visit https://developers.google.com/web/tools/lighthouse.
Sites that are slow to load or that freeze while the user interacts with the page have high bounce rates and low conversions. In fact 53% of users report that they abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load (source: SOASTA Google study report). Google has found that page speed load is three times more important to users than the appearance of a site. Load times on mobile are crucial particularly for SEO as Google is now starting to prioritise mobile sites ahead of desktop versions.
Some of the ways that Google Lighthouse suggests improving site speeds are:
Properly sizing images
Images that are larger than the size they are rendered slows down your loading time. It is a good idea to use ‘responsive images’ where different versions of the same image are served depending on the size of the user’s screen. Another option is to use SVG graphics rather than pixel based images which can scale to any size.
Google recommends configuring your web server to allow browsers to cache (temporarily store) larger files on your site such as images. This means that on repeat visits browsers can access this stored copy rather than having to fetch it from the server.
Making sure that your website is accessible to those using screen readers or other assistive technologies is important for inclusivity. It is also required by the EU Web Accessibility Directive.
Some of the accessibility best practices that Google Lighthouse checks for are:
Alt attributes for images
Image elements that convey information to the reader should include some alternative text that describes the content of the image. Screen readers have TTS (text-to-speech) engines that can read the text aloud or alternatively the reader can convert it to Braille.
Labelled form elements and buttons
Labels should be used to identify and explain the purpose of form elements such as text fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, and drop-down menus. Sighted readers can usually derive the purpose of these elements from visual cues.
For more information about how to make sure your site is accessible or to perform an accessibility review visit aXe Accessibility Engine.
Using Google Lighthouse can significantly improve your site’s SEO ranking. It might alert you to issues with the below:
Meta description tags can be added to the head of any page in your website like this <meta name=”Description” content=”Put your description here.”> Descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results and relevant descriptions improve search results.
Legible font sizes
Font sizes smaller than 12px can be hard to read on mobile and force the reader to zoom in to view your content. Google Lighthouse recommends that at least 60% of the text on your page should be at least this size.
Google Lighthouse also checks that there are no meta or header tags on your site that could be preventing search engines from indexing it.
Clearly the above is not an exhaustive list of all the information that is available to publishers via Google Lighthouse. It’s a powerful tool to overhaul your website or reassure you that you are following best practices.
We pour a huge amount of attention into our web content, and we want it to work hard for us. Google Lighthouse helps us make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible, as effectively as possible – so it’s well worth having a look and giving it a try for yourself.
Anna Cunnane is Systems & Data Manager at Abrams & Chronicle Books. She is a former London Book Fair Trailblazer winner and a Bookseller Rising Star. In her spare time she is learning Front End Web Development.