Is the New Web.Dev a Good SEO Tool?

At the 2018 Chrome Developer Summit Google announced a new tool, Web.Dev, an online website auditing tool.

WebDev Audit Score Card
WebDev Audit Score Card

The online tool executes the Chrome Lighthouse tests against your web page. Right now it is not clear what constraints are used to run the new online test.

Is it a mobile viewport or desktop? Is the network high speed or 3G?

These are just some of the constraints that make a difference.

Typical Lighthouse Constraints
Typical Lighthouse Constraints

Based on my quick analysis the site is mobile over a 3G simulation. This should be a reasonable simulation of a worst-case scenario. I always like testing against tough constraints because they really expose a page's weak spots that may otherwise go unnoticed.

WebDev Report Metrics
WebDev Report Metrics

Right now, the site is in a 'beta' state. And trust me, it may look good, but it is very limited in what it reports.

For now, I still recommend using a combination of Lighthouse from Chrome's developer tools (F12) and the node module. You will get a much more detailed report.

You can click a link above your score to view the report. It is a trimmed down version of what you get in the Lighthouse tool. You can also download the raw report and import it into a viewer.

Lighthouse Scorecard Metrics
Lighthouse Scorecard Metrics

Comparing to WebHint

Last year the Microsoft Edge team released WebHint (formally called SonarWhal) a similar tool. The Microsoft tool is similar as it is also available as a node module you can automate your testing with. WebHint.io currently provides a more detailed online report and is much more technical.

I suspect Google will eventually make Web.dev report more complete, my guess is they are gathering telemetry to determine what to visually surface to reach the bulk of potential users.

I like the convenience of these online auditing tools. But right now web.dev is rather limited.

SEO Implications

I found it rather humorous to see how the SEO/marketing world reacted to the web.dev announcement. It seemed to ruffle some feathers because it has a group of tests under the category or SEO.

The test it performs are rather simple. I think the SEO professionals are worried clients will assume these limited test points as a complete set of items to measure for an SEO audit. They could potentially use this 'weak' set of tests to cause unnecessary friction with the search engine optimization professional.

Barry Swartz did a Twitter Poll asking is Google should show SEO Scores or not.

Should Google Show SEO Scores Poll
Should Google Show SEO Scores Poll

On the SEO 101 podcast hosts Ross Dunn and John Carcutt covered the new online tool and made some good points.

  • Calling it an 'SEO Score' is ridiculous
  • Worried the Tool Will Give False Positive or False Negative Feeling about SEO Health
  • Search Console Provides Better SEO Feedback
  • The tests and scoring is opinionated

But let's be honest, the average online business stakeholder won't come across web.dev, at least for a while. And if they do it should spur more demand for professional SEO services. It may also cause them to seek out more knowledge about the topic.

I also think Google has made it clear the 'SEO' component is a very high level and first pass at 'SEO'. It only tests for some basic on page aspects that can affect your ability to earn organic placements.

The Lighthouse SEO test for 11 items with 2 recommended manual items to check:

  1. Has a meta viewport tag with width or initial-scale
  2. Document uses legible font sizes (>= 12px)
  3. Document has a title element
  4. Document has a meta description
  5. Links have descriptive text
  6. Document has a valid hreflang
  7. Document has a valid rel=canonical
  8. Document avoids plugins
  9. Page has successful HTTP status code
  10. Page isn’t blocked from indexing
  11. robots.txt is valid

These are common 'quick check' items I look for when I do an SEO audit. Most quality SEO professionals will look at those tests as very high level because each one has more depth that needs to be checked. Things like how long is your Title value, is your primary keyword included? Does that value encourage clicks, etc?

The manual check items are:

  • Page is mobile friendly
  • Structured data is valid

While the last two items can be tested with automated tools, it is not currently included in Lighthouse.

Here is why I like about these tests, they cover simple items almost anyone can understand and correct, at least at a high level.

Why?

Google crawls billions and billions of pages every month. They collect massive amounts of data and see common trends. Even though most sites are created using a content management system (CMS) or other platform these important items are often omitted or done incorrectly?

Trust me there are still millions of websites and pages out there using Flash, even though it has completely been deprecated.

More to Web.dev Than a Site Audit

If all you see on web.dev is the online auditing tool then you are missing some valuable content in the 'Learn' section. Currently there are 6 categories of content:

  • Fast Load Times
  • Network Resilience
  • Safe and Secure
  • Easy Discoverability
  • Installable
  • Accessible to All

Each one of these topic areas takes you to additional topics with more detailed information. The articles included are what I would call 101 or introductory level content, but something everyone can read and get a general understanding of the concept covered.

If you are an expert in service workers, like me, you may find the content too simple, but you need to realize there are very few experts in some of these important areas. The content is designed to reach the masses, that have little to no knowledge of these topics. Google is trying to educate as many as possible about common best practices and to do that they need to make the complex concepts approachable.

Summary

The truth about web.dev, webhint.io, Lighthouse and other website technical auditing tools is they are all SEO tools. They are designed to highlight a web page's weaknesses. If you address these weaknesses your pages will earn better rankings and a higher level of user satisfaction.

I think SEO professionals have overreacted and focused only on a small portion of the web.dev audit because it is labeled SEO. They should look at everything the tool measures.

The new web.dev site is a tool, a simple tool at this point. It is not designed to be a thorough evaluation of any web page or site, especially as it pertains to SEO. It is a high-level tool designed to highlight common mistakes many sites are making so the owners can take some action.

If you want a more complete SEO audit please contact us and we can perform a more professional SEO audit that covers lots of on page, technical aspects of your site, your current search profile as well as your competition’s strengths and weaknesses.

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