Mueller: Lighthouse Scores Do Not Affect Google Rankings
Many online businesses and site owners want to try anything they can to boost their website SEO rankings, but there are various black hat tactics out there that might not be healthy for one’s website SEO. Google’s John Mueller recently talked about one such method – faking a site’s Lighthouse scores.
Mueller warned all business owners and publishers to be wary of any SEO agency that promises to boost their rankings by cheating Lighthouse. According to him, faking Lighthouse scores is pretty much useless when it comes to improving a website’s search engine results rankings. He addressed this issue on a Twitter post after a Shopify performance engineer made it known.
Based on what the person said, some Shopify partners may be selling “SEO boosters” that claim to improve website SEO rankings when all these really do is trick Lighthouse scores. The person who brought attention to the issue said that it makes them angry when developers intentionally sell fake SEO services to other site owners and online businesses.
The method not only cheats Lighthouse scores but also hurts the buyer experience, violating policies and guidelines. They added that there would be consequences for anyone who commits such violations.
The person tweeted several examples of how developers fool Google with Lighthouse scores. Some Shopify partners add UA checks for “Chrome-Lighthouse”, then use document.write(). This code directs the site to recognise when Lighthouse runs a test on it.
If the “userAgent” detects “Chrome-Lighthouse”, document.write() will be triggered. It is a technique that wipes the page that just loaded and starts writing something new. Consequently, Lighthouse will not be able to accurately read the site’s score, which is thought to affect SEO positively. However, it only disguises bad scores.
Using “document.write()” will make a page’s contents unclear. Moreover, it is a common way to inject nefarious code into the page.
The issue is that the “if condition” (if window.navigator.userAgent !==Lighthouse) will omit all the CSS, scripts, and other clutter. Since it excludes everything, it makes the web page fast for Lighthouse.
Lighthouse may indeed view the site as fast, but this method cannot trick Google. Mueller shared his insights on this tactic.
Mueller Shares Insights On Fake Lighthouse Scores
It doesn’t matter whether Lighthouse scores are genuine or fake; Google never uses them to rank web pages.
Faking one’s lighthouse scores is a tactic called user-agent cloaking. It can negatively affect one’s SEO because it prevents online businesses and publishers from identifying the real issues on their websites. Mueller said that those who make use of this method are only deceiving themselves, and they won’t see any actual results. If one runs across a plugin that uses this technique, he encourages them to report it to the CMS.
Lighthouse is a developer tool that generates scores depending on lab data; therefore, it does not impact the search results.
As for ranking factors like core web vitals and page speed, Google evaluates these using field data. They collect field data from real users instead of lab data produced using a controlled test. Google prefers to use the former because it accurately reflects the user experience.
Although Lighthouse scores are irrelevant to search, they can help one identify and fix SEO issues, but only if a proper test is done on the website. The test won’t be successful if there is user-agent cloaking in place.
Tricking Lighthouse Results In Worse SEO
The user-agent cloaking technique may load pages faster from Lighthouse’s perspective, but visitors will experience a slow-loading page. Website SEO is based on actual performance, and since tricking Lighthouse results in a slower website, this will lead to a drop in rankings.
Google has already warned developers and online businesses about using “document.wrote()” in 2016, explaining its negative effect on a site’s page performance. The search engine company said that it can delay displaying the main page content for tens of seconds. In some cases, it can take longer than that or cause pages to fail to load, forcing the visitor to give up and move to the next site.
Therefore, online businesses and site owners should not try to cheat Lighthouse nor be deceived by anyone trying to sell this service.
What Is Cloaking, And Is It Recommended?
Many site owners and publishers debate whether or not cloaking is a forbidden SEO technique. Cloaking refers to the act of showing a different URL or content to search engines and users. With cloaking, the user sees the content differently compared to what the search engine is seeing.
Using user-agent cloaking may also cause Google to classify the behaviour as deceptive. In such cases, Google will usually remove the website from its index.
Aside from that, the motivation behind “evil cloaking” is to manipulate or affect search engine rankings to deceive the system. Since this is bad behaviour from Google’s perspective, site owners who use this technique will be given the appropriate penalties.
However, not all cloaking can be considered bad. The technique can be used legitimately if one decides to use it to enhance the user’s experience, such as with geo-cloaking.
For instance, SEOS can use cloaking to simplify URLs since rewriting them can be too time-consuming, complex, and costly. This can help make URLs more spider-friendly, making it easier for search engines to crawl the site. Cloaking eliminates user IDs, session IDs, stop characters, extra flags, and more.
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