The critical signal to the visitor

There are many measurements of how quickly a website loads, but ‘First Contentful Paint’ is a simple and easy to understand metric. This is the length of time it takes for something meaningful to appear on screen. It is in contrast to ‘First Paint’, which is the time taken for anything visual to happen, including a change of background colour or something like that.

The ‘content’ in First Contentful Paint could be text or an image, but it’s the critical signal to the visitor that they’ve ‘got through’ to the site. You wouldn’t want anyone to wait more than about 2–3 seconds for this. Getting people to your site is expensive, and it’s criminal to then risk them clicking ‘back’ while the page loads because it looks like nothing’s happening. In addition, we all now know about the importance which Google attaches to page loading speed, and its contribution to search engine ranking.

How do we measure First Contentful Paint? It’s part of the free report which you can get on your site in GTMetrix – just run the report and click ‘Timings’ to see how you score. Try the exercise on some other sites, especially ones you use often, and see how you compare.

You may also come across ‘First Meaningful Paint’, which attempts to quantify the time to something ‘meaningful’ appearing. This is difficult to define, but may be of interest. You can investigate this using Google’s Lighthouse tool.