Having fast page load times is crucial for SEO success. It’s a strong ranking factor and indicates to search engines that you have a healthy, well maintained, high-quality site.
Not only is it important to search engines, but your users will also thank you for having a fast site. When was the last time you waited around for longer than a couple of seconds for a page to load on your browser? Probably years, with lightning fast internet and a growing culture of impatience, we all expect sites to load instantaneously.
What does Google say about page load speed?
Google is by no means the only search engine out there but it does have 82% of the market share in the UK and is the main focus for most sites when they want to improve their SEO due to the huge amount of traffic it generate. So, what does it have to say about speedy websites?
“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests.” – Google Webmaster Blog
This might have been published way back in 2010 but its still relevant today. In 2018, optimising your website speed is not just an option, it’s a necessity, as in July Google released its Page Speed Update. Although speed has been used in ranking for since 2010, when first considered a factor, it was focused on desktop searches. With the Page Speed Update, it is now also a ranking factor for mobile searches.
How your visitors are affected by slow page load times
It’s not just Google’s crawlers that are negatively affected by slow pages, users are too which in turn is affecting your bottom line.
According to the NN Group, 47 per cent of visitors expect a website to load in less than 2 seconds, and 40 per cent of visitors will leave the website if the loading process takes more than 3 seconds.
There are some simple steps you can take to optimise your page speed that in the long run will be well worth the time you invest in them through improved SEO and customer retention. But the first step to making improvements is knowing where you are starting from, and in order to do that you need to check the page load times on your website.
Checking your sites page load times
There are a few free tools you can use to assess the load times on your website. By analysing your current speed and determining where your site is falling behind you can improve your SEO and maximise the high-quality organic traffic to your site.
Page Speed Insights
This is Google’s tool so will give you accurate readings of how Google’s crawlers will measure your site. It rates your website from 0 to 100 for both desktop and mobile and gives you a list of improvements you can make to your website in order of importance.
Pingdom gives you a slightly more in-depth report of your site speed and has the advantage of allowing you to test from multiple locations. For example, if most of your traffic is coming from the UK you can test from a London, UK server but if you are an international business you can also test from locations such as Washington D.C, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Sydney.
How fast should your site be?
If you’re not familiar with SEO it can be difficult to know whether the results you get are good or bad but as a good rule of thumb, you can look at page load speeds as falling into 3 categories:
- < 1 seconds: Excellent
- < 2.5 seconds: Acceptable
- > 2.5 seconds: Poor
How can you optimise your page load speed?
Images are probably the asset biggest in size on your website. They are an important design element and totally necessary in getting your users attention and converting customers but they all need to be downloaded from your server to your visitor’s device before they can be displayed.
By scaling your images appropriately and reducing their file size before uploading them to your site you can dramatically reduce page load times.
Get rid of unnecessary plugins
There are a tonne of great free and paid plugins out there that you may think are adding something useful to your site, while some are, some are not worth the resources they take up.
Every plugin you add delays your sites response and page load time so by removing any unnecessary plugins you can quickly shave off some milliseconds on your load speed.
Use browser caching
Ensure each page does not have more than one redirect
Redirects are definitely necessary and help stop 404 errors which can negatively impact SEO and user experience. Use 301 for permanent redirects such as a URL change or removed content and 302 for temporary redirects such as site maintenance or temporary promotions.
Keep your scripts below the fold
You know when you’ve got a bunch of files you want to send in an email but they’re too big to send so you zip them? Well, compression is like that but for your website.
It can significantly reduce the size of your page and therefore the time it takes to load by giving your visitors less data to download.
Compression is a server setting so you may have to contact your hosting company to have it enabled on your site.
As users have higher expectations and demands for richer and more engaging content the size of your site will continue to grow but with a little attention to detail and by optimising pages you can ensure that this does not negatively impact user experience or SEO through slow page load times.
Read our Free Guide: What is Digital PR? to find out how digital PR can boost your SEO through link acquisition
Post published on Thursday November 8, 2018