If you’re looking to boost your website’s SEO rankings or increase the amount of time that users interact with your site, you might be overlooking one crucial component: page speed.
Having the right keywords or mounting the right Google Adwords campaign will only get you so far in terms of reaching more visitors online. While we don’t know exactly how Google’s ranking algorithms work, we do know that page speed, or the amount of time it takes your website to load, is a factor. The faster your website loads, the higher it will rank in Google’s search results.
But ranking aside, increasing your page speed will make your website more attractive to your users and could turn some of those page views into actual customers.
You can increase your page speed by:
- compressing and optimizing your content
- getting rid of landing page redirects
- removing expired links
- cleaning up your source code.
How Google page speed affects SEO
We know that Google uses a variety of factors when ranking webpages for a search query. The site’s URL, keywords in the header, meta description, and text, as well as inbound and outbound links are what most web marketers use to boost the search ranking of a website.
But back in 2010, Google announced that site speed or load time would also play a role in determining the search rankings of a website. The reasoning behind this decision was that Google didn’t want to send its users to slow or unresponsive websites.
Google wants to be the king of search queries and directing Internet users to fast, relevant web content is the best way to achieve this goal.
Relevancy of a webpage’s content is still the number-one factor when ranking search results. But, that doesn’t mean that speed shouldn’t be among a web marketer’s top concerns. A recent study by Moz shows that, surprisingly, a webpage’s load time, or the amount of time it takes the entire webpage to load, doesn’t have a strong bearing on its ranking in Google’s search results. But the study did find that a webpage’s time to first byte or TTFB, the time it takes the server to load the first byte of information, had a sizeable effect on a website’s search rankings.
So, what does all this mean? Clearly, Google is giving a preference to websites with a strong back-end infrastructure with reliable widespread servers. As much as Google may love to see its highest-ranking webpages fully loaded in two seconds or less, the time it takes a webpage to load completely largely depends on dozens of factors including the user’s web browser and Internet connection.
When Google’s web crawlers sort through the entire Internet, it’s easier for them to measure a website’s time to first byte than it is for them to measure a webpage’s complete load time. With that in mind, decreasing the time to first byte involves building a more robust back-end infrastructure, usually in the form of a content delivery network. More on that in a moment.
Conversion rates and page speed
As you examine your website’s page speed, here are a few statistics to keep in mind.
- According to Google, 53% of all mobile websites are abandoned by the user if the site takes more than three seconds to load.
- The average mobile website takes around 19 seconds to load, but reducing the load time to five seconds can result in 25% more visibility, 70% longer viewing sessions, and up to twice the amount of mobile ad revenue.
- Forbes also mentions that getting the best conversion rates means reducing load time to 1.8 seconds on desktops, 2.7 seconds on mobile devices, and 1.9 seconds on tablets.
How to improve page speed
Now that you have a general understanding of page speed and conversion rates, here’s how you can improve your page speed and stay in Google’s good graces.
Compress and optimize your images
If you own a website, chances are that your pages are filled with flashy, high-definition images. But, displaying all that additional content comes at a price. Every time a user tries to load your website, the server must download those images, which can significantly impede your load time.
If your website is displaying images hosted on another website, you should try downloading the images and hosting them locally. This means that the image file is being stored on the server that hosts your website.
Once you have control over the image, you can compress it to a smaller format. The smaller the image file, the less time it takes the server to download it. Pretty simple, right? But, make sure that the dimensions of the photo (width x height) are the same as the image’s display window. Different types of image files such as PNG and JPEG come with different considerations. PNG files tend to be larger than JPEG files because they have transparent layers that take up unnecessary storage space, usually for graphics and moving images. PNG files are lossless, which means that the image will contain the same visual elements regardless of how much you’ve compressed the file. If you condense JPEG files, certain visual images will be removed.
You can also try using a lossless image compression plugin that automatically adjusts the size of your images depending on what kind of device is interacting with your website. If a user is loading your website on a mobile device with a screen the size of their palm, the images will be downgraded to a smaller size. If you’re hosting your website on WordPress, you can download the Smush plugin or the EWWW Image Optimizer Cloud plugin to resize your images. You can also resize your images using FLIF and upload the smaller file to any web host.
Another method includes converting all your images into a single file using what’s known as a CSS sprite, which compiles all your images into a single server request. Instead of requesting each image individually, the server downloads one file that contains all your website’s images. You can try generating a CSS sprite using free tools online such as Toptal or the Retina CSS Sprite Generator.
Consider investing in a CDN
A content delivery network or CDN is a system of different servers or networks located around the world that distribute content to users in a timely manner. The CDN stores copies of the pages on your website and sends them out to users within a particular geographic region. When a user clicks on your website, the CDN will specify the closest server based on the user’s geographic location. Instead of sending content halfway across the globe the moment the user clicks on your website, which can take a while, the CDN sends the user content from a nearby server. This can dramatically decrease your website’s load time because the content is physically closer to the user that’s trying to access your site.
Utilizing a CDN really comes in handy if you have a website with global reach. If you’re trying to deliver content to users from several different continents, you’re better off with a CDN. If you’re focusing on users within a particular neighborhood such as “homeowners in the Philadelphia area”, don’t waste your money on a CDN.
A CDN can be particularly helpful when it comes decreasing your website’s overall load time and for decreasing the time to first byte. As previously noted, Google tends to focus more on the latter, giving preference to websites with strong back-end infrastructures, or those that use CDNs.
A CDN will also provide your website with added security, protection against surges in traffic, and in-depth data as to where your users are located, when they’re logging on, and what devices they’re using to access your website. According to Akamai, one of the world’s largest content delivery systems, CDNs are responsible for carrying nearly half the world’s Internet traffic. If you plan on scaling up the reach and functionality of your website, a CDN is worth the investment.
Minify your source code
The code the brings your website to life can easily be filled with all kinds of redundancies and inefficiencies like extra spaces or tabs, line breaks, or unnecessary characters. Unless you’re a master coder, you probably won’t be able to remove these redundancies yourself. Sit down with your coder and try to condense your source code as much as possible. The longer your code is, the longer it takes the server to parse through the information. This is what’s known as minification, or the act of removing all unnecessary characters from a piece of code.
There’s an ongoing heated debate in the tech community as to whether coders should use spaces or tabs. It’s difficult to say which one is more efficient. But regardless of whether you use spaces or tabs, stick with one instead of switching between the two.
Get rid of automatic redirects
Some websites automatically redirect to a mobile version of the site when the user tries to load the site on their mobile device. For example, your URL might normally register as AwesomeWebsite.com, and then redirect to the mobile version, m.AwesomeWebsite.com. When this happens, the server must load both websites in order to redirect the user.
To fix this issue, try hosting your website on a mobile-responsive platform. This means that instead of redirecting mobile users from your homepage to a mobile-friendly version of your website, the hosting platform will immediately load the correct version of your website depending on what type of device the request comes from. This simplifies the server request without the additional step of redirecting the user. If you’re not sure if your hosting platform is mobile responsive, contact customer service.
Remove Expired Links
This one should be relatively self-explanatory, but it does require a bit of routine upkeep. SEO best practices tell us that adding more outbound links can help boost a website’s search rankings, but many of those links could expire at a moment’s notice. Some websites, pages or articles can disappear, which means that the link on your website is worthless. When a user clicks on the link, they’ll see a “This site can’t be reached” page. As annoying as those expired links can be, they will also slow down your website.
When the user tries to load your website, the server tries to include the link until it comes up empty-handed. This confuses the server and interrupts the load process, adding a second or more to your website’s load time. Be diligent and make a habit of going through your website to look for expired links.
See how your website measures up
You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get a better idea of how fast your website will load for Internet users all over the world. The tool will also give you tips on how you can improve the speed of your site.
You can use the tool to monitor the speed of your site across three categories:
- page load time as it relates to different web browsers and geographic regions
- load time as it relates to a specific user interaction such as clicking on a button or completing a task
- how quickly the web browser makes your source code document available for user interaction.
To get started, paste your website’s URL into the PageSpeed Insights tool to get a better sense of how your users view and interact with your website at any given time. Once you have an idea of how fast or slow your website loads for the user, you can start optimizing your content and source code to improve your Google page speed score.
Remember that page speed, whether it’s load time or the time to first byte, will affect both your SEO rankings and the overall user experience of your website, leading to more customer conversions. Use these tips to reduce inefficiencies and make your website the speed racer it was always meant to be. Your customers will thank you.