Website Speed and SEO Ranking

Website Speed and SEO Ranking

In April of 2010, Google announced that website speed is being incorporated as a signal in Google’s ranking algorithm. According to Matt Cutts, it doesn’t carry that much weight, effecting only 1% of search queries. According to Cutts there are about 200 ranking signals, so a website ranks well when it meets as many of the ranking criteria as it can. Why should we care then? Of course, content relevance and website quality and authority mean more to search results than does page load time, but like the sprinter who leans forward at the finish line, every bit helps. The little bump a website might get if it is faster is not really the point though. Website speed effects the visitor experience and optimizing this experience increasing loyalty and conversion.

Decrease bounce rates and increase conversions

Imagine this scenario: a visitor searches for “Best Blue Widgets”. They are comparison shopping. This is an actively engaged visitor who knows what they want and is at a very important part of the buying cycle: decision making.  You need to give them the nudge and perhaps justification to make the purchase. That nudge could be price, product features or customer service.

All things being equal, the website that is faster leans forward and noses across the finish line.

Our visitor finds your site ranked #1 of the top 3, however, your website takes forever to load. After 3 seconds of waiting, they hit the back button and go to website #2. Website #2 prices are higher, though the visitor never saw your lower pricing so doesn’t know this. Website #2 product features are rated “okay” by others compared to more favourable reviews of your product, though that doesn’t matter because they are frustrated by how long it takes to navigate through pages of your site to find the product page. Website #2 customer service is average, but it doesn’t matter because the visitor never read about your stellar customer service, great return policy, and free shipping. All things being equal, the website that is faster leans forward and noses across the finish line.

47% of consumers expect a website to load in less than 2 seconds or less. 40% of consumers will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.KissMetrics

Visitors to slow loading websites become frustrated, form a negative opinion about the website and the brand, and are very likely to hit the back button and chooser a competitor whose product may not be as good as yours, and whose ranking is lower in search results. In search engine optimization, every little boost a website gets helps. Increasing your website’s speed may give you a small bump in ranking and a big bump in visitor retention and conversion. Boosting website load time is not difficult. Speed performance can be increased in a few ways. First by optimizing images, decreasing text file sizes and trips to the server.

How fast should my website be?

Page load time is relative, but if you aim for KissMetrics 2 second or under mark, as suggested by their consumer stats, that’s a good ideal. Some have suggested 1.4 seconds as the ideal load speed likely because of comments by Google speed-nut, Urs Hölzle. Hölzle, Google’s Vice-President of Engineering, has stated that given average bandwidths and page sizes the average load time should be 1.4 seconds. The reality is, the average load time is much higher at  4.9 seconds. Google is concerned about speed because if websites in results are faster, Google retains users. If your website slows Google down, it’s not good for Google. The equation is simple enough, fast websites are good for Google’s business and because Google is the search engine, fast is good for you, too.

How to increase website speed

pingdom-speed-websessiveFirst, you need a benchmark for comparison. Start by visiting the Pingdom Website Speed Test page. Enter your website URL and click “Test Now”. You’ll get a result that looks something like the screenshot to the left.

Pingdom speed test detailsThe speed test gives your page a grade, shows the number of server requests made, load time and page size. It also compares your site to average load times of sites tested. Here is a screenshot of an MSNBC speed test. If this was your site, click the “waterfall” tab and sort by files size. You’ll see immediately that images are the bandwidth hogs. This is where to start, then.

However, in MSNBC’s case scripts are what are taking the most time to load. If this were your website, click the “Page Analysis” tab. Look at the Time Spent For Content Type box. This will give you an indication of what parts of your page are taking longest to load. Is it images, HTML, CSS, scripts? Now that you know what is taking longest on your page to load, you have a better idea of what to reduce. As mentioned, frequently the culprit is images but scripts can also comprise a large chunk of load time.

Google Page Speed

After you get a general idea how your site stacks up against others tested by Pingdom, visit Google Page Speed. Test your site and and attend to the issues that appear in the left sidebar.

Optimize images

Are you exporting images as the correct file type? Ensure you are using gif and jpeg appropriately. JPEG works best for detailed images such as photos or graphics with gradients and many colours, whereas GIF works best for flat areas of colour and blocky hard-edge design and fonts. Finding optimal export settings for jpg and gif files is a balancing act. It’s always a trade-off. Then, there is PNG. PNG files are used more frequently for their transparency, but png files can be huge.  Use PNGGauntlet, a great free tool that does a good job reducing png files. I’ve seen reductions of 25% without much loss of image quality. Check out these other (mostly free) image optimization tools.

Minify CSS and Javascript

Minify your Javascript and CSS can reduce many bytes per script and decrease page load time.

Combine Javascript

Combining Javascript files reduces trips the server.

Combine stylesheets

Combining stylesheets reduces trips the server.

Enable server GZIP compression

Enabling gzip compression allows your server to create a smaller version of a file by temporarily removing duplicate strings that are oft repeated in HTML and CSS. If the browser supports gzip it then decodes the file encoded by the server. You can enable gzip compression in .htaccess. If you are in a shared hosting environment the server may not have the necessary library so compression may not work. You can enable compression and then test whether your files are compressed.

Summary

Increasing page speed can give you a small bump in ranking but more importantly improves the visitor experience and can increase conversions. Visitors will be less likely to hit the back button and buy products or services from your competitor. If you’d like a page speed audit and improvements, or a comprehensive SEO audit that addresses most known ranking factors, submit a consultation request.

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