Although it is regularly discussed amongst technical SEO professionals, page speed is still a relatively new ranking aspect in search engines. It was only 2018 when Google announced that their updates for user improvements would now regard page speed as a factor for ranking higher in their search engine’s algorithm in order to help users find the answers to their questions faster.
As you would expect, this update sent the SEO community into anarchy as everyone scrambled to fix the speed of their sites, something neglected in the past. But for beginners on the topic of page speed, let’s cover the key questions.
- What Is Page Speed?
- Is Page Speed Important?
- How Much Of A Difference Does Page Speed Make?
- How Can I Measure My Page Speed?
- What Is A Good Page Load Time?
- Why Is My Website Slow?
What Is Page Speed?
Page Speed is the amount of time that it takes for your website page to load for your user. The speed of your website pages will have a direct impact on where you sit on Google’s Search Engine Ranking Pages (SERPs), alongside other important factors such as an SEO-friendly site structure and domain authority.
Is Page Speed Important?
Page speed is extremely important and it’s a crucial factor of modern SEO digital marketing.
Addressing the speed of your website will show an immediate increase in:
- The length of time consumers spend on your website pages
- Your conversion rate – customers who spend longer on your pages will be more likely to buy goods or services
- Where your website ranks organically on Google SERPs
Think of it like waiting in line at the supermarket checkout. When mentally selecting which till line to join, you will hardly be likely to select the line with the bloke unloading two trolleys worth onto the conveyor belt when another till only has a lady carrying a carton of milk.
Simply put, you will choose the option that gets you to your end goal faster, whether that’s completing a food shop or searching for an answer to a question on Google. Therefore, you want your website behaviour to deliver the fastest results for a searcher to make the conversions against your slower competitors.
How Much Of A Difference Does Page Speed Make?
If searchers are forced to wait for an answer, they become frustrated and inclined to click off your buffering page, even if the load lasts a second longer than expected.
A study from 2019 reported that website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-5).
This is why page speed is so important and even a one-second delay in your websites page load time can result in:
- 11% fewer page views
- 16% decrease in customer satisfaction
- 7% loss in conversions
Not to mention nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer according to another study from 2019. It’s starting to make sense now why Google determined it as such an important ranking factor on their search engines now, isn’t it?
How Can I Measure My Page Speed?
It is easy to check the speed of your website pages and it can be done straight through Google too! Since just over 90% of all searches online today come from Google, we advise using their tools to understand what will help you reduce your site speed.
Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) is the main tool and it reports on the performance of a page on both mobile and desktop devices. Once it completes a page speed report, it then provides you with handy suggestions on how that page may be improved to load faster.
PSI provides both lab and field data about a page:
- Lab data is useful for debugging performance issues, as it is collected in a controlled environment. However, to get a better understanding of true, real-world user experience.
- Field data will provide you with the results and insights you need to reduce your site speed and improve online conversions.
To give you an example of Google PageSpeed Insights, we have measured the speed of the two retail competitors M&S and John Lewis‘ website page speeds on desktop. You can also measure mobile page speed however a study recently published on Google’s blog concluded, “Sixty-four per cent of all online retail traffic comes from mobile, and yet conversion rates on mobile are only half that of the desktop.” Another study affirmed these findings and showed that while mobiles generate more site traffic, the desktop is the winner for actual site conversions.
Once you type in your website’s URL, Google PageSpeed Insights will measure your site’s Core Web Vitals:
- First Contentful Paint (FCP) – the metric that measures a browser’s initial rendering of content from your website page, providing the first feedback to the user that the page is loading.
- First Input Delay (FID) – this metric measures the time from the user’s initial interaction with your website page (i.e. clicking a button or link) to the time when the browser responds to their page interaction.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – unlike FCP, this metric measures the time it takes your website page to display the largest content on the screen for your user, complete and ready for interaction. Google has stated that this metric considers only the content that appears without scrolling.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – the metric that measures the impact of layout shifts on your site. You should aim for a low CLS as this means your site is stable and easy to use for your user.
A good example of poor CLS is when an image on your website takes longer than text to load for a user. As the user attempts to click on a link, the site may shift unexpectedly so the link is now lower down the screen for the loaded image to finally appear, this will only frustrate the user and lead them to question their trust in your site for their needs.
In regards to our M&S vs John Lewis experiment of their websites core vitals, the results show that John Lewis’ homepage loads faster from the lower scores shown on their FCP and LCP.
However, their CLS is 3 times higher than that of M&S which has significantly affected their overall score.
Not only that, John Lewis’ FID is longer than that of M&S’ homepage, meaning that John Lewis may load faster initially, but user interaction takes longer.
In conclusion, M&S may not have beaten John Lewis in single-core web vitals, but the total findings (particularly the low CLS score) rate M&S higher for page speed performance.
Aside from Google PageSpeed Insights, these are two other useful tools to gather more information on your website’s performance:
- Google Speed Scorecard – This tool can measure and compare your mobile site speed against competitors in over 10 countries.
- Google Impact Calculator – If you need to understand how your website performance is affecting your potential revenue, this tool estimates the impact on your conversion rate as well as advises on ways to improve your mobile site speed.
What Is A Good Page Load Time?
“Great mobile user experience starts with speed, (it) indicates the quality of your brand and products” states Adrienne Clem, the director of search ads growth and optimisation at Google. Page load time is a primary ranking factor in Google’s algorithm and a fast answer provided to a user will lead to a minimised bounce rate on your site.
Google’s lead of development programs, Maile Ohye stated “2 seconds is the threshold for eCommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half-second.”
Now, keep in mind this webinar was conducted in 2010 and if that’s the level of speed they were expecting of websites 11 years ago, think how much faster Google expects your website should load for today’s users.
In summary, your website should aim for a page load time of 1-2 seconds. According to statistics, 47% of consumers expect websites to load in two seconds or less. And 40% will abandon a page that takes three or more seconds.
Why Is My Website Slow?
There are multiple reasons why your website could have poor page speed but we have compiled a list of key areas you can review on your website to accelerate your website, minimise your bounce rate and maximise your revenue.
Follow these tips to optimise your page speed to boost your traffic and conversions:
- Choose a hosting provider for optimal performance
- Compress and optimise your images
- Address and reduce your redirects
- Caching your website pages and browser caching
- Look into a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Finally, what unnecessary plugins are you using?
Choose A Hosting Provider For Optimal Performance
Good page speed starts with selecting a good website hosting service, a service that allows individuals and organisations to make their website accessible via the World Wide Web providing a domain and data storage for your website.
There are a variety of hosts types you can choose from including shared, VPS and Dedicated Server Hosting but if you go the cheap route in selecting your hosting provider, you may suffer the consequences of a poor performing website. Cheaper hosts tend to provide shared servers for your website as opposed to your server.
Choosing not to invest in a performance-optimised hosting provider will lead to higher chances of website crashes and the dreaded long page loading times since you are sharing an overloaded server between multiple websites.
If you want to improve your Google PageSpeed Insight Score, spend your money wisely on a website host that prioritises a user’s site experience as this will lead to speedy page loads that reduce your page’s bounce rate.
Compress And Optimise Your Images
People like pictures, they help our brains to simplify information and they can provide a higher-quality, more enjoyable website experience to your user. However, poor attention to image compression will lead to long page load times and impatient scrollers.
Compressing your images is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to improve your overall website page speed. This can include changing their file formats and enabling lazy loading, a design pattern commonly used to deliberately delay the load of an object or resource until it is needed.
Source: Chromium Blog
Image size equates to ”˜weight’ therefore, a weighty image will put a strain on your page’s loading times and reducing your file size and/or format will inevitably optimise your page speed.
While there are hosting providers that provide compression plugins such as WordPress’ WPSmush, sites such as Tiny PNG and Compress JPEG provide quick compression solutions without the need to install plugins.
When it comes to determining an optimal size to compress your files to, we recommend keeping file size under 100 KB in order for your website to run most efficiently and with minimal impact to page loading time for users.
Address And Reduce Your Redirects
A redirect is a way to send both users and search engines to a different URL from the one they originally requested.
The ones most frequently used are the 301 and the 302, they sound like motorways but let us explain:
The 301 – Redirects from an old URL to a new permanent URL
The 302 – Redirects from an old URL to a new temporary URL
Sometimes a redirect is necessary, for example, you are in the process of renovating your old website and need to let your online visitors know by providing a temporary redirect (or a 302).
However, layering redirects can have a significant impact on a page speed’s loading time as each page redirect prolongs the HTTP request and response process.
Avoid creating unnecessary redirects in the first place, especially when building internal links and menus. Examples of a lazy URL include:
- Lacking the proper protocol prefix (HTTP or HTTPS)
- Unnecessarily including or excluding the “www” subdomain
- Using post and page IDs in links
- Not including the entire path to the page
Another thing to keep in mind when addressing your redirects is making sure your Top-Level Domain (TLD) contains no more than one redirection.
Caching Your Website Pages And Browser Caching
”Site caching” simply means you are storing copies of your website’s files and data in a reserved storage component in order to minimise the amount of strain on the server when it generates your website page for users. The data it collects is temporary but the faster load times that come as a result of caching web pages can show a significant improvement on your page speeds.
Therefore, caching enables your server to use fewer resources to load a web page and this will improve your overall website performance.
Depending on the host server you have selected, some may do the hard work of caching for you already, known as browser caching. If this is not the case for you, there are a host of plugins that can help to cache your web pages and improve your page speed.
This sounds very daunting and technical but let’s break it down.
- HTML is the code used to structure your web page and its content
- CSS controls presentation, formatting, and layout on your webpage
Now, these scripts can load either synchronously or asynchronously:
- Synchronously – files will load individually and in a linear order
- Asynchronously – multiple files can to load at the same time
If your website’s script loads synchronously, it will take longer for your web page to fully load for the user since it will stop loading other elements on the page until the file in front completes loading.
Asynchronous loading on the other hand, means all your website’s files can load at once and files don’t have to wait for others to complete leading to a speedy page load for your website users.
A case study was done on the page speed performance of the streaming giant Netflix back in 2018 after Netflix noticed more new users preferred to sign up to the site via mobile devices rather than desktop. At the same time, these users were also found to be using poor online connections during their sign up.
- Loading and Time-to-Interactive decreased by 50%
This study goes to show that even the smallest adaptations to your website’s script can really help when improving your Google PageSpeed Insight score.
Look Into A Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Whilst working alongside your main website host provider, a Content Delivery Network (CDN), also referred to as a ”˜content distribution network’, is a network of servers designed to improve your page loading speed by delivering copies of your site’s static content from servers worldwide.
You can see from this diagram that a CDN does not replace your website host provider, but instead, supports it to load copied content for users faster, by reducing the distance data requests have to travel between browsers and your host’s servers.
CDN will provide your web page users with a server that’s closer to them than the primary website host. Say for example you have one user requesting to browse your website in China and one in America, but your host provider is located in the UK, CDN servers from China and America can copy and collect your websites data from the UK host server in one clean sweep of code to distribute to the number of your users requesting to view in that location.
This means less delay caused by network congestion and a better, faster page speed performance.
Finally, What Unnecessary Plugins Are You Using?
We have gone over a few useful plugins in this article, so not all plugins are unnecessary per se. However, too many plugins on your website will lead to a congestion of information that will inevitably slow your page speed down. So it’s time to declutter your website’s plugins!
Look for plugins that are:
- A security threat
- Not compatible with your website host provider.
Take the time to look over the plugins you currently have installed and review whether they’re actually necessary, or whether they only hinder your website’s speed and performance.
The secret to improving your page speed is not by focusing solely on one improvement, page speed is affected by an amenity of varying factors that require minimal change for maximum improvement on your Google PageSpeed Insight score.
Remember the key points:
- Don’t go the cheap route when choosing your website’s host provider, focus on their attention to page speed and user experience.
- Compress, Minimise and Reduce what you can, whether that be images, coding or redirects. This takes a great amount of strain off your page loading times and there are plenty of online tools and plugins to help.
- Enable site caching so your server uses fewer resources to load a web page improving your overall website speed.
- Set your website’s script to load asynchronously, this ensures your website pages can load content faster and all at once.
- Seriously consider Content Delivery Networks, especially if you have a worldwide client base or trade online.
- Declutter your plugins, think about what you really use and what benefits your website’s experience for users.
We are proud to have 14 years of experience in this field, creating websites that aren’t just faster, but provide an excellent overall user experience. We look forward to helping you optimise your business’ website with high-quality deliverables that always improve conversions.