Page Speed for SEO Explained: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

By Banc

6 min read

Since Google shifted to mobile-first indexing in 2018, page speed has become a major talking point of SEO. Now, every second counts when it comes to page load times, but many sites are still cruising in the slow lane.

Here, we’ll take a deep dive into page speed, discussing why it matters to SEO and how you can improve loading times on your site. Use the links below to navigate.

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What is Page Speed?

Page speed is the time it takes to display all the content on a webpage. It’s also used to describe the ‘time to first byte’ – how long it takes a browser to receive information from a web server.

Page speed shouldn’t be confused with site speed. Site speed is a measurement taken from a sample of pages across a website, while page speed refers only to how quickly one page loads.

Lots can affect how fast a page loads, including 301 redirects, browser caching, and images and files over 150 bytes. Type of industry and server location also have an impact, so there’s a lot to consider when optimising page speed.

In 2018, MachMetrics published average page load times for eight industries in the UK – here’s what they found:

Industry Average Page Load Time (In Seconds)
Automotive 12.3
Business and Industrial Markets 8.3
Classifieds and Local 8.3
Finance 8.0
Media and Entertainment 8.8
Retail 10.3
Technology 10.6
Travel 10.9

 

This means the average page speed for UK sites in 2018 was 9.68 seconds. Sounds fast, right? Well it’s not fast enough, and certainly not in the eyes of Google.

Why Does Page Speed Matter to SEO?

Page speed is a Google ranking factor and has been since 2010. Its algorithm uses load and first byte times to rank pages, and is more likely to serve the fastest at the top of its SERPs.

There are several reasons why Google pays attention to how fast a page loads. Back in 2017, it published an infographic showing how page load times affect bounce rate – a major ranking factor. Here’s the graphic for reference:

Page load times

Google penalises sites with a high bounce rate, assuming that the user hasn’t had a good experience and is looking for an alternative. Slow page loads negatively impact user experience and engagement, so search engines prefer to steer their users towards pages with a quicker overall page speed.

Another issue surrounding slow page speed concerns indexation. Because search bots are governed by a crawl budget, they may not be able to crawl all the pages on your site if some pages are slow to load. This can affect how your site is indexed and ranked by Google.

In 2018, Google made clear its commitment to speeding up the web with its ‘Speed’ update. This saw a switch to mobile-first indexation, with Google’s algorithm favouring pages which are faster to load on mobile than they are on desktop.

Speed hit pages with slow load times and continues to do so. That’s why it’s critical that webmasters implement best-practice techniques to turbocharge their web pages.

How Fast Should My Web Pages Load?

In an ideal world, very fast. Google has stated that 2 seconds is the benchmark for ecommerce sites, but this will depend on your industry and server location. We recommend that load speeds in the 2-5-second range is optimal to avoid being hit by a Google Speed penalty.

How to Lower Page Speed

Keeping your pages in check and bolstering their load speed is a fundamental part of an SEO strategy. As a ranking factor which can also influence conversions and engagement, page speed should be high on your priority list when it comes to keeping your site healthy and optimised.

Below, we provide a mix of both simple and technical pointers to help you get a handle on page speed.

Reduce the Number of Redirects

Redirects are a useful way to improve the indexation of your site while ensuring that authority from your backlink profile passes between pages. But overdo it on redirects, and you risk crippling the load speed of individual pages.

Whenever a page redirects to another, this initiates the HTTP request-response cycle, which adds precious seconds on to the total page load time. If your site architecture contains lots of these redirects, the site speed will be reduced, meaning that Google may not be able to index all your pages.

Instead of using redirects, clean up your site by refreshing (rather than replacing) older pieces of content. You should also endeavour to avoid duplication, going as far as to reach out to other sites who may have scraped your content.

Be careful when publishing pages and blogs on your site, too, especially if you’re editing the URL. Simple mistakes can lead to unwanted redirects in your site architecture which may hamper page speed and performance in the long term.

Optimise and Compress Images

Images and visuals are an integral part of engaging web pages, but you do need to be careful about how they’re added to your site. By default, most image files aren’t suitable for publishing straight on the web and need compressing and reformatting to ensure they don’t impact page load speed.

Start by saving image files in the right format (PNG or JPEG work best). Then, compress them for the web using a tool like Photoshop. This will ensure your images are web-ready without losing quality.

If a lot of images on your pages comprise of buttons and icons, you can use a tool like CSS Image Sprites to create a single image, which reduces the number of HTTP requests and limits image-load times.

Clean Up Your Code

Clean, streamlined code makes for a quicker and more responsive website. So, it pays to take a look at your HTML, CSS, JavaScript and any other page resources which could be slowing your pages down.

Extra code appearing on a page can happen for a few different reasons, and it can have a big impact on loading times. To clean this up, we’d recommend using a compression tool like GZip, which will help to reduce the number of bytes on-page resources use – boosting page speed load in the process.

Invest in Better Hosting

One of the most common problems associated with slow page speed is poor, inadequate hosting. A lot of small businesses fail to invest in the right hosting for their site, and subsequently suffer from slow load speeds as a result of sharing servers with millions of other sites on cheap platforms.

If you’re serious about boosting page speed, you need to invest in a premium hosting service that can guarantee high-speed response times. Or, better still, switch to a dedicated server that’s on your premises.

There are hundreds of hosting providers out there offering plus points for different types of businesses, so we’re reluctant to recommend a specific platform. However, we would recommend this TechRadar Pro guide on choosing the right web hosting service.

Implement a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A content delivery network or CDN is a network of servers strategically located to provide fast delivery of content across the web. They’re great for businesses with a global reach, as they allow content to be shared across vast distances without forgoing page loading times.

In essence, CDNs figure out where a user is located and then serve them your content from the nearest server point. This ensures that your location doesn’t stand in the way of user experience and page speed.

CDNs are becoming more and more popular, with leading tech firms like Amazon and Netflix shining a light on the technology’s potential. Take a look at this guide on how to leverage a CDN on our website.

Enable Browser Caching

Leveraging browser caching is a great way to enhance page speed for returning users on your site, with the hoped-for outcome being that they’ll be more likely to convert. Browser caching is when certain elements of a page are stored in the user’s browser cache, so that they don’t need to load again the next time they visit your site.

You can enable browser caching in your .htaaccess file or by using a WordPress plugin; give this guide a read for step-by-step advice on setting it up. Remember, though, that browser caching only works for return users, so you’ll want to use other page-boosting techniques to ensure your page is engaging for first-time visitors.

Track and Test Your Page Speeds

There are several tools available to keep track of your site’s page speed. The great thing about periodically checking and testing pages with these tools is that they offer recommendations and opportunities, so you can make improvements to your page’s based on real-world data.

Google PageSpeed Insights is probably the most successful and popular page speed tester. It provides lots of information on problems and errors, so you know exactly what to fit to get your site up to speed.

There are lots of other tools out there, however, some of which are free and others not. For in-depth guidance on the different platforms and their benefits, take a look at this guide to 15 of the best tools for measuring page speed.

At Banc, our technical SEO experts take innovative tools and industry best practice and put them to work for your website, optimising everything from page speed to local search results. For more information on how we can help get your site up to speed, click here or call us now on 0345 459 0558.