The road to high website ranking is paved with all manner of things that can both accelerate performance and act as speed bumps along the way. Of the myriad factors that can bolster page ranking, website page speed is something of an SEO hot potato right now – especially with Google’s recent announcement that page speed will also influence page ranking in mobile searches earlier this year.
But how exactly does page speed affect search rankings and why does it matter? And, if a website is particularly sluggish, what can be done to improve its pace and enhance its potential to rank highly in page searches? With Banc’s know-how of technical SEO, we’ll answer this triad of enquiries over the course of this very article.
How does page speed affect search rankings?
First off, it’s worth noting that Google may measure Time to First Byte (TFFB) when it considers page speed, i.e. the duration of time from the user’s browser making a HTTP request to the first byte of information that’s returned by the server. It’s a matter of milliseconds usually, but Google feels it necessary to begin measuring page speed at this point. In fact, the tech giant conducted a study that showed slowing down the search results page by 100 to 400 milliseconds – a trifling amount by anyone’s watch – had a noticeable impact on the number of searches per user. According to Google, your website’s TTFB should be 200 milliseconds or less.
From a UX perspective, a website with a higher TTFB can be an annoyance. The slower the page and longer its load time, the more likely it is that a page’s bounce rate (the percentage of visitors that navigate away from the site after viewing only one page) will increase. The lower average time on page and longer TTFB are taken into consideration by Google, which can negatively affect your website’s SERP rank as a result. A good user experience often translates to higher conversions and thus, higher page rankings – it’s that simple.
And in the world of UX, patience is not a virtue; users do not like to be kept waiting when it comes to page speed. Almost half of users want pages to load within a maximum of two seconds, and even a 1-second delay on load speed can reduce conversions by around 7%. Does a particular page on your site load for longer than 4 seconds? Studies have shown that 75% users won’t return to a page if they’re kept waiting longer than this. The gulf between a page taking two seconds to load and one loading at twice that time may as well be a Grand Canyon-esque chasm.
The slower page speed also results in search engines crawling fewer pages using its allocated crawl budget, what Google defines as “the number of URLs Googlebot can and wants to crawl” – which is another reason for low search page rankings.
Why does this matter?
With Google looking to make the web more mobile-friendly, mobile-first indexing is just around the corner. “What’s mobile-first indexing?” we hear you ask. It’s fairly simple. It means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index, using it as the baseline for how they determine rankings on both mobiles and desktop. As a result, the importance of page speed increases accordingly. If your site doesn’t have a mobile equivalent, the desktop site can still be included.
However, the lack of a mobile experience could negatively affect rankings on desktop, whereas a good mobile experience serves to boosts ranking even for searchers on a desktop. Think of it like this: the mobile version acts as the primary version of your website.
How to improve your website’s page speed
Tools such as Lighthouse, Pagespeed Insights, GTMetrix and WebPageTest allow us to glean information on how pages are loaded, providing us with valuable insights on how to reduce page speed in the process. Using insights from the tools above, you can get an idea of what needs to boost the speed of your web pages.
Here are some of the most common ways to reduce load times and improve page speeds
- Improve server response time – Server response times tend to be affected by the amount of traffic a site receives, the resources each page uses, the software the server uses and the hosting solutions being used. To improve this, further research into how the server is performing may be necessary, clearing up any issues with slow routing or slow databases in order to clarify if these affect page speed.
- Use a content distribution network (CDN) – CDNs, such as Cloudflare, are networks of servers that are used to distribute the load of delivering content. Essentially, copies of a site are stored at a range of geographically diverse data centres so that users have faster and more reliable access to a given site
- Optimise images – The size and file format of images used on a site can adversely slow it down. Sometimes this is because of extra data embedded in the comments or a lack of compression. Newer, next-gen image types, like WebP, JPEG 2000 and JPEG XR, can reduce the size of files in a big way.
- Miscellaneous factors – A cluttered page will only serve to clog up your site’s page loads, so be mindful of any superfluous features which might be responsible. External embedded media, like videos, might look great and serve a purpose but can increase load times. Likewise, plugins and apps, when used on unoptimized browsers, can drastically slow down your page speed. Consider the use of widgets; are they helpful or just window dressing that may be negatively impacting your page?
When it comes to your page’s pace, the faster the better. Be sure to check back with the Banc blog soon for more of the latest industry news and features, or head to our homepage to get in touch today.