One of the biggest SEO indicators for Google is how quickly your content gets to your visitors. Pages load time is a complex issue and, if you’re using a CMS you might not have a lot of control over many of the issues that impact it unless you’ve got a fair amount of programming knowledge. There are a couple of things that you do have control over though and if you fix them you’ll find that Google likes your site a whole lot more without you doing a whole lot of work.
Matt Cutts from the Google search quality team touches on the topic in the below video, don’t let the title confuse you – he makes it very clear that site speed has an impact both on mobile and desktop:
Apart from the SEO impact a slow loading site also has a big impact on things like your bounce rate and conversion rates. Ask yourself the question – are you going to sit around for ten seconds waiting for a page to load or are you going to just go right on back to Google and find a faster loading result that gives you the same information. The harsh reality of the Internet is that it is really, really crowded and that means your niche is crowded too. Everything you can do to get one up on the competition counts. Remember, when it comes to Google the vast majority of clicks go to the first two organic results, so even if site speed is just one of several hundred metrics that Google uses as ranking factors, the difference between second and fourth position could be thousands in lost revenue.
Take a look at the below infographic from OnlineGraduatePrograms.com – it focuses on America but I think that these metrics would probably apply to most of the first world.
Here are a couple of the major things that every webmaster (well, most webmasters of commercial sites) have control over.
Who you’re hosting with?
If you’re hosting with the cheapest possible web host you could find then chances are that you’re not really getting the best performance possible. Cheap hosts are cheap for a reason, you’re sharing a server and bandwidth with hundreds of other sites. That can mean serious performance issues. It’s also a security risk, because you’re on a shared space if one of those sites gets infected by malware you could well find your own site compromised. That said, the costs of dedicated or even VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting are way out of the budget that many companies have so you may have little choice in this.
How bloated your site is?
Some WordPress sites are especially guilty of this. Every time you chuck some nifty little plugin on your site it has to load more scripts and your site can end up bloated and slow. Plugins also come with a world of security issues. How do you avoid site bloat? Only install a plugin if you need it. The only reason you need it is if it somehow adds to either the user experience, site performance or your conversion rates. Less is more and just because you can it doesn’t mean you should.
How do you monitor your speed?
There are loads of free tools available on the Internet and regular monitoring of load speed (using servers that are located where your market is if that applies to your business) is an essential part of online presence management. I really like these two tools and I use them regularly. The information that they output is similar but it is presented very differently.
The first is Pingdom which provides a fantastic waterfall to make it easy to tell what is taking time as well as a summary and comparison. It also scores you on what you could do to improve load speed.
The first thing you’ll see after you test has loaded is a really nice summary panel which tells you where the test was conducted from, how long your site took to load, a rating, total page size and also tells you what percentile of the Internet you’re in when it comes to speedy content delivery.
Scroll down from your summary and you’ll be met with a waterfall which shows you how long everything took to load and what aspect took the time. Was it DNS, waiting for a server response, download etc. These metrics are incredibly useful when it comes time to make a decision about what to cut and what to keep.
At the top of the waterfall report you’ll see a number of tabs that give you more information. One of my favourites is the performance grade. It shows you exactly where you can make some improvements quickly. From the looks of that I’ve got some work to do, of course some things are possible and some things are not when you’re on a platform like Blogger.
The Google PageSpeed tool is a little lighter on the pretty pictures than Pingdom and geared more towards developers. If you are a developer who wanted to do some sort of in house monitoring PageSpeed is also accessible through the Google API which is a nice feature. Let’s take a look at what an analysis with PageSpeed and what the output looks like. What you’ll notice is that a lot of the same information is in the report, but it is presented in a far more data driven way. Being a developer myself this appeals to me. If you’re a site owner who responds more to visual stimulus then I’d suggest sticking with Pingdom.
Google PageSpeed sports, as do most Google products a minimal interface with a few easy and straightforward options. The first thing you’re presented with is your site analysed for Mobile, if you want the desktop info then just click on the desktop tab. Everything can be drilled down and, like Pingdom, Google gives you a breakdown of exactly which files you need to fix and what the effort would save you in load time.
A PageSpeed report is broken down in order of urgency. The red bits at the top are things that you really, really need to pay attention to. Just click on the header to get a nice tidy display of what needs to be fixed. Once again because of my choice of platform for this blog there’s not much I can do to correct what has been highlighted here but I love the simple and clear way that this tool presents exactly what a site owner needs to know in a no-nonsense, easy to navigate style.
If you drill down on your images you will get a display of exactly what performance increase you would expect by optimizing them, file by file. This is a great way to identify what is worth the effort and what isn’t. In this case I’m not overly concerned, there was one client I had earlier in the year that shaved nearly 70% off their load time by optimizing images though so it’s certainly worth checking.
How much difference does load speed make to SEO?
Google plays their cards close to their chest when it comes to the nitty gritty of their algorithm but let’s not forget that the best way to be effective with SEO is to provide a good user experience, load speed certainly ticks a pretty big box in that department!