Why is Page Speed Important?
It’s hard to sort the following reasons into most to least important reasons page speed is important to SEO. Some of these reasons, like conversions and UX, are what I would call indirect rank contributors, but even as indirect factors, they have a huge impact on session time, bounce rate, and traffic – and all these are what SEO seeks to optimize in order to produce results for the website owner.
A fast and responsive website has fewer barriers to converting web users into customers, simply because the user has to wait less time for pages to load. Users can absorb the persuasive messaging in the calls to action on the page without distraction. Internet users hate waiting for things. Mobile internet users hate it even more. Improved page speed removes this barrier to conversions
Ranking Metric for Google
Google announced in early 2018 what was called the “Speed Update”. In July of 2018, this update began using speed as a ranking factor for mobile sites, adding them to the desktop sites which have already been subject to this rank factor. It’s important to note that as Google says, this only should affect the slowest sites, so while some pages will experience a bump in rank when making improvements to page speed, others will experience the SEO benefits in less direct ways. I have seen page rank jump due to page speed optimizations, but it’s important to remember that there are many ranking factors, and some slow sites may still rank based on other factors.
User Experience (UX) involves qualitative and quantitative metrics and approaches to evaluate a design’s ability to not just satisfy a user’s needs and wants but also its ability to leave them pleased by the experience of using the design. How your users feel as they use your website is as important as whether they can just get what they need. Much of what frustrates and annoys a user is waiting for pages to load.
Fixing your page speed to meet some key UX thresholds then becomes an important factor in retaining the user’s interest and converting them to customers.
A few seconds or more each time there’s a page load will add up over the life of a website. Perhaps the biggest and most important question is how valuable is that time to you? Answering this question along with the above reasons should tell you that page speed optimization can deliver value in important ways to your website and your business.
Important Page Speed Facts
Here are a few facts related to page speed that should interest you if you’re exploring the idea of investing in optimizing your page speed.
According to Google, the average user is willing to wait 2 seconds for a web age to load before bouncing. Bouncing means a user leaves a page without doing anything more on the page or site.
- When a page load takes over three seconds, 53% of all mobile sites are abandoned.
- This increases by 90% at five seconds.
- The average web page loads in 3.21 seconds.
- In 2017, the average mobile landing page loaded in 15 seconds, down from 22 seconds in 2016.
You can see that by these metrics most web pages vastly underperform based on lack of speed. It’s not a wonder that Google is driving a huge mobile speed initiative to improve the overall online experience of users everywhere.
Page Speed Metrics to Understand
You are probably interested in finding tools to measure your website performance if you don’t have them already. The Web Page Test site at webpagetest.org, PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom Tools, and GTmetrix are all online test sites that can give you valuable metrics along with suggestions on how to optimize your site. Here are the metrics you need to know about to evaluate your website’s page speed.
- Time To First Byte(TTFB): This is the initial server response time. You want this to be less than a second, hopefully, closer to a half second than a full second.
- Start Render Time: Also called “First Paint Time”. this is when the system is able to start rendering the page. The time ideally should not be very long after the TTFB. Too long of a distance between the two may indicate too many requests being loaded and/or slow server response to requests.
- DOM Load Time: DOM means Document Object Model. It’s the framework of the elements in the website. This is the time when all of the HTML elements have been loaded. This is also the closest metric that correlates to bounce rate. Users can start to interact with the page after this milestone.
- Onload: This is when the page has fully downloaded and processed from the server and functions can start to come up.
- Fully Loaded Time: This is when all assets and functions have been loaded and with no network activity for two seconds.
- Total Page Size: This is the size in bytes of all the loaded page assets.
- Number of Requests: The total number of times a server gets called to send an asset for loading the page. Reducing this number will trim the page load time based on server performance per request.
Common Solvable Issues
When doing any optimization, I like to handle the low hanging fruit first. These items below require little effort to review and have the largest chance of paying off for the effort required to fix. Of these, images require the most time, based on the number of images that typically need optimizations, but they also can often yield the most benefit in terms of time loading when they are fixed.
By far, image sizing and inadequate compression are the most common issues I see where big improvements can easily be made. A professional web designer should know how to optimize both the size and compression of images to optimum levels. When a website is image heavy, and when quality is a priority, Often there isn’t enough attention applied adequate compression of the images. Photoshop and most other image editing tools have the capability to test and preview aggressive compression approaches to fully optimize images.
Image size is also a common problem. I have seen 3k pixel x 3k pixel images displayed at the size of a 200-pixel thumbnail on a page. Image sizes need to be compared with the display size to make sure the bandwidth isn’t wasted in a large image that’s rendered very small on a page. A good web designer will be sure to check this and avoid issues that can kill page speed.
Browsers have the capability to use caching to locally store assets, removing the need to keep downloading them when a page is loaded again and again. This can provide major savings to a website with lots of otherwise expensive assets. Caching can be accomplished by using plugins with WordPress, or by setting up the cache policy directly using the .htaccess file.
Remember, this only works if the user has enabled caching on their browser, but most browsers use this feature to speed up their browsing experience.
Too Many Server Requests
Not Using A CDN
A CDN is a Content Distribution Network. These networks place copies of key website assets in server locations that are likely to be nearer to the browsers than a single server location. For example, if your website is hosted in Seattle, browsers across the continent in Florida will likely have longer load times than users closer to Seattle, such as Portland, Oregon, or Boise Idaho. Most hosting companies offer CDN services for a fee. If you are interested in marketing your website to local users, either make sure your website is hosted somewhere locally or see if using a CDN will help you deliver your website faster to your area in case your host location is far away.
Not Using File Compression
File compression on your server is a feature that most hosts offer. Check with your host for enabling G-Zip or another file compression on your server. This will help make files smaller so they are read and loaded faster.
Shared hosting means several websites exist on a single server, making them share the server’s resources. When loading many different sites at the same time, performance is degraded. Shared hosting is cheaper, but you may want to consider spending for a dedicated server if you find your server response time is consistently higher than 1 second.
Hopefully, this helps if you were wondering if you should investigate your website page speed optimization. If you think you do and would like some help with it, contact me. I’d love to help.