Improving Page Speed for SEO

The best thing you can do to improve your website is to optimize its speed.

Online users simply don’t have the patience to wait around for pages to load as they check the latest headlines or browse product reviews. Even a few seconds delay is enough to create a negative user experience.

Optimizing site speed must be a priority if it isn’t already. Otherwise, you risk visitors clicking the back button in frustration because of slow-loading pages.

Here we’ll look at what site speed is, why it’s essential for SEO, and what easy steps you can take today to speed up your site.

What is Site Speed?

Site speed measures page loading times. Factors like a page’s file size, image compression, and hosting all affect website performance.

There are two main ways to measure site speed:

  • Page load time: This means that a page, including all its data and images, is fully loaded in a user’s browser.

  • Time to first byte: This measures how long it takes a web browser to receive the first byte of data from a server.

For our purposes though, we’re primarily concerned with page load times. Let’s take a look at how site speed can affect your search engine rankings.

Why Site Speed is Important for SEO

Slow-loading pages don’t just lead to a poor user experience. They also have a negative impact on search engine optimization or SEO.

Site Speed is a Ranking Factor

Google continually updates its algorithm to deliver useful results and to adapt to changing usage patterns.

Internal data from Google found that visitors engage less with sites that respond slowly. To improve user experience across the web, Google made site speed a ranking factor:

"Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings."

Google emphasized the importance of page speed even further with the Speed Update — an update that makes loading times a ranking factor for mobile searches.

In short, slow-loading pages could hurt your search engine rankings for both desktop and mobile searches.

Loading Times Impact Bounce Rates

Bounce rate is the number of users who land on your site and leave without viewing another page.

A high bounce rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A visitor could merely be looking up information like business hours and leaving after.

However, bounce rates are still worth paying attention to. A high percentage could indicate that visitors are leaving without taking action like filling out a form or making a purchase. It could also suggest that visitors are bouncing due to slow-loading pages.

Google found a strong correlation between loading times and bounce rates:

Google's Page Load Time and Bounce Rate

Source: Think With Google

Users are willing to wait a few seconds for a page to load. But the probability of them bouncing increases significantly the longer they have to wait for a page load. Users won’t hesitate to click the back button if they’re left staring at a blank screen after more than a few seconds.

What impact do bounce rates have on search engine rankings? Backlinko found that sites with low average bounce rates had higher rankings:

Low Bounce Rates and high rankings graph

Source: Backlinko

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that reducing bounce rates will automatically result in higher rankings. But it makes an even stronger case for optimizing site speed.

Poor Web Performance Affects Conversions

Let’s look at one final reason why site speed is important: Conversions. This isn’t directly related to SEO, but poor web performance has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Online users expect pages to load quickly.

Imagine you’re shopping for a new laptop. You do a quick search and click through to what seems like a promising result.

But after a few seconds, you’re left staring at a blank screen. Instead of sticking around, you simply click the back button through to another search result.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. 40% of users abandon websites that take more than more than 3 seconds to load.

Here’s how online users responded when asked about slow loading times on ecommerce sites:

Page Load times affecting sales on eCommerce sites

Source: Unbounce

If you want visitors to convert, you need to improve page loading times.

So far we’ve shown how slow-loading pages affect:

  • Search engine rankings

  • Bounce rates

  • Conversion rates

Yet, despite this, a surprising number of websites aren’t optimizing their site speed. The average time for a mobile page to fully load is still about 15 seconds, according to data from Google.

It’s an abysmal figure. But there’s a silver lining here — increasing your web performance can give your site a huge competitive advantage over slower sites.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: here’s how we can fix the problem.

How to Speed Up Your Site

Most of us have experienced websites with poor performance. Don’t let your visitors go through the same as they browse your pages.

Follow these steps to decrease loading times and speed up your site.

Use PageSpeed Insights to Establish a Baseline

Establish a baseline first so you can more accurately measure how your efforts are improving your website performance.

Start by heading over to PageSpeed Insights, a free tool from Google that measures the performance of both the mobile and desktop versions of a site.

Enter your URL and click Analyze. Let’s use Yahoo as an example. Google gives the mobile version of this site a score of 54 out of 100:

Mobile Site Speed 54 out of 100

Meanwhile, the desktop version has a higher score of 74:

Desktop Site Speed 74 out of 100

Not terrible, but not that great either. There’s room for improvement for both versions of this site.

PageSpeed Insights is an especially helpful tool as it offers suggestions further down the page on how to improve loading times.

PageSpeed Insights shows Opportunities for improvement

Making these changes can significantly improve loading times.

Let’s look at some of the most significant changes you can make to optimize your website performance.

Reduce Image File Sizes

The number of resources on a page has a drastic impact on loading times.

Perhaps the biggest bandwidth hog is images. Decrease the file sizes of your images with a photo editing program like Photoshop before uploading them.

Alternatively, if you use WordPress, you can also install an image compression plugin like WP Smush plugin to automatically compress your images.

Courtney note: embed webinar about pagespeed

Use Browser Caching

Web browsers like Chrome or Safari store site files in a user’s browser. A user’s first visit will take time as each component is loaded and stored. But subsequent visits will be *much *faster as the files can be retrieved locally.

You can leverage browser caching by editing your .htaccess file. One way to improve your site speed is to extend a browser’s cache settings.

Instead of setting an expiry date of a month, you could extend that date to a year. Once you’re finished making the changes, simply save the file as-is.

There are also WordPress plugins you can install to make this process easier, such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Install these plugins to reduce page loading times and improve the user experience.

Minify Your Code

Minification refers to removing bloat from your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files.

Comments and block delimiters increase code readability for developers. But they generally aren’t necessary to properly display a website. Use a free tool like Unminify to remove any unused code and decrease file sizes.

Enable Compression

Compression allows you to reduce your site files even further. Gzip is a popular software application that reduces the sizes of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files.

Here’s an example of how much of a difference that compression can make:

The difference compression can make in your code

Source: CSS Tricks

Minifying and compressing your file sizes greatly improves website performance as there are fewer resources to load.

Switch to Faster Web Hosting

If you have done everything thus far and your site speed has barely budged, the issue is likely with your hosting.

Choosing a cheap web hosting plan may save you money in the beginning,but you’ll end up paying more for it in the long run.

Opt for fast web hosting to improve your site speed drastically and keep the following in mind when choosing a host:

  • Speed – also known as "load time"

  • Uptime – at least 99.94%

  • Customer support – 24/7 availability

Make Site Speed a Priority

As more people around the world rely on the Internet for various tasks, site speed remains as crucial as ever.

Improving site performance isn’t easy. But it can increase your search rankings, reduce bounce rates, and boost conversions. Start with the 6 tips listed above to reduce loading times and be sure to measure your results.