Site performance is an integral part of any website’s success, and this holds true for SEO as well. Whether you are operating a blog or an online store, the speed and ease with which users interact with your content has a direct impact on initial traffic, repeat visits, and overall page rankings. Google’s latest algorithms now take site speed into account when calculating page rankings. Google’s filters can estimate load times, and they use that information in determining value and reliability. While the importance Google assigns to site speed itself might be limited, and there are definitely other factors that trump it, the way a website performs has a knock on effect in its overall usability. Internet users have notoriously short attention spans, and a site that is slow to load will experience a high bounce rate, diminishing traffic, and fewer conversions.
How Important is Site Speed to Google?
Where Google’s filters are concerned, site speed really refers to load time. How long does it take for a landing page to load after the user clicks on a desired SERP? Google’s filters use this as an additional point of comparison when multiple sites have comparable relevance and authority statistics. In real terms, as far as Google is concerned, site speed has a minimal impact on page rankings, only about 1%. But in a larger view, websites with faster load times offer more value to the internet user. That translates to customer satisfaction, which ultimately translates to fewer bounce backs, more return visits, higher share rates, and an increase in perceived value and authority.
Common Factors That Slow Down a Website
There are some common culprits to look for when analyzing the speed of your website. First and foremost is the quality and reliability of your hosting service. Not all hosting services are created equal, and shared servers inevitable lead to uneven performance. If your website is too slow, and pages are taking too long to load, it may be time to consider a different hosting service.
The construction of the site itself obviously plays a large part in the way it performs for users, and certain apps and add-ons are notorious bandwidth thieves. When assessing the speed and performance of your website, consider the following.
- Are There Too Many Ads? – Ads, and the revenue they produce, are an important part of any website. Slow loading advertisements bog down pages, slow down your site, and can lead to higher bounce rates. Weigh their value carefully.
- Too Many Widgets or Plug-ins – These can really kill your speed, and should be used sparingly. Podcast links, comment plug-ins, and social sharing buttons can add seconds to your load time. Balance the value of any widgets and plug-ins on your site against the increased load time they require. Plus, it’s common that WordPress plugins might be loading the same libraries twice, such as jQuery.
- The Design and Theme of Your Website – Everyone wants a site that is bold, attractive and unique. But too much can be too much. Overly complex design themes lead to slow load times.
- Graphics and Images – Images help to brighten up a page and attract the users attention. But overly bloated images can take an excruciatingly long time to load, slowing down page performance, and interfering with the functionality of your site. You might want to consider using PNG8 instead of PNG24, as an example.
How to Test Your Site’s Speed
There are a number of tools that can be used to test the speed and performance of your website. Most of these tools are free, and offer an easy way for webmasters to test the speed of their site and to calculate any changes that need to be made to improve overall performance.
- Page Speed Insights – Submit your URL, and Page Speed Insights will return an instant speed evaluation. You will also get recommendations on how to increase your site’s load time.
- YSlow – Developed by Yahoo, YSlow provides a detailed report on site performance, with recommendations to increase its speed and performance.
- Google Analytics – There are “site speed” analytics under the “content” sub-section so that you can see your daily speed.
- Pingdom – This one is a great tool that show general performance grade and is very simple to use.
- Web Page Test – This is by far the most comprehensive tool to test your website’s performance.
These tools offer webmasters a way of calculating the speed of their websites, and identifying areas that need improvement.
While the speed of a website is a small factor in the equation Google uses to assign page rankings, it is a huge factor in the way visitors interact with your site. Faster websites give better customer satisfaction, and that is at the root of all good SEO practices. Valuable content coupled with speed and ease of use translates to higher traffic, more returning visitors, and a better overall online performance.