Page Speed: What is it, Why Does it Matter and How Can You Improve Yours?
In the simplest sense of the term, page speed refers to how fast the content on any given website page loads. Page speed can be described in one of two ways: “page load time” or “time to first byte.” Page load time refers to how long a single page on your website takes to fully display the content while time to byte time refers to how long it takes a browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server. While users care more about page load time, the search engines place significant emphasis on both types of page speed.
Whether you’re interested in creating a better user experience for your visitors or you want to boost your SEO rankings, your site developers should take some time to focus their attention on page speed. Below, you will learn not only how to improve page load speed, but also how to track the success of your efforts, how to test page load speed, how to increase page speed score and so much more.
How to Improve Page Load Speed
Improving page load speed requires significant know-how and several steps. Fortunately, there are several tools out there that make it easy for even non-developers to boost page speed with little effort. One such tool is Gzip.
Another thing you can do to increase page speed is to reduce redirects. For every redirect your page goes through, your visitor has to wait an additional one to three seconds. You can reduce the wait time by checking out your redirect pattern and removing unnecessary ones.
You can also optimize your content to increase page load time. For instance, you can use content distribution networks to allow other servers to share the responsibility of delivering your content. Doing so guarantees users have quicker and more reliable access to your content, especially the farther away they are from your host’s geographic location. You can also optimize your images. Make sure they’re in the right file format, that they’re no larger than they need to be and that they’re compressed for the web.
How Important is Page Speed?
Very. From a user perspective, page speed matters because, well, faster pages are more efficient. The average attention span today is just eight seconds, which is shorter than the nine-second attention span of a goldfish. However, according to a Kissmetrics study, when it comes to the World Wide Web, users’ attention span is even shorter, at just three seconds. If a page takes longer than three seconds to load, more than one-quarter of visitors are likely to click away.
Page load speed also affects conversions. For instance, when Walmart assessed their page speed data, they noticed a 2% uptick in conversions for every one second faster a page loaded. Amazon tested this theory and calculated that they would lose $1.6 billion every year if their site slowed down by just one second.
The search engines also place a huge emphasis on page load speed, likely because users do. In 2010, Google announced that it would be using page load times as a ranking factor. Seven years later, it announced it would be giving page speed even more consideration.
How to Check Page Speed in Google Analytics
Google makes it easy for you to see just how quickly users are able to interact with your content. It also helps you identify areas for improvement and makes it easy for you to then track the performance of those updates. So, what do you need to do to get started?
You will then have your option of three reports: Page Timings report, Speed Suggestions report and User Timing report. Open the Page Timings report.
The Page Timings report gives you a detailed breakdown of each page’s performance in terms of speed. It also provides data on things such as pageviews and bounce rates, network and server metrics, timing buckets for different metrics and network and server metrics.
You may also find the User Timings report handy, as this report gives a detailed analysis of every users’ individual interactions with your site. For instance, you can see when a user interacted with a button, video or image and how long it took for each element to respond.
How to Increase Page Speed Score
To come up with your site’s PageSpeed score, Google fetches your URL twice—once with a mobile device and once with a desktop computer. It then measures two parameters: time to above-the-fold load and time to full page load. Above-the-fold load is slightly more important than full page load because it’s the first content your users see. However, full page load shouldn’t be much slower than the above-the-fold load.
After testing your URL on two types of devices, and after assessing each of the two parameters, Google scores your page speed. The PageSpeed Score ranges from 0 to 100, with a 100 being the optimal score. However, few sites achieve this type of rating. A good score is 85 or above; anything below 85 needs some work.
However, if you can achieve a 100, why not go for it? Whether your site ranks a dismal 50 or an applaudable 90, there’s always something you can be doing to improve that rating. For one, check your report to see what you’re doing wrong. Google makes this easy for you by identifying areas for improvement with either a yellow exclamation point or a glaring red one. If it’s yellow, you should consider fixing the issue. If it’s red, fixing the issue would significantly boost your score. From there, follow the advice in section one, “How To Improve Page Load Speed”.
How to Optimize Images for Page Speed
Images often account for the most data usage on any given page. Because of this, it makes sense to optimize them to decrease the number of downloadable bytes and increase page speed.
Optimizing images isn’t as simple as reducing their size in Photoshop. First, you need to carefully analyze several factors, including the type of data you plan to encode, quality settings, image format capabilities, resolution, whether your images are best served in a vector format and so much more. You also need to consider on which type of device users will view the image. It’s best to just assume users will be use both mobile and desktop devices.
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start compressing. Because the process is lengthy, you should go directly to the source. Google’s PageSpeed Insights page provides step-by-step instructions for optimizing GIF, PNG and JPEG—file types that eat up 96% of the entire internet’s image traffic. You can download the optimized images directly from PageSpeed Insights or you can use third-party tools, such as ImageMagick. Google warns that if you use a third-party tool, the transformation may make your images larger.
How to Test Page Load Speed
There are dozens of free tools out there that allow you to enter a page’s URL and run a speed test. While many of these speed tests are effective, there’s a very good chance you’re running them wrong. Though may not thinking that running an inaccurate speed test is that big of a deal, the reality is that it is a big deal. If you fail to run a speed test correctly, you can’t accurately gauge improvements, or worse, you may try to improve areas that are really performing quite well. So, how can you run a proper speed test? Use this two-step process:
Before you run your test
Check to see if you have your content delivery network and your caching already configured and running on your site. If you don’t, check with your hosting provider or web developer to see about setting these things up.
Properly run your speed test
By running a test from a location that is close to your data center and from one that is far away. This will help you determine how much of an impact your content delivery network has on page performance. If you can’t get to a distant location, temporarily disable your CDN and re-test your site from the same location.
Run the test several times, as one test may not give you an accurate picture. An inaccurate reading may occur when your browser or host hasn’t yet cached your content, thereby making your site appear slower than it actually is.
How Important is Page Speed for SEO?
When Google released the SiteSpeed update in 2018, it claimed that only the slowest of the slow sites would be affected. However, when you take into consideration factors such as crawling, bounce rates, conversion rates and overall user engagement, the reality is that site speed plays a significant role in SEO for all sites, not just the slow ones.
First, let’s talk technical. Google has a crawling budget, which it allocates to testing sites and ranking them. If your site is slow, the Googlebots can’t move through it very quickly, which makes Google hesitant to send them back in. Instead, the search engine will redirect its budget to crawling sites with faster page load speeds so that it can get more done.
Bounce rates, conversion rates and user experience all have a significant impact on SEO as well, and page speed affects each of those factors. As mentioned above, more than one-quarter of users will click away from a site that doesn’t load in three seconds or less. When a user clicks away from your site after just three seconds, it doesn’t bode well for your bounce rate, which plays a key role in your rankings.
Conversions also impact your rankings. If visitors to your site complete the sales cycle, Google takes note and considers moving you up a notch in the SERPs. This is true regardless of whether your sales cycle ends in a purchase, a contact or an email newsletter subscription.
On the flipside, if visitors aren’t completing the sales cycle, it means they’re turning to a competitor for the products, services or information they need. Every time a competitor gains business that should have been yours, they’re moving up in the SERPs and knocking you back a spot.
Ultimately, Google’s goal is to guarantee all users a great browsing experience. The search engine can’t realize that goal if pages are slow to load and users become frustrated. What does Google do when a user becomes frustrated? It penalizes the site that caused that frustration by reducing its ranking. How does Google know when a user is frustrated? Bounce and conversion rates are very telling.
So, does page speed affect SEO? Absolutely. However, though you should certainly concern yourself with improving your standings in the SERPs, you should, like Google, ultimately concern yourself with improving the user experience. The way your visitors interact with your site and for how long are the main factors the search engine giant considers when ranking a site. If users are happy, so too is Google. That said, if your site is slow, it’s time to get to work to speed things up. Refer to section one to get started.