Load Speed and Search Engine Optimization
As we talk about 5 ways to improve website rankings, let’s talk about how load speed can make or break SEO and website rankings.
You don’t need Google to tell you your customers are impatient.
Page speed is a measure of how fast one of your webpages loads. Site speed involves the average load time for all the pages on your site. Your web design has a lot to do with both, but so do your network and hosting provider. Mobile friendly web design is more important than ever when it comes to SEO, lead generation and improved conversion rates. We’ll tell you how your web designer can speed things up and why speed is so vital for search engine optimization.
Important Terms Regarding Load Speed
Google’s Webmaster Blog says people want answers to their questions as fast as possible. Here are some of the ways search engines evaluate speed for SEO.
- Average speed index – This is how quickly a page loads content so users can see it.
- Time to first byte – The amount of time it takes for your browser to get the first byte from the web server where it resides.
- Average request count – How many separate pieces of content have to load on a page to display in its entirety.
- Average page weight bytes – How many bytes are on your whole page.
In each situation, lower numbers are better for SEO. Speed matters in search engine ranking, in UX and in conversions. It has been a ranking factor for desktop rankings since 2010 and starting July 2018, it becomes a ranking factor for mobile search.
Mobile First Indexing and SEO
Mobile friendly and responsive web design is no longer optional. Google’s mobile-first indexing means the mobile version of your web design is what Google considers the “real” version for search engine optimization. It’s the starting point for crawlers.
If you only have a desktop version, Googlebots will evaluate that, but your lack of mobile-friendly web design will hurt traffic and annoy users. If your web development team didn’t make your website redesign fully responsive with mobile experiences that are equivalent to desktop, it will harm your ranking.
Current Mobile Statistics
Users want to pay their bills in an instant, view content immediately and play videos without a delay. More than half of web traffic comes from mobile devices, yet revenue from mobile is lower. Search engines attribute some of this difference to slow load speeds. Check out these statistics:
- The average load time for mobile sites is 15 seconds. That’s an eternity.
- 53 percent of mobile visitors leave when pages take longer than three seconds.
- Even though most traffic happens over 4G, mobile sites themselves are still slow.
- Automotive, retail and technology sites have the most bloated pages and take longest to load.
- With 70 percent of mobile landing pages evaluated, it took longer than five seconds for above the fold content to display and seven seconds for all content to fully load.
How Fast Is Fast?
How fast does your site need to be for SEO?
Google’s Maile Ohye says to aim for under half a second, with two seconds at the very top limit of what’s acceptable. Why does it has to be so fast? Data supports how slow speed impacts bounce rates.
As load time go from one to three seconds, the chances your visitor will bounce becomes 32 percent. If your site takes five seconds, that probability becomes 90 percent.
Load times over two seconds affect how web crawlers can index your page. As users become impatient it impacts other metrics connected to SEO. Slow loading pages are bad for the user experience, and search engines are all about the user.
Don’t panic, we’re going to tell you some reasons your site may be slow so you can speed things up as part of your search engine optimization strategy.
Related Article: The Difference Between One Time SEO & Ongoing SEO
What Makes My Site Slow?
A slow site leads to slow business, not just falling SEO. When someone clicks on a link, a lot of things happen in the background that impacts load speed. Your browser (Chrome, Firefox etc.) requests information and data from your server and waits for the server to respond. Here are the most common speed killers.
- Your network has problems. If your site is running slowly, check a different site. If it’s just as slow, delays are related to the network.
- You need different hosting. A slow server will always impact load speed. A lot of the time, hosting involves sharing a server with other websites. It’s like a very crowded apartment building when everyone is trying to get in and out of the parking lot at the same time. You may need VPS hosting or a dedicated server.
- The site is experiencing heavy traffic. Sometimes your site needs more resources to load. Shared hosting may be okay most of the year, but can your host handle holiday or other peak time traffic? If not, it affects revenue this year and potentially customer loyalty for good.
- Your images are large and complex. Remember dial-up internet and watching images load with maddening slowness? Large images take longer to load. The more large images you have on your site, the more you slow things down. Just compressing images and text can significantly impact load speed.
- You’re using graphics when text would do. Sometimes what you see on the screen looks like letters and words, but it’s actually an image that takes time to load. Whenever possible, use an alternate font instead of text graphics.
- Your site is made of too many elements. Each image, button, stylesheet, and animation is a separate file. Think of it as what happens when people request food at a drive-through window. The process takes much less time when a family requests four burgers than when a busload of band kids ask for a wide range of items. If your page needs 50 files to load and 100 people are browsing at once, that means your server has to fill 5,000 requests simultaneously.
- Excessive plugins are running. Each one makes its own file requests, adding to the server load.
- Your CMS needs to be updated. Content management systems like WordPress, Magento and Drupal will prompt you regularly to install updates. Many of them will help reduce load speed.
Related Article: On Page SEO Checklist: Blogging for People and Search Engines
Does SSL Impact Speed?
Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) is a system that sends and receives information over the Internet. It’s a little like sending data through those clear tubes at the bank drive through. That information is visible, therefore it’s vulnerable.
Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) is similar, but it encrypts data so it can’t be compromised. SSL stands for secure socket layer, which is the means by which data is transported. It’s like writing information in a super-secret code and transmitting it in an armored car. Cyber attackers can’t access the data and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to read it.
Using HTTPS improves trust with your users. Google also uses it as a ranking factor. SSL certificates say your site is secure. The added trust is important for search engine optimization because it tells users you care about keeping them safe.
However, the extra steps involved slow things down. Basically, it involves two round trips from the user to your server.
Data travels fast, but if your server is in Australia, establishing that secure connection will impact speed. If possible, choose hosting on a server close to your visitors and talk to your web designer about additional ways to speed things up. Enabling that extra layer of security makes it even more important to trim unnecessary elements in your web design.
Related Article: The Essential SEO Jargon Glossary
Speed Doesn’t Just Hurt SEO
A one-second delay causes page views to drop by 11 percent, customer satisfaction to fall by 16 percent and seven percent fewer conversions. Fast websites keep users engaged.
Think of what you already have invested in being the best at what you do, building your reputation and marketing your brand. If your site takes more than three seconds to load, more than half of your traffic will leave before you have a chance to show them what you offer. Speed influences conversions.
A Kissmetrics study polled shoppers and found 79 percent of them said if a site performed slowly, they wouldn’t come back. More than half said speed is important to their site loyalty and 44 percent said when they had a negative experience, they told their friends. It ties back to search engine optimization, but SEO isn’t the only reason to focus on speed.
Related Article: SEO Basics: Why Your Site Needs Ongoing Maintenance
Milliseconds Not Seconds
Customers are won or lost in not just seconds, but milliseconds. When Walmart prioritized load speed, every one second of improvement earned them a two percent increase in conversions, but even smaller increments mattered. When they shaved off 100 milliseconds, revenue climbed one percent.
You may be thinking you can’t compare your business to the retail giant, but other industries saw similar improvements. Mobify is a platform for enterprise retailers. They recently reported for every 100 milliseconds their customers decreased homepage load times, they saw a 1.11 percent increase in conversion rates. That yielded average revenue increases of $376,789. When they increased the load speed of their checkout pages, they saw an even greater return.
Because load speed affects ranking, a slow site creates a snowball effect. Fewer users click on your page because you rank lower, so search engines think you’re less relevant and engaging for users. Your ranking falls again and your site receives even less traffic.
When mere milliseconds improve revenue, it makes good business sense to invest in improving your site speed. Add to that the benefits of search engine optimization and you could significantly boost your profit.
Whether you just need file compression or a website redesign, Spade Design knows the changes that make the critical difference.
See how your site measures up with our free website checker. Then get in touch with one of our web design experts for a blazing fast site that converts.