Why Page Speed Matters
But, page speed has implications beyond a poor user experience and loss of revenue — it also affects search engine rankings. SEOs have known this for years, but I wanted to find out if that factor was growing in importance. So naturally, I turned to the “government” to investigate.
The Growing Importance Of Page Speed Today
Published in February 2014 (and filed seven months after Matt Cutts’ 2010 announcement that Google was now incorporating site speed into its ranking algorithm), the patent details how web pages that load faster receive a ranking score bonus that can move them up in the organic search results:
A search result for a resource having a short load time relative to resources having longer load times can be promoted in a presentation order, and search results for the resources having longer load times can be demoted.
But, Google also factors in page speed beyond Chrome.
When someone conducts a Google search — on any device or browser — Google considers the page speed of the relevant matches, and delivers a ranking bonus to the speediest. In other words, they compare your page’s speed test results with those of your competitors. Then they reorder the results — moving your page up or down — based, in part, on load times.
Please note, however, that the ranking bonus is not based upon a single, overall speed score for a page. The patent goes on to explain how Google factors in multiple scores derived from speed tests from various countries, devices and networks.
For example, let’s say you have a site that loads quickly for US visitors, but not so fast for folks in the UK. If a user is searching for your site from the US, you may rank higher in the search results than you would if a user in the UK searched using the same keyword. It’s another layer of personalization that makes generic keyword rankings less useful as an SEO metric.
(If you are interested in learning more about this Google patent and how page speed affects rankings, I’ll be digging into it further during a Catalyst Patent Watch Webinar on April 16th.)
But, the takeaway from this exploration is that Google is tracking page speed a lot more precisely than many people realize. Knowing that might help you better understand your rankings.
In general, your best bet is to ensure that your site loads quickly in all countries, across all devices and browsers.
5 Tips To Boost Page Speed
1. Optimize Your Database
Most sites use databases to store information. If you have an e-commerce store, blog, news site, or any type of dynamic functionality like internal search, then you are using a database. However, your database can impact your page speed.
Adding an index is one of the best ways to optimize your database for page speed improvements. Doing so will help your database find information faster. Instead of having to scan millions of records, your database can rely on an index to narrow down the data to a few hundred. This helps the data get returned to the page much faster.
For example, recently I was working on a site where the most popular pages were loading very slowly, taking between two to ten seconds each.
The problem was buried in the database — the table that stored the requested data didn’t have an index on it. After adding the index, the average page load time was reduced from the 2- to 10-second range to less than 1 second.
As you can see in the chart below, some load times were north of ten seconds — and, as I mentioned earlier, nobody is going to wait that long for a page to load. (Note that the page load times are measured in seconds — the lower the number, the faster the page loaded.)
2. Ditch Your Tracking Codes, Video Embeds & Share Buttons
Remember, simplicity is key. Every time you add another tracking code to your page, it slows it down. For tracking codes you do include, be sure to put it at the bottom of the page. That way, the page can be displayed to the user even if the code hasn’t finished loading yet.
Also, limit the use of video embeds. Why? Video is a great way to build consumer engagement and create a better user experience; however, most video embeds (including YouTube) use iFrames to display the video.
iFrames place a real drag on page load times because they are essentially causing you to load a whole separate page within your main page.
Try limiting the number of share buttons on each page. This will help prioritize the marketing benefits rather than the negative impact to page speed.
Balance Page Speed With Rankings & Traffic
For instance, many sites would prefer an increase in traffic due to share buttons and are comfortable with a decrease in rankings.
Bottom line: Multiple videos or share buttons on a page can dramatically slow down load time. It’s okay to use tracking codes, embed videos, and include share buttons, but be selective.
3. Use Caching When Available
Up until the last year or two, browser caching capabilities were pretty limited. But once HTML5 came on the scene, it received some major updates.
For example, Local Storage allows you to store megabits of data using the browser instead of requiring it to be stored in your server’s database.
Alternatively, Application Cache lets you write fully-functional web applications that can run offline. The benefits of these two caching mechanisms are:
- Speed: They allow you to access resources from your local computer so you don’t have to wait for the server to provide them.
- Cost Savings: As you increase the use of local storage, your server use will decrease. That means you’ll be paying for less bandwidth and server usage.
- Offline Browsing: Your users won’t have to worry about your app not working when their Wi-Fi goes down; their phone enters a dead zone, or you need to take the site down briefly for maintenance.
4. Content Delivery Networks
Wouldn’t it be great if a copy of your page could exist in a server both in Paris and in Texas? This is exactly what a content delivery network (CDN) does.
A CDN has servers all over the world, and they’ll store a copy of your website on those servers. This way, no matter where a visitor is, they’ll have access to content resident on a nearby server.
But you don’t have to pay for a CDN. Surprise, surprise, Google is offering a free CDN called PageSpeed Service. In true Google fashion, they’re giving it away for free for a while. Then once you’re hooked, they’ll charge for it. That said, pricing will likely be competitive, and you’ll always have the option of switching to another provider down the road.
5. The Most Important Page Speed Tool
It is particularly valuable because Google uses a similar speed analysis as a factor in your rankings. Using this tool will allow you to see what Google sees. And if you’re smart, you might want to run it for competitors, and see how you stack up!
Do It For Your Users
Remember, you will never go wrong by making your site faster — traffic will never decrease, sales will never drop and engagement will never fall off. We all love speed, and if your site is blazing fast, we will all love you!
How has page speed affected your rankings? Got any page-speed boosting tips and tricks? Please share them here.