How page speed affects your search ranking
It really does! Here’s the lowdown on what slow pages can do to your site’s search visibility.
Google uses a range of different factors to determine how and where to rank a domain. These include the content of a webpage, from the text itself through to the URL, titles and meta-data; the authenticity of a website, including factors such as the age of the domain; and the quality and number of backlinks to a site.
In 2010, Google announced that site speed will also be used to determine search results, its rationale being that slow sites tarnish user experience and should therefore be ranked lower down in the search results. While it’s one of about 200 signals that Google uses in page ranking, its importance extends beyond technical SEO to user experience.
Why site speed matters
Back in her Google days, Marissa Mayer led a study that found that just a half a second increase in speed could reduce traffic by as much as 20%. Moreover, studies show nearly half of internet users expect a site to load in two seconds or less, and often abandon sites that haven’t loaded within three seconds.
This puts the sweet spot for site speed at about three seconds or less, and when Google compares your site to competitors it will reward you with a brownie point if yours is faster. However, while site speed is important, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal.
That said, site speed can have an indirect effect on search rankings by creating a poor user experience. The slower a site is, the more likely visitors are to bounce – and a high bounce rate feeds into rankings. What’s more, unhappy customers are unlikely to come back, resulting in lower traffic and likely fewer good backlinks from credible sources. All these factors do play a core role in how Google ranks sites.
Finally, a slow page speed means search engines can crawl fewer pages in their allocated time slots, which can negatively affect your indexation and result in some of your finest content going unnoticed.
What can cause slow page speeds?
There are many different underlying factors that can cause slow load times. The best places to start analysing these are Google’s PageSpeed tool and Yahoo’s YSlow. The tool analyses the load speed of a given URL, picking up underlying causes of slow speed and as well as tips for better page speed. Think of it as a way to see what Google sees. Even better, you can use it to compare the speeds of competitor sites.
Here are some common factors that can contribute to lower page speeds:
- Your web host: Your user’s request has to be relayed to the server on which your website is hosted, and some servers are more powerful than others. Moreover, the location of your server can play a role – the closer it is, the less far the data has to travel.
- Unoptimised images: Lots of full-size, high quality images can dent speed, so consider reducing image format and quality.
- Inefficient and bulky code: The fewer lines of code there are, the faster the load time.
- Too much Flash: While Flash can add interactivity and animation to sites, it can also slow them down. Try and avoid Flash and go for HTML5 / CSS3 / JQuery alternatives.
- External embedded media: Think videos, slideshows and interactive maps.
- Static versus dynamic content: Static web pages load much faster than dynamic pages because they require less frequent interaction between the site and the server.
- Too many plug-ins: These add extra weight to the server.
Ready to get to work on making your pages faster? Try these five easy ways to improve your page speed.