There’s nothing worse than landing on a website and it takes ages to load or fails to completely. Though the days of dial-up are only recent history really, we’ve progressed a long way in our tech and expectations for website performance.
We have a very low patience for slow load speeds! And Google knows this, website load speed is still a major consideration in SEO since it was first introduced into the algorithm in 2010. Google has indicated that load speed is one of the major signals used within its algorithm to determine page rankings, and in 2020 this means you need to consider both mobile and desktop speeds.
Google’s Mobile First Indexing now covers 70% of sites within the search engine. This mobile-first approach simply means that Google now looks at your mobile site before desktop and ranks your domain based on the performance of the mobile version, not the desktop! All new domains within Google are indexed based on Mobile-First and it’s slowly shifting over the remaining sites, with all websites to be on Mobile-First Indexing from September 2020.
An analysis of 5 million mobile and desktop pages by Backlinko found that the average web page takes nearly 90% longer to load on mobile than desktop. Which is massive! Especially since most web developers and SEO’s still tend to focus the majority of their attention on the desktop version of the site, ensuring it all looks good and works well on that platform.
This means that more focus needs to be placed on the performance of your mobile site and you need to be optimising your mobile site if you’re aiming for ranking improvements.
Studies show: 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
Speed: Based on the moment your website begins to appear in the browser
Site speed: measures the speed of all the pages that make up your site, based on real-world data collected via Google in the Chrome User Experience report which is updated monthly.
Page speed: the speed of an individual page on your site, you can improve the overall site speed by improving individual page speeds.
According to Google, it identifies the following thresholds for load speed, independent of location, connection, platform and page vs site.
Fast: 0-1 second
Average: 1-2.5 seconds
Slow: 2.5 seconds and up
Many website owners assume that it will just load easily, and don’t understand the varying factors that impact your site. So, let’s dive into them now.
Your CMS. This is the Content Management System or platform your website is built on. The analysis by Backlinko identified Squarespace and Weebly as having the best overall mobile page speed performance, while WordPress and Wix ranked near the bottom.
Page size has a significant impact on overall load speed, on both desktop and mobile. But, it is more important on mobile, this may mean reducing image file sizes or removing unnecessary third-party apps depending on your website.
Images on site. Images tend to make up a big chunk of the overall page size, so if they’re large files they take time to load and can delay the overall load process for other on-page elements. As the use of imagery is as an extremely important visual cue for viewers, it can also negatively impact user-experience if they’re slow to load.
Don’t just think of your main banner images for compression either, but consider logos and icons, as these can regularly slip under the radar and cause issues. In particular ensure your FavIcon is the proper size and your site is not trying to load a full-sized logo for every page.
Bulky code can also slow down sites, and this is a very common recommendation to come across in the speed testing tools. It refers to removing the spaces, commas and unnecessary characters from the code files. This can drastically improve load speed, but isn’t always easy to do, and definitely should not be attempted by anyone new to code. You could risk breaking your site… a costly and timely mistake to fix!
Excessive 3rd party scripts slow down speed. This refers to any external service that may communicate with your site from outside your own server. Such as Google Analytics or Social pixels and sharing tools. Because each of these has to make the load request externally, then wait for a response, and THEN start to load, this can again delay the whole page load process and push out your overall time.
Redirects add wait time, again going through the request, wait, load cycle. It’s important to maintain a clean website and this means making it easy to navigate and not having constantly changing URL’s that require redirects.
Browser caching can be a big-time saver on certain CMS’. You cannot access the necessary files on Squarespace to do this, but for WordPress it can be extremely efficient to leverage browser caching. This means that data, such as images and code, are stored locally and so less data is downloaded from the server as they navigate through the pages. This is only relevant for repeat visits though, as the first visit still has to fetch all of the data externally.
If you’re building a new site or considering rebuilding your existing website, be sure to evaluate the different platforms and their pros & cons. As mentioned Squarespace on average performs best overall for speed, but this may not suit your needs.
It’s recommended to compress images so they’re at the smallest possible file size while still maintaining quality. I’ve seen many sites that have directly uploaded their original images from a brand photo shoot… These are images that are upwards of 1MB. Very slow to load! Usually you can compress this size image down to under 1MB for banner images, and less than 0.5MB for smaller pics.
Responsive images; those that change size automatically to suit the browser, are the best performing in terms of speed, which is why using a CMS platform with built-in responsive design (like Squarespace) is very helpful.
It was thought that using a CDN to host these scripts was the best solution, especially if you had a lot of them, but studies have shown that pages utilising a CDN performed worse than those without. The best thing to do is review your 3rd party scripts and see if they’re all necessary, and if they are then run your site through a tool like webpagetest.org to see what scripts are taking up time – you can hover your mouse over the resource to see more details… if the item does not start with your domain name, then it is external.
This is a pretty detailed report, so it’s best to pass on to your web developer for assistance if you return bad scores.
Cut out the fluff with your on-page content! This can be a double-edged sword, as relevant, content-rich pages do help with SEO. But in order for them to be attractive you need to include images and pretty design… which can drive up load speeds. It’s best to be clear and concise across your pages and instead utilise blogs to increase keyword relevancy and build authority, linking back to relevant internal pages as necessary. This way you keep down load speeds on page while still delivering high-quality content.
Location also plays a part in load times. Australia is at the bottom with India and Brazil in an 11-country comparison of load times for TTFB (Time To First Byte of HTML)… so sadly, there’s not much you can do about this if you’ve addressed load speed and are still returning low scores and high TTFB times.
Contact your web developer or an SEO team to assist you. It can seem pretty overwhelming, especially if you’ve run the reports and it seems like a foreign language! But, hopefully by now you’ve realised how important it is to address… so don’t put it into the too-hard basket! Pass on your concerns or queries to those that understand and seek expert help to improve your website performance.
And definitely DO NOT attempt to edit code files on your website yourself if you’re not confident in your ability to fix mistakes!!
The biggest thing to keep in mind is to test your site and monitor progress. By using Google Analytics to track visitor behaviour you are able to see how your changes and load speed increase have an effect on visitor behaviour, bounce rate and conversions. This is the biggest signal you’re making progress!
As it can be hard to get perfect scores with most of Google’s tools, you’ll do yourself a disservice if you’re chasing perfect scores instead of optimising for your customer’s experience. The beauty of it is though, once you’re aware of poor load speeds and make concerted efforts to improve them, you’re likely to see greater traffic and engagement – which also helps with your rankings. You’re ticking two very important boxes for SEO, speed and UX, and helping increase your rankings visibility!
I’ve put together a free download which lays out all of the best SEO tools you need to know and be using, as well as broken them down across different CMS platforms as well. If you’re interested in reviewing your website in more detail, grab the download and start testing!
Until next time,
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Download the list of the best SEO tools to use on your website to improve load speed. I've included the must-haves, as well as those to use on the slowest, common website platforms; WordPress & Wix. You'll be loading at speed after this!
Whether you have a new or existing site, no matter what platform you're on, irrelevant of your level of expertise... you can use my SEO Checklist to optimise your website and ensure it's spick & span for Google and customers alike!