The importance of site speed as a ranking factor is nothing new, so I was at first surprised to see “The Need for Speed” as a session at SMX East 2016. But Fili Wiese did a great job giving insights on advanced tactics for improving site speed and explaining why it doesn’t just impact rankings.
Site Speed Matters for Rankings
I’ll start with the obvious reasons that we still need to keep site speed in mind. Google has made statements that if all other ranking factors are considered equal, site speed would be the tie breaker for which web page would rank better. It’s unlikely that you’d ever have a showdown between two pages where all things are considered equal, but we know that Google has increased the weight of site speed, especially on mobile search, lately.
Site Speed Matters for User Experience
Site speed also matters for user experience. Users are extremely impatient and expect instant results or answers. If they feel your website is loading slowly (especially on mobile devices where data usage may be limited), they’ll likely navigate back to the search engine to find another site. Google wants its users to be happy with the results it shows, and if the #1 rankings always have the slowest sites, users may be less inclined to search as much on the search engine. Also, if users have to go back to Google, rather than finding exactly what they’re looking for on the first link they click from the SERPs, that uses more of Google’s server (individually that might not matter, but multiplied by millions of searches a day, it adds up). Thus, it’s easy to see why Google favors faster sites while keeping user experience in mind.
Site Speed Matters for Indexing
You obviously want your site to be crawled by Google (so it can rank) and for changes/updates to your site to be found quickly (to rank faster). If your site is slow for the users, it’s also slow for the search crawler. Googlebot will adjust to what your server can handle, meaning you’re missing out on potential rankings because Google is not getting back to your new or updated content for recrawls as fast. Non-indexed pages can’t rank!
Site Speed Matters for Profitability
This one has less to do with the search algorithm and more about what you really care about: growing your business and making more money! Users want a fast user experience (see above) and if they experience a slow site, they’re likely not going to wait around—they’re going to find a competitor. Whether you’re e-commerce and miss out on a direct sale online or you’re a service business and the customer simply can’t get the phone number or contact form to load, a potential customer going to a competitor’s site is never good. First impressions (like dating) for site speed is important for the ROI of your website for new and returning customers (Wiese shared that retention for returning customers is actually lower if your page speed is lower), so there are long-term negative business implications of a slow site.
Considerations for Improving Your Site Speed
Most of us concerned about site speed know about Google Page Speed Insights and Wiese shares that this is still your friend and resource. Obviously, the goal for site speed would be to get a 100/100 for desktop and mobile tests (he does say it’s possible!).
I won’t get too technical in all the tips you can use to improve site speed, but here are the main considerations:
Optimizing front end for site speed improvements – here, you want your content to load first (so the user can start reading it, even if other elements on your page haven’t loaded yet). Make sure the content isn’t jumping around the device or screen as other elements do (because we’ve all experienced that and it’s quite annoying), but let your user and the crawler start digesting the most important meat of the page first.
Optimizing back end for site speed improvements – having an HTTPS used to slow down site speed, but now it’s basically the same as not having SSL. One trick is to pre-loading HSTS so that the browser knows that your site is HTTPS. Here’s what that means. Most users don’t type in “http://” or “https://” in to their browser when they directly write in your URL. The browser then first tries to add http:// and if you have a secure site, it finds that the site is actually secure and then has to try and reload the site on https:// instead. That can slow down your website (granted by a few miliseconds, but still slows it down). By pre-loading your site, you’re telling the browsers “Hey…I’m a 100% secure site. Always try https:// first!” The browsers then keep a master list of secure sites so they know the protocol is to not waste their (or the user’s) time going the non-secure http:// route first.
Follow Us at SMX East 2016
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About The Author: Hannah is the SEO Team Lead at Blue Corona. If she's not busy daydreaming about the training session for her team, you can find her improving client conversion rates and planning her next trip.
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