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Does Site Speed Affect SEO?

When looking to improve the SEO of your website, we often go right to the content of the website. Is this the wrong thing to do? Not at all. It’s incredibly important to focus on the content and keywords of your site. But what about site speed? Can that affect your SEO? Absolutely.

Page speed is defined as the length of time it takes to display all the content on a specific page or the length of time it takes for a browser to receive a web server’s first byte. To put it in less technical terms, page speed is how long it takes for the browser to receive the first batch of information from the server.

Every page element — its HTML code, CSS that styles page elements, various JavaScript files, images, videos and other multimedia and so much more — affects the page speed. In fact, anything from an element’s size (measured in kilobytes) to the speed of the web server they are hosted on will affect the page speed. 

Page speed is measured on desktop and mobile devices separately. This is because of technology differences, resulting in a different experience for desktop and mobile users. Because of the importance of mobile indexing, it’s important to not just focus on the desktop version of your site since that one is typically easier to load faster.

Why Site Speed Matters

Page speed is important to users because, well, faster pages are more efficient and provide a much better on-page user experience.

If a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load, over a quarter of users will click away and choose a different search result. Increasing bounce rate is not what SEOs are looking to do!

Mobile users expect fast load speed, too. 73% of users reported visiting a website with a slow loading speed. Page speed also affects conversion rate. For example, Walmart.com noted that with every second of increased page speed, they saw a two percent increase in conversion.

But, perhaps less intuitively, page speed is also important for search engine optimization (SEO).

In 2010, Google announced that page speed would be included as one of the ranking factors for their search index.

In 2017, Google announced they would give page speed even more consideration, incorporating mobile site speed to rank sites on its “mobile-first” pages, or pages that individualize rankings for mobile sites. Google is also experimenting with an Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) – a project aiming to make pages load more quickly on mobile devices.

More recently, the search engine expanded the importance of the user experience by introducing Page Experience to its ranking signals. This new ranking signal combines Core Web Vitals with existing metrics like mobile friendliness and safe browsing to create search signals for overall Page Experience. 

Page Experience signals aim to evaluate web pages by the quality of their user experience for real people. In short, they expand Google’s recent on-page criteria with factors that affect the person’s experience while consuming the content. 

Needless to say, page speed is one of the most critical factors that affect it.

Site Speed Metrics

Page speed is a complex factor tied to website performance, and to overcome any issues related to it, it pays to understand how it is being measured. 

There are several metrics that affect or relate to page speed. Let’s take a look at the Core Web Vitals:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This relates to a page’s load time. Specifically, it represents that a page’s main content has loaded appropriately. 
  • First Input Delay (FIP): Deals with a page’s interactivity; the First Input Delay represents the time from when a user first interacts with your site, to when the browser is able to respond appropriately to that interaction. 
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Highlights the instances when a page’s layout shift unexpectedly, or the visual stability of the page. If a page shifts, users can accidentally click on the wrong button on a page.

Factors that Slow Pages Down

With these persuasive statistics, you certainly want to make sure your site is loading quickly. Take into consideration a few ways your site might slow down.

First, a heavy image page, especially on sites with responsive or high DPI images, can load slowly. Optimizing images can make your website more lightweight; so can distributing them through a content delivery network (CDN) to render those files from a location closer to where the user is.

Another problem occurs if your web page has too many large files that must be downloaded.

Rendering too many JavaScript scripts will slow a page down as well. A JavaScript compression or minimization tool decreases your download size.

Does your site leverage server caching of your pages? This stores copies of your web pages from a week to up to a year for a less frequently updated page and can lower your TTFB (Time to First Byte). 

Unused code, be it CSS, JS or other scripts left over in the page’s HTML will also increase the page load time. 

Another severe problem is rendering scripts too early or too late. Often, webmasters design their pages to be consumed only after the entire content has been loaded.

However, for most users, seeing the above-the-fold content first is enough to start enjoying the page. This gives the browser time to load the rest of the page (all below-the-fold elements,) without keeping a user waiting. 

This is very much on the “technical” side of things when it comes to SEO, which means a lot of digital marketers like to stay away from it. Not us. If you have any questions regarding your technical SEO, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation.

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