Website Speed and SEO

Website speed and SEO go hand in hand.  Google have announced that as of July 2018 there will be a ranking boost available on mobile for faster sites over slower ones.  Now the mobile-internet revolution is in full throttle and continuing to accelerate even further, fast load times for all sites, and particularly when seeking visitors on mobile devices, are crucial.

Fast Is The Only Speed

Recent research by Doubleclick by Google into the impact on publisher revenues of page load speed on mobile found slow loading pages were considered a real frustration for users.  However, take heart, because if you do have a site with slow loading webpages, you’re certainly not on your own.  Doubleclick’s research found that “the average webpage took 19 seconds to load over a 3G connection” (Doubleclick, 2017).  The study involved looking at over 10,000 websites to add to its credibility overall.  The bad news is that over 53% of mobile pages visited in the study were abandoned if they took longer than 3 seconds to load (Doubleclick, 2017).   That’s potentially a lot of lost revenue, and a negative first impression for new visitors to your website.

Working on optimising page load times can give you a real advantage over competitors, given the above averages.  The spoils for those who make the extra effort to lighten the load for mobile visitors are potentially high.  Again, Doubleclick’s research found that overall advertisers with web pages loading in under 5 seconds achieved x2 mobile ad revenue over sites with pages taking longer than 5 seconds to load.

Bounce rates were much lower at only 35% and average sessions were on average 70% longer per visit (Doubleclick, 2017).

The search engine giant is planning to release ‘transcoding’ feature which loads webpages up faster on slow mobile connections. The problem is it strips away content will can leave your website looking bare and unprofessional.

Not only that, but researchers claim online users only have the patience to wait between one and four seconds for a page to load (depending on which report you read).

Essentially, all the signs point towards having a fast loading website. The key is to make your pages as lightweight as possible so here are a few tips of how you can easily achieve that.

How to Speed Up Your Website

Often there are some simple steps you can take to speed up your website which don’t mean you need to spend hours talking with developers (if you don’t develop your own website), nor spend lots of money on getting big fixes in place to make things faster.

Here are a few of the steps you can take to make your site faster and potentially benefit from improved rankings from any SEO speed boosts.

Streamline HTTP requests

A webpage contains separate components, each of which has an HTTP request. The more components on your webpage, the longer it takes your webpage to load.

You can reduce the number of requests made to your server by streamlining components. Here’s how:

  • Reduce the size of HTML files, CSS and JavaScript by compressing them with a minifier
  • Combine JavaScript and CSS files

Defer javaScript parsing

When JavaScript is added to the top of an HTML document it slows the page down, but you can fix this by deferring parsing so the code slots in at the bottom. This is an easy fix using the defer attribute in the HTML code.

Resize and compress images

Large resolution images can put a strain on load times, but it is an easy fix by compressing the number of pixels and resizing the frame in Photoshop. However, this adds more admin time every time you post a blog article, but fortunately Google’s page speed plugin has a default compressor which fixes the images for you.

Prioritise load speed for above-the-fold content

A sneaky but neat little trick of speeding up your load times is to split your CSS stylesheet in two so that the top half of your webpage loads quickly. It doesn’t matter then if the lower portions of your website load a little slower.

Therefore, don’t include heavy content like high-res images or videos in your above fold content as this knocks down the text users have already started reading – and losing your place whilst reading is not a good user-experience.

Don’t overload plugins

Plugins are useful for all manner of things, but unfortunately they do slow down the load times of your website. Therefore, prioritise which plugins you really need and ditch those you don’t. Before you decide which plugins to lose, you may want to run server tests to determine which are the heaviest.

Reduce the number of redirects

Redirects require HTTP requests which as we established earlier increase load times. If you are redirecting mobile users to a responsive part of your website, use a HTTP redirect to send visitors to the equivalent URL rather than a standard redirect.

Alternatively, you can include a markup in your code to redirect users to the mobile equivalent URL.

If you know you need to improve load speeds, but are not sure what is weighing your site down, you can check page speed scores using Google’s Page Speed Insights.

WordPress and speed optimisation

There is a focus on user-experience in the SEO world right now. Information architecture and technical SEO is vital to the foundations of your website, and that includes how quickly your site loads.

Although WordPress is one of the most popular blog platforms to use, SEO-friendly is not one of its benefits. As a matter of fact, some WP plugins that improve usability have a negative impact on your sites performance.

If your WP is already chugging on instalments, run a plugin profiler to identify which are causing more harm than good. And get rid of them. You may have to adopt a different way of working, but at least people will see your work. It’s the lesser of two evils.

Find a reliable hosting company

It seems web hosting companies are two to a penny these days and all offer competitively low rates – for the first year at least. They soon claw that back though. But it is not price you should concern yourself with – it’s performance.

Hosting sites can delay the load up times of your website, especially if you are lumped on the same server as thousands of other subscribers. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out for a dedicated server, but check your host providers policy on server space.

Keep CSS & javascript files to a minimum

Each plugin you install is coded with either CSS or Javascript files, each of which has some negative performance impact on your site – which is not good. You can reduce some of the impact by only using plugins that combine CSS and Java.

Removing these scripts from footers will also boost the performance of your site, but requires hacking your theme so make sure your developer can do this. Alternatively, use the scripts to footer plugin, but be aware this may conflict with other plugins that are more useful.

Caching and compression

Another useful but technically complicated option is caching to reduce the amount of weight your site is carrying. Caching essentially stores information on a local disk drive and improves the overall performance and experience of the user.

WP also have a feature that compresses content, both images and texts. The problem is, the AJAX dashboard doesn’t work very well so you need to use HTTP Compression or the WP Smush it plugin.

If you have a WordPress site that is underperforming and not delivering a good user-experience across all devices, you will lose visitors to your site that would otherwise be potential customers. By ensuring your website is working at full-steam you can get your online train chugging.

HTTP/2 and SEO

HTTP/2 has been a godsend for SEO. The protocol effectively improves browser-server communication which subsequently reduces load times and improves the performance of your website.

Is HTTP/2 a ranking factor?

It is important to note that Google have confirmed that as of yet they do not automatically give a ranking boost simply because a site is running HTTP/2.

The main benefit is of course, the improved speed when HTTP/2 is implemented.

Given page load speed is considered a ranking factor (however large), and makes for a better user experience which search engines are trying to emulate.  it makes sense to implement this when you can.  However, it is also very important to note that when Google is crawling a site it currently crawls using HTTP/1 and not HTTP/2.

Certainly HTTP/2 should be on your tech roadmap if you haven’t implemented it already simply because of the increased speed for users to your site.

All this points towards a better user-experience.

If you are not already supporting HTTP/2, you should do soon. The protocol strips away redundant language that complicates file requests and slows down load times. Fast load speeds are critical to the amount of traffic your website receives.

Moving from HTTP/1 to HTTP/2

Making the switch to HHTP/2 is easy. There are no pitfalls. Even if a browser does not support the new protocol now, it will do soon. In the meantime, it automatically reverts to HTTP/1.1. So websites will still load, but at the standard pace.

To support the latest protocol on your website, update your server software. You should already be supporting HTTP/1.1. If not you will need to implement this protocol before you can add HTTP/2.

For more information about implementing HTTP/2 check out this comprehensive guide.

The only caveat emptor of HTTP/2 is that it only works on secure connections. So check your website is secured. Most are so you shouldn’t have any problems.

HTTP/2 is such as revelation, Search Engine Journal columnist, Patrick Stox described it as “the greatest advancements in web technology in the past 20 years.”

If that’s not enough to compel your to make the switch to HTTP/2, we don’t know what will convince you.  Going forward, as web performance and the switch to mobile by users generally becomes increasingly important, it is key not to get left behind with a slow loading site, particularly as Google have recently hinted that they will be considering speed a factor to consider for ranking on mobile sites independent of the speed on a desktop device.  HTTP/2 is a big step towards speeding up a website.

Faster speeds on mobile

Google’s help and hindrance pendulum is swinging towards help for mobile users. The internet capstone has developed a way of making slow-loading pages quicker on mobile handsets that have laboured connectivity.

The company has called the initiative ‘transcoding’ which really means that what webmasters haven’t done for themselves, Google will do it for you. However, this means blocking out heavy content so pages will load quicker.

So for online retailers, the pendulum could swing towards hindrance.

Still, Google does have good intentions. They want to provide users with an enjoyable user-experience, even if that means cutting the arms off retailers at the elbows. After all, why should Google care, they pull in around $16m a quarter from advertisers they chop arms off. So you can’t slap them.

2G transcoding

The testing ground for ‘transcoding’ has been Indonesia which has a high percentage of 2G broadband. Early tests show 50 per cent of pages have faster load times once they are stripped of bytes.

On the upside, fast-loading websites are proven to increase conversions. In 2013, Kissmetrics reported that mobile users will log out of a website that has not loaded up within three seconds. Three seconds! Now that is impatient.

But take it as a warning. Slow sites get you nowhere fast. Google are actually doing you a favour. Now it is up to you that you do not lose the most relevant content that will negatively impact on online sales.

Stripped down web design

Google say the way to speed up load times is to remove irrelevant content. The problem retailers face is they have no control over what content Googlebots consider relevant. For starters, much of the design is stripped away so there is little point paying developers to design a website full of bells and whistles.

Ironically, Google ads are not removed and they are the last thing mobile users want interfering with their user-experience that Google is trying to improve. The pendulum swings.

But the upside is, a fast-loading webpage is more likely to retain visitors than a slow loader, and there is a link that gives users the option to visit the fully transcoded version of your website. Furthermore, most mobile users around the globe are connected to 3G or 4G broadband and are not affected by slow downloads.

When Google launch transcoding worldwide however, it could have serious consequences. Sites that use videos for example are notoriously slow, so too mainstream newspapers. If this is the case with your website, you will have to find a way of making your website lightweight without losing your most important content.

Planning transcoded content

There is no avoiding transcoding and you will have to wait and see how badly affected your website is before you take action. The good news for most retailers is that fast-loading pages can have a positive impact on conversions.

So to take advantage of Google’s transcoding, don’t pitch too much heavy content on one page. If you are using images and videos, purchasing processes will have to spread across three or more pages starting with a landing page to raise interest/desire, a second page with images and bullet features, optional video page and finally a separate page for detailed product descriptions.

We know by now that Google do what they think is best for end-users. Whether consumers will agree that stripped down web designs and page hopping is a good idea awaits to be seen, but what we do know is that online shoppers are impatient and have a “need for speed”.

So be a Top Gun!

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