Does Page Speed Really Affect Your Rankings?

We’ve all been there, you are shopping online or searching for some information when you see a website of interest and click on the link to check it out. One second passes, then two, now three, maybe even four! That’s it, you’ve given up and gone back to the search results, you’ll look somewhere else to find what you’re after. It’s a reality of modern life that we expect things almost instantly, and that’s because technology and high-speed broadband has made it possible for us to have almost anything we need at the click of a button. Handy as this may be, it has somewhat detracted from our patience.

In fact, according to Neil Patel 40% of users will abandon a website that takes over three seconds to load.  While a further 32.3% said they’d wait for up to six seconds for a page to load and Google’s own data from Google Analytics suggests that the real bounce rate caused by slow loading sites may be even higher than that. This is concerning news for many businesses, particularly those in the e-commerce space as it has also been revealed that almost 70% of consumers admit that slow page speed would impact their willingness to buy from a retailer.

The Need For Website Speed

It’s clear then that website loading speed is important for all businesses. Pages that take too long to load can have a number of damaging effects on a business. We know that it can impact sales, and even damage the reputation of the brand but can does it really have an effect on how well you rank on search engines? Let’s take a deeper look to find out exactly how page speed affects your rankings and what you can do to improve the speed of your website. To do this, we’ll take a close look at the following questions:

  1.    What is page speed?
  2.    What can slow your pages down?
  3.    Does speed really affect rankings and how?
  4.    Is mobile included in this?
  5.    What Is Google PageSpeed Insights?
  6.    What other tools can I use to improve my load time?

What is page speed?

While it might seem obvious, let’s first take a quick look at what page speed actually is so we know what we’re talking about. Page speed is the speed at which each page on your site loads and this is measured in seconds, (if it’s being measured in minutes you’re really in trouble!). All pages can differ due to a number of factors. What’s more speed can be affected by other aspects too, such as your internet connection, the server’s performance, the device you’re using, the browser and how many apps the user is running at the time.

It sounds unfair I know, because some of those things are outside your control. But this is why all website owners must put the time and effort into optimising their site to ensure it’s performing as best it can and each page loads as fast as possible. After all, we’ve already learnt that anything more than three seconds could cost you a visitor and potentially a sale. In this next section we’ll look in more detail at what could be slowing your specific website down so you can fix any problems.

What can slow your pages down?

There are a number of things that can slow your website down, some of the biggest contributing factors are outlined below.

1. Your host: When setting up your website you might have taken some shortcuts to save yourself some money, but this can cause you problems further down the line. You need to make sure you choose the right host for the size and scope of your business and the content you’ll be hosting on it. If you are expecting a lot of traffic, then consider VPS or dedicated hosting rather than being on a shared server.

2. Your theme: Some themes are highly customized with lots of great features and effects, but this really slows your website down and if you need to constantly add plugins to add different functions to the website then it can become very clumpy very quickly.

3. Large images: If your site is home to lots of big files and images these can slow it down too. It’s usually better to use PNG instead of JPEG to save space. Try to compress and minify your images when you upload them onto the website, this will save you some precious load time.

4. Embedded media: External media such as videos from other sites can also slow down your page. In order to get some of this back you can host the videos on your own server.

5. Unoptimised browsers and plugins: Page speed can be affected by unoptimised browsers, plugins and apps, so it’s a good idea to test your site on all browsers to check its speed and see what you can do about this.

6. Widgets: Some widgets such as social media buttons can slow your pages down. Look at what you need and what you don’t and if in doubt consult your developers, they might be able to create a function that doesn’t use up as much space and time.

7. Lots of ads: Too many adverts can annoy your visitors but can also slow down your website. That’s why it’s best to be selective with your advertising.

8. Your code: If your HTML, CSS and JavaScript is not very efficient or is very dense, this can also affect your page speed. Applying Gzip compression to them will save you a lot of load time, again consult your developers for more detail on this.

But does speed really affect rankings and how?

The simple answer to this question is yes, page speed really does affect your rankings on search engines. There are a number of reasons for this which we’ll look at in more detail below, but one of the biggest reasons that your rankings can be affected by page speeds is that it’s widely accepted that Google’s algorithm considers loading time as an important ranking factor. This was highlighted started back in 2010 when Google made public their regard of page speed as an important issue that webmasters should be focusing on.

There are other indirect ways that page speed is affecting your SEO, and this is something that experts have desperately been trying to educate businesses on for a number of years. This is because site speed impacts SEO in a couple of important ways. Firstly, by improving the speed of your website and ensuring loading time is no more than a second or two, you’ll likely increase your conversion rates.

As previously stated, users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. This can cost you visitors and cause your bounce rate to increase. Your bounce rate is something that search engines take into consideration when ranking your website. This is because if a high number of people are leaving your site almost immediately, it’s clearly not loading properly or offering them the value they were looking for, something which search engine algorithms take very seriously (that’s basically their main function after all). So, put simply, the higher your engagement and the lower your bounce rates, the higher you’ll rank on search engines like Google.

Not only this but increasing the loading speed of your website will improve your user experience. This in turn can help to increase dwell time on your pages. In the introduction we talked about how poor page speed can affect user experience and put potential customers off, with a staggering 70% saying slow pages would deter them from making a purchase. It’s therefore crucial that your site is user friendly and offers the best possible experience, with load time playing a huge part in this. The longer people spend on your site and the better their experience with it, the higher it’ll rank on search engines.

Mobile vs desktop and how this affects your rankings

Another aspect that can affect your rankings is the loading time of your pages on different devices. With so many people now using their smartphone or tablet as their primary device, mobile has become an increasing area of focus for many businesses. So much so that 30% of mobile users will abandon making a purchase from a site that’s not mobile friendly, and this percentage is only set to rise in the future. Because so many user searches are now coming from mobile devices, search engines have had to adjust to accommodate this. The increasing popularity of mobile searches means it would be foolish for search engines not to take this into account when ranking websites.

PageSpeed Tools

After all, some people may never actually see the desktop version of your site, using only their mobile device. So, another thing you need to take into consideration is whether you’ve optimised your site for mobile and how long your pages take to load on these devices. If you’re finding that these are slower due to aspects such as network and 3G, you may need to carry on working on your pages to ensure they’re optimised for mobile and don’t have slow loading times through these increasingly popular devices.

The long and short of it is, your webpages might look great on a desktop and you might think you’ve done your best to boost page speed, but if it doesn’t load quickly on a mobile device you’ll be penalised by search engines and won’t rank as highly as you’d like to.

What Is Google PageSpeed Insights and how does it work?

Google’s primary tool for assessing your loading times and helping you to improve your page speeds is PageSpeed Insights. This is a free online tool and it can help you to understand what issues are slowing down your website and how to go about addressing them. One of the reasons that we clarified just what page speed was earlier on and how it was measured (in seconds), is because PageSpeed works slightly differently. Through analysing user experience, accessibility and performance such as bounce rates and conversions, this tool is able to give you a score out of 100. You can also gain bonus points if your site is faster than your competitors. This score is important because Google takes it into consideration when ranking your website and pages.

That said, this system is not fool proof. In fact, we’re unsure whether Google actually uses your load time in seconds, or solely rely on your score from PageSpeed when ranking your site. Not to mention some sites that receive a lower score can still rank very highly (for example, YouTube). Despite this, it’s still best to do all you can to achieve the highest score possible on PageSpeed, as Google clearly values this tool and does take it into consideration. Once you’ve been given a score, you’ll also receive tips and helpful advice from Google as to how you can improve your loading times.

Page Speed Tool

What other tools can I use to improve my load time?

PageSpeed Insights is not the only tool on the internet that can help you assess the performance and load time of your website. There are a few different tools that you can choose from to help you improve your page speed and work on other areas of your site that can boost your loading times and SEO. These are outlined in more detail below:

  •  Webpage Test – This is another Google tool that offers a quick and free speed test and gives you charts on how to optimise your page speed.
  •  YUI Compressor – This tool allows you to compress your website’s code, minimising the JavaScript and CSS to boost loading times.
  •  YSlow – This is a plugin that gives you insights into how your website is performing and how to improve your site speed.
  •  OnCrawl – Finally, this tool is another that gives an overview of your website’s page speed and performance. It also shows you which pages you need to optimise for maximum results.

In summary

The load speed of each page on your website is very important for the success of any business online. It’s intrinsically linked to user conversion rates, trust and loyalty and so it’s not something you want to overlook.In this guide we’ve touched on a number of things that could be slowing your pages down so you can put measures in place to combat them. We also looked at how page speed can affect your rankings and which tools you can use to improve your load time and address technical SEO issues. To finish, we’ve put together a few key takeaways for you to keep in mind when creating and optimising websites for maximum results.

  • Page speed is measured in seconds and is the time it takes for each of your webpages to load. This can differ from page to page
  • Your theme, coding, browser, host, plugins and adverts can all affect the speed of your pages. Be sure to put careful thought into your choices and test your website on different browsers
  • Page speed affects your rankings on search engines like Google thanks to insight tools and algorithms
  • Your rankings can also be affected indirectly by aspects such as bounce rate and dwell time
  • Device is also important for SEO with Google taking into consideration both desktop and mobile devices when ranking your site. As such, you need to make sure your webpages are optimised for both
  • There are a number of tools you can use to help boost page speed including PageSpeed Insight, YSlow, OnCrawl and Webpage test