When evaluating search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, it’s important to balance the technical side of understanding how search engines work with empathy and understanding for the people who use search engines as tools to find what they’re looking for.
For better or worse, when we think of website optimization, we’re usually referring to the ways your page content and on-page metadata can affect site performance. But another key component to the success of your website's SEO performance is your website load time or page speed.
In this post, we’ll break down a few important factors related to site speeds, including:
We live in a fast-paced, speed-obsessed world — especially on the web, and even more so when it comes to finding what we’re looking for. Now that fast internet connections and increased download speeds are the norm, users are accustomed to web pages that load fast. Think about the last time you had to wait more than a couple of seconds for a page to load. What did you do?
Increasingly, users don’t wait; they move on.
Google and other search engines recognize that speed is a relevant quality to internet searchers. So when search engine crawlers get held up dissecting a website’s content because of page load speed, it works against the page’s overall rank in search. That’s because the search engines’ goal is to deliver searchers the most relevant content, and quickly. Page load speed contributes to your site’s relevance because searchers expect things to be fast.
Once you understand the importance of page speed, you’re likely wondering whether there are a few easy ways to improve yours. Well, as with most subjects related to SEO, things can get complicated pretty quickly. But, setting aside all the techy geek-speak on the best programming languages and coding tricks, here are six reliable best practices that the rest of us (OK, the rest of you) can easily implement to begin improving your site speed.
Images are the worst culprit for slowing down page loading speeds. Large, high-resolution images are ideal for printing, but not for the web. So before you upload that beautiful new photo to your website, first be sure to optimize it for web use.
Using the main editor on your computer — or a free tool like squoosh.app — change your image’s compression rate and pixel dimensions to the approximate size you need for your site. It’s important to understand that, using the HTML editor to adjust your image width from 1,000 pixels to 300 pixels only changes the on-screen appearance. When the page is loading, your browser still has to load the full image’s data, which is three times the size of what you see.
If you’re using a content management system (CMS), you most likely use responsive design templates, and that’s a good thing. Users don’t just want a seamless desktop and mobile experience as they shift from one device to another; they expect it, and anything less is a disappointment.
In addition to optimizing images for size, it’s vital to use proper file formats for various web uses:
In rare cases, you may need to rely on a custom graphic to display specific, stylized text. But the more you can leverage CSS to display specific fonts, the faster your web pages will load. Keep in mind, text graphics have less value in SEO terms than actual text on the page. So if you absolutely must use a graphic for text, don’t forget to include alt text for SEO.
Site plugins are great for adding features to your site, especially when they’re free. But too many on one page — on your blog, for example — can drastically impede your page load speed.
Lazy loading images allow the rest of your page elements to load before all the images finish loading. This enables visitors to your site to start reading your content faster. This is a great option, but remember you only want below-the-fold images to load this way. Otherwise elements like page headers can pop in while users are reading, shifting contents on the page, disrupting their engagement, and creating a poor user experience.
Certain social sharing site plugins can cause website administrators headaches, because they can slow down a page’s load speed, too. At the same time, avoiding this type of plugin limits how easily your content can be shared on social media. And that limits your ability to benefit from the valuable social signals that have a positive effect on your SEO.
Most content management systems (CMS) have built-in social sharing features on their platforms, but if you have to add your own, be sure to read reviews for load speed feedback, and benefit from others’ experiences.
Marketers and C-level executives tend to like (and respond to) data, so it can be tempting to try to grab as much as possible from every corner of your website using a variety of trackers, including tools that track and measure:
Unfortunately, each script requires additional traffic and processing. So, tempting as it is, first consider the benefits of each script — and then only add the ones that will provide actionable, valuable data.
Fortunately, you can access free tools to run your own page load speed test and uncover areas where you can make improvements. Here are a few tools to check out:
No doubt, page speed is one of many factors to balance when optimizing your website in order to rank higher in search engine results. But slow site loading can drag down other metrics, limiting conversion rates and dampening your website content’s overall performance. On the other hand, faster page load time could pave the way to higher conversions — and a website that generates more qualified leads is a site that may also get better support from more levels of your organization. You can get a handle on your SEO big picture with our SEO Survival Guide. Just click the link below to explore the full guide, or download a PDF to take along with you.