Page Speed – Why it Matters & 9 Ways to Improve it
October 7, 2016
Ever been faced with a website with low page speed that shows one of these notifications?
It means there was an issue loading the website, and usually means it’s just taking too long.
2 seconds or less.
That’s how long you have for your page content to load before your website visitor gets impatient and leaves your site.
Page speed, oftentimes confused with site speed or website speed, represents how long it takes for the content on your page to load.
As Moz describes it, page speed is measured in two ways, “page load time” and “time to the first byte” while site speed “is actually the page speed for a sample of page views on a site.”
Page load time refers to how long it takes a specific page to fully load and display all the content on that page. Time to the first byte refers to the time it takes for a browser to receive the first byte of information from the server.
Whether you’re talking about page load time, time to the first byte, or site speed, one thing remains constant – the faster your content loads, the better.
Better User Experience
Fast load times are generally associated with a better user experience.
Back in 2009, Akamai performed a survey related to retail website performance. Their results indicated that 47% of online users expected pages, specifically those on retail sites, to load in 2 seconds or less.
That was back in 2009! By 2012, 70% of tablet users expected a website to load in 2 seconds or less. Skip forward to now and you can bet that percentage has only increased and expanded to include more users on more devices.
Your users live in a fast-paced world that is constantly connected – they expect your site to deliver what they want to see as quickly as possible.
As such, Google includes load time as a signal in their algorithms. If your load time is lagging, then your user experience is lacking. Google, your competitors, and most importantly, your users will notice.
If search engine bots cannot access and crawl your pages, then your pages aren’t indexed in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Indexation generally refers to the rate at which search engine bots crawl your website pages and index your site.
Search engine bots, particularly Googlebot, allocate a specific “crawl budget” to each website. The faster the bots are able to download and crawl your site pages, the more pages it has available to index for relevant keyword terms (a.k.a. queries or search queries).
Larger sites rely on efficient indexation for success in organic search.
Can you imagine having thousands of product pages that need to be crawled and indexed? Slow load times drag out that process and will hurt that site’s visibility in search results.
News websites rely on efficient indexation as well.
The faster their latest articles can be crawled, the faster they can be indexed, which can result in top rankings for related queries and increased traffic levels.
By decreasing your load times, you are also optimizing, not only your user experience but also your crawl budget.
Page speed optimization decreases the size of the page Googlebot has to visit and download and when completed effectively across the site, increases the number of pages Googlebot can crawl before hitting maximum crawl budget.
Why should this matter?
More pages in the search index mean a wider the range of keywords with ranking potential and more potential to increase traffic.
The following are a few popular tools for testing website speed and page speed:
9 Ways to Improve Page Speed
Now that you know why you need to focus on improving page load times on your site, here are a few ways to do it:
1. Start with a good foundation.
Your CMS (content management system) is the foundation of your website. By picking the right one for you and your business, you set yourself up for easier and more efficient maintenance. A CMS that is easy-to-manage and customize with friendly admin areas will save you a lot of time and trouble when it comes to making changes and improvements to your site.
2. Pick the right host.
When it comes to speed, your hosting provider can make or break you.
A good host ensures you’re on a server with enough space to maintain your website’s (and your users’) need for speed. Plus, a really good hosting package will include backups in place to keep any potential downtime to a minimum.
Traffic fluctuates, that you can count on.
However, big surges in traffic can take your site offline if it causes your bandwidth to exceed what is available on your server. The right plan with the right host gives them the ability to expand or minimize the amount of server space your site needs to make sure it stays online and loading quickly, even through a major traffic surge.
3. CDNs deliver content faster.
CDNs (content distribution/delivery networks) use a network of servers to distribute the load of delivering content, which delivers the content on your site more quickly than would occur if a single server was responsible for an entire load of content delivery.
By storing copies of your site at multiple, geographically diverse data centers, your site loads faster with more reliable access for your users. This is especially useful for large sites that have content-heavy pages, such as those with several images, videos, and other content elements.
4. Caching makes a big difference.
Say you’re making edits to your website. Remember that time you went to your site, made an edit, then tried to have someone else in your company take a look and they couldn’t see it?
They likely were viewing a cached version of the website. For websites that don’t have frequent design changes, this isn’t an issue. Plus, it helps increase page load time.
Google has its own set of recommendations for caching, which can be viewed here. In terms of timeframes for caching expiration, a minimum of one week and preferably up to one year for static assets is recommended.
As a word of caution, you don’t want to run in and start messing with expires headers. Incorrect implementation can cause issues on your site, like with the shopping cart on an e-commerce site. Make sure you’ve explored the SEO benefits and dangers of expires headers before making changes or asking for changes on them.
5. Optimize your code for speed.
Your code can weigh down your site as well.
6. Crawl your site and fix errors.
Redirect loops, long lines of redirections, and bad requests, like 404 and 410 errors, all slow down your site speed and your page load time. They can also make it more difficult for users to find what they’re looking for.
Redirects are a necessary part of websites to ensure users are getting where they what to go. Just remember, each redirect is another HTTP request, which then needs a server response to complete the cycle; this results in additional time your visitor waits for the page to load.
Regularly crawl your site using a tool like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, SEMrush site audit tool, or Moz Crawl Test. These tools will help you identify areas for improvement, like pages with too many redirects and 400 errors that need to be fixed.
7. Compress images.
Images are heavy pieces of content to load.
Because they are often too large, in the wrong format, and/or uncompressed, they often slow down page load time.
Make sure your images are no larger than they need to be. The file format makes a difference too, but the right one depends on your image.
If your image is a graphic with fewer than 16 colors, then PNG is the file format best-suited to it. However, if it’s a photograph, then go with JPEG. Lastly, make sure the images are compressed for the web.
Generally speaking, you want the images on your website to be less than 100 kb. If too many are larger than that, it can seriously slow down your load times.
For images used frequently on your site, like buttons and icons, you can create a template using CSS sprites. These take all of these images, combine them into one large image, and loads them all at once, only displaying the sections you want to show. This results in fewer HTTP requests, which means increased load time.
8. Take flash down a notch.
Flash is heavy and takes browser power to load. It also can end up crashing your users’ browsers – that’s not a good user experience!
Reduce the number of flash elements on your page, or better yet, remove them completely by implementing HTML5 to do the trick instead.
9. Consistent cleanup helps a lot.
Cleaning up your site and managing your content to improve site and page speed is not a once and done type of thing – it’s an ongoing process.
The better you are able to maintain a clean site both behind-the-scenes and in user-facing areas, the better off your speed will be and your users’ experiences.
Now, we just have one thing to ask – what does your website deliver in 2 seconds or less?
Slow site getting your users down?
Get in touch with the VIG team for help getting up to speed.