Blog: SEO
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Does Page Speed Really Help SEO?

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

Take a moment and look at your website with fresh eyes.

It’s aesthetically pleasing and you upload amazing, quality, and relevant content. Additionally, your backlink profile is indisputably on the right track.

However, when the site speed is sluggish, potential site users must be patient since the webpage load time is longer than expected.

Will those customers understand?

It is plausible to operate under the assumption that Google uses real-world signals to determine whether users are happy with your website.

When competitor websites consistently have faster webpage load times, it can be one factor of many that can work against your site in organic search rankings.

Understanding Webpage Load Time

In basic terms, webpage load time is a metric used to highlight how long, in seconds and milliseconds, a web page takes to load.

Factors which can influence page speed include total bytes of data that must be downloaded to render the page, file sizes (including images), and server quality among others. The webpage load time is the cumulative output. Different website pages can have varying page speeds.

A 2016 study by Google found indicate 53% of mobile site visitors leave a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. The research shows why you’ve got such a short window, literally, to impress, capture and maintain organic traffic on a site.

At this juncture, it is apparent page speed affects SEO and it is a factor you should consider for user experience.

Page Speed Affects SEO

Page speed is a ranking factor, and this has been confirmed by Google. How fast your website loads in a browser has a tangible effect on SEO. This has been stated by Google itself on several occasions.

From a 2010 article posted on Google Search Central:

Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed—that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.

Interesting to note, as of 2022, Google still states explicitly in this post they use the speed of your web pages compared to competing pages for a search query.

In a 2018 announcement, Google said that they use page speed as a ranking factor in organic search results.

Users want to find answers to their questions quickly and data shows that people really care about how quickly their pages load. The Search team announced speed would be a ranking signal for desktop searches in 2010 and as of this month (July 2018), page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches too.

Exactly how much can page speed affect SEO? Google representative John Mueller said in a 2021 Google Webmaster Hangout that relevance is still more important than page speed. In other words, users completing their goal, or finding relevant information, is more important than a faster site.

Tools for Measuring Page Speed

Note: Lockedown SEO is not affiliated with these tools and their inclusion should be viewed as recommendations rather than endorsements. Feel free to explore other tools in the market and choose those aligned to your needs.

1. PageSpeed Insights

Google PageSpeed Insights provides comparisons of how a site performs to its competitors. Most importantly, the tool also gives insights into the required improvements.

2. Lighthouse

A tool from Google with real-time optimization advice on a specific webpage. Download Lighthouse from the Chrome Developer Tools as an extension and start reaping benefits for both mobile and desktop results.

3. GTMetrix

Used as a real-world testing tool, GTMetrix diagnoses speed issues related to each webpage. It then assigns a score based on various parameters such as the loading scripts, and download time for each component among others. To ease the process, the tool provides sound solutions such as deferring loading of reder-blocking files, minifying HTML, improving server response time (solved by changing hosting), or implementing a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

Best Practices to Improve Page Speed

  • Compressing images. With images taking up 50% to 90% of a page’s loading time, one cannot overemphasize the need for image optimization. Some ways to maximize image optimization include using next-generation formats such as WebP, and compressing images to reduce file size.
  • Maximize lazy loading. Modern browsers support this image deferring technique. Instead of downloading the entire webpage to display to site users, only the requested/relevant section is displayed on initial page load. Files that can be downloaded “on-demand” are loaded as the browser scrolls to the corresponding part of the page. HTML elements that are eligible for lazy-loading include the img and iframe tags. Lazy-loading boosts browser memory utilization, reduces time consumed in result display, and improves user experience.
  • Invest in quality hosting. Server response time usually increases as you move your site to cheaper hosting. Be on the lookout for dedicated and premium servers to build a sophisticated and optimal site. Irrespective of best SEO practices, poor hosting options will always derail your rankings.
  • Embrace browser caching by using Expires Headers. Allow site visitors to store some static assets, part of your website that rarely changes, such as images, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. Expires Headers set a time, measured in seconds, for browsers to cache (hold in memory) files that they have encountered on your site before. The next time they land on the same site, the webpage loading time is reduced. While browser cache won’t reduce the loading speed for first-time visitors, it counts for future visits.
  • Eliminate render blocking. Reducing render-blocking elements is paramount in increasing Page Speed. These are the elements that must be constructed by the browser before any content (First Paint) is displayed on a webpage. Some examples of render-blocking files include CSS and JavaScript. You can defer loading of some render blocking elements in theme files to reduce the loading time for site visitors.

Practical Relevance of Page Speed

Google values that page speed because it benefits the site visitors, and correlates with positive user signals. For webmasters, and for Google itself, faster loading sites also save on operational costs. The faster websites load, the faster Googlebot can crawl and index pages. Efficient page load times correlate with longer users session times, which may lead to better conversion rates in some cases.

Relevancy is Still Most Important

Focusing on page speed alone is punitive to websites working diligently to meet user search intent, which makes sense. Unfortunately, Google is pragmatic rather than idealistic in its approach. Search engines observe how speed affected user signals, and focus on rewarding content, user satisfaction, and overall user experience.

Relevance counts in SEO, but so does page speed. Balance is key to SEO success.

Another question that SEOs and webmasters have is regarding scoring extremely high in Page Speed scores. How much does page speed affect SEO rankings?

“My Page Speed is 100, Why Don’t I Rank #1?”

Scoring a “100” in Google Page Speed Insights is highly commendable, but by itself, that is inadequate to propel you to the top of Search engine Results Pages (SERPs).

The page loading speed of your site is vital, but always ensure other SEO factors such as quality, relevant content, and a budding backlink profile are also duly incorporated. Don’t obsess over the Page Speed Insights score at the expense of other factors. Top rankings in organic search are an output of all these factors.

Implementing the above Page Speed tips should result in improved rankings.

Still Need Help With Page Speed?

Some of these tips require technical expertise which is readily available here at Lockedown SEO. If you have a question about SEO, Reach out and we can help you embark on a journey to the top of search rankings in the industrial manufacturing niche.

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

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