The speed of loading a website is one out of many factors that influence Google’s overall evaluation of a site. Google guided by its own drive to exceed the expectations of its users, takes into consideration the page loading speed. Slow loading content makes visiting a site a nuisance, with the less-patient among us promptly leaving before it is loaded. Just as with any other relationship in life, the first impression is the most important.
In April 2010, Google, officially on its blog, reported that page loading speeds -defined as the speed of the response to queries- will be an additional signal in their search ranking algorithms. The rating received from this judgement will subsequently have a marked impact on search results. The speed of response to the query will not, however, be more important than its relevance. Google has clearly stated this point:
Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. 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.
Page loading speed and query response time
To begin working on optimising a sites speed, first, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the essence of the issue at hand. This can be boiled down to two main concepts: page loading speed and query response time. Briefly, the first term defines the time elapsed from the moment the browser issues an input command to a given page until all its resources and content have been loaded. In practice, this means that through a web browser a query is sent to the server, which in turn must fully load and display the queried web page.
Query response time is a broader term because it covers all queries, not just those that necessitate full page loading, but also the speed of loading individual items such as internal search engines, menu navigation or individual scripts. For Google, it is the time it takes for the user to receive what he or she expects from the web page that is important, not just how quickly the page loads.
Where to start? Page speed loading analysis
There are many tools available that enable you to check the page loading speed, but they differ in how the algorithms take into account the different factors. In order to investigate a site in this regard, Google recommends the use of the following tools:
- Page Speed Insight
An Open Source tool from Google that analyses the performance of your website and then makes implementable suggestions for its improvement. The tool uses a 0-100 score for its rating system. Usefully, this tool checks for both desktop and mobile performance. After the test has been performed, the tool issues a rating and displays a list of issues that are likely causing the slower loading of certain page elements.
The Yslow plugin, created by Yahoo, is compatible with most web browsers. Created in response to Google’s PageSpeed tool, this plugin holds many similarities. Once a speed test has been run, the tool suggests what improvements should be made in order to result in a faster loading page.
- WebPageTest Online
This Open Source Speed Test supported by Google allows you to select from one of dozens of servers located in different countries, from which a robot is sent to explore your site. After the test, the tool displays a graph showing the exact loading times of individual page elements. Like the previous tools, recommendations are displayed for optimising the page to improve the overall speed of loading the website.
Personally, I use two of the three tools mentioned above: Page Speed Insight and WebPageTest. Due to the fact that during the speed analysis these tools take into account different aspects of the site, a good test result from one of the tools almost never means a good result from the other. For an SEO expert, this seems to be a sensible solution that allows you to take a broader look at the speed of your website, as well as its components.
Page performance in Google’s eyes
My experience of using the above tools for examining the speed of web pages has revealed that in Google’s view an efficient website should meet the following requirements:
1. Locate on a fast and stable server that will allow the user to access the site efficiently.
2. Visible content on the page should be given suitable priority. Here, it is about building a page code in such a way that the most important content for you appears at the top part of the page. The code analysis made by the browser before rendering the page starts from the top, of which the foremost elements are loaded first.
4. Having GZIP compression enabled. A browser downloads the resources needed in order to render the page. GZIP compression creates compressed files before being downloaded, thus reducing their size and making them faster.
6. Avoid redirects within your own pages. Whilst sometimes this is necessary, it is important to avoid creating unnecessary steps, such as redirect chains. If redirecting a URL is necessary, it should be directed straight to the destination URL. There is nothing more pleasing to an SEO Specialist than a healthy, direct URL.
7. Having optimised graphics. A massive problem in the context of long loading times is that of huge images. Each image added to a page should go through an optimisation process first so that no graphics are added that are larger than necessary, while also retaining the appropriate format settings. It is commonly considered that the maximum size of a single graphic should not exceed 200 Kb.
8. The website should use the browser cache as much as possible. This is about setting the appropriate time for storing static page elements in the browser’s memory. Each page has its own elements that do not often change. It is possible to set a time for each element, after which the browser will be able to re-retrieve them. There is no need, for example, for the logo to be downloaded upon each visit. Once every couple of months will do.
Why speed up your website?
The correct implementation of the requirements mentioned above will enable you to deliver a high-performance website that will translate into user comfort, higher search engine rankings and, as Google claims, will contribute to increased conversions. Optimising the page speed will likely also be noticeable at the analytics level, in the form of lower bounce rates and a longer average duration spent in each session. The average number of pages viewed during one session may also increase.
It is assumed that a page optimised for query response speed reaches a maximum of a 4 seconds load time from the first input. Restarting the page should be even faster as some resources will use the browser cache to load from the local disk. Achieving 100 points in the PageSpeed Insight rank is feasible for both desktop and mobile versions, but does require a lot of work. I urge everyone to work on optimising the speed of their sites, aiming to get as close to this result as possible so that they can smile more often when looking at their analytics reports. The most important thing to remember, however, is that the potential of all unique and interesting content on a website must be fully exploited, as it will provide the quickest and most trouble-free improvements to the site and is the least dependent on the speed of the Internet connection used.
In the following articles about page loading speed, I will describe in detail each of the eight aspects of acceleration. I hope has been a good introduction for the start of your mission to having web pages as fast as Usain Bolt!