When I talk with new clients about SEO, website speed usually comes up. Along with backlinks and blog posts, it’s on the checklist of even the greenest SEO rookies. And of course, they would be right.
Website speed, or PageSpeed as Google call it, is crucial, not only for SEO but for user experience. In the early days of SEO, the focus was only on ranking. The community looked for ways to move the needle in the SERPs but gave less attention to what happened when a user arrived on the site. Fortunately, times have changed. User experience (and PageSpeed) is not only linked to SEO results for desktop searches, but mobile searches as Google announced in July 2018.
It’s important to remember that Google are no different to any business, their aim is to provide a better service than competitors such Bing. If their customers regularly arrive at top ranking sites and bounce due to bad experience, they might look for a better search engine. If a game changing search engine arrived on the scene, Google could become obsolete quicker than you can say Kodak.
Back in 2015, stats suggested almost half of web users will abandon a page that takes more than 10 seconds to load. By 2018 this value had reduced to 3 seconds. As our expectations grow and we become less patient, this benchmark will continue to drop.
At BirdBrain, we work through a rigorous audit process for all new clients. This allows us to highlight and prioritise the technical and UX issues that reduce the effectiveness of a site. High on the list is speed. Speed can have a massive impact on user behaviour. It can cause people to abandon at a higher rate, which equates to less people seeing your content and ultimately, less leads.
Typically, the three biggest things that impact the speed of a site are:
Image compression and optimisation
When we audit a site, it’s a sure bet that many images will be larger than they need to be. Whether it’s a 5mb homepage banner image added by a client, or poor process by the original developer, it happens. Collectively, these oversized images can add up to a huge amount of unnecessary data that must be downloaded when a user opens the site. Of course, this takes time. By optimising images, we can reduce the image size and improve speed without losing quality.
One of the reasons we have our own in-house development team is because of our constant exposure to poorly coded sites. We realised that discipline around lean code is a rarity among web developers, so we took control of the process.
A common offender is pre-made WordPress themes. Often these themes are created for a range of purposes and have a large amount of code bloat that can’t be removed. While the end result may or may not appear good, there’s a lot of junk in the trunk.
Aside from the use of these themes, sloppy development practices are common. Unnecessary external page requests, unoptimised CSS delivery, no .htaccess compression and a myriad of other factors contribute to a slow site. While polishing a turd has its risks, we can usually get some big wins.
Hosting plans come in all shapes, sizes and price points. A budget hosting plan will have sacrifices – usually server quality, location and a large number of low quality neighbour sites. If you want your website to live like a backpacker in a ramshackle hostel, expect some adversity and dubious roommates.
As you’d expect, a local host will usually load your site quicker than an overseas host. If there are reasons for using an international host, a CDN (Content Delivery Network) such as CloudFlare or Netlify are a great option. CDNs can deliver a site from the nearest server (usually local) with a snappy load time regardless of location.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, it isn’t only about rankings. Factors like website speed have the power to harm not only your SEO, but your entire brand.
Call us if you’d like help navigating the SEO minefield.