Page Speed: Survival of the Fastest

 

It seems like just yesterday that everyone working in the SEO industry was advocating for mobile search as the next big thing. Then we all blinked and now the world is working to catch up. Making sure that your website conforms to the demands of the mobile world is no longer a “nice to have”.

If your site doesn’t load in the time it takes your visitor to become bored or frustrated, then you may as well not have a website at all. Search engines feel the same way – so let’s look at some of the tools we can use to gauge potential speed issues.

Why is Web Page Speed Important Anyway?

There is a basic need for information to be available quickly, hence Google’s introduction of AMP and Facebook’s introduction of Instant Articles. From a practical point of view, there is value in streamlining the amount of data which is loaded on our mobile devices. Whilst our beloved handhelds may have the required processing power, we don’t always have access to (or want to use excessive) bandwidth.

A website which loads quickly makes for a better user experience, will keep users on your site and improve the likelihood of them making an enquiry or generating a sale. A study suggests that around 40% of users will abandon a web page which takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Ultimately, Google’s results are looking to reflect websites which are considerate of the user and as such, page load speed is a contributing factor to how prominently your site will be listed.

How Does Page Speed Impact SEO?

Page speed has been a consideration in SEO efforts since Google announced that the metric had become a ranking signal back in 2010. It is worth reminding you that it is your page load speed which you should be directly looking to directly improve, not Google’s Page Speed Score. The latter metric should be taken as a broad representation as to how acceptable the page load speed is and not an absolute indicator of performance. A reduction in page load speed of nearly half a second can be the difference of a Page Speed Score in the 50s and a score in the 90s.

Page Speed Audit Tools

The process of testing how quickly your website loads is easy. There are a variety of free tools on offer and while each has its own merits, it is always wise to take a broad range of views and use as many as is reasonable.

WebPageTest

Any tool which carries an authoritative endorsement has to be worth a look so when we saw Google’s John Mueller apparently endorsing the tool in the below tweet we felt it worth including in this list.

screenshot-from-twitter

This tool provides a very granular view of the time taken to load each individual element of a page. Furthermore, you can test how your site will perform on a range of browsers. As such, this is an excellent tool for the more technical SEO or web developer.

web-speed-tool

Image credit: WebPageTest

The above endorsement (which helpfully gives you an indication of what page load time to aim for) should still provide confidence that the reported page load speed is broadly representative of what Google may see.

Page Speed Insights

Google’s own Page Speed Insights is a more approachable tool which takes a more succinct approach to diagnosing page speed issues.

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Image credit: Page Speed Insights

This tool helpfully provides a percentage score so you can demonstrate to stakeholders the extent to which action needs to be taken. Page Speed Insights’ results lean towards those elements which contribute positive rankings signals so you should aim to optimize for as high a score as possible. Remember to use other 3rd party tools (which we will recommend shortly) as well as your own experience to test the actual time it takes to load a page.

Google Analytics and Screaming Frog

It’s easy to overlook the Site Speed menu in Google Analytics, which is tucked away in the Behaviour menu. Analysing page speed graphs will help you to identify any unexpected spikes in site load speed and give you grounds for further investigation.
Furthermore, you can include this metric in your Screaming Frog crawls when conducting site audits to produce a manageable page level view of performance.
Once you have linked Google Analytics to Screaming Frog (via the Configuration -> API Access menu), go into this menu again and under the “Metrics” check the “Site Speed” option:

screaming-frog-analytics

GT Metrix and Pingdom

GT Metrix combines data from both Google’s PageSpeed and Yahoo’s YSlow. It should be noted that as with any browser based client, YSlow will be slightly less accurate and limited due to the dial in speed as well as the resources which are required to run it (CPU, RAM of the machine it is being run on). As we saw earlier, PageSpeed tends to reflect ranking signals whereas YSlow is more beneficial from a user experience point of view and will provide good granular data.
GT Metrix is great to use alongside other web-based tools such as Pingdom as the handy visualisations will enable stakeholders to see at a glance the main issues which require attention. When conveying technical issues to a less technical audience, images will say more than tables of statistics.

Continuous Optimising

When compared the other factors that influence your visibility such as relevance, page speed is a relatively minor factor. As always, it is worth remembering that whilst there is a correlation between a good page speed and search engine visibility, this should not be confused with causation. That having been said, it is imperative that you aren’t dismissive of the need to improve the speed at which your website loads as it affects the amount of time users are likely to spend on your site, pages per visit and ultimately – conversions. From page speed to messaging, it is critical to keep optimising and improving your website and having the right tools at your disposal will invaluable.

If you need help to improve your website speed, get in touch with our friendly SEO team at [email protected]