Imagine you’re browsing the web looking for some information. You’ve got your pick when it comes to selecting sites: a quick search is all it takes to yield thousands of results. You choose one near the middle of the search results, but the screen turns white, loading. After a few seconds of waiting, you head back to choose another page.
This simple scenario explains how site speed affects SEO in a nutshell. No matter which SEO tactics you use to put your site on the map, a slow site can overpower them all. As a result, site speed and SEO rely on each other. To see serious results from your site, you’ll need to ensure it’s as efficient as it can be.
Site Speed and SEO: The Basics
When we talk about site speed, we’re referring to how long a webpage takes to load. This value depends on many factors, including the site’s server, image compression, page file size, and more. When it comes to search engine optimization, or SEO, site speed impacts how likely a search engine is to rank a page. As a result, web design SEO practices are essential parts of a site’s success – they ensure a webpage is easy to find and navigate.
We can break down site speed into a few individual categories:
- Fully Loaded Page Time: How long resources on your page take to load.
- Time to First Byte: How long it takes for a page to start loading.
- First Meaningful Paint/First Contextual Paint: How long it takes for a page’s resources to become readable and interactive.
How Site Speed Affects SEO
It’s clear that site speed is one piece of the SEO puzzle, but exactly how large is that piece? How important is site speed for SEO as a whole? Research suggests it has more of an impact than you might think.
Recent figures show that even a one-second delay in page load times can cause:
- A 7% loss in conversions (clicks that turn into leads),
- 11% fewer page views, and
- A 16% decrease in customer satisfaction.
Moreover, Google announced the rollout of Core Web Vitals – a set of metrics related to the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a website – in May of 2021. These factors are geared toward measuring a visitor’s experience on a page. They are now officially part of Google’s ranking system, impacting how the search engine views potential pages to display to users.
All of this is to say that site speed and SEO go hand-in-hand. A slow site will lose clicks, rank lower in search results, and drive fewer leads. That means that even the most well-thought-out SEO strategy could be hindered by poor site speed.
Factors that Influence Site Speed
Any element on your site that’s necessary to display pages properly needs to load as quickly as possible. Certain elements are more likely to cause problems than others, including those below. Regardless, to improve your site speed for SEO, you’ll need to ensure everything works in conjunction and allows users to navigate through your domain efficiently.
Gargantuan plugins, old site features, unnecessary pages, and other components of your site play a large role in its load time. Essentially, the more you pile on your site, the heavier the load it must bear to function.
Videos, interactive elements, buttons, and other features may add to your design, but they also add to the list of things you need to optimize for site speed and SEO.
Like other file types, large, detailed, or excessive images can seriously slow down your site. Likewise, using outdated image types that aren’t compatible with newer web design standards is something to avoid.
Many tools can help you size images appropriately based on the device they’re requested from to limit unnecessary loading time.
The larger a website’s code, the longer it will take to load. Similarly, more complex codes take more time to execute. Unnecessary complexity in your code creates hurdles for browsers to overcome while loading. Each second wasted navigating excess code translates to lost time with users.
Overall, the more “stuff” you add to a website, the more you risk encountering obstacles. Each time a user visits your website, their browser makes requests to the server to load the page properly. As a browser requests more and more things, it has to wait longer for results.
Think of this process as requesting supplies to paint a picture – the more complex you make the final image, the more time you’ll spend trying to bring everything together.
Traffic Hosting and Server Response Options
You may be on a shared server or VPS (Virtual Private Server) depending on your domain hosting type. Both options have you share the physical server space with other websites, which can negatively affect your site speed.
A VPS is the best option since you have your own “private” area of the shared server, but performance can suffer due to other domains hosting on the same server.
Dedicated servers, cloud hosting servers, and managed hosting are all solid options for speed improvement but will cost much more than either a shared server or a VPS hosting plan. As you move up in performance, you also move up in cost.
How to Conduct a Site Speed Test
To learn how site speed affects SEO for your webpage, take some time to perform an “audit” of your current stats with a simple site speed test. You can use tools from Google to analyze your SEO as it relates to Google’s search engine. Or, you may use them to analyze how the competition is doing so you have a frame of reference.
Google formats its results into 20 “Audits and Opportunities” you can use to increase your site speed for SEO. For more suggestions, consider alternative tools like GTMetrix, another free option for gaining insight into site performance. GTMetrix offers 45 potential recommendations to improve site speed.
Other options like Pingdom and WebPageTest pull much of the same data with a few differences. All these tools have pros and cons, so it’s important to find the one that provides the data you need in a way you can understand.
Tips to Improve Your Site Speed for SEO
Once you’ve conducted a site speed test and know where you can improve your site, it’s time to put your suggestions into action. Below are some key principles to keep in mind as you work to boost your webpage’s site speed and SEO.
- Cut Back. The main idea to keep in mind when improving your site speed for SEO is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Remove all of the unnecessary plugins that are bloating your site. Say goodbye to the chat feature that only a handful of people have used in the last several years. Compress your coding where possible. Taking a holistic look at what you use within your website can lead to faster performance with minimal effort.
- Choose Files Wisely. As we know, images and other files can have massive impacts on your site speed. If you serve images that are twice as big as they are when displayed, you waste valuable milliseconds loading a higher quality image than is needed. Overall, be intentional about the images you use, their quality, and how you format them on your pages.
- Activate Browser Caching. This allows browsers to store some information from your site so that it can load quickly for users in the future.
- Switch Hosting or Server Providers. If your current hosting or server providers can’t keep up with demand or your site’s features, it may be time to switch to something new.
The Bottom Line
Site speed and SEO are two peas in a pod – if you want the latter to succeed, you’ll need to perfect the former.
At Firestarter SEO, we’re well aware of the benefits (and consequences) of site speed. Our 12 years of experience helping clients boost their online presence have taught us that there is no way to bypass the basics.
As a top Denver SEO company, we take pride in our ability to create real results for our clients and develop strategies that work. We’ve watched the web grow and change, and we’re constantly updating our tactics to match.