By far the biggest reason to improve the speed of your website is because visitors prefer fast loading sites. To the extent that your role involves caring about actual conversions rather than just number of visitors to the site, you should pay fanatical attention to the time it takes to download and render pages on your site.
There are three additional factors to consider from an SEO perspective:
- Site speed is a direct (albeit small) ranking factor in Google – i.e. all else being equal, a faster site should rank better than a slower one – this is measured using toolbar data so as to avoid skewing towards sites hosted near the Mountain View, CA data centers used by googlebot.
- The same factors that make people more likely to convert on fast sites make them more likely to visit more pages, consume more content and share / link to that content.
- On large sites, the number of pages indexed (or the freshness of the indexed pages) is often limited by the number of pages googlebot can crawl. The faster your site responds, the greater the number of pages that are likely to get indexed.
How To Measure Page Speed
From a technical perspective, there are three important elements to page speed. In order of increasing time:
- Time To First Byte: This is the amount of time it takes the server to respond to a request. It is the easiest to measure, but the least relevant to users or googlebot. You can measure and track this using the free account at pingdom.
Getting Buy In For Fixing Site Speed
One of the most powerful sets of tools that an SEO practitioner can have in their toolkit is a set of tools for convincing clients and/or bosses that something is important and should be a priority fix.
If you find that your page load speed needs improvement but are struggling to get buy-in, these following arguments and tools can be convincing:
By comparing your page loading side by side with competitors and high profile (fast!) sites you can often create convincing arguments. The video comparison tool from webpagetest is fantastic for creating compelling boss-friendly videos.
Site Speed Video
- “Amazon found every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales”
- “Google found an extra .5 seconds in search page generation time dropped traffic by 20%”
What To Do About It
It is relatively unlikely on anything but the smallest sites that it will be your job to improve site speed directly. More likely it will sit between developers and systems administrators.
In brief, though, the three biggest likely culprits are:
- Slow “time to first byte” or slow download speeds for static assets – most likely solved with server upgrades, additional caching or content delivery networks
- Slow dynamic pages – most likely solved with improvements to the code or more aggressive caching
- Slow full download or rendering – caused either by complex or asynchronous web pages or by loading many external resources – most likely solved with improvements to front-end code or consolidation of external services
It can be useful to use tools such as pagespeed from Google to diagnose the weakest links in your site’s speed.