SEO Basics: Optimising Page Load Speed

Page load speed – Why bother?

In recent years Google has focused more than ever on page load speed. 

By 2013 most UK users had switched to broadband and other faster internet access protocols. But 2015 saw 2.1 million or so US citizens still using super-slow dial up connections. In other countries and on other continents, dial-up is still widely used, still the best connection available. Google wants to deliver the best possible user experience to all their users. So it makes complete sense that they’re keen for web pages to load as fast as possible.

Roll time forward to 2016 and Google announced page speed would become a ranking factor in its mobile-first index, which they’ll be using as their primary search engine index, directly reflecting patterns in user behaviour. It means there’s no way out, no more excuses. If your website isn’t as fast and accessible as it could be, your Google search rankings will suffer compared to sites whose pages load faster. Getting it right is more than a user thing, it’s also an SEO thing.

Last but not least, because humans can detect millisecond time differences, every millisecond you can shave off your page speed is worth having. If you haven’t optimised your page load speed, now’s the time to get it sorted. Here’s what you need to know.

Latest page load speed stats – Direct from Google

Google says it takes an average of 22 seconds to load a mobile landing page. That’s dreadful. Time your watch for 22 seconds and you realise it’s a very long time to wait while tech tries to catch up with your desires. In fact it’s totally unacceptable compared to the three seconds or so it takes for people to decide to navigate away because they’re bored of waiting. Google also says people are 32% more likely to bounce away if a page load time goes from one second to three, and 90% more likely to steer clear if your page load speed drops to 5 seconds. That’s what we call scary.

At the moment, page speed remains an ‘indicator’, not an actual ranking factor. You can still achieve good rankings unless your mobile site loads like a dog. But the truth remains – the faster your site loads, the better your results will be. It’s more important than ever to do all the good stuff Google requires of you as a website owner. So how can you speed up your site’s page load speeds?

12 ways to improve WordPress website page loading speeds

1. Know where you stand right now by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It reveals how your pages currently perform and also gives you advice about what you can change to improve things

2. Optimise your images to make them smaller and faster to load, using a plugin like Smush for WordPress.

3. Compress and minify the code.

4. Load fewer external scripts.

5. Limit resource-heavy elements like adverts.

6. Assuming your website already running on HTTPS you can use the HTTP2 protocol to speed up your site. It’s fairly techie but, in a nutshell, involves fewer requests being made to call up each file. Again, it’s something we can help you with/

7. If you use WordPress, like millions of sites around the world, it helps to use PHP7. It’s the latest, safest and most secure version of PHP, which is simply a WordPress compliant general purpose scripting language. Using it will deliver an essential boost to your site loading speeds.

8. Use a CDN – a content delivery network – to get your content delivered from a location close to the person who is searching Google for businesses like yours. It makes sense – why call pages up from halfway around the world when you can call them up locally and save vital fractions of seconds?

9. Use a cool caching plugin like WP Rocket to keep static parts of your site in the browser cache so they take less time to load.

10. Use AMP, Google’s way to boost the speed of the web. It’s reasonably easy to set up and delivers a boost to your mobile site. While AMP isn’t a ranking factor in itself, things are fairly likely to change. Here’s a link to Google’s own AMP documentation. On the downside, like most of Google’s guides, it isn’t plain or easy to follow. Luckily we can help you get AMP up and running.

11. Deal with critical rendering paths formed by often slow-loading stuff like CSS and JavaScript, since they have to load first before your content appears on a user’s screen. It’s your job to keep the path free of obstacles.

12. Keep at it – like so much in digital marketing and SEO, the job is never finished. It’s ongoing, so keep an eye on your page load speeds and do everything you can to keep them as low as possible. Log your speeds after every test to create a benchmark, so you can see whether or not you are progressing as expected. And keep your eyes open for new ways to reduce load times.

There’s no such thing as a web page that loads too fast. If the technical side of page loading speed is beyond you, we can do it for you. Which means you get more visitors, and they’re happier with your website than ever.